Nick Tosches and Jerry Lee Lewis in hellfire

Nick Tosches and Jerry Lee Lewis in hellfire

When Nick Tosches tackles one of the greatest rockers of our time, Jerry Lee Lewis, he brilliantly describes how the word rock became flesh. A story of glitter, drama and addiction. Noise, fury, music: a human story.

If you only have to read one in your life, this is THE ROCK BOOK TO READ. It’s in that special category of books: you know, the ones you buy as gifts for friends, the ones you can read in a day or two, in one go, with relish. “Hellfire” isn’t just another book about rock (there are loads of them out there), but a real work of literature, like Hervé Guibert’s “Des aveugles” or Lorette Nobécourt’s “La Conversation”.

Whether you’re a rock fan or not, look no further for your next literary slap in the face: if you’re looking for a (true) story where madness and fury compete on every page, “Hellfire” will take you far. This biography of Jerry Lee Lewis, which Greil Marcus assures us will become a classic of American literature, is masterfully handled by Nick Tosches. Well-documented, written with a quick pen and an alert, green style, “Hellfire” is a book packed with biblical references: it has to be said that in Ferriday, Louisiana, where Jerry Lee was born, the Pentecostal church was well established. And the rocker’s first cousin, Jimmie Lee Swaggart, is a famous televangelist. This tumultuous history of the rocker, described as “the last wild son”, is a drama. A drama in more ways than one: the rocker is attacked for marrying his underage cousin Myra Gale. Later, Jerry Lee loses his children and has to fight the taxman, who wants to strip him of his money because he owes it to the authorities. He struggles with alcohol and trouble, all the while trying to keep his career afloat. Hardly.

We’re in the presence of a good story (true, yes, we’re repeating ourselves, but as you read you’ll understand why it needs to be said over and over again). A story served up by some truly stunning writing. For all these reasons, “Hellfire” is a must-have in every book lover’s library. All the more so if that lover of words is also a music lover.


Nick Tosches “Hellfire”, Editions Allia

Jean-Marc Grosdemouge