In literature, the writer cannot go “too far.” Who here has the right to put a limit on a writer’s imagination? The United States government thought Henry Miller went “too far” when he wrote Tropic Of Cancer in 1934. The banned book couldn’t get published in the U.S. until 1961 and it took a 1964 landmark Supreme Court decision that the book was not obscene to set the standard by which we still adhere to today. Did William S. Burroughs go “too far” when he wrote Junky and Queer? Did Allen Ginsberg go “too far” when he wrote Howl? Did Herbert Huncke go “too far” in just about everything he ever wrote?
Nick Tosches started out as a music critic who wrote wildly creative books on Jerry Lee Lewis, Dean Martin, boxer Sonny Liston and gangster Arnold Rothstein. In Me And The Devil (Little, Brown and Company), he writes about a writer named Nick Tosches who crosses over to the dark side, stops washing, stops taking his meds and stops brushing his false teeth, giving in to his alcohol addiction and hatred of mankind. Soon that hatred turns to madness. He meets the masochistic Melissa who doesn’t mind a little bloodletting during sex. Her blood, once he drinks it, suffuses him with enough power that he becomes a god. One night, he goes too far, though, and severs one of her main arteries. There’s blood everywhere. She ends up in a hospital near death, but smiles gratefully up at him when he comes to visit, and they resume their relationship.
Then he meets Lorna who has a big wooden cross erected in her apartment complete with handcuffs and whips at the ready. She also likes her skin split open and Tosches gouges her incessantly and with brutal delight. “There aren’t too many girls I know who have their own crosses,” he says.
To that, she claims she’s a pervert, she knows it, and she’s proud of it, adding, “We don’t burn witches anymore. We burn perverts.”
When not with his two girlfriends, he’s going to AA meetings, window shopping at the store that sells beautiful bone-handled knives and having dinner with Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones.
Tosches to Richards: “Did you ever drink blood?”
Richards: “A bit here and there through the years, I imagine. Mostly my own.”
Later in the conversation, like the warning from an old man in a horror movie telling the nubile teenage girls not to go to that house, Richards has a bit of wisdom for his writer pal: “You’d better be careful, mate… I’ve seen it. From what I saw, kicking it makes kicking smack look like a frolic in the daisies… I hope you never have to find out why… The few I knew who tried didn’t really survive to tell me… You’ve got to turn around now, while you still can. Go any further and there’s no turning back.”
Suffice it to say, Tosches continues his descent into the maelstrom. He buys the knife. He learns two more girls he met had their throats slit. He runs home, gets the knife and sees the dried blood. He doesn’t remember killing them. But did he?
Good thing this is a novel and not a memoir.
Tosches drinks, he doesn’t drink, he writes, he doesn’t write, he suffers alcoholic tremors and hallucinations. He dies. He wakes up in a hospital from a coma with rats crawling out of his mouth but the rats have a strange consistency like smoke vapor.
Finally, he sits with the Devil himself and has the most fascinating intellectual discourse.
There are no limits to the imagination of a writer. Somewhere, Henry Miller is smiling.