American singer songwriter Tom Waits is to publish his first book of poetry in collaboration with photographer Michael O’Brien. Hard Ground is described as a portrait of homelessness, combining Waits’s words with photographs of those who “live on the hard ground”.
It’s amazing that Waits hasn’t brought out anything like this before. His career has spanned forty years and in that time frame he has become a Grammy Award winner, an Academy Award winner, a composer for film and theatre, a noted actor, and of course one of the most iconic songwriters of the 20th Century. His lyrics are stories, often humorous, always magical in the detail. He is also one of the few artists to radically change his style throughout his career, starting off as a jazz influenced nightclub balladeer, then heading for a more blues oriented style and then through cabaret, lounge lizardry and experimentation with obscure instruments. Bone Machine (one of my favourite albums) marked yet another change in direction – stomping and percussive, less concerned with melody. Waits has even used a turntablist on recent releases and has become increasingly interested in vocal percussion.
The forthcoming poetry book is to be published by the University of Texas and a spokesperson for the University remarked: “O’Brien will create a portrait of homelessness that impels us to look into the eyes of people who live on the hard ground and recognize our common humanity. For Waits, who has spent decades writing about outsiders, this subject is familiar territory.”
Inspiration for the book came from 1941’s ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’ — a collaboration between poet James Agee and photographer Walker Evans, who contributed shots of Depression-era farmers. Hard Ground is set to come out next March.