[12 June 2005]
Musicians and writers agree that pop music critics are scum. If we were prostitutes instead of writers, our equivalent level in that field would be “ten dollar crack whore”. Most of us have day jobs, content with turning a few tricks on the side. There are a few, however, who aspire to greater things, like Nick Tosches.
Tosches, a former writer for Creem magazine, progressed through a classic biography of Jerry Lee Lewis (Hellfire), to fiction and non-fiction on many subjects. Tosches developed a style of writing that makes him unique, like James Ellroy in his recent works. He is not as well known as his contemporaries Greil Marcus or Lester Bangs, but he is a better writer than either of them. And better than Hunter Thompson—Tosches’s description of his struggle to stay on the wagon strikes a stronger chord than any of Thompson’s chemically induced meanderings.
Tosches writes like a jazz musician plays, starting with a theme and riffing off from there. His biography of Dean Martin, for example, is partly written in the first person, with the aging Dino describing how one of the highlights of his day is taking a good dump. He was born a bit too late for the Beats, but he would have fit right in, with a hipster style mixing street smarts with a keen awareness of philosophy and literature. He would have been perfectly at home in those vintage movie scenes with beatniks reading poetry backed by avant-garde music. In fact, that is what he does here.
Fuckthelivingfuckthedead is a recording of a poetry reading Tosches gave at Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Some of the poems are unaccompanied. Others are backed by Frank Funaro on percussion, Catherine McRae on violin, or occasionally both of them together. There is also a beginning instrumental track that sounds Middle Eastern with a bit of New Age shading. An exception is the fourteenth and last work, which has Patti Smith singing her song “Wild Horses” accompanied by Oliver Ray, with Tosches interspersing spoken words.
All in all, it is a rough recording. Tosches mispronounces words and repeats himself a few times. He has a New Joisey persona, as if he is embarrassed about being a poet. He will begin his free verses with lines like,“I don’t know who reads philosophy these days because since Heidegger they all suck.”
Another example is his “Louie Remembered What the Coptic Guy Said,” the shortest poem on the CD reproduced in toto here:
Louie remembered what the Coptic Guy said If you bring forth what is in within you, what you bring forth will save you If you do not bring forth what is in within you what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
The longest piece is ten and a half minutes, “A Cigarette With God”. It is the dark side of Bill Cosby’s bit where Noah talks with God about building the ark. Instead, Tosches asks for answers that he knows God will not reveal.
Since spoken word CDs don’t sell (except a few comedy ones), this one is not likely to bring Tosches mainstream attention. Maybe he will be discovered after he dies. At this point, he probably doesn’t give a shit. But if you take the time to listen to him or read his books, you will.