Neil Young Paints It Black: Zuma
Paul Nelson, Village Voice, 24 November 1975
NOTE: ON APRIL 14, 1983, Elliot Roberts, Neil Young's manager, wrote a letter to Paul: "This is to advise you that we will co-operate with you on the Neil Young book." He went on to say that not only would Young be available for interviews and discussions, but that, whenever possible, friends and associates would, too. The letter was welcome in more ways than one.
"He had that fairly expensive apartment on Lexington Avenue," William MacAdams recalls, "and then he didn't have the Rolling Stone salary coming in anymore." Paul's agent, Martha Millard, had shopped around his impassioned book proposal and secured him a respectable book deal with Doubleday. He was paid half of his $25,000 advance up front. "That's when he dropped out of sight," Millard says.
Parke Puterbaugh: "He wasn't able to move forward with it. I remember he would go through the motions of planning. He'd fly out to the West Coast and talk to this person and that person, but it never went much beyond that. I think maybe some people are not meant to write books, you know? I think maybe his medium was shorter, magazine-length features that he could worry over every word. Because if you tackle something as enormous as a book and you have this editorial overview that is so obsessed with every single word and observation, you're never going to get it done."
Two years into the project, in early February of 1985, Paul received an urgent Friday-morning message from Millard on his answering machine telling him that if he didn't speak with the publisher by Monday the contract would be canceled. "All you have to do, Paul, is talk to him. He's willing to help you, he's willing to listen to you. But if he does not hear from you on Monday, we're really up shit creek and you're going to owe the man $12,500. I don't want to scare you, but you have to deal with this!" While he didn't return her call, he did reach out to the publisher, who gave him an extension until September.
William MacAdams: "That's when I saw Paul–I'm not sure what the verb is–just change. He was always slow in writing pieces, but that's the period when he became unable to finish things. He was fed up with Wenner and Rolling Stone, his mother was dying, he couldn't finish the Eastwood article, and he couldn't write the Neil Young book–that all happened in the same period, and he just really was never the same after that."
Kevin Avery, from Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson (2011)
Total word count of piece: 1053