Lowside of the Road – Tom Waits biography

An extract from Barney Hoskins’ new biography of Tom Waits has appeared at The Quietus. It deals with the change in Waits’ music which happened at the time of his marriage to Kathleen Brennan, and Swordfishtrombones the album which resulted. Here Hoskins skates over the vexed question of Captain Beefheart’s influence on Waits:

Waits has even claimed he’d never really listened to Captain Beefheart before meeting Kathleen – that, despite being signed by Beefheart’s manager Herb Cohen and supporting the Captain’s mentor Frank Zappa on tour, he was oblivious to the gruff-voiced Dadaist genius born Don Van Vliet. Where the bruising ‘Heartattack and Vine’ hinted at Beefheart’s influence, Waits’ new songs made the debt clearer still.

Whether or not it was Kathleen who turned her husband on to Beefheart matters less than the fact that she was the catalyst for change. “It was certainly not the first time that a relationship with a strong and well-organized woman has had that kind of effect on an artist’s life,” says Mike Melvoin, keyboard player on The Heart of Saturday Night (1974) and Nighthawks at the Diner (1975). But Melvoin also believes Brennan “put a stake through the heart of various things” in order to free Waits from his past.

Barney Hoskyns’ Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits is out now, published by Faber & Faber

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