The son of two schoolteachers, junkyard poet and piano man Tom Waits has been a voracious reader all his life. In the 2009 biography  Lowside of the Road, ex-girlfriend Bobi Thomas describes the many nights he’d stay up till 5 or 6 in the morning with books. “He’d tell me how inspired he was by some short story or other, and I think that was the source of his muse. Some writers go to the movies to get that emotional power, and then they write,” Thomas remembers. “I think Tom got a lot of it from books.”

Often citing Kerouac and Burroughs as seminal influences, it’s not hard to find echoes of the Beats in Waits’s music and mannerisms. He’s covered Kerouac’s “On The Road,” recited Bukowksi’s “The Laughing Heart” and collaborated with Burroughs on the play “The Black Rider.” Of his experience with Burroughs, Waits 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 a wisdom and a voice to the piece that is woven throughout.”

In 2010 Waits supplied a curated list of his favorite books for Mojo Magazine‘s 200th issue, and it’s not shy of Beat writers. Including work by Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, J.D. Salinger and Tennessee Williams, Waits’s taste in literature, like his music, is very much a tribute to the American antihero. Find his reading list below, and complement with the bookshelves of Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Patti Smith.



The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake by Breece D’J Pancake

The Light The Dead See: Selected Poems by Frank Stanford

The Americans by Robert Frank (also rec’d by Annie Leibovitz)

The Old West: The Gunfighters by Paul Trachtman

Pic by Jack Kerouac

“Before I found Kerouac I was kinda groping for something to hang on to, stylistically.” -TW

The Last Night of the Earth Poems by Charles Bukowski

“One of the most colorful and important writers of modern fiction, poetry, prose, in contemporary literature.” -TW

Hard Candy by Tennessee Williams

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje (also rec’d by Nick Cave)

It Catches My Heart In Its Hands by Charles Bukowski

(via TomWaitsFan)

Categories: Musicians

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