Two entwined narratives run through the creation of Swordfishtrombones and form the backbone of this book. As the 1970s ended, Waits felt increasingly constrained and trapped by his persona and career. Bitter and desperately unhappy, he moved to New York in 1979 to change his life. It wasn't working. But at his low point, he got the phone call that changed everything: Francis Ford Coppola tapped Tom to write the score for One From the Heart. Waits moved back to Los Angeles to work at Zoetrope's Hollywood studio for the next 18 months. He cleaned up, disciplined himself as a songwriter and musician, collaborated closely with Coppola, and met a script analyst named Kathleen Brennan - his "only true love". They married within two months at the Always and Forever Yours Wedding Chapel at 2 a.m.
Swordfishtrombones was the first thing Waits recorded after his marriage, and it was at Kathleen's urging that he made a record that conceded exactly nothing to his record label, or the critics, or his fans. There aren't many love stories where the happy ending sounds like a paint can tumbling in an empty cement mixer. Kathleen Brennan was sorely disappointed by Tom's record collection. She forced him out of his comfortable jazzbo pocket to take in foreign film scores, German theatre, and Asian percussion.
These two stories - of a man creating that elusive American second act, and also finding the perfect collaborator in his wife - give this book a natural forward drive.
"Don’t expect me to tell you the truth about Tom Waits," writes David Smay in Tom Waits' 'Swordfishtrombones'. "I know you want the truth, but Tom has no use for it."
Given a cocky, sly reading by Carol Monda, this entry of the 33 1/3 series in some ways tries to replicate the freewheeling, boozy, romantic feel of Waits’ 1983 fusion of piano balladry and experimental jazz music. While he relays some biographical information about Waits reluctantly, Smay doesn’t so much explain the album as he free associates with it.
With a husky voice, Monda offers a performance that’s both congruent with Smay’s prose and the music that inspired it.
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