Autobiographies can often be self-serving, but biographies - authorised or otherwise - can be poorly researched.
So what’s the happy medium between revisionist history and sheer inaccuracy? Tom Waits On Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters, which catalogues interviews with Waits from his debut in 1973 up to 2008’s Glitter And Doom tour.
The huge shifts in quality, variations in writing style and Waits’s amicable refusal to co-operate make for a rich, colourful read that outstrips virtually any other rock chronicle. Waits’s contribution to each interview is summed up by a quote pulled from Vanity Fair in 2004, used to open the book. Waits is asked under what occasions he would choose to lie, to which he replies: “Who needs an occasion?”
More amusingly, the book charts the constantly changing face of rock journalism – and not always complimentarily. A 1975 article taken from Melody Maker is so insufferably twee that it’s startling to think the publication was at one point the most influential rag in its field.
Yet mere pages later is the book’s individual highlight, a Syracuse New Times article by Robert Ward.
Covering what happened both on and offstage at a gig in 1976, everything Waits says and does is fascinating and Webb’s smoky, grizzled writing seems cut from the same cloth as his subject’s music. In an era of transparent celebrities, only Bob Dylan has remained as enigmatic as Waits for so long. Yet unlike Waits even Dylan has published the first volume of his autobiography.
Until he does get around to it, Interviews And Encounters is a wonderful insight into a man who we still basically know nothing about.