Sunday, April 19, 2015

"This Book Is As Good As A Chuck Wepner Rematch"

I bought this book for two reasons: (1) the interview with Nick Tosches that Lydia Lunch published in her book "Will Work for Drugs" and (2) I really liked the title, "Night Train". Now that I've read it, I can't remember why I was interested in the first place; that over-used and run-into-the-ground saying, "I couldn't care less", really does apply to me. On the book cover is a quote from Chuck Wepner, "Nick Tosches writes like Sonny Liston hits"; that explains why Liston was never much admired, and the book isn’t either. A new quote might be, "This book is as good as a Chuck Wepner rematch." (Spoiler alert: never watch a Wepner rematch! You will go into a coma.)

The portrait of Liston is a man who was a burnout, a loser-has-been, a bum and a thug even before he was born. It's as if he was destined to become heavyweight champion simply in order to fulfill his REAL destiny: being a strong-arm mob-type enforcer with muscle, a two-bit thug barely able to make an “X” on his boxing contracts. Maybe he wasn't legally "stupid", but he was as close as he could get and still tie his shoes: illiterate, easily manipulated, easily persuaded, duped and underneath it all, basically he was a sociopath as well as a defeatist. 

As far as the book itself is concerned, Tosches fills it with plenty of uninteresting details about who lived where and for how long and what the address was; there are copies of police reports, hear-say, senate-hearing transcripts, and real-or-imagined conversations that may or may not have occurred between celebrity wannabes and fight-world nobodies. (To make it go faster, I scanned a lot of pages with my eyes and saved myself a lot of time.) Of course, every now and then, there was something pertinent about Liston, but it's very slow reading -- plodding, flat-footed, dull… just like Liston himself, so in that case the book is a successful parody of the fight racket and a boxing racketeer.  

Too bad the worst part of the book is the writing. For example, Tosches uses 254 pages to tell this story:

1.   Liston born, abused
2.   Juvenile delinquent
3.   Thug
4.   Boxing corruption
5.   Union corruption
6.   Organized crime
7.   Management corruption
8.   Heavyweight champion
9.   Loses title
10. Eventually dies, or is killed, or some other conspiracy theory.

Tosches spends a lot of energy trying to create a "mystique", something to make more out of Liston than what’s really "there"! He often uses a form of stream-of-consciousness that's more like a trickle than a stream, or more like drip-drip-drip from a leaky faucet. Too much of the book is about so-and-so, who went to this-or-that hotel bar, and sat in such-and-such a booth, and ordered a drink or dinner or a sandwich or a candy bar, and used a pay phone in a lobby to call some number (and Tosches gives us the exact number), and he calls a gangster or a boss and threatens to do this-or-that, at such-and-such a time, on one street corner or another, to meet with this crooked promoter, or that underworld fight manager, or this mobbed-up gym coach, or a "friend of ours"….. and by the way, bring some muscle. The book is a good obituary for Liston and if you like reading books that might be written by someone who’s drunk, on drugs, or both, then by all means this book is perfect for you.

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