Hellfire: Nick Tosches

by Matt

Hands down, the greatest rock biography ever written. Unlike so many other books about musicians (maybe all of the others?) Tosches manages, with the way he writes, to capture the non-stop energy of his subject, Jerry Lee Lewis, who veers dangerously like a character from the old testament between the devil, portrayed here by the boogie woogie of the piano that Lewis is born to play, and the calling of the church that Lewis pushes away by playing the devil’s music that people beg to hear him play. Eventually he disappears on the country scene where he purges his guilt and for a while it seems he has found salvation but then he becomes an even bigger star and his downfall begins all over again. The book begins outside Gracelands at 3 in the morning. Jerry Lee has a gun and he wants to see Elvis. “You just tell him the Killer’s here!” he tells the security guard. Elvis’s response, from the bed which by now was his home, is to tell his men to call the cops. Unlike other rock biographies you don’t have to be interested in the subject to be affected by this story. A passing interest in life will suffice.

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