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Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits [Paperback]

Barney Hoskyns
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2010

Spanning Tom Waits' extraordinary 40-year career, from Closing Time to Orphans, Lowside of the Road is Barney Hoskyns' unique take on one of rock's great enigmas. Like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Waits is a chameleonic survivor who's achieved long-term success while retaining cult credibility and outsider mystique. From his perilous "jazzbo" years in '70s Los Angeles to the multiple-Grammy winner of recent years - by way of such shape-shifting '80s albums as Swordfishtrombones - this exhaustive biography charts Waits' life step-by-step and album-by-album.

Affectionate and penetrating, and based on a combination of assiduous research and deep critical insight, this is a outstanding investigation of a notoriously private artist and performer - the definitive account to date of Tom Waits' life and work.

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Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits + Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews + The Little Black Songbook Tom Waits Lc (Little Black Songbooks)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (1 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571235530
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571235537
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 240,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rock historian Barney Hoskyns is the author of nine books and has written about music and pop culture for numerous publications including NME, The Times, Guardian, Vogue and Mojo, of which he was Associate Editor. He lives in London.

Product Description


Comprehensive and judicious... [Waits] could not have found a more respectful, sympathetic and knowledgeable biographer if he'd chosen him himself. -- Mick Brown, Word Magazine

Hoskyns admirably sifts through the yarns and misinformation to deliver an engrossing portrait. ... -- Terry Staunton, Classic Rock

Just about the most absorbing satisfying and (whisper it) important biography of a modern artist that I can recall reading. Absolutely outstanding. -- Danny Baker

Meticulous... wonderfully insightful about songs and their origin... [Hoskyns'] piecing together of Waits' formative years... is a serious piece of investigative work. -- Tim Adams, The Observer

[An] engrossing, compendiously detailed biography... much enlivened by colorful anecdote and fastidious scrutiny of the formidable body of work Waits has accumulated. -- Allan Jones, Uncut --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Comprehensive and judicious... [Waits] could not have found a more respectful, sympathetic and knowledgeable biographer if he'd chosen him himself. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough to a fault 3 May 2009
By M. Harrison TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Barney Hoskyns begins his 500 page biography of Tom Waits with a prologue. In it he explains how much Waits, and his wife Kathleen Brennan, loathe people enquiring about their lives - and how they had tried to prevent Hoskyns writing this book. He also describes Waits' deep conviction that truth is very overrated - and how Waits deliberately created confusion and mystique about his past.

It's a fascinating set-up, and one might expect it would be followed by a revealing account of Hoskyn's much impeded search for the elusively real Tom Waits. Disappointingly this is far from the case. Instead what we get is a meticulous, chronological account of every documented Waits move and comment, every song and every performance.

For Waits fans this thoroughness makes Hoskyn's book a must-buy. It is like a text book for those who want to enrol in the University of Waits. And once completed it acts as an excellent reference book: the tiresome precision with which Hoskyns describes every single track on every single album comes into its own if one wants to look up a particular song.

But it also gives the book a pedantry and small-mindedness that Waits himself would despise; and one can almost feel Hoskyn's self-consciousness that he himself knows this would be the case, but he just cant stop himself from sharing every last fragment of Waitsabilia.

For that we should in some ways be grateful. For instance, I had no idea before reading this book how unsuccessful Waits perceived himself to be until very late into his career - and inded how little esteem he was held in by his original record label, Asylum. Nor did I know just how much Waits seemed to regard his life as a piece of performance in its own right.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate biography. 2 Feb 2011
This is an excellent and comprehensive career biography of Tom Waits. It is exceptionally well researched, and well-written from the viewpoint of a fan. However the fact that Hoskyns is a fan doesn't prevent him from being critical and objective. He also resists the temptation to speculate that many biographers succumb to, preferring to stick largely to information that is in some way verifiable, or at least backed up by sources close to Waits. For Tom Waits fans and fanatics alike this is a very enlightening and entertaining book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Flawed But Fascinating Insight 16 Jan 2010
Barney Hoskyns must of had his work cut out for him. As any Tom Waits fan would know, the great man is a fiercely private individual, ever since his union with wife and collaborator Kathleen he has staunchly defended the anonymity of his private and family lives. Hoskyns' introduction to this very unauthorised biography primarily deals with the problem of trying to tap into the life and times of Waits, and the hostile reception he received from the various characters who were asked to contribute. The Waits/Brennan circle of trust are rightfully loyal to the wishes of their friends, in which they do not approve of any work prying into their lives, which is frustrating for fans of Tom who want to know more about their hero. Waits has always defended himself against this reluctance of public info with the old showbiz notion of leave 'em wanting more.
Despite this tricky task in front of him, Hoskyns' manages to acquire two significant sources of information (amongst others) that were supposedly banished from Waits' circle of trust, his producer of all his Asylum era albums Bones Howe, and saxophonist Ralph Carney who worked on every album from Rain Dogs to Mule Variations, as well as touring with Waits. They are the two biggest names to assist Hoskyns' in his quest, with great insights and stories, and are accompanied by a cluster of other names who come forward with their memories of the man. All in all, Hoskyns' biography is fantastic, truly fascinating and builds a great story of Tom's background and road to success, taking in his early boho days to his infamous time living in the Tropicana motel, all through his 80s musical left-turn with Brennan by his side and various film and theatrical works, mainly with Jim Jarmusch and Robert Wilson.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly superb 25 May 2011
By Sebastian Palmer TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Hoskyns does an excellent and very thorough job on the ornery old curmudgeon that is Tom Waits. It was interesting to read about Hoskyns as ageing 'fan-boy', trying to catch glimpse of his hero outside the Edinburgh Playhouse, just a year or two back. I was at that gig (indeed, it cost me a small fortune to make the pilgrimage to see the artist who's undoubtedly amongst my very favourites), but I decided against trying to buttonhole my hero.

On this very subject, there's an appropriately melancholy note running though the book, like a musical theme, or refrain, that keeps returning: the sad blue note of those who've worked with Waits, or admired him, and yet have found themselves out of the orbit of the great man, and sadder for it, including, in some respects the author himself. This list of former buddies and associates left behind also includes such important collaborators as 'Bones' Howe, the producer who put Waits together with such jazz cats as Jack Sheldon, Jim Hughart, and Shelly manne, to such fantastic effect, on a run of 70s recordings that for me are the high water mark of Waits long and distinguished career.

It was reading about this period, from his youth and early beginnings, up to and including the period around Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Jim Jarmusch's excellent film Down By Law (in which Waits delivers his career-best acting role, basically caricaturing himself, with John Lurie and Roberto Bernigni making up the central trio of lovably dysfunctional rogues, on the lamb from the law), that really excited me the most.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Tom Waits 4 - 2 Barney Hoskyns
As a long-time admirer of Tom Waits' work, without being an obsessive fan, I enjoyed this book because of its subject matter. Read more
Published 19 days ago by MR PETER J ELLIS
3.0 out of 5 stars A LITTLE INFORMATIVE
Published 4 months ago by TED
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic
A really absorbing work and hats of to the author who produced such a monumental work without the cooperation of the subject. Read more
Published 8 months ago by steve
5.0 out of 5 stars captivating insight...
Captivating insight on one of my favourite characters in the world of entertainment. A must read and value for money.
Published 10 months ago by gladmanthegreat
5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
Bought as a present for my brother - he was really pleased with it and thought it was a great read!
Published 15 months ago by Susan Hodges
5.0 out of 5 stars Tom Waits Book
This book is readanble, fairly comprehensive and, as far as I know, accurate. Tom is now, it seems, determined to protect the privacy of his family and this is documented in the... Read more
Published 23 months ago by philipthepheasant
3.0 out of 5 stars Too little attention to the later years
Your enjoyment of this book will very much depend on whether you agree with Hoskyns that Waits did his work in the 70s or not. Read more
Published 23 months ago by ohgee
4.0 out of 5 stars good insight into the man and his music
It is widely acknowledged that Waits is difficult to interpret as a result of his reluctance to divulge details of his private life. Read more
Published on 1 Mar 2012 by C. Northfield
5.0 out of 5 stars Great pressie
Book delivered promptly. Little wrap up pressie for my husband - who's a big Tom Waits fan. He was very pleased with it.
Published on 15 Aug 2011 by chris
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heart of Tom Waits
I've just read this on holiday with all of Tom Waits' albums on my mp3 so I could have the soundtrack to the book playing as I read. Read more
Published on 23 April 2011 by D Paterson
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