The Many Lives of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries

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The Many Lives of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries

Category: Biography
Rating: 2.5/5
Reviewer: Tamsin Jones
Reviewed by Tamsin Jones
Summary: The biography of Tom Waits that isn't as comprehensive and detailed as it thinks it is.
Buy? No Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 354 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Omnibus
ISBN: 978-1847725097

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Patrick Humphries' biography of Tom Waits reads like little more than a schoolboy essay on his hero. Already lauded by every critic and celebrity with pretensions of credibility, Waits hardly needs the hyperbolic praise heaped on him here.

The opening is excruciating rather than intriguing as it is obviously meant to be. Very little is said about his childhood and formative years. There is a brief mention of an absent father and a childhood hero of Pinocchio. His family is rarely mentioned later in the book and, oddly, there are no interviews with any of the Waits family, which could have supplied a wonderful glimpse of the child who always wanted to be an old man.

It is sometimes hard to follow the convoluted sentences and constant meandering into the lives of other people. Especially as the chronology isn't always clear. Instead of offering insight into the life of a fascinating character, Humphries fills his book with extraneous details about Francis Ford Coppola, who has pages dedicated to him, while Waits' relationship with Rickie Lee Jones is skated over in a couple of paragraphs. It is possible to get a more complete portrait by reading any five articles about him from the music press.

There is nothing new here. Even the quotes given by Waits (mostly to people other than the author) are continually recycled. It lacks the style and wit of its subject. When listing all the lawsuits he has been involved in, Waits comes across as petty and money-grubbing.

His acting roles are played up while his lack of commercial, and sometimes critical, success is played down. Humphries prefers to deplore Waits' scarcity of lines in most of his films rather than seeking out cast and crew who worked with him to find out what he was like and provide a more rounded picture of the man.

The best thing about this biography is the breakdown of each record. Not always coherent, it shows the author's delight in his subject far better than any of his painfully drawn out witterings about Waits' greatness.

It also leaves a thirst for more. I was left wanting to know more about the man himself and his music. Partly because Humphries' enthusiasm is so infectious, partly because he wasn't always able to communicate this effectively.

The discography and filmography are comprehensive making it easy to begin your journey into the world of Tom Waits.

Essentially, it provides a good introduction to the man and the music. However, far from being The Many Lives of Tom Waits, it barely manages to capture one.


Further Reading: Song Man: A Melodic Adventure, or My Single-minded Approach to Songwriting by Will Hodgkinson.

Buy The Many Lives of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Many Lives of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Many Lives of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Many Lives of Tom Waits by Patrick Humphries at Amazon.com.


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