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Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story

4.22  ·  Rating Details ·  1,116 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
The life of Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the most dramatic and tormented in rock 'n' roll history. Hell....
Paperback, 276 pages
Published April 22nd 1998 by Grove Press (first published 1982)
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Paul Bryant
Feb 20, 2015 Paul Bryant rated it liked it

Why the hell aren’t these guys dead? Look at this :

Fats Domino – hits 1955-59 – 87 years old, still goin strong
Chuck Berry – hits 1955-61- 88 years old, still goin strong
Little Richard – hits 1955-58 - 82 years old, still goin strong
Jerry Lee Lewis – hits 1956-7 - 79 years old, still goin strong

Four of the original wild rockers. They took it all, drank it all, shagged it all, tore it all down and lived to a remarkable old age! Now surely that wasn’t in the script? It just ain’t rock and roll. Ha
Jun 14, 2010 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Today, December 13 2005, is the first anniversary of this blogging endeavor and as I awoke, I became tinged with ambition. Unaccustomed to such impulses, I began to read Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis story by Nick Tosches. In almost a single sitting i read the book, enjoying six double espressos, a large cigar, two eggs (w/ bread) and several hours of outstanding music, including Bix, Blind Boys of Alabama, George Jones, James Carter, Charlie Parker and Ryan Adams. I am finished, refreshed, and ...more
Kit Fox
Jan 11, 2012 Kit Fox rated it it was amazing
Good god, I always heard that this book was great, but I didn't expect it to live up to the hype--which it completely did and more. Part of me wanted it to be 9,000 pages long, but that might've taken away from its sleek, almost singular perfection. Hard to think of a musician more deserving of a Faulkner-esque bio than Jerry Lee. Now if only Tosches would give Hank Williams this treatment too. How mind-blowing would that be?
Robert Jaz
Jul 18, 2007 Robert Jaz rated it it was amazing
Not only is Nick among the greatest non-fiction writers that I have ever read - and that is no empty gushing statement - this is really one the the best musician biographies that has ever been published. Of course, when you start with a maniac like Jerry Lee, one the Kings of Rock and Roll, you already have some wild stories to get things rolling. Who exactly was the King and/or Father of Rock and Roll, was always an arguement between Jerry Lee, Elvis and Chuck Berry - while Little Richard was c ...more
Niadwynwen Koch
Mar 02, 2011 Niadwynwen Koch rated it it was amazing
A sinister delight.
Peycho Kanev
May 22, 2016 Peycho Kanev rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The finest book ever written about a rock ’n’ roll performer.
Dec 28, 2007 Stacy rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people who don't normally read biographies
nick tosches has an obscene gift for the biopic. more precisely: he has a gift for intuiting the precise fold of human flaws and foibles, and distilling them into language and narrative so compelling and rapturous that you mistake tragedy, disaster and personal failing as some kind of holy grail truth. and maybe it is, at least the way nick tosches writes it.

there were so many things i did not know about jerry lee lewis before i read this (number one: that the man is even still alive), and thing
Feb 04, 2017 Jennine rated it it was amazing
Mind blowing - best biography I've ever read, bar none
M. Milner
A fiery, energetic look at the first half of Jerry Lee Lewis' life and career, Nick Tosches' Hellfire is a great read. It covers way more than just The Killer, starting deep down the line of the Lewis family, at the harsh Louisiana landscape and the even-harsher Pentecostal religion with formed and shaped the inherent contradictions in Lewis.

As Tosches makes clear, inside Lewis has a tortured soul: he was raised in a strict religious upbringing, nearly became a preacher and rose to prominence as
Jul 24, 2012 Constantine rated it really liked it
Read this in two sittings because I couldn't put it down, because of both the fascinating life story that unfolds here and the masterful prose. Several sources (here at Good reads and elsewhere) have touted it as,perhaps, the greatest bio of a musician ever. Can't say that because I haven't read them all, probably never will.I actually read a biography on the great guitarist Roy Buchanon (American Axe by )that I liked more and it resonated deeper with me than this one for what are probably mostl ...more
May 05, 2014 Loraine rated it it was amazing
This may be the first and last biography of a rock & roller I plan to read, but I couldn't have chosen a better life story. Tosches' telling of the life and times of Jerry Lee Lewis left me . . . breathless (no pun intended). Tosches tells this tormented mean old man's life story in a way that lets you feel the torment, the transport into another realm that his talent took him, his ever-loving struggle between doing God's bidding or . . . Satan's. Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story was firs ...more
Sep 03, 2014 N.K. rated it really liked it
Rolling Stone has rated this as the best rock and roll bio ever written, most likely for as much as the content and the fact that Tosches is a long ago allumni of the magazine. Yet despite the frayed ties between Tosches and Rolling Stone, the fact is, this truly is a great book. It has more to do with the parallels between author and subject. Both are rock and roll madmen. One a performer and one a chaser of rock and roll dreams. As far as Jerry Lee, the only things I really knew about the man ...more
Abe Something
Feb 17, 2017 Abe Something rated it really liked it
Great biography of a man torn between wantin' to do right, but choosin' to go wild and hatin' hisself for lovin' the ride the the whole way through. Tosches' prose fluctuates between punches in the gut and entries in a free-form encyclopedia. It's great.
Alex Orr
Jul 08, 2013 Alex Orr rated it liked it
Shelves: music
This is definitely an odd duck of a bio. The basic conceit here is that Tosches is writing the book as if Lewis's life is something akin to a Faulknerian tale about a proud Southern family's downfall via the hell-bent leanings of their tragic scion. Frequently, it's quite an engaging exercise, and can be both humorously playful and occasionally quite beautiful. However, after a while I found that it became a bit tiresome - an admittedly excellent one-note trick that just kept running on and on. ...more
Mar 05, 2008 Kitson rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"Jerry Lee did as he was bid that night; he went on before Chuck Berry. He had the crowd screaming and rushing the stage, and when it seemed that the screams had grown loudest and the rushing most chaotic, he stood, kicked the piano stool away with violence, and broke into 'Great Balls Of Fire.' As the screaming chaos grew suddenly and sublimely greater, he drew from his jacket a coke bottle full of gasoline, and he doused the piano with one hand as the other hand banged out the song; and he str ...more
Dec 24, 2010 Spiros rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone looking for a picture from life's other side
An epic tale of religion, ecstasy, and insanity, told as only Nick Tosches can tell it. One isn't sure if it's the inbreeding, or something in the water, but that is one messed up set of people Mr. Tosches describes. This book bears a strong family resemblence to his biography of Arnold Rothstein, King of the Jews; in both, he extrapolates a whole weltanschauung from one outsized individual. The difference between the two books is that in Rothstein, his subject wasn't large enough to engage his ...more
Jun 25, 2014 Kitty rated it liked it
This is a very dark story about a dude with some pretty serious demons. On the book jacket Rolling Stone says "quite simply the best rock and roll biography ever written." I do agree that the book is well written and reads like a novel. Unfortunately it's a novel about a guy I don't think I like very much! If you ever wanted some insight about "The Killer" this is a good place to start. But Jerry is writing his own autobiography that comes out this fall. I wonder if I'll like the lead character ...more
Jan 16, 2014 Susan rated it really liked it
This is a fast dark ride. Jerry Lee Lewis was great talent and impressive deamons. He may have been a sociopath. He married five times, and had to bury 2 sons in their childhood. Jerry Lee's demonic energy was mostly fueld by copious quantities of alcohol and methamphetamines, like a few other notable musicians of the times, Elvis and Johny Cash to name two. Nick Tosches' writing style made the story. I have not read any other books he has far. I would like to rea ...more
Andrew Stewart
Jan 10, 2017 Andrew Stewart rated it it was amazing
Jerry Lee Lewis is a legend. A controversial one. Nick Tosches brilliantly creates a southern belt, bible bashing, moonshine drinking cocktail of words. Widely regarded as the best biography ever written about a rock musician this book resonates with the power that rock 'n'roll embodied in the fifties. I loved the story about Jerry Lee showing up at Graceland, drunk and armed, demanding to see Elvis. Also the story of when everyone thought a song called "Great Balls of Fire" was too shocking to ...more
May 23, 2012 Judd rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
This was on helluva book. Jerry Lee is a balls-out hillbilly, rock and roll "stylist." There is so much to like in these pages - concise, insightful storytelling that doesn't leave anything to the imagination about the man - and makes you fascinated, flabbergasted and downright flagrant for loving this man's rock and roll. There is a bit near the end when he is being asked about Elvis in an interview and then about his own fans - the responses are something else - made me laugh out loud and shak ...more
Chas Bayfield
Feb 27, 2012 Chas Bayfield rated it really liked it
I read this because Q Magazine billed it as the best music bio ever written. They should know I guess, and I've only read a few others, Hammer of the Gods and The Dirt being the highlights. And it's great. Hellfire reads like literature. It isn't just the extraordinary life that JLL and his people created for themselves, it's the Biblical zeal with which the story is told. You don't have to be a fan of Lewis or even rock and roll to get something out of this. VG
Jul 29, 2008 Glenetta rated it liked it
Life story of Jerry Lee Lewis. I bought this at Sun Studios during a recent trip to Memphis. All I can say is The Killer is one crazy hillbilly. Mentions a lot of Memphis sites and it dishes a lot. The author speaks in an almost biblical tone about Jerry Lee and at least four generations of his family.

Did you know that Jerry Lee Lewis, Mickey Gilley, and Jimmy
Swaggart are all cousins? Neither did I. You can pick your friends but you can't pick your family.

Muffy Kroha
Nov 14, 2007 Muffy Kroha rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Rockers on the road to hell
This is also the best celebrity bio ever- No really-

It describes Jerry Lee's existence in a manner that is both brutal and other worldly- The best thing about this book is that it was written in like 1980 and they talk about him as if he will be dead any day because how could you be him and live and - I'll be damned- The motherfucker is still kicking and that was 30 years ago!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YES! you heard me!

SON of a bitch!
Tim Boroughs
Jan 29, 2011 Tim Boroughs rated it really liked it
This was a rollicking good read about how the dirt poor Jerry Lee from the bible bashing south piana hammered his name into the seminal iconography of rock and roll. Tosches splendidly evokes the stubborn, cursed and cursing Lewis as he drives hard through honky tonks bars and anything that stands in the way of his self directed career. A life touched by death and excess and obsession, this story of the Killer is one very much worth reading.
Dec 02, 2008 Matt rated it it was amazing
Not only one of the best music books I've read, but one of the best books period. Absolutely stunning. I picked it up (it had been sitting next to the bed for months) and didn't put it down until I was done. An extraordinary feat. It functions, of course, as a detailed time-line of Lewis' life, but also on the much deeper plane of spiritual poetry. Hellfire. The book could carry no other title. It's a monster book about America, god, music, and degradation. Run, don't walk.
Jan 28, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it
The book adapts a high literary tone which is at times overdone but generally feels nice and grapes of wrathian. The story of Jerry Lee Lewis is sordid colorful rollercoaster, and it is well told and entertaining. Things peter out towards the end, unfortunately, but I prefer that to an attempt to stretch things out into something resembling a satisfying conclusion. Definitely worth reading, fan of Jerry Lee Lewis or not.
Jul 03, 2008 Trey rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Hektor
Two things I never tire over:
Nike Tosches' non-fiction work, especially when music related, and crazy stories about Jerry Lee Lewis.

This may be the greatest music book/biography i've ever read. It's sort of a strange read for a while, b/c of the whole Tosches fictional non-fiction thing. However, the last section of the book is just amazing, and the ending is just stupefying. I've never had an experience like I had upon finishing this book.
Jul 13, 2016 Mblaisdell rated it it was amazing
An incredible rags to riches, American Dream story of a troubled man who was an amazing performer. His battle between his religion and his lifestyle makes the story. As always, Tosches writing style makes the story even better.

Fun activity: since Tosches uses so many addresses in his books, look them up on Google Earth as you read.
Miguel Aneas
Feb 02, 2016 Miguel Aneas rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
Una maravilla, con un aire lírico completamente inhabitual en este tipo de biografías, se describe la vida de Jerry, pero también la de su familia, cercana y lejana, a la vez que la de los demonios que siempre le han seguido.

Completamente recomendable, aunque no sepas nada de JLL la disfrutarás, aunque es mucho mejor leerla acompañado por una buena recopilación de sus temas más incendiarios.
Jun 01, 2009 Ruby rated it really liked it
This is an awesome book, I love the way Nick Tosches writes. It's a little confusing though, because he is literally invoking the spirit of Jerry Lee Lewis through his telling of this story. Maybe don't read this if your drinking a lot, because you start feeling like your eyes are small and milky and your about to marry your 14 year old cousin. In my experience.
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Nick Tosches was born 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, a ...more
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