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Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story (Penguin Magnum Collection) [Paperback]

Nick Tosches
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
Price: £12.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

7 May 2009 Penguin Magnum Collection
The dramatic and tormented life of Jerry Lee Lewis is the most fabled in rock 'n' roll history. Hellfire is a wild, riveting, and beautifully written biography that received universal acclaim on its original publication and is now an American classic. Born in Louisiana to a family legacy of great courage and greater madness, Jerry Lee was torn throughout his life between a harsh Pentecostal God and the Devil of alcohol, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. At twenty-one he recorded 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On', which propelled him to stardom. Almost immediately, news of his marriage to his thirteen-year-old cousin all but destroyed his career. Over the next twenty years, Jerry Lee, ever indomitable and ever wild, would rise again as a country star, and then lose it all again to his own inner demons. Hellfire is a brilliant, audacious journey into the soul of a rock 'n' roll legend, and into the soul of rock 'n' roll itself.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Re-issue edition (7 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041858
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 250,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Tosches was born (1949) in Newark, New Jersey, and raised by wolves from the other side. Through nepotism he became a barroom porter at the age of fourteen. Casting this career to the wind in his quest for creative fulfillment, he became a paste-up artist for the Lovable Underwear Company in New York City. On January 12, 1972, he went to lunch and never came back, drifting south to Florida, where, among other things, he worked as a snake-hunter for the Miami Serpentarium. After being bit on the shin one morning, he decided to forsake all further employment, and thus became a writer of poetry and prose.

Critical Acclaim for Nick Tosches:

"...'In the Hand of Dante can be classified as a work of mystery or crime, but the paths to and from its core mystery are far from predictable...'..." - Ian Penman, Guardian Unlimited

"...[Tosches] combines the starkness of Jim Thompson and the grittiness of Charles Bukowski with a highly literate sensibility...Mr. Tosches's powerful writing is often beautiful...." - Wall Street Journal

"...Few writers would even think of this kind of book, much less attempt to write it. And somehow, the sheer audaciousness of Tosches' writing not only blasts through our resistance to suspend disbelief but it also makes most other fiction seem phony by comparison...Tosches is ready to take his place at the front of the class in contemporary American literature...an inspired piece of fiction...." - San Francisco Chronicle

"...A splendid, passionate mess, with a moral fervor far exceeding most novels of better grooming...." - Will Blythe, New York Times

Product Description


'The number one greatest music book ever' Observer 'Quite simply the best rock and roll biography ever written' Rolling Stone

About the Author

Nick Tosches was born in Newark, New Jersey. He is the author of the novels Cut Numbers, Trinities, and In the Hand of Dante. His non-fiction books include the iconic biographies of Dean Martin and Sonny Liston, Dino and Night Train, and most recently King of the Jews, also published by Penguin.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Whore of Fame 25 Sep 2009
Hellfire is the second Nick Tosches book I have had the pleasure of reading, the other book being Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll. Both books are laced with black humour, both have soundtracks, and both have elements of mammon's struggle between fame and salvation.

Hellfire drops you deep into Jerry Lee Lewis' psyche, his conflicts, his sins and his internal agony.
It contrasts the three cousins whose fame made Ferriday proud, Jerry Lee, Jimmy Swaggart and Mickey Gilley. The book was written in 1982 and does not reach the calamities of Swaggart's downfalls or the mysterious deaths of two of Lewis' wives, or Gilley's ten number one country hits and subsequent decline and financial crisis. Nonetheless it is a riveting read written by a talented stylist whose biblical prose evokes the fire and brimstone puritanism of old backwoods Louisiana where the Spirit possessed and spoke in tongues, and where the devil growled in the darkness beyond.

In dirt farming Ferriday the poor were succoured by the Holy Ghost and the Hidden Hooch and enticed by the Lure of The Devil, and you were hot or cold, never lukewarm, and Jerry Lee became seduced by the Whore of Fame. I recall Little Richard had the same conflict (refer the entertaining Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White) and doubtless they had philosophical discussions when they played together... Jerry Lee was convinced that his way was the way of the Devil and that he was leading his fans to Hellfire. This was the flame of his fame, his agony which he doused with drugs, booze and women, a similar platter to that which served his perceived arch rival Elvis.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is often billed as the greatest rock biography ever written, but I cannot quite see why. Tosches up takes half of what is not a very long book on the setup - this is the bit of the biography that explains where the subject came from, and Tosches obviously believes that Lewis' dirt-poor and 'edge of the law' extended family had far more influence on his life and career that it actually did. I just don't buy this whole Southern Gothic Heaven and Hell thing being the sole reason for Lewis' ego, narcissism and cruelty to those around him.

I would have liked far more focus on his career and music. This is squeezed into the second half and we only get the highlights.

Having said that, there are some great tales in the book about this highly unpleasant individual, and enough quotable material to put you off ever buying another Jerry Lee Lewis record!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I bought this book through "Amazon", when they were a solely american company, so it took quite a while for it to arrive on my doorstep.... but the wait was worth it!!! The book started in the early 1800's,starting with his ancestors, and went through to the present day (1983), and I learnt a lot of things about Jerry Lee Lewis, that I never knew. If you are going to buy a rock'n'roll biography, make sure it is this one...... you won't be disappointed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Jerry Lee Lewis The best Rock'n'Roll piano man. 13 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I actually met this guy in 1962 in Hamburg where my band was playing. Wildman - yes, but he was considerate and humorous - he also bought me a drink!
He's still rockin' too albeit a little slower now. The book is a must for all his fans.
Love him!
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