From Bukowski to Kerouac: Tom Waits’ 10 favourite books of all time

Tom Waits is a man who places extreme importance on the nurturing and cultivating of intellectual culture. A singer-songwriter, an actor and a composer, a poet and an avid reader of literature, Tom Waits devours artistic information like a boozehound searching for his next drink. A fitting silhouette for the archetypal troubadour.

Waits’ ex-girlfriend, Bobi Thomas, once described the endless nights he would tirelessly stay awake until five or six in the morning with no other companion than his mountain of reading material to keep him company. “He’d tell me how inspired he was by some short story or other, and I think that was the source of his muse,” Thomas wrote in the 2009 biography Lowside of the Road. “Some writers go to the movies to get that emotional power, and then they write,” Thomas said before adding: “I think Tom got a lot of it from books.”

Waits, a crooning jazz pianist who has since developed his understanding of music into rock, blues, and experimental genres, has always allowed his inspirations to directly impact his creative output. The Beat Generation, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Charles Bukowski all became a major focal point for Waits as he continued to divulge literature and music at an incredible rate.

In the past, Waits has shown his admiration for the aforementioned artists with cover versions and readings of their work and, when speaking of his experience with Burroughs, Waits once wrote: “[He] was as solid as a metal desk and his text was the branch this bundle would swing from. His cut-up text and open process of finding a language for this story became a river of words for me to draw from in the lyrics of the songs. He brought wisdom and a voice to the piece that is woven throughout.”

A couple of years ago Waits was asked to contribute to Mojo’s 200th issue in a feature entitled ‘What’s He Reading There?’ and explored some of his most cherished books. Not short of Beat writers, Waits said of Kerouac: “Before I found Kerouac I was kinda groping for something to hang on to, stylistically.” It’s a sentiment that many rock stars have shared, citing Kerouac as a hugely influential figure.

Of Bukowski, Wait’s couldn’t hold back his admiration: “One of the most colourful and important writers of modern fiction, poetry, prose, in contemporary literature,” he wrote.

Expect to see an eclectic list which includes the likes of Breece D’J Pancake, Paul Trachtman, Michael Ondaatje and more.

See the full list, below.

Tom Waits’ favourite books:

  1. The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake
  2. The Light The Dead See: Selected Poems by Frank Stanford
  3. The Americans by Robert Frank
  4. The Old West: The Gunfighters by Paul Trachtman
  5. Pic by Jack Kerouac
  6. The Last Night of the Earth Poems by Charles Bukowski
  7. Hard Candy by Tennessee Williams
  8. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
  9. The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje
  10. It Catches My Heart In Its Hands by Charles Bukowski

Source: Radical Reads

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