Monday, 30 November 2009

Cannonball Read 8: Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews Edited by Mac Montandon

I couldn't have been more than twelve years old when I first heard Tom Waits. I was watching MTV late one night when, from under a table in a dingy diner, a man appeared with a tiny guitar in his hands and belted out a song. I had no idea who this person was, or where he'd come from, but I was transfixed. Months passed and I sat up waiting, hoping to see the video again, a blank VHS ready in the machine. Finally, one night, the song came back on. I lunged towards the VCR and hit record. Immediately after the song ended I plugged the RCA chords that lead from the VCR into the tape deck and transferred the song onto an audio cassette.

The song was "I Don't Want To Grow Up", and it was unlike anything else I'd ever heard. I wanted to know more. I scoured the local record outlet for more of the man's work. The album that I wanted, Bone Machine, was too expensive. I searched through tens of modestly priced albums from the 70's and 80's with no idea where to start. Eventually, I settled on Rain Dogs, and, upon listening, was left confused and a little frightened at this eclectic mix of noise, beauty and brilliance. My musical tastes had been limited to the likes of Nirvana and Sonic Youth on the one hand, and Ice Cube and Wu Tang on the other. Already, these two genres were socially incompatible in my school. It was rock or Hip Hop. That was it. Angry, depressed and suffering the onset of puberty, I knew not which to chose, and rather resented the notion that a choice was necessary. Now I had Waits to contend with as well.

No one I knew had heard of this man. I kept him to myself and accumulated more of his albums as the years passed. I began noticing his songs increasingly being featured in cinema, popping up at the end credits of strange films I would come across on cable stations late at night. As the years drew on a few people I met started recognizing his name, though he was usually only referred to as the "guy with the gravelly voice". No one else got it. My mother even declared "Anybody that sings like that would just get laughed off stage" as I played "Dirt In The Ground" solemnly in my room. I did not care, the lyrics were as good as lyrics got.

Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits: The Collected Interviews is certainly not a book that will appeal to non-Waits fans. In fact, while it is an enjoyable insight into the man, it's hardly required reading for his fans either. The most interesting thing about Waits has always been his music. I still got a kick out of a lot of it. It's interesting to see the perceptions of journalists change over the years as Waits' grows from scruffy outcast to cult icon. The change in Waits' approach to interviews is even more drastic, as he evolves from a young artist spinning wild yarns about his past, to a husband and father with a decidedly more direct and, increasingly, political outlook. Nonetheless, he still insists on meeting journalists miles away from the secret location of his home, often in greasy spoon diners, or unfashionable Chinese restaurants.

This started as a mistake. I recently traveled down to London and, on Sunday, found myself alone in a friend's flat. I picked this book off of the shelf, flicked through the first few pages and, about 4 hours later, put it down and fell asleep. I had no plans on reviewing it but, in the end, could not resist writing a few paragraphs about this man whose music has been such a huge part of my life for the last sixteen years.

EDIT*************** Just deal with it.


1 comment:

  1. Wow, this looks like a very cool book. I didn't even know it existed before reading your review. Now I'm on trying to decide if I should buy it for my brother-in-law or my wife as a Christmas present, or just drop the pretense and buy it for myself (since I would be asking to borrow it before the wrapping paper was off).

    A conversation between Elvis Costello and Tom Waits?!? An introduction from Frank Black of the Pixies! What else- did Thurston Moore write a review of "The Heart of Saturday Night" for his high school newspaper?

    Anyway, thanks for bringing this to my attention.