Nelson Slater Is One Step Beyond

A Rock & Roll survivor who keeps pumping out music

May 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm

We meet at a café on a rainy Friday afternoon across the street from a trans-dimensional space/time portal at the base of two ancient pyramids. Each of these structures, as it was explained to me, were three times larger than the ones built by the Egyptians. These same pyramids are part of a larger sub-surface structure that reached from Cincinnati to Oxford at one time. They are what remain of an ancient outpost for the city of Atlantis.

At this time, the portal is dormant. It’s still just an alleyway entrance to a real estate broker.

The café waitress approaches us. I quickly order coffee and Nelson Slater, after looking at the Nelson Slater menu rather intensely, orders a self-described “working-man’s beer” along with a glass of ice.

I’m immediately perplexed. The custom of putting a beer into a glass of ice has never come across to me as a possibility.

Slater is a man that by his own admission has been in servitude to Rock & Roll for his entire life. He carries dual citizenship and was originally born in Canada on an island that he claims has since disappeared. His tale starts there and with his first performance at the age of 5 in talent shows near an airbase in Saskatchewan. He says he was an instant hit and discovered early on how to woo the audience with his stomp and swagger. He hasn’t quit since.

Slater reminisces about a young girl playing piano at these same shows that would later turn out to be Joni Mitchell. And, really, this is how the myth of the man that is Nelson Slater starts…

But let’s pause to take all of this in for a minute. Slater is old enough to be my father. In fact, when I mention my father’s name he pauses because it rings a bell. When I ask my father about Slater and one of his earliest efforts, Admiral Nelson and His Oppressed Seaman, he pauses. His bell is ringing too.

Slater has been playing music and doing his thing longer than most of us have been alive. He has spent his entire life shifting and sliding from point to point, doing what he does best with success and stardom being either one step ahead of him or one step behind. He occupies a space where the continuity of artistic expression is a new form of blood coursing through his veins.

You can read about Slater in Lou Reed’s biography. Slater was his college roommate and, as Slater tells it, he was instrumental in Lou Reed’s career because Slater remembered to take his guitar and amp to college. Lou didn’t.

You can see Slater’s name on flyers from the San Francisco and New York Music scenes. After all, he has had a lifetime of self-success influencing or being influenced by those floors he slept and lived upon. Or by those who slept, lived and died on his floors.

The hippie movement that would spring from The Haight-Ashbury scene was something that he experienced and moved on from, just as it was hitting. It wasn’t new to him. It was familiar. He lived there and told tales of how he freaked out the freaks before they became the freaks.

Nelson’s controversial ’70s RCA Records release, Wild Angel, produced by Reed, is sought by collectors worldwide. It’s a record he shows me, still wrapped in plastic. I would love to rip that plastic off and place the record on the turntable and turn up the volume to 11. But I show restraint.

I will admit, I get lost in his tales of crisscrossing the U.S. from San Francisco to New York City and all points between. He mentions people and places and parties and tells stories that are too numerous, scandalous and lengthy for any size of article.

History is only relative to those who survive. And Slater is a survivor. He doesn’t see himself as a leader or follower. He is Nelson. He feels full of purpose. He has outlived his predecessors and contemporaries long past their usefulness. While they are fulfilling contract obligations to the big industry or are worm food, Slater has found his place.

Slater surfs the periphery of it all. Walking either the modern streets or navigating ancient corridors and throughways, Slater is still out there. He is a distressed moment’s nervous soundtrack with an anxious quirk-andjerk rhythm and pop-dives of suicidal desperation. A shiny dagger on a path lined with thorn bushes. He uses The Bored Teen War Team, Plain White Rapper and Steam Age Time Giant as vehicles for continued reverence and units of defiance.

One step behind? One step forward? One step beyond! Watch closely. That portal might have already opened.

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