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Barney Hoskyns p2

Barney Hoskyns talks about his excellent biography of Tom Waits, Lowside of the Road, and gives some outstanding reading suggestions.

READERSVOICE.COM: In Lowside of the Road, your biography of Tom Waits, you mention some of Tom Waits’s reading: Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music; Bob Dylan’s Chronicles Volume 1; the Bible; Last Exit to Brooklyn; the works of Jack Kerouac, Flannery O’Connor’s stories, and Charles Bukowski. Do you think he always saw himself as an author writing songs, and do you think he would still see himself this way?

BARNEY HOSKYNS: I think Waits always wanted to be taken seriously as a writer – as a poet. And he absolutely should be. His language is remarkably rich and physical. The beat writers shaped his language but he always read widely, always had his nose in a book.

RV: Can you recommend some of your favorite books on music and musicians?

BH: The late Charlie Gillett’s Sound of the City, of course, and then off the top of my head: Ian MacDonald’s The People’s Music, James Young’s Songs they Never Play on the Radio, Evan Eisenberg’s The Recording Angel, Nik Cohn’s Awopbopaloobop Awopbamboom, Fred Goodman’s The Mansion on the Hill, Gerri Hirshey’s Nowhere to Run, Geoffrey O’Brien’s Sonata for Jukebox, Jimmy McDonough’s Neil Young biography Shakey, Simon Reynolds & Joy Press’ The Sex Revolts.

RV: What are some other books you’ve really enjoyed over the years, whether it was from your student days studying literature, or just anything else you’ve come across, fact or fiction?

BH: As a student I got heavily into the great French transgressors: Georges Bataille, Pierre Klossowski and company. As a 50-year-old I am less likely to read Bataille’s Story of the Eye than Henry Green’s Loving, John McGahern’s Amongst Women, Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, Richard Ford’s A Multitude of Sins, J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country – I want to know more about the life I actually live. The giants for me are Proust, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Flaubert, Dickens, George Eliot, Nabokov.

RV: Your book mentioned how in the early days Tom Waits used to go to diners in Los Angeles, and listen to what people said and used the words for ideas and lyrics. What were some of his other sources like this, and where does he get lyrical inspiration from now?

BH: I’d say newspaper stories, travel, local gossip, childhood memory. His work of the last five years directly addresses political issues – Iraq, Bush etc – in ways he had never attempted before.

RV: You mentioned in your book how you told friends about the problems you were having writing it. Apart from some musicians and others being told not to talk to a biographer, what were the other problems you faced?

BH: The biggest issue with a single-subject biography is that it becomes so obsessive and monomaniacal: you want to leave no stone unturned, in case underneath it lies THE CLUE, THE ABSOLUTE KEY to the enigma of this artist.

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-copyright Simon Sandall.