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Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits Paperback – May 1, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Updated to include Tom Waits's most recent endeavors-albums Real Gone, Blood Money and Alice, and movies Coffee and Cigarettes and Domino-Jacobs's biography of the man with the gravely voice draws on a 30-year career, a lot of interviews and Waits's microphone banter to show "the irony of Tom Waits's career is that after he found happiness, love, and sobriety, his music became more and more experimental." Waits appears here with all the trappings of an iconic figure, including the self-mythologizing: Jacobs quotes Waits heavily, but warns that the musician's words are often of questionable accuracy. With over 30 images capturing Waits in his many different roles, a discography (including covers) and a list of Waits's guest appearances, Jacobs's biography will find a welcome audience in fans of Waits's music.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"Jacobs' study isn't simply informative; it's a solid and entertaining read on its own." —Eric Waggoner, Phoenix New Times
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: ECW Press; 2nd edition (May 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1550227165
  • ISBN-13: 978-1550227161
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #570,030 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Susan Hickey on February 26, 2002
Format: Paperback
Waits' fans are no strangers to paradox -- his music, steeped in its own history yet undeniably original, deeply textured as corrugated steel yet with a compassionate heart that doesn't quit, songs that reveal humanity's every weakness, and in doing so somehow redeem it. His music revels in its own originality without falling prey to self-indulgence.

So it shouldn't have surprised me that Tom Wait's biographies have been as badly written, speculative, and poorly directed as his music has been insightful and original. From his early years Waits portrayed the piano playing drunk, the street poet, the loser with dreams, and seemed to love using that voice to speak to the press. Interviewers were treated to long yarns about his life, loves and friends, yarns spun from a humorous imagination by a private man. Books trying to build on this paper foundation have fallen flat as last night's beer, and if some fans (and reporters) were annoyed by his evasions and stories, more were entertained by the them, and willingly accepted Waits as the character he portrayed, a seedy addition to American mythology.
Waits is not the first artist to use a stage persona as a privacy screen, but he was one of the most successful. It is my opinion that this avoidance was not so much a personal aversion to the limelight, but a desire to proect his music from himself. To that end, he only revealed the parts of himself that supported his music, and, like any good thespian, hid the machinery with the scenery.
Finally, someone got the point. Jay S. Jacobs writes about Waits from a thoughtful perspective unseen in previous biographers. Guiding us with a wink and a smile past the many myths and tall tales, Jacobs brings us backstage to the artist without knocking down his front door.
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Format: Paperback
I've always kind of wondered what makes Tom Waits tick, and I think this very well written book gave me as good a view as I'm likely to get. It covers all the basics, the drinking, the family, the childhood, the dives, the music, the movies, etc. It also opens up the fact that Waits seems to be a surprisingly introspective man, who puts his art before anything else. If nothing else, the book is worth reading because the man is such an original thinker and wordsmith. "Wild Years" seems to capture that originality and truly appreciates the body of work that Waits has put together. This book helps to explain the subtle mystery that is Tom Waits.
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Jacobs' has written an informative, interesting book about Tom Waits, one of my favorite artists. It reads like a who's who of creative geniuses as we trace Waits' life up to his current Epitaph recordings. The two best things about the book are the context it gives to each od his songs and the beautiful black and white photographs, which I wanted to cut out and paste to my apartment's walls. Obviously, the book no where near as breath-taking as Waits' music, but it's a great and rewarding accessory.
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I just finished reading both 'Wild Years' by Jacobs and 'Tom Waits' by Carroll (strangely that one is credited to Staunton on here). This was by far the better of the two books. It did a great job of covering Waits' music and acting and also gave you a sense that you knew the guy. I'd really recommend you read this book, if you like Waits or even if you were just curious about him.
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Wild Years by Jay S. Jacobs *****

Of all the musical biographies I have ever read (and I have read a lot), this is by far the best. Wild Years is painstakingly researched, never boring, clear cut, unapologetic, highly informative, and most of all entertaining.

The man that is Tom Waits, is far removed from his public persona. Wild Years kills all the rumours, and exaggerations, it releases the truth. Filled with the same humour as Waits' own music making Wild Years a thoroughly enjoyable and informative read.

Of all the waits biographies this is the one to get, and this edition as it has extra chapters.
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This is a good Tom Waits history, but it seems like the author has never been in the same room with Waits. Rather, all his stories and vignettes seem to be drawn from second hand accounts or published Waits interviews. It's worth a look.
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To really answer that question, one should first ask himself why shouldn't it be possible? After all, even a "living myth" like Tom Waits is actually a real person. Born and raised, breathing and drinking (more drinking than breathing I should think :), so it would be perfectly possible for anyone, with enough acces to data, to write a biogrpahy of Tom Waits. But what kind of biography that would be, and would it actually put some light on his songs? My answer is, however you will judge it, as that you cannot.

But Jacobs tried as best as he could.

To write about Waits is to write about every character ever portrayed in any of his songs. Every one has it's own story, however sad, drunken, miserable or, eventually, happy character it actually is. and writing stories about one life is hard enough in itself. And Waits is as real as his characters and his songs are. To forget about them means concetrating about factography of Waits's life, and every factography is boring as hell without some kind of story to support it. Starting that story puts one in a risky state, in which he may find himself not being able to finish what he started.

And this is exactly what happened to Jacobs. Somwhere along the way, he loses the perspective and starts to talk about Waits in a manner of a hardcore fan. Finding himself lost, not being able to return himself to a storyline that he left behind, Jacobs loses his critical perspective and starts to make out statements like "very good" "best" "legendary" without any manner of backing up those words. Whole biography suddenly starts to be too much factual and thing dissolves in itself. Magic of Tom Waits is lost.

One useful thing, though, is a helpful discography of Tom Waits's records which can help one alot if he tries to collect all of it. But even so, that can hardly be reason for buying a book...
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