Lowside of the Road: A life of Tom Waits, by Barney Hoskyns

lowside_w288Lowside of the Road: A life of Tom Waits
By Barney Hoskyns
(Broadway)

It’s amazing this book ever made it to print. Music writer Barney Hoskyns was shut out at just about every attempt to interview anyone who was even remotely close to the notoriously media shy Tom Waits. In fact, the end of the book comes with a collection of often humorous e-mail transcripts from a slew of Waits’ friends, collaborators and associates explaining why they would not be able to answer any questions despite having great respect for the writer.

Turns out Waits shouldn’t have been so intimidated by Hoskyns’ biography. Despite some pretty big road blocks to overcome, Hoskyns does an impressive job of detailing four decades of Waits’ life, from his childhood to his rough musical start and rise to one of the most influential folk/rock/jazz musicians still recording today.

Though Waits’ reputation for being a bit of a curmudgeon is detailed throughout the 500 or so pages, he still manages to come off pretty well. His relationship with Rickie Lee Jones is touched on briefly, though it’s clear those really in the know were warned not to speak with the author (Jones even takes a jab at Waits’ wife in an e-mail to the author stating “Let’s see if his wife lets him say anything about us, or me…”).

Like the relationship with Jones, the details on Waits’ wife are also scarce, aside from the fact that she was the inspiration for “Jersey Girl,” a song more associated with Bruce Springsteen rather than Waits. Pieced together from old interviews (including many the author conducted with Waits as a magazine writer over the years) and conversations with those not discouraged from talking with him.

Hoskyns does an impressive job of trying to put together a portrait of an influential, if secretive musician. Though the book would have been far more detailed if Waits and those close to him had decided to cooperate, the writer still does a fine job of reporting.