By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Tosches postures as an oracular fount of knowledge and insight, affecting a scholarly tone by use of parenthetical birth and death dates. These are completely arbitrary; we get numerous citations such as “Bert Williams (1874--1922),” but there are no such dates for Big Joe Turner (renowned boss of the blues whom Tosches in an earlier work characterized as “a big fat fuck”), and when we reach “Abraham Lincoln (1809--1865),” it‘s comedic. Equally unforgivable is the complete omission of a bibliography and source notes. Perhaps that’s because, if included, the citations from books by Hans Nathan and Robert C. Toll might equal in length the entire expository passage dealing with minstrelsy‘s 19th-century rise.
To the discerning reader, Tosches’ work has always been laden with inaccuracies. The chapter on Sidney “Hardrock” Gunter in 1999‘s reprint of his Unsung Heroes of Rock & Roll required several long-overdue factual revisions. His virtually unreadable Dino included a wholly untrue anecdote regarding the Copacabana’s Jules Podell tossing singer Johnnie Ray (“whom he could not stomach”) into the club‘s walk-in refrigerator, resulting in a case of pneumonia; in fact it was Ray’s manager to whom Podell gave the ice-cube treatment, and neither contracted pneumonia. Tosches‘ source for this episode: the autobiography of Wayne Newton, age 10 and years from Vegas at the time of the incident. Tosches states that Wanda Jackson recorded the same “Right or Wrong” as Miller, but it’s an entirely different song, one written by Jackson herself. Tosches is not only doing most of his work from home, he‘s not even listening.
Research work by an author is a spiritual avocation, a joy apparently lost on Tosches. (Much of Dino was also researched by proxy.) His failure of responsibility comes most damagingly into focus in Dead Voices with the exceptionally lively and oddly British-sounding quote from the 1917 testimony of New Orleans jazz musician Alcide “Yellow” Nunez at a Chicago trial convened to settle a copyright dispute over the composition of “The Livery Stable Blues.” While Nunez did testify, Tosches’ version is pure fiction, lifted from 1994‘s The Beckoning Fairground: Notes of a British Exile in Lotus Land, self-published by English entertainer-author Ian Whitcomb. This version of Nunez’s testimony, the import of which Tosches expounds upon windily, was created by Whitcomb as a literary device to embellish his historical perception and as a land mine to thwart the lazy reuser. Nunez‘s actual testimony is excerpted in H.O. Brunn’s 1960 The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a title surely available at the NYC public library, or, failing that, in the Chicago newspaper that reported on the trial. Sadly, our Nick once again simply didn‘t care to follow up.
The purpose of Where Dead Voices Gather lies not so much in its ostensible quest to discover facts on Miller’s life and contributions, but in its compendium of pop, blues and jazz culture and arcana. Yet the author‘s piracy and his credulity of Whitcomb’s obvious fiction lead the reader to question every alleged fact contained in the book -- leaving but a single conclusion: The only dead voice here is Nick Tosches‘ own.
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