The Nick Tosches Reader


Newsday has said that Nick Tosches "casts brilliant black light." The San Diego Reader has said that "Tosches's best sentences uncoil like rattlesnakes and strike with a venom that spreads poison through all the little Sunday-school ideas you've held dear." And Rolling Stone has said that "Tosches can write like a wild rockabilly raveup. He can be elegant as a slow blues." The Nick Tosches Reader is the author's own selection of his best work over the past thirty years, including fiction, poetry, interviews, rock...
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Newsday has said that Nick Tosches "casts brilliant black light." The San Diego Reader has said that "Tosches's best sentences uncoil like rattlesnakes and strike with a venom that spreads poison through all the little Sunday-school ideas you've held dear." And Rolling Stone has said that "Tosches can write like a wild rockabilly raveup. He can be elegant as a slow blues." The Nick Tosches Reader is the author's own selection of his best work over the past thirty years, including fiction, poetry, interviews, rock writing, investigative journalism, and criticism. First published in major magazines, obscure underground periodicals, and his own best-selling books, many of these selections deal with rock 'n' roll and cultural icons-but there are also pieces on everything from William Faulkner to organized crime to heavyweight boxing, including the Vanity Fair feature that gave rise to Tosches's major new book on Sonny Liston, published by Little, Brown. Here is "a unique and darkly impressionistic cultural history" of the last three decades as only Nick Tosches could write it.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
New York Times Book Review, 7/15/10
“If you want to learn about the power and dangers of rock ’n’ roll, check out Mary Gaitskill’s incomparable novel Veronica or Marianne Faithfull’s cackling memoir or The Nick Tosches Reader.”
Sky Magazine
The writing is intense, truculent, often inspired.
New York Press
[Tosches] has accomplished that rare coup - becoming a rock critic with legitimate literary respectability.
LA Weekly
In the nearly 600 pages of The Nick Tosches Reader, one discovers an adaptable writer who is able to find the perfect pitch, tone, and authorial voice to address his subject.
Toronto Globe and Mail
...guaranteed to keep the noses of rock-crit nerds...pressed to the page all summer long.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Tosches is best known for his 100-proof biographies of Dean Martin and Jerry Lee Lewis, and his beautifully trenchant life of the prize-fighter Sonny Liston (see review above) will arrive to the timely accompaniment of this collection from his diverse writing career, showing Tosches to be more than a gifted, dogged chronicler of flawed public figures. The Reader contains more than 100 pieces, including excerpts from the author's nonfiction, his two novels (Cut Numbers, Trinities), dozens of magazine pieces that appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, Esquire and Vanity Fair (to which Tosches is now a contributing editor) and riffs on Charles Olson's Maximus Poems, Sinatra's voice, Miles Davis's horn, Carly Simon's mouth and "The Singer Madonna Arraigned by the Ghost of Pope Alexander VI." While these pieces, taken together, show the arc of a successful career, they also give a glimpse of a period in magazine writing that is long gone, in which hell-bent editors such as Lester Bangs would assign a review of a new album and the reviewer could simply talk about how the packaging felt in his hands. Tosches, early in his career, paid his bills with small fees garnered as a music critic, and this lively era of no-holds-barred journalism (later to be dubbed "New") is on raunchy display here. Creem asked Tosches to interview Patti Smith, and the rock-poet says, "Hell, Nick, you know me. Just make it up." And he does. In Rock magazine, he reviewed an album that never existed ("It is indeed quite difficult to approach this album with the pedestrian sensibilities that suffice for most musical creations"). The term "pedestrian" will never be applied to Tosches--neither in his interests nor his prose style. In this carefully constructed collection, for which Tosches provides contextual links and anecdotes about the composition of each piece, readers will get a complex and satisfying portrait not only of a time but of a deeply reflective and probing writer who, beneath the din of music and gangsters and poseurs, hears what he calls "the wisdom and power of silence and wind." (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Best known for his classic Jerry Lee Lewis biography, Hellfire, Tosches has compiled his book and record reviews, articles, rock interviews, and other works that have appeared in magazines (under- and overground) in the last 30 years. While organizing this anthology-of-sorts, he also wrote funny and insightful introductions to each piece. The best parts are the short fiction and personal essays, which are often overtly sexual and hubristic but written with an Olympian mastery of language--it's like reading Bukowski by way of Tennyson. The resulting work would, in a just world, make Tosches the patron saint of literate, disaffected male college students with an ear for caustic, honest work. The music writings and book reviews are ultimately esoteric but help forge this collection into a fascinating document of New York City subculture and the dissipation of the Altamont generation. Recommended for larger social science collections.--Colin Carlson, New York Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306809699
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Pages: 620
  • Sales rank: 979,948
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Tosches

Nick Tosches is the author of Hellfire, Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll, Power on Earth, Cut Numbers, Dino, and Trinities.


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, 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

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I was eighteen or nineteen years old, working days at the Lovable Underwear Company, when I came to know the poet Ed Sanders. Ed, who twenty years later would win an American Book Award for his poetry, was then the ringleader of the notorious band The Fugs, and he also ran the Peace Eye bookstore, which at that time was on Avenue A.

    Ed had a degree in classical languages, and could read fluently in their own Greek and Latin those ancient poets that I could only understand through the gauze of translation. I had tried to teach myself Greek from the two volumes of A Reading Course in Homeric Greek that I had robbed from a divinity student a few years before, and I had taken Latin in high school; but it was beyond me to truly delve the beauties and powers of the poetry of those tongues, as Ed could. He had even studied Egyptian hieroglyphics.

    We shared, he in his erudite way and I in my unlettered fashion, a love for those ancient fragments that were the wisps of the source, the wisps of origin, the wisps of the first and truest expression of all that since had been said. And we both had dirty minds, given as much to the gutter as to the gods.

    The Lower East Side was a different place back then. It was still a neighborhood. East Thirteenth Street was still known as the Street of Silence, a name I would bestow on another Mafia stronghold, Sullivan Street, in my novel Cut Numbers. The joints were still joints. We drank a lot in those joints.

    Ed was a great guy. He was about ten years older than I, and was the first real poet to whom I showed my poetry. "Hell, man," he told me, "you're a fucking poet." As I doubt he ever realized he was my first mentor, so I doubt he ever realized what a shove forward, what a turning point, this was for me.

    That poem, which bore the title "Still/Life," and which I later invoked in my novel Trinities, is long gone. Fragments of it follow.


A blunt shock to find your life in episodes on a Mochican vase
& the cool white tile
emergency room, 3 AM

Excerpted from THE NICK TOSCHES READER by Nick Tosches. Copyright © 2000 by Nick Tosches, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xiii
1. Still/Life 1
2. Review of Paranoid 3
3. Review of Good Taste Is Timeless 6
4. Review of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat 9
5. Absolutely Dead! 12
6. Leuk 14
7. The Heartbeats Never Did Benefits 20
8. God-Crazed Hippies Reap Boffo B.O 24
9. Be Bop A Lula 29
10. The Box 31
11. The 24-Hr Sound of Country Gospel and the Dark 33
12. Beyond Euclid: Pool! 38
13. The Real Avant-Garde 40
14. Review of Gately's Cafe 44
15. Muddy Waters Rarely Eats Fish 46
16. Eye: Disease 49
17. Review of The Mollusks of Tartura 50
18. Sex and Booze 53
19. Valerie 59
20. Screamin' Jay Hawkins and the Monster 61
21. Patti Smith 67
22. Country 80
23. Excerpt from Country 84
24. When Literary Lights Turn on the TV 86
25. Letter 91
26. Patti Smith: Straight, No Chaser 92
27. God Created Dean Martin in His Own Image, Then Stood Back 97
28. Jim Morrison: The Late Late Show 99
29. Blondie Plucks Her Legs 102
30. Review of Always Know 106
31. The Gospel According to Jerry Lee 108
32. Journal Entry 114
33. A Christmas Carol 115
34 The Sea's Endless, Awful Rhythm & Me Without Even a
Dirty Picture 124
35. The Sweet Thighs of Mother Mary 131
36. Pizza Man 133
37. Lust Among the Adverbs 134
38. Letter 146
39. Purity 147
40. Pizza Man 159
41. The Butt and I 166
42. Pleasant Brits and 180-Degree Spins 170
43. Excerpt from Hellfire 172
44. Felicity Opens Wide 175
45. Journal Entries 185
46. Good Book Made Better 189
47. Lust in the Balcony 192
48. Review of A Child's Adventure 197
49. Review of The Maximus Poems 199
50. Elvis in Death 203
51 Maybe It Was My Big Mouth—Carly Simon: Free, White,
and Pushing Forty 211
52. Review of A Choice of Enemies 215
53. Review of The Garden of Priapus 218
54. Review of A House in the Country 220
55. Review of Renaissance and Reform 222
56. Excerpt from Unsung Heroes of Rock `n' Roll 224
57. God Is My Cosponsor 232
58. Frankie: Part 1 234
59. Hillary Brooke's Legs 247
60. Elmer Batters 250
61. Review of Canned Meat 252
62. How to Pick Up Girls in Albania 254
63. Excerpt from Power on Earth 256
64. Excerpt from Frankie: Part 2 268
65. Pentecostals in Heat 276
66. The Short-Shorts of Satan 286
67. Excerpt from Cut Numbers 294
68. Exile on Twenty-first Street 308
69. Review of Killer: The Mercury Years 310
70. Miles Davis: The Hat Makes the Man 313
71. James Douglas Morrison, 1943-1971 317
72 The Singer Madonna Arraigned by the Ghost of Pope
Alexander VI 321
73. Lester 323
74. Excerpt from Dino 329
75. Oedipus Tex 335
76. J. Edgar Hoover: The Burroughsian Nightmare 345
77. Memories of Joe 349
78. My Kind of Loving 352
79. George Jones: The Grand Tour 353
80. My Overcoat, My Brains, and Me 385
81. Notebook entry 392
82. Nightmare Alley 393
83. Excerpt from Trinities 396
84. Letter 409
85. The Holy City 410
86. Ophis Ovum Opium Olé 414
87. There's a Woman Here, Baby 416
88. Who Holds in Her Belly the Power of Life 417
89. A Slab of Grease, a Bottle of Carbona, and Thou 418
90. Excerpt from "Entering the Barrens" 428
91. Requiescat Dino 431
92. De Niro 434
93. The Unfuckable 442
94. The Coin 447
95. Why I Am Great 449
96. Sea of Love 452
97. Faraglione 9/16/96 453
98. If I Were Robert Stack 454
99. Letter 458
100. Letter 460
101. Letter 461
102. Letter 463
103. Letter 465
104. Spud Crazy 466
105. The Things I Got 488
106. Ash Wednesday 491
107. The Devil and Sidney Korshak 493
108. Excerpt from Where Dead Voices Gather 526
109. Night Train 529
110. Dear Privileged Intimate 557
111. Hymn for Charlie 558
112. E-mail 559
113. Please Be Quiet-Please 560
114. From Chaldea 562
Hymn to Paean, Physician of the Gods
All of Gust and Sigh
Old Nick's Song of Songs
May the Gods without Names Redeem Me
Ptolemy II
Dante in Ravenna
From the Dream-book of Artemidorus
What the Coptic Guy Said
115. Excerpt from Scratch 567
116. Excerpt from In the Hand of Dante 584
Bibliographical Appendix 586
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