'Tom Waits on Tom Waits' by Paul Maher Jr. (2011)

Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters - Paul Mahar

Paul Maher Jr. (ed.), Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters (London: Aurum Press, 2011), 466pp


"To converse with Tom Waits is to be lied to, consistently, determinedly, entertainingly." (pg. 211).

An entertaining collection of Tom Waits' interviews over the 30+ years of his career. It is hard to define Tom Waits, an intensely private person with an eclectic music style. Consequently, this book fails in its aim to present a 'de facto autobiography' of the man, as when the interviews threaten to reveal something that he does not want revealed, he will deflect the question with humour. Nevertheless, he is always entertaining and informative; the enigmatic artist is always evasive but never frustratingly so. He is, as one interviewer in this collection puts it, "at once highly theatrical and utterly natural" (pg. 352). As this collection is drawn from a number of collections, there is some overlap: some biographical facts are repeated, as are a few of Tom's anecdotes. But what gives the articles their spice is the confrontational nature of the discourse: the interviewer wants to find the chink in the armour, whilst Tom deflects with often brazen lies and increasingly bizarre factoids. It is genuinely entertaining, and there are many laugh-out-loud moments, along with more wry and witty moments. The last interview in the book is a sort of meta-interview where Tom interviews himself: it is the best one.

Even though I have been a dedicated fan of Tom Waits for a number of years, there were still some things which came as a surprise, though often you can't tell if he's taking the piss or not. Did you know he's a fan of Pimp My Ride? ("The only show I've seen in the last fifteen years... I hope this is #1, 'cause I just love it." - pg. 392). That he pegged Keith Richards as a pirate decades before Johnny Depp had the same idea (pg. 177)? Or that he owns a record called The Best of Marcel Marceau? ("It had forty minutes of silence followed by applause." - pg. 442). The book is a delight to read, especially if you imagine Tom's parts being said in his trademark raspy voice, of which there are many attempts by the interviewers to describe, including "like an old scratchy 78 record played at 33" (pg. 77), "a young Louis Armstrong who's received a quick kick to the crotch" (pg. 108), "rusty nails in a bottle of cheap bourbon" (pg. 154), "a broad-spectrum assault weapon" (pg. 381) and, by his kids, "a Cookie Monster-in-love" (pg. 360). A must for Tom Waits fans. You won't necessarily learn about his life - this isn't a biography - but you'll be so entertained it won't matter.

"Everything is explained now. We live in an age when you say casually to somebody, 'What's the story on that?' and they can run to the computer and tell you within five seconds. That's fine, but sometimes I'd just as soon continue wondering. We have a deficit of wonder right now." (pg. 384).