Goodbye, Saint Nick...Please Never Leave Me or Us, You Delightful Devil!
Nick Tosches (1949-2019)
Yesterday my f(r)iend Nick Tosches died. No, we were not close enough to be deeply woven and wound up friends, the kind of folks who live together in , raptures, passions, and pressurized fields of inter-being-- but we were nonetheless companions from time to time, sitting on a park bench not far from his Tribeca apartment and, in his coinage, "bullshitting." But these bullshitting sessions enlightened and invigorated me, and Nick schooled me in matters of the world I thought I had decisively grasped. He disabused me of many certainties and also helped me shed so many calcified, ossified, fossilized notions of literature, life, and New York City. He was a true pal and I will so miss him.
And I so missed him yesterday that I got a card and envelope ready to pen a birthday note. Nick would have turned seventy on Wednesday. No sooner had I remembered to write him when another dear friend sent me a link to the hot-off-the-press-and-online version of The New York Times obituary of Nick. He died earlier in the day, a day I already mourn for the passing of a close family member. Nick was from Newark and another Newark born stalwart, Philip Roth, passed away a year ago May on my father's birthday. My mourning of close family members now will forever be twinned with the commemoration of two Newark literary luminaries.
Tosches. Roth. Newark. I don't know whether these two word masters ever met. I haven't a clue whether Roth ever read Tosches, whether his rip-roaring music and cultural criticism, his brilliant biographies, or his fabulous fictions. However, I do know what Nick thought about Roth, and the praise poured out about him happened during a drinking session of epic proportions.
The epic was all Nick's. I got an email from him asking whether I would be free to meet for a drink at the Reade Street Bar, very close to his 50 Hudson Street abode. In his note he mentioned that diabetes-induced swelling made it impossible for him to
write (he was working on his final novel UNDER TIBERIUS), therefore, he was-- what?!?!?-- going to the bar to drink beer, and asked that I join him. Toxic counter-intuitions indeed!
When I arrived many hour later he was deep in his cups yet still a radiant raconteur and lucid as Lucifer's halo. Epic! He mentioned that the only two contemporary authors he was jealous of were Philip Roth and Peter Matthiessen. I was struck by his choice of these two particular writers as being sovereign storytellers as Tosches was so different from their signature styles, being both sui generis and self-taught, and in no need of Philip or Peter to perfect his own peculiar and powerful Nickomania.
His dad owned a bar in Newark. "I did not know books," he told me and countless interlocutors. "I knew bookies."
One necessary anecdote: Keith Richards, a close friend of Nick's, blurbed his book Me and the Devil and mentioned how Nick knew the Devil as well as anyone. I would not doubt that statement strongly as Nick could be delightfully and surprisingly diabolic. Several years ago, Nick told me that he had a vintage Schwinn bicycle for sale if I ever needed such a chariot for my commute to work at Battery Park. I told him that I was content with my $70 blue Huffy and...just after he pitched the prospect, blocks from Nick in the park, and parallel to his apartment, the brake line of the Huffy broke loose and the chain and chain guard both snapped off. I bought the Schwinn off Nick the following day.
Today, a day after Nick's passing, the Schwinn's chain fell off just as I was parallel and a block away from Nick's address. He was causing technical mischief even beyond ther grave! Perhaps to indicate he was still around and fuck with people's minds, spirits, and bicycles? You bet!
This season is not for me-- too many personal losses, loved ones near and far, too little light at the close of day-- but Nick Tosches loved what he called the shadows and moods of Octoberisme. Nick, this is your season and your birthday is in a few days, so I will let you enjoy the unholiness of your preferred harvest sun. I miss you, matey, Maestro, and will always remember how you excitedly imagined a marathon reading session, just you and I, sitting on a bench alongside each other, engrossed in our books, not talking, not bullshitting, just being together and immersed in our stories.