Nick Tosches, Fiery Music Writer and Biographer, Dies at 69


Ed Sanders, who was a member of the underground rock band the Fugs and operated the Peace Eye Bookstore in the East Village in Manhattan, a counterculture hangout, befriended Mr. Tosches and gave him encouraging words about some poetry he had written, nudging along his budding interest in becoming a writer. In 1969 he sold his first article, to Fusion, a Boston magazine.

Through the 1970s and into the ’80s he wrote for that magazine as well as for Rolling Stone, Creem and other publications, practicing a free-ranging brand of journalism that would come to be called “gonzo.” Although his music-related books were obsessively researched, he didn’t always take his magazine writing so seriously, especially early on, when he was known to do things like review nonexistent albums.

“I was just using it as a rubric to get away with things in print, things that probably would be impossible to get away with now,” he told The Times. “Like making records up, which I’ve done. Reviewing records without even opening the shrink wrap.”

In 1988 Mr. Tosches published his first novel, “Cut Numbers,” about a small-time loan shark. Another, “Trinities,” about the international heroin trade, appeared in 1994.

In 1996 Mr. Tosches became a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and an article he wrote for the magazine on the boxer Sonny Liston became the 2000 biography “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” That same year, he published “The Nick Tosches Reader,” a collection drawn from his three decades’ worth of work.

Writing in The Village Voice that year, Robert Christgau called him “a writer of barbwire hilarity and recondite formal daring whose Kantian yawp doubles back on itself three times a sentence as it blows all decent expository standards up the hemorrhoids of history.”

His most acclaimed and most audacious work of fiction, “In the Hand of Dante,” was published in 2002. The story centered on a previously unknown manuscript of Dante’s masterwork, “The Divine Comedy,” and a more or less fictional character named Nick Tosches who is called upon to authenticate it.

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