Friday, January 16, 2009

The Many Lives Of Tom Waits
Patrick Humphries

A famously evasive, though highly entertaining, interviewee with sleeves full of deceptive deflections to ward off unwanted enquiries into his carefully cultivated private world, Waits is never going to be easily illuminated by any biographer, unless he should see fit. Basically a hastily patched together update of his earlier work Small Change Humphries falls further foul of many an unauthorised biographers’ pitfalls, ending up with a collage of quotes and extracts culled from elsewhere. It’s doubtful anyone could fail entirely when armed with copious samples from the cornucopia of the always delightful Waitsian wit and wonder and almost Billy Connolly-esque awe at trivia and minutiae, but ultimately that is all PH provides, besides performing irritating, perfunctory track by track dissections on each album. Though it’s attracted derision from hardcore acolytes (an occupational hazard, surely) in online diatribes devoted to various geographical and chronological errors, they are more irksome than criminal to the general reader.
Adopting a lyrical style striving to mirror his subject, sure to scrape the scalps of some readers, Humphries is best early on, depicting Tom out on a limb. From a solitary though supportive childhood and teenage wasteland where his jazz and bop-street heels clicked heroically out of synch with his beat-boom preoccupied peers to the tireless trails as a lonesome travelling troubadour onto the eighties reinvention as ringmaster of macabre, ending as a family man with a still insistently inquisitive mind that shows no signs of settling. Though the tale doesn’t, and can’t, reveal a complete picture of the man behind the brilliant disguises, enough slivers twinkle between the lines to sense the essential shyness belying a steely self-assuredness and strength of character that gave gravel in more than voice to go against the grain. Thankfully, Humphries doesn’t dive headlong down aimless avenues of idle conjecture and cod psychoanalysis and it does remain ultimately fitting that at the end of it all Waits remains an enigma awaiting his own literate, exhaustively researched biography in the manner of Michael Gray’s Blind Willie McTell tome Hand Me My Travelling Shoes or John Kruth’s Townes Van Zandt epic To Live’s To Fly.
Stu Gibson

1 comment:

Schiel Denver said...

Patrick Humphries work is so alive and interesting. Wonderful post, one of the best I've read today.

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