Episode 148: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles with Alex Harvey


This episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast presents an interview with the author of Song Noir: Tom Waits and the Spirit of Los Angeles, Alex Harvey. Alex Harvey is a producer and director of programs including Panorama and The Late Show for the BBC. His films include The Lives of Animals and Enter the Jungle. Based in Los Angeles, he regularly writes on literature, film, and music for the London Review of Books and Los Angeles Review of Books. His book, Song Noir, examines the formative first decade of Tom Waits’s career, when he lived, wrote, and recorded nine albums in Los Angeles: from his soft, folk-inflected debut, Closing Time in 1973, to the abrasive, surreal Swordfishtrombones in 1983. Starting his songwriting career in the seventies, Waits absorbed Los Angeles’s wealth of cultural influences. Combining the spoken idioms of writers like Kerouac and Bukowski with jazz-blues rhythms, he explored the city’s literary and film noir traditions to create hallucinatory dreamscapes. Waits mined a rich seam of the city’s low-life locations and characters, letting the place feed his dark imagination. Mixing the domestic with the mythic, Waits turned quotidian, autobiographical details into something more disturbing and emblematic, a vision of Los Angeles as the warped, narcotic heart of his nocturnal explorations. In this episode host Michael Shields and Alex Harvey discuss what Tom Wait’s Los Angeles of the 1970s was actually like, a LA that doesn’t exist today. They explore how the Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski influenced Waits’ songwriting and how the city eventually became more of a trap than means of escape for Waits. The expound upon the character of Frank that Waits brought to life over a trilogy of albums, his highly accomplished acting career, and so much more.


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