Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book 6/50: Swordfishtrombones by David Smay

David Smay's a friend of mine. Let's get that out of the way. I like the guy a lot, and he (and 33 1/3 author Kim Cooper) gave me a break when they accepted my contributions to Lost In The Grooves, their encyclopedia of musical also-rans.

So I'm relieved that I can write that Swordfishtrombones is incredibly well-written and one of the most entertaining 33 1/3 books I've read. Smay wrestles with the inscrutable persona of Tom Waits, which on this album was in flux between the Beat crooner of the 70s and the rickety bone sharpener of the 80s and later, and like Jacob and his angel, Smay's victory is both unlikely and entertaining (Jacob, as you may remember, touched the angel in the hollow of his thigh, thus winning the fight with his bad touch). My favorite things about the book are the transformations of the lines that seem like tossed-off jokes at the beginning of the book (such as how Tom Waits wears plows for feet). Smay works his literary magic and by the end of the book, Smay's flights of fiction and fancy have incorporated this jokes in a way that replaces their funny incongruity with touching resonance. Along the way, Smay explains just why the persona transition was important and how it led to such later works of utter brilliance as Rain Dogs and Bone Machine and Mule Variations. I don't want to ruin it for you, but it's a hell of a lot of fun for Waits fans and fans of good prose alike.


Anonymous 11:54 PM, February 26, 2008  

(Jacob, as you may remember, touched the angel in the hollow of his thigh, thus winning the fight with his bad touch)

Other way around. Angel, bad touch, Jacob's thigh out of joint.

24. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

32. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

Hayden Childs 12:22 AM, February 27, 2008  

I stand corrected and biblically so.

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