Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits

Barney Hoskyns

Rock & Roll Summer Reading

Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits

by Barney Hoskyns
Broadway Books, 640 pp., $29.95

Tom Waits' life has played out like a movie, which is perhaps why British music writer Barney Hoskyns put every supporting character he could in his epic 600-plus-page bio of the singular music carney. Lowside of the Road is exhaustingly thorough, pieced together through previous interviews with Waits, former players and girlfriends, producers, promoters, employers, label heads, and hangers-on such as Chuck E. Weiss. Hoskyns' tale isn't just frothing fluff. It's quite revelatory, a must bio on one of music's more inscrutable characters, even if much of it is just the author's speculation after decades of following Waits' career. There's a good 300 pages on the singer's Beat-obsessed formative years in San Diego and L.A. in the 1960s and 1970s prior to the genesis of his many bar and diner tales. Hoskyns hinges the second half of Lowside on his subject's life with wife and collaborator Kathleen Brennan, seen by some as a Yoko figure who cut Waits off from his past and by others as his saving grace, the reset button Waits needed at a time when drugs and alcohol were chipping away at his mojo. Since Waits wouldn't speak to Hoskyns for the book, and interviews with many friends and associates were declined via the Waits-Brennan stonewall, his use of quotes from archival interviews gets a bit tiring, though there's never a feeling of bitterness. Hoskyns is still a fan, his story ending with him standing outside in the rain after an Edinburgh show on last year's Glitter & Doom Tour, waiting for the man, the myth. Rather appropriately, Hoskyns just missed him.

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