Paul Nelson (1934-2006)

1. 5. 2007 | Rubriky: Články, Multilingual, Lives

[by Ken Hunt, London] The US critic Paul Nelson chose to walk away from writing, despite a writing career that included stints of writing and editing for Circus, Musician, Rolling Stone, Sing Out! and Village Voice. He wrote insightfully about a range of acts including Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and The Clash. He specialised in engaging with music that excited him; during a stint at Mercury Records in the A&R department he signed the New York Dolls, an act of faith viewed as folly by many in the company. (He moved on.) No longer moved by the latest happening thing he gave up writing, working in a New York video shop for many years, but kept listening to the likes of Chet Baker and Ralph Stanley and was even inveigled into speaking in Martin Scorsese’s No Direction Home (2005) documentary on Dylan.

Nelson hailed from Warren, Minnesota - small town America at its finest - and attended the University of Minnesota where he roomed next door to John Pankake, another fellow bitten by the folk bug. In 1961 they founded the Little Sandy Review, a folk magazine of iconic status (though few ever actually held a copy). They were motivated by the possibility of getting free review copies. It ran for 30 issues. Nelson had run into Bobby Zimmerman, as he was still known, whilst he was doing Harry Belafonte, Odetta and Josh White covers. In an issue dated circa 1962 (reprinted in The Dylan Companion (2001)), Pankake and Nelson spoke of meeting him in the summer of 1960. He was then “a promising member of a group of singers who performed at a local coffee house called the Ten O’Clock Scholar”. They hooked up with the renamed Bob Dylan in May 1961 and recalled his reinvention with wonderment, “The change in Bob was, to say the least, incredible.” Around 1963 Nelson too gravitated to New York, a shaping and eye-opening experience, assisted by him landing the best folk-LPs-for-nothing position in the land as managing editor of Sing Out! He stayed the course until he quit in support of Dylan going electric. Nelson was a valuable champion for Dylan and he would be a valuable champion of many more musicians in his later rock years. He was found dead at his home in Manhattan on 4 July 2006. The authorities later ascertained the cause of death as heart disease, not, as the rumour mill first churned out, starvation. Coy about his date of birth, his age was said to be 69 when he died. Fittingly his exact date of death was down to forensics.


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