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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough to a fault, 3 May 2009
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This review is from: Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits (Hardcover)
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. I was fascinated to learn that the young Waits modelled himself so closely on Bob Dylan he wore a harmomica around his neck - even though he couldn't play it. And there is an unavoidable pleasure in finding that every Waits gig one has been to is, of course, decribed here - with tracklists.

So if, like me, you love Waits' music but have only a hazy sense of the man and his history, you will be gripped by this huge brick of a book. But you may find it a business-like rather than inspiring read. And by the time you get to Hoskyn's appendix in which he lists his top forty Waits tracks, you may, like me, find it irritatingly self-important: Hoskyn's earns our respect as a researcher, but not as a critic.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 12 May 2014 13:18:32 BDT
Last edited by the author on 12 May 2014 18:19:46 BDT
Mr M S Read says:
My God, the Amazon pages would benefit immeasurably from a few more reviews of this calibre. The review hasn't swayed me either way, but I feel that I have a far better idea of what to expect. Many thanks!
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