The wonderful things that can happen when you don’t fulfill your first career goal.
Question: Beyond a simple title, how would you describe what you do?
Nelson George: Well my career has been a lot of evolution. I mean I started out wanting to be the world’s greatest rock critic. I mean that’s what I wanted to be. And I didn’t become the world’s greatest, but I became one of the top . . . I always thought I become one of the top five. And that was in the ‘80s when I think . . . one of the last periods when music criticism really mattered. I wrote . . . I mean the Village Voice was my home. I wrote some stuff for the Times. I wrote some stuff for Rolling Stone, but I was really a Voice guy. I also worked at Billboard magazine as Black music editor from 1982 to 1989. So I was writing and immersed in a really wonderful time in sort of Black music certainly, and American music okay. It was an incredible . . . The birth of hip hop was going on – the development of hip hop. There was Michael Jackson. There was Prince. There was a really incredible kind of pop sound out of L.A., which is a kind of Quincy Jones, S.O.L.A.R Records thing that was going on that had a . . . that spawned tons of hit records as well. So there was a lot of vibrancy around that. And then I also ended up living around the corner from Spike Lee, and I was an investor in She’s Gotta Have It. So I was around the birth and development of this . . . kind of the current wave of sort of Black film, and _________ films which had never really existed before. So that was . . . I was a chronicler of all of that stuff. I wrote a lot of books. I wrote a ton of articles for all kinds of publications. And that was sort of the first phase in my career. And to a lot of people that’s still who I am through the books. And the fact is I’m a talking head on tons of documentaries. But in the ‘90s I sort of became more active in being a creator I guess. I started doing novels. I did a number of commercial novels. I wrote and worked on a couple of Hollywood movies – one called Strictly Business with Halle Berry in it; and _________, Chris Rock. And then I actually ended up working with Chris on his HBO series The Chris Rock Show and started doing short films of various kinds, one of which actually ended up in the Toronto Festival in ’87. So I began this transition. I was still writing for the Voice on and off through the mid ‘90s regularly, and still writing non-fiction and fiction books. I did a book on hip hop that came out in ’96, ’97 called Hip Hop America which has been translated all over the place. So I was still doing it, but I was also doing these other kind of . . . between my past identity, if you will, and sort of whatever I was becoming. And now I basically am a producer/filmmaker dude. I still have a book . . . I have actually an anthology I’m writing about James Brown that I put together coming out in spring ’08. And I have a memoir coming out in ’09. So . . . But in a way both those pieces are almost like retentions of my past. And basically most of my focus now I produce . . . I produce a series for BET called American Gangster . . . profiles of infamous Black gangsters. And I directed a movie for HBO with Queen Latifah called Life Support. So I’m doing a lot more. That’s kind of where I’m going is directing a lot more stuff. I’m actually working . . . producing a very funny . . . hopefully a very funny documentary with Chris Rock about hair. And actually I’m going to India next week with him and a bunch of people to shoot Chris Rock walking through the markets of Southern India trying to sell Black hair to Indian hair merchants.