From the Publisher
Absolutely outstanding" Danny Baker, BBC
"[This] book lights up and whirls like one of the greasy carnival rides in Mr. Wait's own sprawling oeuvre" The New York Times
Hoskyn's superlative overview of one of America's major (though idiosyncratic) popular artists will likely stand as the best book on his life"Library Journal (starred review)
"Hoskyns persevered in writing the first Waits biography, netting fascination firsthand stories, terrific photographs, and fanatically detailed information about studio sessions and concerts...the result is a respectful, entertaining, and revelatory portrait set within a vivid cultural context."Booklist
"It's about time [Waits] received biographical homage from a rock writer of the stature of Hoskyns."Stephen Poole, The Guardian
"Comprehensive and judicious. [Waits] could not have found a more respectful, sympathetic and knowledgeable biographer if he'd chosen him himself."Mick Brown, The Word
"Thanks to his diligence. His Californian connections and some magazine interviews he conducted long ago with Waits, Hoskyn's life comes across as convincingly lifelike."Robert Sandall, The Sunday Times
Mr. Hoskyns's guile, dogged work and Nick Hornbyesque likability place him a notch above the average rock biographer. His book lights up and whirls like one of the greasy carnival rides in Mr. Waits's own sprawling oeuvre…Mr. Hoskyns rummaged through Mr. Waits's interviews, pored through the historical record and talked to those who were willing to speak. Thus his unauthorized biography mirrors, in some ways, Mr. Waits's own junkyard aesthetic. Mr. Hoskyns picks up what shards of Mr. Waits's life he can find and holds them to the light, turning them eagerly in his hands.
The New York Times
When a celebrity not only refuses to cooperate with a would-be biographer but persuades most of his inner circle not to grant interviews either, the writer's task is much more daunting. In trying to account for the 40-year career of eccentric singer/songwriter (and occasional film actor) Tom Waits, Hoskyns (Hotel California) puts his subject's reluctance front and center, openly speculating on the rumors that Waits's wife has engineered his withdrawal from his early associates. The armchair psychology extends to Waits's idiosyncratic public persona, but is buttressed with interviews with as many people as Hoskyns could get to talk, a few conversations he had with Waits for magazine pieces and excerpts from other articles over the years. For the most part, Waits's musical transformation from hip troubadour to far-out maverick is well contextualized, but when Hoskyns's resources are stretched thin in this overlong book, his pronouncements become less compelling. Readers may not particularly care what the biographer thinks of Waits's last album, for example, nor need a complete set list from a random concert. Despite these problems, however, Hoskyns deserves credit for trying to give Waits the critical scrutiny his work deserves. (Apr. 14)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Tom Waits has had a singular music career spanning over 40 years and encompassing a bewildering array of musical styles. Once known as 1970s beatnik style, his music has since moved into experimental percussion, free-form howling, bizarre dark stories, and obscure, old-fashioned instrumentation. British journalist Hoskyns (Hotel California) takes us from the formative 1960s all the way up to a short description of Waits's most recent concert tour in the summer of 2008. From the mid-1980s forward, Waits has made concerted efforts to maintain his privacy, so a lot of the details of recordings and tours since that time period will be new to many readers. Of particular interest are the recording details of his groundbreaking albums Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years and descriptions of his work with Robert Wilson on The Black Rider stage presentation. Patrick Humphries's previous biographies (Small Change; Many Lives of Tom Wait) and Jay S. Jacobs's Wild Years cover much of the same ground, but unless and until Waits works with an official biographer, Hoskyns's superlative overview of one of America's major (though idiosyncratic) popular artists will likely stand as the best book on his life.
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 surveyed Waits's early work in the context of the '70s L.A. singer-songwriter scene. Here the author takes an expansive unauthorized look at Waits's life and career. Hoskyns offers a well-delineated picture of the artist's formative years in the Southern California towns of Whittier and San Diego, where his infatuation with Beat literature and old-school pop and jazz led to what the author calls "round-the-clock performance art"-the formulation of the musician's anachronistic, finger-popping, prematurely grizzled stage persona. Hoskyns is at his best in amply reported chapters recalling Waits's first flush of fame in Los Angeles as a gutter-crawling, melody-spinning boho poet. Witnesses include his producer Bones Howe and several intimates at the West Hollywood Troubadour club-though not, regrettably, early flame Rickie Lee Jones. The book grows less rewarding after Waits's wife and creative partner Kathleen Brennan enters the picture. Hoskyns plainly lacks any abiding interest in the more experimental, cacophonous recordings that commenced in 1983 with Swordfishtrombones. The latter part of his account, which leans heavily on secondary sources, devolves into wearying, infrequently edifying laundry lists of album tracks, theatrical projects (mostly with Robert Wilson) and movie roles. The writer also encountered difficulty in enlisting cooperation from friends and musical associates of the privacy-loving Waits, and he loudly grinds his axe by including an appendix of several e-mails declining hisinterview requests. By the end, Hoskyns's tone has turned peevish, and his admiration for Waits's oddly beautiful, envelope-pushing music is eclipsed by his journalistic frustration. Worth it for the informative first half, but not the comprehensive assessment that Waits's artistry deserves.