Waits, Tom (1949—)

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Waits, Tom (1949—)

The music and lyrics of Tom Waits evinced nostalgic pathos for the archetypal neighborhood barfly at a time when much of America was listening to soft rock or gearing up for punk. Like a time-warped beatnik, Waits debuted in 1973 with Closing Time and followed with several acoustic jazz/folk albums throughout the 1970s. His gravelly, bygone, bittersweet voice became one of the most distinctive in popular music. Later Waits revved up his stage persona and electri-fied his music for a semiautobiographical stage cabaret, album, and feature-length video, Big Time (1988). Tom Waits is also a regular contributor to film soundtracks and has appeared in movies as well, typically playing a gruff, gin-soaked palooka as in The Outsiders (1983), Down by Law (1986), Ironweed (1987), and Short Cuts (1992).

—Tony Brewer

Further Reading:

Humphries, Patrick. Small Change: A Life of Tom Waits. New York, St. Martin's Press, 1990.