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Barney Hoskyns p3

Barney Hoskyns, author of Lowside of the Road, an excellent biography of Tom Waits, talks about any unanswered questions, and an interesting future project about Led Zeppelin...

READERSVOICE.COM: What pieces of the picture did you miss, if any, that would you have liked to have gathered from some of the people who wouldn’t talk?

BARNEY HOSKYNS: I’d have liked more of a sense of the man and creative leader from sidemen such as Greg Cohen (his former brother-in-law, to boot!), Larry “The Mole” Taylor, Smokey Hormel et al. Obviously, too, I’d have LOVED to speak with Waits’ mother and sisters, his wife Kathleen Brennan and their children.

RV: The book said you’d spent two years researching the biography, but you mentioned to Rickie Lee Jones in a 1991 interview that you’d planned on writing it. So I was wondering when you first thought of it, and how long you thought about it, reseached it and wrote it.

BH: I wrote a proposal for a Waits biography back in 1991 but it went on the back burner when he became a much smaller part of my Los Angeles history Waiting for the Sun. A call from New York editor in late 2006 put it in the foreground again. Broadly, I spent 2007 researching the book and 2008 writing it.

RV: You’ve interviewed Tom Waits a couple of times over the years and I was wondering if you had any unanswered questions about him that you’d ask.

BH: In the words of his one of his least typical songs, “Who Are You?” No, seriously, if I had the balls I would ask him why he gave Kathleen so much power and so much say in his career.

RV: How did you start your career in music journalism, and how did you learn all the musical terminology? What sorts of things did you read to learn about music?

BH: I wrote a few reviews for Melody Maker while still at university and then, in 1981, got my foot in the door at the NME. As for my musical terminology, I’ve winged it for years; I have no musicological expertise whatsoever. I read all the key music histories, then books by Charlie Gillett, Greil Marcus, Bill Millar, Peter Guralnick et al.

RV: What projects or other books do you have planned?

BH: I have a novel that’s been on the go for some years and will probably never see the light of day. My “day job” is the online archive Rock’s Backpages [www.rocksbackpages.com] and I recently started work on a hefty and I hope definitive version of the Led Zeppelin story.

RV: What course would you like to see Tom Waits take with his songs?

BH: I’d love to see him, just once, go back in the studio with strings and a set of heartbreaking ballads. But it’ll never happen.

Lowside of the Road, A Life of Tom Waits (Faber and Faber) by Barney Hoskyns. 609 pages.

-copyright Simon Sandall