Literary Raconteur Nick Tosches Discusses Rimbaud, Addiction, And His New Novel

“My entertainment,” author Nick Tosches tells me, his voice a curious mixture of resignation and glee, “is watching the downfall of civilization.” As he says this, he glances out the window as if it offers the perfect vantage point for observing the End Times. It takes a moment to sink in, but as I take my next sip of coffee I realize, this motherfucker isn’t kidding.

During his long career, Tosches has earned a reputation as a writer who doesn’t mess around. Hellfire, his 1982 biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest rock and roll biographies ever written; he’s responsible for the definitive boxing deconstruction, The Devil and Sonny Liston; and novels like Cut Numbers and In The Hand of Dante are uncompromising works that offer a dark worldview radically different from what passes as capital-L Literature these days.

I find Tosches in the shadowy recesses of Circa Tabac, a bar that is also a central location in his latest novel, Me and the Devil. We are in one of the few stalwart holdouts of a whitewashed Manhattan, and I am talking about Rimbaud with one of the city’s last great literary pugilists. His graying hair swept back

over his head and his sleepy blue eyes still flashing behind smoke from a fat cigar, at 63 he’s every part the louche of legend.

“Rimbaud always intrigued me,” he says. “He went off to the most forbidding place on the earth at the time”—referring to the poet’s time spent in Harar, Ethiopia during the 1880s—“to deal in coffee and guns. And Ezra Pound…” He stops mid-sentence and shakes his head. “Anyway, they’re dead. They don’t need the money. Write about me.”

Me and the Devil is Tosches touching his outer limits. It’s a compulsively readable tale of sadomasochistic obsession and Faustian misbehavior: a meta-rumination on aging, sex, and the nature of art. In it, “Nick Tosches”—a writer of advancing years with a drinking problem—discovers that consuming the blood of young virgins is turning him into something immortal, something much like a god—a revelation that culminates with the appearance of a man who may or may not be Beelzebub himself.

It wasn’t an easy book for Tosches to write. “At times I just felt so exhausted by it,” he says. “I’d think, ‘This is the last book. I don’t give a fuck, but here it is.’ ”

He was so disturbed by the extremity of the material that he stopped work on it twice before finally pulling strength from a mysterious darkness— was that sulfur I smelled on those galley pages?—and pushing himself to finish it. He puffs contemplatively on his cigar and says, “The world being what it is, and people being what they are… I just figured this was a good point in time to strap them to the electric chair, ya know?”

We riff a bit on the subject of drugs, specifically baclofen, which is claimed by many to be a silver bullet cure for even the most trenchant addictions, specifically alcoholism. It’s something that Tosches writes about at length in the novel. He tells me he attempted to cure his own craving for alcohol with the drug and admits that it may have had a retroactive effect, saying, “I have no taste for alcohol now.”

Turning to the state of publishing, Tosches feels it’s becoming harder for novels of substance to find a readership these days, despite the best efforts of authors to try and engage readers via avenues like social media. It’s in part, he muses, because publishers are still struggling to adapt to a quickly changing landscape. I mention that in this brave new world it seems that sapless books like Fifty Shades of Grey benefit the most. “There’s a certain gift in being that perfectly… mediocre,” he says.

He straightens up, takes a gulp of beige coffee, and looks out the window where the sunlight is bathing the streets of Soho. “I’m telling you, it’s the absolute truth, Tony. My entertainment is the downfall of civilization. This is it. This is definitely the worst species that has ever occupied the planet. For every one of its glorious achievements there’ve been millions of other people who’ve left nothing but a legacy of stupidity and destruction. People who no longer even have the attention span to read.”

He turns back to me. His expression softens, and that sly grin reappears. “I mean… those are the same people I usually hang out with in bars. So I’m not getting down on them. I’m just saying, that’s the way it is.”

Olga Kurylenko Covers Our Upcoming New Regime Issue!

With the end of the year comes the inevitable: lists and lists and lists of so-and-so and what’s-his-face’s favorite movies, albums, animated gifs, and/or Honey Boo Boo catchphrases of the year. Of course, we at BlackBook like to close out the year a little differently, which is why I’m pleased as punch to reveal the cover for our upcoming December/January issue featuring our annual New Regime feature. Rather than looking back on the year in review, the editors at BlackBook have compiled a list of our favorite up-and-coming stars. Inside you’ll find the best and brightest talents in film, music, television, art, and nightlife. 

Of course, we saved our favorite for the cover: Olga Kurylenko. Already having made a name for herself as a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, the Ukranian model-turned-actress is prepped for a big year in 2013. Fresh off her supporting role in this fall’s Seven Psychopaths, Kurylenko has a few big projects coming up, including starring alongside Tom Cruise in April’s Oblivion. And let’s not forget her role in To the Wonder, directed by that little-known and totally underrated writer-director Terrence Malick. (I’m kidding, of course; there’s hardly anything more exciting than a highly anticipated release from the notoriously unprolific Malick.) Kurylenko shares with us her own personal experiences of working with the enigmatic director and shares the long road to cover girl and movie star. 

Meanwhile, Brian Jonestown Massacre member Tony O’Neill talks to novelist Nick Tosches about his new book, Me and the Devil; Walter Salles opens up about his long-waited adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road; The Walking Dead‘s Norman Reedus takes on a tour of his local lower Manhattan haunts; and comedian Eric Andre sits down for cocktails and LOLs. And, as usual, we cover the newest trends in nightlife, restaurants, and fashion—including a gorgeous Amish-themed men’s fashion spread. 

Look for the New Regime issue on newsstands in December, and, as always, check back here for full coverage!

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The New Regime: N. Frank Daniels & Tony O’Neill

Once a promising keyboardist for bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, writer Tony O’Neill fell into a black hole of heroin and crack addiction. Now, with his new novel Down and Out on Murder Mile (HarperCollins) — a tragic but hilarious redemption story about two addicts who move from Los Angeles to London’s corrupt “murder mile” — the Brooklyn-based scribe embraces his second chance and revisits the demons of his drug-fueled past.

“Most recovering addicts have found God — or at least a publisher. From the needle in the arm to the bible under it, I’m so fucking sick of the predictable, self-deprecating psychobabble confession books banging on about having given up debauchery since becoming a recovering addict. Anybody who has endured these books will admit that even suicide has its brighter aspects. Tony O’Neill’s Down and Out on Murder Mile is an exception to the rule and there are no rules for the exception. A well-written life is almost as rare as a well spent one. And what a life. I thought I was depraved. The hand of God, reaching down into the mire, couldn’t elevate O’Neill to the depths of depravity. Just when you think he has scraped the bottom of the barrel of indecency, he lowers the bottom. Down and Out on Murder Mile is funny, moving and completely authentic. It is a map of hell with directions showing his readers exactly how to get there. Go there. By opening our hearts, we open up our passage through the flames. You’ll get no love from the above. God’s a sod. I prefer Lucifer. This book is not for reading. It is for injecting.” — Sebastian Horsley

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Nashville-based writer N. Frank Daniels spent four years in search of a major book deal for his searing debut novel, Futureproof (Harper Perennial). He was eventually discovered on MySpace, of all places, where he caught the attention of a publisher and later, writers such as James Frey and Jerry Stahl. Futureproof, which has critics referencing Irvine Welsh and Bret Easton Ellis in the same breath, follows Luke, a high school dropout whose life devolves in the ghetto of Atlanta. Dilettantes, meet the delinquent.

“N. Frank Daniels has one of the freshest and most original voices I’ve encountered in years. He manages to strike an improbable balance between jaded and vulnerable. He sounds like he was born yesterday and, at the same time, like he’s been on the planet forever and has seen it all. The fierceness of his vision coexists with a leavening humor that I find irresistible. I think Futureproof is an important novel and one we’ll be talking about for years to come.” — Jay McInerney

First photo: David Field Second photo: Max Shuster