Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story

( 2 )

Overview

Born in Louisiana to a family legacy of great courage and greater madness, Jerry Lee was torn throughout his life between a harsh Pentecostal God and the Devil of alcohol, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. He began performing publicly at fourteen, and at twenty-one he recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," which propelled him to stardom. Almost immediately, news of his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin all but destroyed his career. Over the next twenty years, Jerry Lee, ever indomitable and ever wild, would rise...
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Overview

Born in Louisiana to a family legacy of great courage and greater madness, Jerry Lee was torn throughout his life between a harsh Pentecostal God and the Devil of alcohol, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. He began performing publicly at fourteen, and at twenty-one he recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," which propelled him to stardom. Almost immediately, news of his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin all but destroyed his career. Over the next twenty years, Jerry Lee, ever indomitable and ever wild, would rise again as a country star, and then lose it all again to his own inner demons.
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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
Tosches' book is a work of art.
Esquire
The book is undeniably a feat — turning a sordid, tormented life into a rousing piece of poetic expressionism.
Philadelphia Inquirer
Hellfire sets a new standard.
Rolling Stone
Quite simply the best rock and roll biography ever written.
Esquire
The book is undeniably a feat -- turning a sordid, tormented life into a rousing piece of poetic expressionism.
Newsday
The best rock 'n' roll biography ever written....There is a novelistic intensity to this story of scandal, tragedy, triumph and love....Riveting.
The Boston Globe
Tosches' book is a work of art.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Hellfire sets a new standard.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802135667
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 618,827
  • Product dimensions: 5.58 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Tosches
Nick Tosches
A journalist who has also written three novels, Nick Tosches is an acclaimed biographer whose unconventional books -- Dino and The Devil and Sonny Liston among them -- illuminate some of America's more controversial, overshadowed talents.

Biography

A highly praised author who seems to base his choice of subjects not so much on eminence as conflicted greatness, Nick Tosches is the best example of a good rock journalist who set out to transcend his genre and succeeded. Having begun in music mags Creem and Fusion in the 1970s, the author’s career took a large turn upward with the publication of Hellfire, his biography of rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis. It didn’t hurt that Rolling Stone anointed it “the best rock n’ roll biography ever written.”

A few years later, Tosches departed from the rock milieu but maintained his attraction to subjects of undeniable power and questionable – if not downright criminal – character. He chronicled the life and times of Sicilian financier Michele Sindona in the now out of print Power on Earth, then scored another biographical home run with his authoritative Dino, about Rat Pack entertainer Dean Martin.

None of these subjects was begging to be written about; nor was the boxer Tosches compellingly depicted in The Devil and Sonny Liston, the blackface minstrel introduced in Where Dead Voices Gather, or the focus of The Last Opium Den. This is where the author’s talent nests: First in his ability to unearth topics that represent history’s alleyways; and second in the courageous, authentic prose he uses to describe them, including liberal doses of ten-dollar-words and allusions to his own role in the story.

Tosches doesn’t get caught up so much in an individual; he works to create an aura. “The lives in [my biographies] are as much about the forces at work beneath, beyond, and around,” he said in a 1999 interview with Salon. “The Liston book, to a great extent, is about those forces more than it's about Sonny himself. I mean, Sonny's life is there in full, but there are other characters and other forces directly relating to various underworlds.” Tosches will take you to his subject eventually; but he might show you through a few detours first. For example, his search in The Last Opium Den begins, “You see, I needed to go to hell I was, you might say, homesick. But first, by way of explanation, the onion.”

Tosches’ fiction work has existed under the shadow of his biographies, something the author wants to change with the ambitious, portentously promoted 2002 release In the Hand of Dante. His first novel about a Mafia scheme to fix the New York lottery, Cut Numbers, was generally well received but largely forgotten; Trinities, “a battle for evil,” was a New York Times Notable Book of 1994 but is now out of print in the States. In the Hand of Dante is a self-referential, layered story that twists the discovery of a 14th-century manuscript into a modern-day thriller also containing Alighieri himself as a character. Whether In the Hand of Dante will be, as its publisher predicts, “the most ragingly debated novel of the decade,” like the rest of Tosches’ work, it has drawn respect and attention.

Good To Know

In the 1970s, Tosches was a hunter of poisonous snakes for the Miami Serpentarium. He was also a paste-up artist for the Lovable Underwear Company.

Tosches has written a screenplay, Spud Crazy; planned adaptations of Dino (by Martin Scorsese) and The Devil and Sonny Liston (with Ving Rhames in the lead) have been reported but disappeared. Tosches told Salon in 1999, "The people in Hollywood that clean out the urinals know more about the movie status of my books than I do." In 2002, FOXNews.com reported that veteran producer Robert Evans planned to make a film based on Tosches’s Vanity Fair article “The Devil and Sidney Korshak,” about “connected” Chicago lawyer. Tosches was slated to write the screenplay.

Tosches, who was not big on higher education, was “schooled in his father’s bar,” according to his publisher’s bio. He spent his teenage years as a porter at Tosches family’s Jersey City joint.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1948
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      High school

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2006

    Shocking!!!

    The first thing when you think about Jerry Lee Lewis is Great Balls of Fire, but 'Hellfire' says otherwise. A drunk driver kills Elmo Jr., Jerry¿s older brother in the first pages when Jerry is only three years old. Although Jerry is devastated by the accident, he does not let it get to him. Jerry started to play the piano at the age of eight and never looked back. Signing with Sun records in 1954, Jerry wrote three top ten hits, including Great Balls of Fire, which was his biggest hit of all-time. At the same time, Jerry married Myra Gale Brown, who happened to be his second cousin and only thirteen at the time. In the late 50's, Jerry appeared in a few movies including High School Confidential. Lewis's final note of fame was in the country music business in the late 60's, where he wrote a few songs that crossed the hits list, but nothing big. The fame that Mr. Lewis made could not match the tragedy or scandal in his life. Jerry hit rock bottom when his second born child, Steve Lewis died in a pool from drowning in 1969. In addition, in 1973, Jerry Lewis Jr. the firstborn child, died in a roadside accident. Also, in the 70's, came the scandal at Jerry's forty-first birthday, where Jerry shot his bass player thinking that the gun he had aimed at him was empty. Luckily, the band member survived and was released from the hospital a couple of days later. Jerry Lee Lewis was done with music from that point on, but his old tunes still make the airwaves today. This year Jerry Lee turned 71 on September 29 and still is living strong. The major messages of the book include scandal, addictions, tragedy and success. I liked the part of 'Hellfire' when it talked about how Elvis was jealous of his piano playing skills and how Jerry was able to overcome the death of his older brother at such a young age. I disliked how Jerry Lee married his cousin and conceived a child and how the author, Nick Tosches, did not explain the country music that Jerry sang. People should read this book because it mentions how hard life really can be to someone who seems rich and famous, and how tragedy can really affect everyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002

    goodbook

    you well know everthing about them

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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