Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits


276 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55022-414-X
DDC 782.42164'092





Reviewed by Alana Trumpy

Alana Trumpy is a graduate student in English at the University of


Exhibiting a clear focus rare for a music biography, Wild Years presents
a portrait of the artist rather than a psychoanalysis of the star. Waits
is notoriously elusive—and often playfully fraudulent— about the
facts of his personal life. In the process of writing his biography,
Jacobs would have faced an interesting dilemma: to appeal to a
readership hungry for accurate details of Waits’s personal life or to
respond to an equally strong interest of late in his unique, and equally
elusive, place in the musical milieu of his time.

Jacobs steers his biography away from the kind of sentimental
psychoanalysis that clouds many other musical biographies. As he states
in his introduction, “I haven’t dragged any skeletons out of his
closet or speculated about [Waits’s] sex life.” His research does
bring forth a multitude of anecdotes, but these are almost always
judiciously directed toward advancing our understanding of a specific
record or song. Chapters are categorized according to albums, for
instance, rather than by life stages. Especially intriguing is the
author’s portrait of Waits as a middleman between the Beat poets and
modern rock.

It would be difficult for anyone to produce a drab biography of the
so-called “poet laureate of the American night.” The singular
achievement of Wild Years is that one puts down the book more in awe of
the music Waits has created than by the life he has led.


Jacobs, Jay S., “Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 20, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17515.