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The Nick Tosches Reader Paperback – April 4, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From 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 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press (April 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306809699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306809699
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Russ Tarby on September 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
From his groanings about girls who done him wrong to the great insights into the peccadilloes of his biographic subjects, Nick Tosches astonishes with his devil-may-care prose style. He can be gentle as a feather as demonstrated in several poems printed here or he can be brutal as a bloody machete as evidenced in the unflinching profiles of Dean Martin, Sonny Liston and Jerry Lee Lewis--but he's ALWAYS both honest and entertaining. That's not to say that he simply supplants the historical record with fancy literary devices. On the contrary, as a researcher Tosches' tentacles reach from the basements of dusty libraries to the boardrooms of entertainment executives to the social clubs that function as Mafia fronts. For anyone so sheltered that they haven't encountered Tosches' work elsewhere in the past two decades, this READER serves as an apt introduction to one of the most talented writers of our time.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Brian W. Fairbanks VINE VOICE on August 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
If Humphrey Bogart (or the characters he usually played) had been a writer, he might have been Nick Tosches. Tough and funny with an iconoclasm even Bogie would have been hard-pressed to match, the author acknowledges his tough guy aspirations in the foreword to this collection of his early work: "I thought of myself as a tough guy. That is to say I pretended to be a tough guy." The cover photograph showing Tosches with cigarette in hand, a wiseguy look in his eyes, suggest he's still pretending. It may be an act but Tosches has the write stuff to pull it off.

That foreword may be one of the most honest self-portraits a writer has ever published. He admits what most of us who toil in the land of ink-stained wretchdom would probably deny but know to be true: we write because we're afraid to look someone in the eye and tell the honest, unvarnished truth about ourselves and others. But even confronting a blank piece of paper requires a courage many writers and aspiring writers lack. Tosches has courage in abundance. Anyone who subscribes to the foolishness of political correctness won't be able to endure more than a few pages of Tosches's writing. He's brutal in his honesty, and refuses to bow down and kiss the ring of popular fashion. Whether the subject is his own youth, Elvis (his ruminations on the King are a highlight), Miles Davis, fellow writer Lester Bangs, drugs, sex, rock and roll, or country music, Tosches, whose formal education never progressed beyond high-school, writes about it in an often erudite manner that is saved from pretension by the tough kick to the groin he frequently administers.

This collection was compiled from Tosches' writings through the years for publications large and small, and usually obscure and forgotten. His prose (and the several pages of poetry included) is shocking, funny, and damn good. This a collection to turn to again and again.

Brian W. Fairbanks
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By lexo1941 on March 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
Nick Tosches has a hard voice to criticise, because it's based on a pose of having been to weirder places, seen weirder stuff and basically having lived a harder, darker and weirder life than the mere reader can possibly compete with. This is, in short, the voice of a true son of a certain and honourable school of journalism. It is not, however, the only way of talking about certain subjects. There are other ways, and other voices, some of them more persuasive than his.

For example: when Tosches was occasionally called upon by Rolling Stone to review records in the early 70s, he quite often regarded the assignment with such contempt that he didn't bother to listen to the record in question, but made up the review out of his own head. A case in point is his self-confessedly fictional review of Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid', one of the greatest albums in hard rock, but which Tosches couldn't be bothered to listen to because...well, because he was some kind of a cultural snob, plain and simple. His 'review' of it is included here, without even the merest hint of regret that he failed to spot how brilliant an album it is. I imagine that even now he regards it as beneath his notice.

Elsewhere, there is much writing that's high on octane but low on substance. There is little, in short, that lovers of music will want to reread, given Tosches' all-too-apparent but seldom openly stated contempt for the music he is mostly writing about. Much of the rest of the book is more or less entertaining, but little of it has the tragic depth of masterpieces such as his stunning Dean Martin biography 'Dino', or his equally scalding Sonny Liston bio 'Night Train', each of them heartbreaking chronicles of spiritual collapse.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Patrick Wagner on April 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Nick Tosches has written reviews,journalism biography and novels. It isn't until you are deep into this collection,that you realize how Tosches has built his writing into a combination of all of these. It doesn't just contain magazine articles and old reviews,it also contins healthy hunks of his novels and full-length biographies. This is well-worth your time if you are familiar with his writing and want more, or if you are just getting interested in this unique writer. I have to go now; I want to read some of the selections ,again.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Henry Zeno on December 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've always enjoyed Nick Tosches. I read "Country" years ago in a Nashville library; I halfway expected to get arrested. "Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll" never fails to lift my spirits--it's one of the funniest things ever written. His novels are all right, too, and I recommend "Cut Numbers," the paperback edition of which I just bought and read in one evening. And, of course, I never travel without my hardcover of "Dino." This collection has a little too much of his poetry for my taste (although I relish his dissection of Raymond Carver's poetry), and stuff like "Frankie, Part 1" doesn't quite make it for me. The piece on George Jones is just about the best thing here and worth the price of the book. "The Sea's Endless, Awful Rhythm & Me Without Even a Dirty Picture," from "Stranded" (an otherwise undistinguished collection of essays on desert-island records), is great too. I myself never bought any of that peace-and-love jive, and I am a fan of Jerry Lee Lewis and late-'40s rhythm-and-blues, so I find Mr. Tosches a kindred spirit, even though he's from Newark and I grew up in Tennessee. He's a great prose stylist and, I've heard tell, a snappy dresser as well. I once worked with a very pretentious lady editor, from Seattle, who, most annoyingly, liked to refer to Raymond Carver as "Ray" (I think she workshopped with him once or something). I made her a copy of Tosches's piece on Carver, "Please Be Quiet-Please," and I never had to suffer her conversation again.
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