Encounters, published by Chicago Review Press and edited by Paul Maher Jr.,
duplicates portions of a previous anthology, but on balance does make a fine
addition to your Waitsian bookshelf.
By Fred Mills
For a long time Tom Waits fans were ill-served by book
publishers, with Patrick Humphries’ slim 1989 bio, Small Change, pretty much their only option. But in the wake of
Waits’ post-Bone Machine early ‘90s
renaissance the presses gradually roared to life, and since then we’ve seen a number
of Waits-related tomes including those by Jay S. Jacobs (Wild Years) and Barney Hoskyns (the near-definitive Lowside of the Road) plus Humphries’ own
vastly expanded treatment, Many Lives of
There was also a 2005 anthology of critical writings, Innocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits
Reader, featuring interviews, essays and reviews spanning Waits’ career up
to 2004. It’s still in print, which is why the publication of Interviews and Encounters may seem
curious. Not only is the essential structure similar to IWYD, with both books broken up into sections corresponding with
Waits’ early, middle and recent years, there are several duplications-among
them, a 1974 Waits-penned press release for The
Heart of Saturday Night, a classic early profile from ’75 by Todd Everett and
not one but two interviews (1999, 2004)
by Magnet‘s Jonathan Valania (nice
payday, eh Jon?).
Still, Waits is Waits, which is to say an endlessly
entertaining musical personality whose ability to shadow-box with journalists
never fails to provide great copy. Interviews
and Encounters has plenty of unique material, of course, with editor Paul
Maher Jr.’s selections both juicy and judicious including radio interviews, a
transcription of a rare 1983 Island Records Swordfishtrombones promo LP featuring Waits’ song-by-song commentary, and several free-wheeling
Q&As originally published circa 2006’s Orphans.
Maher also stitches together the sections of his book with connective
narrative, filling in details not mentioned in the reprinted stories and
thereby supplying a fuller context than the earlier volume attempted; a 10-page
index is helpful, too. On balance, then, you could do far worse than to add
this to your Waits bookshelf-let’s have an expanded version circa 2021.