Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits

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Broadway Books, 2010 - 609 стор.
2 Рецензії/відгуки
With his trademark growl, carnival-madman persona, haunting music, and unforgettable lyrics, Tom Waits is one of the most revered and critically acclaimed singer-songwriters alive today. After beginning his career on the margins of the 1970s Los Angeles rock scene, Waits has spent the last thirty years carving out a place for himself among such greats as Bob Dylan and Neil Young. Like them, he is a chameleonic survivor who has achieved long-term success while retaining cult credibility and outsider mystique. But although his songs can seem deeply personal and somewhat autobiographical, fans still know very little about the man himself. Notoriously private, Waits has consistently and deliberately blurred the line between fact and fiction, public and private personas, until it has become impossible to delineate between truth and self-fabricated legend.

Lowside of the Road is the first serious biography to cut through the myths and make sense of the life and career of this beloved icon. Barney Hoskyns has gained unprecedented access to Waits's inner circle and also draws on interviews he has done with Waits over the years. Spanning his extraordinary forty-year career from Closing Time to Orphans, from his perilous "jazzbo" years in 1970s LA to such shape-shifting albums as Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs to the Grammy Award winners of recent years, this definitive biography charts Waits's life and art step by step, album by album.

Barney Hoskyns has written a rock biography--much like the subject himself--unlike any other. It is a unique take on one of rock's great enigmas.
 

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LibraryThing Review

Рецензія користувача  - nmele - LibraryThing

The further I read in Hoskyns biography, the more I was reminded of A.J. Weberman, the guy who spent years digging through Bob Dylan's trash and analyzing it. I was surprised when, a few pages before ... Читати огляд повністю

LOWSIDE OF THE ROAD: A Life of Tom Waits

Рецензія користувача  - Kirkus

The bard of musical lowlife receives a sometimes ill-tempered biography.British music journalist Hoskyns has long been an astute chronicler of Los Angeles rock; Hotel California (2006) briefly ... Читати огляд повністю

Зміст

WASTED AND WOUNDED
1
Some Ways about Me that Just Arent Right
3
Home Ill Never Be
28
Understanding Sympathy and Encouragement
59
In Character
98
KneeDeep in Grunge
136
Real Romantic Dreamers Stuck in the Wrong Time Zone
174
Ready to Scream
212
Something for All the Family
326
In a Suit When You Dream
354
Bones Cemeteries and Dirty Blood
377
The Crooked Tree and the Straight Tree
408
Rust Never Sleeps
435
Hes Not There
467
Take It with Me When I Go
494
Waits Greatest Tracks A Top 40
503

Lucky Guy
241
B E HiND THE MULE 1 Trying to Arrive at Some Type of Cathartic Epiphany in Terms of My Bifocals
275
Wreck Collections
300
Acknowledgements
511
Index
575
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Chapter 1

Some Ways about Me that Just Aren''t Right

"Take care of Tom. He needs a lot of love."

(Alma Waits to Ralph Carney, Chicago, 1986)

Tom Waits tends to bristle when interviewers probe him for the lowdown on his early years as a suburban oddball in the inland empire of Los Angeles. "I''m in therapy now?" he''ll say with a mildly threatening laugh. "Should I lay down?"

But sometimes, if he''s relaxed enough, Waits will drop his guard. When I asked him in 1999 if it was true he''d been alone a lot as a boy, he didn''t answer the fairly innocuous question. But he did say this:

"I guess most entertainers are, on a certain level, part of the freak show. And most of them have some type of a wounding early on, either a death in the family or a breakup of the family unit, and it sends them off on some journey where they find themselves kneeling by a jukebox, praying to Ray Charles. Or you''re out looking for your dad, who left the family when you were nine, and you know he drives a station wagon and that''s all you''ve got to go on, and in some way you''re going to become this big sensation and be on the cover of Life magazine and it''ll somehow be this cathartic vindication or restitution."

On a simplistically Freudian level, here is the story of Tom Waits in capsule. His father did leave the family when his son was nine (or ten); and the teenage Tom did, literally, kneel before the sound of Brother Ray, dreaming of the "cathartic vindication" he might experience if he too could become a voice coming out of the speaker.

In some ways, that''s the story of all art, period. Extrinsic to human survival, art is nonetheless essential to those who wish to do more than survive--to, in fact, make stuff that''ll enable them to stand out from the crowd. And often those people have, in Waits'' words, "some type of a wounding" that "sends them off on some journey." Why, for example, are some of us driven to write when we could be doing perfectly normal jobs? Why am I writing this book?

Waits'' great 1999 album Mule Variations featured a song called "Eyeball Kid," about a carnival freak whose head consists simply of a giant peeper. "Everybody in this business called show," he said of the song, "has something peculiar about them that they''ve been made fun of for or singled out in an unpleasant way or made to feel like they were not good enough to fit in. And at some point, you realize, ''Well, dammit, fine! Maybe I can make some dough off of it.''"

He put it more prosaically back in 1975. "I come from a good family and everything," he said. "But I''ve, over the years, developed some ways about me that just aren''t right, so you just have to look for the kinks in your personality and it helps sometimes."

Tom Waits did come from a good family, or at least a family that from the outside looked conventional in the context of postwar American suburbia. "I had a pretty normal childhood," he admitted in 1976. "I learned to handle silverware and all of that stuff."

He was the middle child of three siblings, a boy sandwiched between girls and born to school teachers who, at the time of his birth, resided at 318 North Pickering Avenue in Whittier, the same humdrum Los Angeles suburb that produced Richard Milhous Nixon.

"He used to go to our church on occasion," Waits said of the American president in 1973. "That was a long time ago. He''s come a long way since Whittier."

Founded by Quakers in the late nineteenth century, Whittier is twelve miles southeast of downtown LA and later achieved minor pop renown via the 1965 release of "Whittier Boulevard," a wildly pounding instrumental by Latino garage band Thee Midniters.("Let''s take a trip down Whittier Boulevard!" yells Little Willie G. at the beginning, followed by Ronnie Figueroa''s screamed "Arriba! Arriba!") But that was a very different Whittier--a Hispanic neighbourhood of low-rider barrios like Jimtown and Sunrise--from the middle-class suburb where Waits spent the first ten years of his life, one more akin to the setting for the film Back to the Future, which used Whittier High School as one of its locations. "Pat Nixon taught at Whittier High," says Pat DiPuccio, who founded the punk fanzine Flipside in the town in 1977. "High school was very big in Whittier. It was kind of like growing up in a Midwest suburb."

"Tom grew up very much in the way that I did, in the eastland suburban districts of Los Angeles," says poet Michael C Ford, a Waits acquaintance in the 1970s. "Whittier in the fifties was untouched. The San Gabriel Valley had not been as poisoned as itis now--that grey poisonous ether that comes in now and lays against the San Gabriel mountains."

The circumstances of Waits'' birth are shrouded in the mystery he prefers. Under duress he''ll concede that he was born "at a very young age" but remains cagey about details beyond the actual date. Was his birthplace Park Avenue Hospital, as mentioned in the announcement of his birth in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin? Or was it Murphy Hospital, namechecked in a song intro on stage in New Jersey on 16 April 1976? And should we infer from Waits'' regular references to being born in a taxi that either his parents didn''t make it to the maternity ward in time or it was a mighty close shave?

Let us record the plain facts that Thomas Alan Waits was born on 7 December 1949, to "Mr. and Mrs. J. Frank Waits," and that he weighed in at a healthy 7 lb 10 oz. "All they ever wanted was a showbiz child," he would sing of Zenora Bariella and Coriander Pyle on "Eyeball Kid," "so on the seventh of December, 1949, they got what they''d been wishing for . . ."

Zenora and Coriander were Jesse Frank and Alma Waits. Frank, whose name would later be given to the protagonists of "Frank''s Song" and "Frank''s Wild Years," was the product of Scots-Irish ancestry and hailed from Sulphur Springs, Texas. His family hadmoved to La Verne, California, whose orange groves he worked in during the 1930s before becoming a radio technician in the Second World War. "He came west," said Waits. "In those days if you had any kind of bronchial problem they''d say, ''Aw, move to California!''" Alma Waits, too, was first-generation Californian, born of Norwegian stock and raised in Grant''s Pass, Oregon.

Waits would later claim that he''d been "conceived one night in April 1949 at the Crossroads Motel in La Verne, amidst the broken bottle of Four Roses, the smoldering Lucky Strike, half a tuna salad sandwich, and the Old Spice across the railroad tracks. . ." If that fanciful scenario is even halfway accurate, it says more about Jesse Frank than it does about Alma. Named after legendary outlaw brothers Jesse and Frank James, Tom Waits'' dad was a wild one--a boozer, a roving romantic, a lover of old sentimental Mexican songs. "He was really a tough one, always an outsider," Waits said in 2004.

Alma by comparison was a somewhat strait-laced 1950s hausfrau, and a regular churchgoer to boot. "Tom''s mom was a very put-together suburban matron," says Bill Goodwin, drummer on Waits'' Nighthawks at the Diner. "She was not what you''d imagine Tom Waits'' mom would look like."

"The first time I met Tom''s mother was the first time I ever heard his voice come up high," says another Waits drummer, Chip White. "He wasn''t quite as gruff with her. We teased him about it. It was like, ''Oh hi, Mom, how you doing?'' in a real high voice."

It''s tempting to see the warring sides of Tom Waits'' character in the unlikely pairing of his parents'' marriage. "On my father''s side we had all the psychopaths and alcoholics," he''s said, "and on my mother''s side we had all the evangelists." Throughouthis life Waits has in some sense struggled to reconcile his father''s impetuousness with his mother''s domesticity. One pictures the marriage as somewhat akin to that of Nathan and Ruth Fisher in the LA-set Six Feet Under--Dad as louche bon viveur, Mom as fastidious domestic goddess.

"Tom and his sisters were very independent, avant-garde-type people, a little edgy," says Bob LaBeau, a folk singer and an early Waits champion. "Whereas his mother was this standard type of June Cleaver person. She was just a really neat lady, very pleasant and kind of pretty, a nice woman. I think they were all probably more like their father."

Waits had no brothers to play or compete with, perhaps explaining the comparative loneliness of his childhood. One has a sense of little Tom as an old soul, a playground introvert in the fifties idyll of the Eisenhower suburbs. "About the rest of his childhood he is fairly reticent," wrote Dave Lewis in 1979, "[. . .] admitting that he was often picked on at school for being skinny and ''funny-looking'' then skimming swiftly over the rest of his background . . ." In 1999 Waits confessed that--in emulation of Popeye--he "ate spinach so I could get stronger [and] beat up the bullies." Waits was small and peculiar, with wild hair that stood up and an odd pigeon-toed walk exacerbated by his "trick knee"--a knee joint that would lock in position, owing to longitudinal splitting of the medial meniscus. "What sort of a child was I?" he hassaid, clearly discomfited by the question. "I can''t really answer that point-blank. But, you know, I liked trains and horses, birds and rocks, radios and bicycles." More recently, he said he "[grew] up in a drive-in, watching movies and eating popcorn out of a paper sack and falling asleep in the back seat and getting ca

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