A man who proclaims “May the Lord be with you and may your wife suck my cock” clearly isn’t going to change for anyone or anything, including the apocalypse. And Nick Tosches’ many followers, including Johnny Depp, would surely perish that thought.
Having written with intensity about Dean Martin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Liston, Arnold Rothstein, and the eerie minstrel singer Emmett Miller, Tosches (rhymes with “galoshes”) now turns his attention to the old, crooked music business in his latest tome, Save The Last Dance For Satan. The book’s published by Kicks Books, a division of NYC’s own irreproducible Norton Records.
Tosches plans a rare public reading tonight at the New York Public Library branch in Greenwich Village that formerly served as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, where both Mae West and architect Stanford White once stood in the docket. He took a few questions over email.
You received your primary education in your father’s bar. Which lessons proved most beneficial in your younger years? Which proved more useful as life progressed?
Most men are fools, and the ones that profess worldliness and wisdom are the biggest fools of all. Scratch the surface of a sage, find a sucker.
You faced down Hurricane Irene in NYC, having previously seen the city through bankruptcy, blackout, Berkowitz, apocalypse, Rudolph, and the extinction of most Manhattan titty bars. Have your crisis-response tactics changed over the decades? Which, if any, works of art inspire you during such times?
Hurricane Irene? Sissy town, sissy hurricane. Just a lot of rain. Bankruptcy, blackouts: nothing. Which Berkowitz? A lot of people with that name are far more dangerous (lawyers, politicians, doctors) than he ever was.
Apocalypse is not something we’ve faced until now, and it’s dull enough to be just another cable-TV program. The only really deadly, frightening thing you mention is Rudy. He killed this town. And Bloomberg drove the nails into the coffin.
My crisis-response tactic has blissfully evolved to where I regard it all as entertainment. I enjoy watching the slow death of the world.
Any work of art (terrible word) that is banned, feared, and damned inspires me. Any work of art that is beautiful also inspires me, but it rarely comes close to what can be gotten by beholding the sky.
The Jefferson Market Library comes complete with its own colorful history. Have you read there before? Which are your favorite NYC reading spots, and which spirits do they summon?
No, I’ve never read there before, but I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of the most singular historical landmarks in New York, and, on a more personal note, it was for many years my neighborhood library. And they are giving me the freedom to read certain of my poems that have been published in France but suppressed here in the homeland as incendiary blasphemy.
I used to enjoy reading in big crowded dive bars. There’s something wonderful about silencing a bunch of drunks with the power of words. I wouldn’t want to do this in the yuppie joints that now predominate. Something creepy about reading to dead punks.
You remark in your introduction to the 1998 edition of Unsung Heroes Of Rock ‘n’ Roll that no other book of yours has “brought forth more strangers telling me that they have laughed so finely while discovering so much.” Have the rise of YouTube and the unprecedented ubiquity of the artists profiled in that book brought forth more grateful strangers?
Yes, more and more. And that’s a good thing: for all that fine, dirty old real rock ‘n’ roll to be spread wider and wider, corrupting and breathing life into new souls every day. It’s sort of like the murder of Justin Bieber happening anew every day, bigger and better—a beautiful thing.
Johnny Depp and Julian Schnabel plan to film your latest novel, In The Hand Of Dante. Your impressions of those men? Any advice for them on how to adapt your work?
I wouldn’t have let Johnny have the opportunity to make a moom-pitcher version of In the Hand of Dante if I wasn’t confident that he will make it a motherfucker. Johnny and I have been close friends for a lot of years, and I know and trust in what he can do. He might actually love that novel as much as I do. The only advice I have to give is: make it new, don’t be afraid of the dark, and fuck ’em all.
The fascinating connection between Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and the Dick Clark Caravan Of Stars came from none other than your publisher, Kicks Books’ Miriam Linna. How did you meet Ms. Linna, and how did she relate this singular linkage?
I met Miriam and her husband, Billy, a long time ago. We’ve known each other for over a quarter of a century. As for the Oswald-Ruby rock-‘n’-roll confluence, it’s just one of the strange truths beneath the lie of history that Miriam has been drawn to.
Can Manhattan 2011 furnish any dung to fertilize a new Golden Age (Χρυσόν Γένος)? Or would it be better off salted like Shechem?
No. Let’s just piss on the fucker and bury it. It’s already dead, rotting, and stinking.
L’Officiel Hommes describes you as “the writer from hell.” Do you feel yourself literally a resident of Hades? What do you expect from the afterlife?
I feel myself to be an inhabitant of a paradise of my own device. Afterlife? Fuck the afterlife.
Nick Tosches reads at the Jefferson Market Library tonight at 8 p.m.