Find me at

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Book Launch at BookCourt

Join us to mark the publication of It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives, published by Fantagraphics.

WHEN: Friday, October 14, at 7 PM

WHERE: BookCourt, 163 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 875-3677

I'll be reading from the book and Jeff Wong, who designed it, will be displaying a sampling of the over 1,300 images that fill its pages. (Jeff maintains one of the world’s largest personal archives of Ross Macdonald collectibles.) We will also share some rare sound clips from Paul Nelson's 1976 interviews with Macdonald, which form the book's foundation, and discuss the forty-year course these interviews took to finally reach publication.

Read more about the book below and at BookCourt's website.

"It's All One Case is the most important work of mystery scholarship to have emerged this century." —John Connolly, author of the Charlie Parker Mysteries

In 1976, the critic Paul Nelson spent several weeks interviewing his literary hero, legendary detective writer Ross Macdonald. Beginning in the late 1940s with his shadowy creation, the ruminating private eye Lew Archer, Macdonald followed in the footsteps of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, but ultimately elevated the form to a new level. “We talked about everything imaginable,” Nelson wrote—including Macdonald’s often meager beginnings; his dual citizenship; writers, painters, music, books, and movies he admired; how he used symbolism to change detective writing; his own novels and why Archer was not the most important character — “my God, everything.”

Commemorating last year’s centenary of the innovative and influential author’s birth, in a handsome, oversized format, It’s All One Case provides an open door to Macdonald at his most unguarded. Featuring in full color the covers of the various editions of Macdonald’s more than two dozen books, facsimile reproductions of pages from his manuscripts, magazine spreads, and many never before seen photos of Macdonald, including those by celebrated photojournalist Jill Krementz. It’s All One Case is an intellectual delight and a visual feast, a fitting tribute to Macdonald’s distinguished career.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bartleby on Carmine Street

On Jeopardy! earlier this month, one of the answers was, "In a story of 19th century Wall Street, this title clerk famously replies, 'I would prefer not to.'" The question was, "Who was Bartleby the Scrivener?" That reminded me of Paul Nelson, who in 1982 told the singer/songwriter Greg Copeland: "Sometimes I wish I was like 'Bartleby the Scrivener,' where I just worked away at an office and didn't have to think. Not seriously, but there are times."

On the heels of this comes Raphael Rubinstein's fine article "Bartleby on Carmine Street," in the July-August issue of The Brooklyn Rail. In the course of some richly detailed contemplation about how Paul ended up as a clerk at Steve Feltes's Evergreen Video, the author has some nice things to say about Everything Is an Afterthought: "a heart-breaking book, but also a fascinating one..."

Labels: , ,

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Conversations with Clint

I finally received my copies of the Chinese translation of Conversations with Clint. One nice surprise was the addition of an array of well-chosen movie stills--not only of Eastwood, but from the non-Eastwood films he discussed with Paul Nelson. Another surprise was, thanks to a friend who is fluent in Chinese, learning that the title of the translation is Aged Ginger Is More Pungent

The Chinese translation of Conversations with Clint can be ordered here

Labels: ,

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Clint: 60 Years in Film

To commemorate "Clint Eastwood: 60 years in Film," Friday's Telegraph in the UK quoted Eastwood from Conversations with Clint.

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Good Hader

This late Christmas surprise just came to my attention. Back in July, The New York Times Sunday Book Review asked SNL graduate and sometime TCM host Bill Hader, "What are the best books you've read about Hollywood?" After listing several indispensable volumes, he said, "And of course all the great biographies and autobiographies: Conversations With Clint, the interviews by Paul Nelson . . ."

You can read the entire article here.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 22, 2014

Charles M. Young (1951 - 2014)

                                                                                                  Photo by Hilary Johnson

In 2007, when I interviewed Charles M. Young, who passed away this week from a brain tumor, one of the things we discussed was the imposition of the star rating system in the record-review section at Rolling Stone. It was one of the reasons that had caused his friend Paul Nelson to leave the magazine in 1982. Chuck remembered how he'd given one of his own reviews, of a George Winston album, a five-star rating, but when it was published it only had three stars. The reason? Because there were supposedly already too many five-star reviews in that issue.

"I'd never tell Christgau not to use grades, but I wouldn't tell anybody else who didn't want to use grades that they had to. I wouldn't even give grades in school. Grades are a disaster in education, grades are a disaster in rock & roll. You don't listen to music for a grade, you listen to music for its own sake. The point of a review, you describe what's there and then you convey your enthusiasm or distaste after in some way having an accurate description in there of what the album is, to be fair to the artist, and then you say 'it works' or 'it doesn't work,' you convey your enthusiasm or distaste, and that's what a review needs to do...

"When you're teaching kids to read and you give them a gold star for knowing some big word in the story or something, you're just sucking the joy out of learning from the kid. You're teaching them that what you do is work for the gold star, you work for the money. You don't do something because it's inherently worth doing. I mean, the only reason to read a book is because you love the book. The only reason to listen to music is because you love the music. This grade thing destroys that. It's one  manifestation of this horrible sickness in American society, which Paul would not participate in, to his great credit. Art was not about grades, it was not about money, it was something that you believed in, that you were committed to with an almost religious passion. And that was Paul."

And that was Chuck.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Back in Utah

I'll be signing my books, Everything Is an Afterthought and Conversations with Clint, at Dolly's Bookstore in Park City on Saturday, July 12, between 6 and 7:30 PM. For more about the event, click here. And here.

If you're in the area, please drop by and say hello. This is a signing, not a reading. We'll be discussing all things Paul Nelson, including the book I'm just finishing, It's All One Case, based on Paul's forty hours of interviews with detective novelist Ross Macdonald. It's All One Case is scheduled for publication by Fantagraphics in the summer of 2015.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Wilderness Road

In the April 13, 1972, issue of Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson reviewed the debut album by Wilderness Road. Now, almost forty-one years later, founding Wilderness Road band member Warren Leming returns the favor and reviews Everything Is an Afterthought for Logos, a Journal of Modern Society and Culture.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

John Cale

Today is John Cale's seventy-first birthday. I interviewed him almost nineteen years ago and wrote the following piece, which was published in The Event on August 16, 1994.


John Cale thinks Beck is hilarious. "In April, I was in Brussels, and I turned on Top of the Pops and there he was." When the slacker infidel Beck sang his now famous refrain, "I'm a loser, baby / So why don't you kill me?" Cale fell off his chair. "All of a sudden, from seeing that on television, I thought, Hey, this is the system working. This is the way rock & roll is meant to work."

He should know. At 52, much of Cale's life has been spent making rock music that matters. Since leaving the Velvet Underground (which he cofounded with Lou Reed) in 1968, his chameleonic career has changed back and forth between experimental pop and symphonies and, to borrow one of the singer/songwriter's own song titles, his own brand of "Dirtyass Rock 'N' Roll."

Born in Garnant, South Wales, John Cale came to the U.S. when he was awarded a Leonard Bernstein Scholarship. He has lived in New York since 1963. "I don't know if I'm more of a New Yorker or a Welshman," he confesses from his home. A musical prodigy who learned to speak English at school when he was seven, he performed on the BBC at the age of eight. He studied musicology under Aaron Copland, and his early career included performances with avant-garde composers La Monte Young and John Cage. 

Nevertheless, Cale's prevailing influences ("icons," he calls them) were deep-seated in rock & roll. "Very early on there were the Everly Brothers and Elvis. Jerry Lee." But his tastes are not limited to the classics. "When I see someone like Beck, a fresh face," he says, "a fresh sound is always very welcome."

Photo by Craig McDean

Cale's career is composed of one fresh sound after another. While it is true that, during the frenetic punk-rock world of England in the late Seventies, he once killed a chicken, voodoo-style, onstage (compelling the vegetarians in his band to seek gainful employment elsewhere), he also adapted the words of poet Dylan Thomas to accompany a symphony. He has collaborated with artists as diverse as Brian Eno, the late Lowell George, Garland Jeffreys, various members of Roxy Music, minimalist composer Terry Riley, and, in between spats, maximum ego Lou Reed. He also produced at least three debut albums that are universally recognized as classics: Patti Smith's Horses, Jonathan Richman's original Modern Lovers, and Iggy Pop's fledgling work with the Stooges. Cale regards each of them "as one of the rungs of the ladder" that forms his body of work. Asked what attracted him to these artists' first efforts, he replies, "They all seemed to have a little something about them that was special."

Cale's most recent work is Last Day on Earth, a song cycle/performance piece created in collaboration with multimedia artist Bob Neuwirth, a self-professed "hillbilly from Ohio" who, not least among his accomplishments, wrote "Mercedes Benz" for Janis Joplin.

The idea for Last Day on Earth came about when the two men performed together at a New York City venue called the Kitchen. With the classicist Cale singing and playing piano, the countrified Neuwirth played guitar and started telling stories. Some time later, Cale happened to catch a PBS piece about Prairie Home Companion. "It struck me that there was a weird mixture there that Bob could cover, as well as some other angles that Garrison Keillor wasn't into."

They ended up doing to Lake Wobegon what David Lynch did to Norman Rockwell's small-town America in Blue Velvet. 

Last Day on Earth, while inviting many interpretations, is the conceptual tale of a Tourist who finds himself in the mythical Cafe Shabu, where, in the back room, bathed in red, a host of angels stands ready "to meet your every need." The ensuing post-apocalyptic travelogue focuses on the cafe's usual suspects and the further adventures of the Tourist.

Cale says, "One of the things that we wanted to do was make sure that every song that was there had its own character." Strung together by an ongoing dialogue between the Tourist and the regulars at the cafe, the songs paint a panoramic view that is sometimes Blade Runner, sometimes Brechtian, sometimes Bonanza. "There was a gangland feel about all of this, these characters and this landscape."

Cale and Neuwirth took the work to Arts at St. Ann's and requested support. A branch of Brooklyn's Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity, St. Ann's is known for sponsoring out-of-the-mainstream art projects (and had previously commissioned Songs for Drella, Cale and Lou Reed's song cycle about the life of Andy Warhol). St. Ann's garnered NEA support and provided Cale and Neuwirth with a loft at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for one month. Most of the music was written there.

Over the next year, the two men went about their lives, working together on the project whenever their paths crossed--more often than not over cappuccinos in London or on New York City sidewalks. "Usually when we'd meet," Cale says, "we'd end up throwing ideas around and writing stuff down on napkins."

They first worked together 16 years ago. "I had a little record label at one time called Spy Records," Cale recalls. "We went in and it was obvious from the sessions that we did one afternoon that Bob was an improviser. It was really a question of grabbing him at the right time. He's kind of a will-o'-the-wisp. He doesn't like to be pinned down."

Last Day on Earth was first performed in New York on a stark, nearly barren stage. Modeled so it could be replicated elsewhere, they had a lighting chart drawn for the entire piece. Subsequent performances have been staged at a Frankfurt art festival and in Hamburg.

Now Last Day on Earth is an album. MCA's senior VP of soundtracks, Kathy Nelson, saw in the work the potential to be "a soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist," and approached the duo about recording it. Neuwirth, in a similar vein, has called the work "a mind movie."

"When we got into the studio," Cale recalls, "we decided to change the narrative part of it. We weren't going to do a transcription of the live show, so we had this certain leeway to be able to present it any other way. We put most of the monologue at the beginning of the piece and used some of it to introduce characters." 

The resultant album is one of the year's best thus far. A disparate combination of plush electronic keyboards, violin, viola, cello, Dobro, guitar, five-string banjo, harmonica, and assorted percussive hubbub, it sounds at once futureless and rural, neighborly and surreal.

Just as Last Day on Earth has made the transition from a theatre piece to a musical work, it might indeed find its way onto the big screen. According to Cale, "There have been some inquiries from an Irish film company. I never thought the piece was concerned with another country--not a specific country, anyway--but that's great that somebody sees that kind of potential."

Sadly, translating the work into a movie might be the only way that it reaches the greater general public. Cale, who allows that it is perhaps unfortunate that his career has been more creative- than commercially-driven, says, "Money is kind of an abstract idea in my book. I don't understand it, really. I know how it works and all that, I know what it can get me, but I don't have an overwhelming urge to fill my pockets with it."

His reunion tour of Europe last year with Sterling Morrison, Lou Reed, and Maureen Tucker--aka the Velvet Underground--and the ensuing Live MCMXCIII (Sire/Warner Bros.) double-CD most likely didn't damage his pocketbook. But, like all great romantics, the band, on the eve of a string of U.S. dates, disintegrated once more. Cale is politely reticent on the subject, except to call it "Very painful. It was clear from the start that it was the Lou Reed Band."

In March and December of 1967, Cale and the Velvet Underground released, respectively, The Velvet Underground and Nico and White Light/White Heat (both on Verve/ Polygram). Two of rock music's most seminal albums, Cale today regards them with a circumspect pride. "It's something I'm very cautious about," he says, acknowledging the works' lasting influence. "I think all of us are, in a way. We shy away from power. I think that's probably one of the things that separated Lou from the other three of us in the band." 

Although the Last Day on Earth album was just released in April, last month Rhino Records issued Seducing Down the Door, a 20-year retrospective of Cale's work. The handsome two-CD package draws from his 16 solo and collaborative albums and includes a detailed 50-page booklet containing rare photographs and track-by-track commentary by Cale himself.

As if all this were not enough, later this year Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, and two of the Last Day musicians will provide live music when the Warhol Museum presents a reconditioned version of Warhol's film The Kiss. This soundtrack, too, will likely end up as an album.

"This is a good job," Cale acknowledges before saying good-bye. He sounds pleased not so much with himself as with having ascended one more rung on the ladder.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Shadow Morton (1941-2013)

According to The New York Times obituary, Shadow Morton died--somewhat fittingly, given some of the songs he produced--on Valentine's Day.

This is what Paul Nelson had to say about Morton, who produced the New York Dolls' second LP, Too Much Too Soon, and the debut album by David Barretto:

"Shadow was a man who’d seen too many Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, and James Dean movies. He was an excellent producer—he taught the Dolls a lot—and an absolute spellbinder with a personal life so secretive and mysterious that it only added to his aura."

Labels: ,