Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters (Chicago Review Press) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Edited by Paul Maher, Jr.

Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters

Published by Chicago Review Press

Aug 05, 2011 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Singer/songwriter-thespian-playwright Tom Waits is the definition of idiosyncratic. Over the course of his 40-years career his personal life remained largely hidden from the press and his loyal fans. This book—haphazardly edited by Paul Maher (Jack Kerouac’s American Journey)—compiles about 50 interviews with the experimental artist. Maher apologizes at the beginning of the book that he couldn’t pay for the expensive permission fees for stories from top-shelf music publications. As such, his book brings together lesser-known rags and even now-defunct alternative magazines such as Paste. The interviews and features are organized by album release cycle and follow a similar structure to Maher and Michael K. Dorr’s better book chronicling Miles Davis interviews (Miles on Miles).

Part one of the book recounts Waits’ 1970s rise as a drunk and jazzy beatnik of the American underground to well-respected musical act, thespian, and film composer. The interviews largely repeat the same ideas and become very one-note. The features become a little more interesting during Waits’ prolific 1980s period (i.e. - Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Franks Wild Years). His marriage to Kathleen Brennan is intriguing. She became his longterm writing collaborator, and helped him get off the bottle and jumpstart his musical career.

That transition period and its fruitful aftermath are fascinating, but are blunted here by homogeneous interviews and Maher’s sluggish interstitial narratives. Chicago Review Press and Maher really scrape the bottom of the barrel when they reprint old press kits for their subject’s record and movie projects. British journalists, such as Mick Brown, Pete Silverton, and Sylvie Simmons, seem to know how to hurdle Waits’ conversational roadblocks and extract some juicy sound bites that aren’t just jokes, riddles, and silly trivia. Waits does reveal himself a fan of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone, which is cool to this particular reviewer.

This book is only for fans that just have to collect everything that pertains to Waits. Better Tom Waits interviews can be found via the interviews section of the comprehensive Tom Waits Library or in Mac Montandon’s book, Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader (2005). Seek those out before opening Tom Waits on Tom Waits. (

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 4/10


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