Dark centre: Waits’ 1970s LA explored
California-based Brit Alex Harvey scours Beat-shaped singer-songwriter's records for clues to the neon life of the city where fantasy and reality make a sometimes devilish pact
NOW, THIS looks darkly enticing: Tom Waits and the tawdry glow of 1970s Los Angeles framed as ‘the warped, narcotic heart of his nocturnal explorations’ in Song Noir, a new volume by Alex Harvey to be published by the rather wonderful Reaktion Books of London in the autumn.
Harvey, a TV director at the BBC on cutting edge political forums such as Panorama and the once hip – and rather missed – culture shows like The Late Show, examines the formative first decade of Waits’ career, when he lived, wrote and recorded nine albums in the City of Angels, from Closing Time in 1973 through to Swordfishtrombones, which appeared 10 years later.
The account describes how Waits ‘mined a rich seam of the city’s low-life locations and characters, letting the place feed his dark imagination.’
‘Combining the spoken idioms of writers like Kerouac and Bukowski with jazz-blues rhythms, he explored the city’s literary and film noir traditions to create hallucinatory dreamscapes’, the promotional trail announces.
It continues: ‘Mixing the domestic with the mythic, Waits turned quotidian autobiographical details into something more disturbing and emblematic: a vision of LA’s reward, narcotic heart of his nocturnal explorations.’
Writer Harvey, who is based in the very city where Waits constructed such a remarkable and evocative oeuvre, has a number of documentary films to his name. He also writes regularly on literature and movies for the London Review of Books and LA Review Books.
Expect a review of Song Noir: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles in the pages of Rock and the Beat Generation in the near future…
Note: We considered Rickie Lee Jones’ autobiography in ‘Book Review #4: Last Chance Texaco’ on February 18th, 2022