In his own words he is a pedestrian piano player with poor technique but a good sense of melody. He likes smog, traffic, kinky people, car trouble, noisy neighbors, crowded bars, and his favorite album is Kerouac/Allen (Jack Kerouac reading beat poetry to Steve Allen playing jazz piano). Yet, some of the greatest musicians working any side of the street trip over themselves to work with him. Victor Feldman, Jim Hugart, Plas Johnson, Larry Taylor and artists from Springsteen, to Jerry Jeff Walker to the Eagles have recorded his music. Bette Midler and Chrystal Gayle have sung duets with him. At his concerts and club shows you are apt to see many celebrities at the best tables and in the best seats.
Whatever else he is, his music has always been an uncompromising body of work stripped of any commercial sensibilities. From the first album, Closing Time, in 1973 through the '80s he delivered songs that caught the attention of Frank Zappa, David Geffen, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, and a host of other music biz luminaries. They were stories, described as chronicling the underbelly of the American night, they pushed envelopes of popular music and defied classification; jazz, blues, rock, folk… you never knew where you’d find a Waits album in a record store. They were so entirely different from the usual pop songs or rock songs of the time.
Despite a break-even at best career, he didn’t change. And about the time he had a large enough cult following to move out of the Tropicana Motel, where he says his neighbors were four-speed automatic transvestites, unemployed fireman, dykes, hoods, hookers, sadists, masochists, Avon ladies on the skids, reprieved murders, ex-bebop singers, the lesbian chapter of the Eskimo Hells Angels and one-armed piano players, he did change. He ditched the odd, if comfortable sound of string bass, drums with brushes, sax and him on piano or acoustic guitar or B3 Organ. Who could blame him? You expected him to cash in and go pop/rock/country. Almost anything. He wasn’t exactly tearing up the hit parade or knocking them dead on the FM dial. So, he ditched the rhythm section that was only marginally mainstream in favor of Bass Marimba, brake drum, accordion, a two by four on a bathroom door, a hammer on a Chevy fender, and traffic noises… not exactly jumping on the gravy train, but he never did it for the money. He preferred the Tropicana Motel to an address on Easy Street. As he told one reviewer early in his career, he didn’t want to live there, you get too much Pekingese shit on your Bazanti boots off of those shag carpets.
The book, is probably told in the only way you could tell a story of a man who is not only elusive, but whose art is so hard to define. Paul Maher Jr., the editor and biographer has culled from numerous interviews and profiles these snap shots to reveal Tom in his own words. Throughout the interviews it becomes clear that Tom waits can be illusive, intellectually abusive, or a warm person to interview. It also becomes clear that which Tom Waits you end up with oft times depends on the attitude of the interviewer. He is funny, a story teller, a liar, a huckster, and an entertainer.And totally original.