Step Right Up

The Independent posted some great weekend reading yesterday – Tom Waits interviewing himself. Contained within are all the answers you would expect from one of music’s most enigmatic figures, a man who over nearly forty years has finely crafted his public persona.

What’s the most curious record in your collection?

A: In the Seventies, a record company in LA issued a record called The Best of Marcel Marceau. It had 40 minutes of silence followed by applause and it sold really well. I like to put it on for company. It really bothers me, though, when people talk through it.

Q: What’s heaven for you?

A: Me and my wife on Route 66 with a pot of coffee, a cheap guitar, pawnshop tape recorder in a Motel 6, and a car that runs good parked right by the door.

In the ’70s he was the maudlin poet/drunk telling after-hours tales of love and loss, like he’d just fallen out of a Bukowski novel. In the following decade, with the trilogy of Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs and Franks Wild Years, his work took a darker, weirder route; songs inhabited with freaks and ghouls and music that was equal parts vaudeville, gypsy folk and found percussion. He could still pull a tragic ballad out of his magic box however, with songs like ‘Downtown Train’ and ‘Time’ (both from Rain Dogs).

I’ve always been fascinated with his image. If it is a construct, it’s amazing how it’s impossible to separate the man from the myth. I would recommend picking up Innocent When You Dream, a collection of interviews edited by Mac Montandon. His tremendous wit is in full effect and it’s endlessly quotable.

Here’s a few extracts from a CREEM article by Clark Peterson (March 1978):

…”I’d rather have a drink in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”, Waits shot back. Later he offered: “People who can’t face drugs turn to reality”.

Waits’s act is hardly an act at all. He sometimes sleeps in his flea market duds, keeps hours better left to street sweepers and smokes more than the grill at Joe’s Bar-B-Q. He travels in a bus and stays in fleabag joints while his three-piece band chooses classy hotels.

While he’s in hometown L.A., Waits lives in he Tropicana Motor Hotel. […] His neighbours are strippers, pimps, Mexicans, “a maniac misfit unemployed actor and a guy named Sparky”.

I guess Waits is getting all this attention in part because of that Scarlett Johansson covers album. I haven’t listened to it yet, mostly because I can’t imagine anyone else coming close to inhabiting these songs like Waits.

Tom Waits – ‘Hold On’ (Mule Variations) Video

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One Response to Step Right Up

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