TOM WAITS ON TOM WAITS

INTERVIEWS AND ENCOUNTERS

The singer-songwriter-actor-playwright with a rare gift of gab gets a second anthology of interviews.

Given the richness of Tom Waits’ nearly 40-year career and his unique gifts as a word-drunk raconteur, a compilation of old interviews with the musician is a natural. In fact, editor Maher (Jack Kerouac’s American Journey, 2007, etc.) has been beaten to the punch by Mac Montandon’s Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader (2005), which brought together many of the best pieces on Waits from top-flight periodicals. This book contains lesser stuff. Maher admits in his introduction that he couldn’t afford to pay the permission fees for stories from higher-profile magazines. Thus, his compilation leans on B-team writers and work from sometimes obscure (and often now-defunct) music rags and alternative weeklies. Organized by album-release cycle, Maher’s anthology attains a repetitive rhythm in the early going, which recounts the performer’s 1970s development as the jazzy beat/boho poet laureate of the American underside; the narrative shifts gears after Waits’ 1980 marriage to Kathleen Brennan, who became his writing collaborator and helped steer his music into riskier, more cacophonous realms. The package is messily edited, with flat-footed interstitial material. Writers’ expositions of the vocalist’s life and career, and some of Waits’ gags, incessantly duplicate one another. British journalists—including Sylvie Simmons, Mick Brown, Pete Silverton—seem to fare best with Waits. Interestingly, some of the most revealing American interviews are with radio hosts: L.A. folk DJs Roz and Howard Larman and Philadelphia veteran Michael Tearson. But many of the interrogators are unable to hit their subject’s obfuscating curve balls. Some, like Spin magazine’s insufferable Bart Bull, flash plenty of sub–Lester Bangs style to zero effect. The least of the material is perplexingly culled from press kits for record and movie projects. Though always entertaining, Waits conceals more than he exposes; as he notes to Amanda Petrusich in the book’s most telling quote, “The fact is most of the things that people know about me are made up. My own life is backstage.” Some entertaining yarns lurk among a great deal of garrulous dross.

 

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-56976-312-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2011

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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