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Save The Last Dance for Satan: An Interview with Nick Tosches

Photo by Lorna Doone

In celebration of the publication of NickTosches’ new book of essays on the music business and his appearance tonight at the New York Public Library’s Jefferson Market Branch Library (8 PM), we’ve re-published a conversation thatTosches recently had with NYPL librarian Marie Hansen.

NYPL: According to Conversations with Ernest Hemingway, Hemingway wrote a strict average of 500 words per day despite his penchant for guzzling Mojitos, what are your writing habits?

Days, weeks, months go by without writing. Then, when I get down to it, I work seven days a week, day and night at stretches of from five to eighteen hours. I don’t take breaks, because if I do it’s almost impossible for me to get back to it. For me Mojitos don’t enter into the picture. I don’t know if I’ve ever even had one. The best advice Hemingway offered to any writer wasn’t about writing-schedules. It was: “Posterity can take care of herself.”

How was your interest in Dante and The Divine Comedy first cultivated?

It goes back so long that I can’t remember. I seem to recall that when I was a little kid, there was a slightly incorrect quotation in translation from Dante on the wall in the bar where my old man worked in Newark: “Abandon all hope, you who enter.” Later Dante and The Divine Comedy came to represent to me the noble but always ultimately futile quest for perfection—to come so close, but to never achieve it. Ezra Pound said it all when he said: “I have tried to write Paradise // Do not move / Let the wind speak / that is paradise.” Everything I came to know and feel about Dante ended up in my novel In the Hand of Dante.

What’s the deal with your new book Save The Last Dance for Satan?

Some years back, I wrote a piece for Vanity Fair that they titled “Confessions of an Opium-Seeker,” which was subsequently published as a little book called The Last Opium Den. Not long after the opium story came out, I had a piece in Vanity Fair that they titled “Hipsters and Hoodlums.” It was about the underworld of the record industry in the late fifties and early sixties. I had long wanted to make a little book from this piece as well, the difference being that I wanted to expand and add new material to this one, and to reinstate a lot of what was censored from the magazine piece. Then along came Miriam Linna and her new venture, Kicks Books, and we rubbed two sticks together. Thus Save The Last Dance for Satan. Just as “The Last Opium Den” had been my original title for that Vanity Fair piece, “Save the last Dance for Satan” had been my original title for this one.

Do you ever write poems or stories that you don’t intend to ever publish—just writing for the sake of writing and not financial reasons?

Yes. A lot of them. Sometimes, years later, they do end up getting published. Samuel Johnson was right when he said: “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” But, as my own life has repeatedly shown, I am often a blockhead, or worse.

What are you reading right now?

The Blunderer by Patricia Highsmith. I came to her late, only little more than a year ago. The last one I read by her was The Price of Salt. She’s remarkable.

What are you working on now?

A novel that seems at times to be a work of madness. I’m in the home-stretch now, and hope to get to the end without going crazy again. This is the only one I’ve written that’s scared even me, that’s shocked even me with what’s come out of me: like, Oh, God, I can’t write that for other eyes to see. I really don’t want to reveal more at this point, not even the title. Little, Brown should be bringing it out late next year.

Marie Hansen is a New York City librarian.

NICK TOSCHES is the author of the novels Cut Numbers, Trinities, and, most recently, In the Hand of Dante, as well as of nonfiction works such as Hellfire, Dino, The Devil and Sonny Liston, Where Dead Voices Gather, and King of the Jews. Thirty years of his writing is represented by the The Nick Tosches Reader. His poetry has been widely published, and his collection of poetry, Chaldea, is a bestseller in Hell. He lives in New York and is presently at work on a secret project that will be published by Little, Brown.