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Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story

4.25 of 5 stars 4.25  ·  rating details  ·  880 ratings  ·  66 reviews
The life of Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the most dramatic and tormented in rock 'n' roll history. Hellfire is a wild, riveting, and beautifully written biography that received universal acclaim on its original publication and remains one of the most remarkable biographies ever written.
Born in Louisiana to a family legacy of great courage and greater wildness, Jerry Lee was t
Paperback, 276 pages
Published April 22nd 1998 by Grove Press (first published 1982)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,703)
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Paul Bryant

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
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
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?
Niadwynwen Koch
A sinister delight.
Dec 29, 2007 Stacy rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Robert Jaz
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
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
Alex Orr
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Susan  Odetta
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
Dec 29, 2010 Spiros rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Nov 28, 2014 Jennifer rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jennifer by: Dean Schlabowske
An informative, lyrical, haunting read. Fantastic writing. Highly recommend!
Robbie Thompson
Frothing to read this book! An awesome read and the title is so great for JLL
4.7 goes beyond music criticism and makes you appreciate the music more.
Jul 22, 2013 Judd rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
top notch - spellbinding.
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.
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.

Chas Bayfield
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 10, 2008 Trey rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Tim Boroughs
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.
Muffy Kroha
Jun 21, 2010 Muffy Kroha rated it 5 of 5 stars
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!
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.
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.
PENTECOSTAL! The writing is fire and brimstone, as deft as any snake handler, and potent as a glass of strychnine. Jerry Lee Lewis talked about salvation, but could never get pass the sins of the flesh. Tosches is writing more about the American psyche than he is about a musical icon. One of the best biographies I've ever read.
Great stories, wonderfully written, but somehow got the feeling in the latter parts of the book Tosches' only source of material came from arrest reports and IRS documents. It shouldn't stop you from reading the book, which I heartily recommend whether you have any interest in the subject or not.
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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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