Tom Waits On Tom Waits
Interviews and Encounters
Edited by Paul Maher Jr
Aurum Press – £12.99
Tom Waits, the messiah of musical and lyrical majesty, could only ever be deciphered and truly described by none other than himself. For just as entire platoons of journalists have all too readily bequeathed their intrepid dissertations and acute analysis of a musician The Daily Telegraph once referred to as ‘’the greatest entertainer on Planet Earth,’’ it’s surely (only) the man himself, who can invariably cut to the chase?
For this reason alone, Tom Waits on Tom Waits – Interviews and Encounters is a genuinely remarkable read. And if you’re a fan of the man’s music and visionary mayhem (‘’I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention,’’ ‘’It’s like Jack Nicholson said to me one time – Continuity is for sissies,’’ ‘’It’s good to be busy, and we been busier than a pair of jumper cables at a Puerto Rican wedding’’) then this is most definitely one book you need to own.
Interestingly, it’s divided into three distinct sections.
Part One naturally begins with Closing Time in 1973 and concludes with 1982’s One From The Heart, Part Two opens with 1983’s Swordfishtrombones and ends with Big Time in 1988, while Part Three kicks off with 1992’s Bone Machine and comes to a close with Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards in 2006 (although the final interview ‘’True Confessions’’ – with none other than Waits himself – was conducted in 2008).
Throughout these fifty or so interviews – which are as interesting as they are ever so idiosyncratic (‘’This street’s great, every day there’s a wedding or a funeral. The weddings are like processions, motorcades of late fifties automobiles with huge Kleenex chrysanthemums strung across them. The men wear lime-green tuxedos and the girls are straight off the top of a cake’’), complex as they are unsurprisingly cryptic (on being asked when he writes, Waits replies: ‘’Well, first I inject a little marinated herring in my jugular vein, put on some Bermuda shorts, white socks, some wing tips, go out and sit in the yard with an umbrella’’), frenetic as they are devilishly funny (with regards punk rock, he once remarked: ‘’It may be revolting to a lot of people, but at least it’s an alternative to the garbage that’s been around for ten years […]. I’ve had it up to here with Crosby Steals the Cash. I need another group like that like I need another dick. I’d rather listen to some young kid in a leather jacket singing a song like ‘I want to eat out my mother’ than to hear some of these insipid guys with their cowboys boots and embroidered shirts doing ‘Six Days on the Road’’’) – one comes away from reading this book with admittedly more insight into the man’s work, but not a whole lot more.
Yet if truth were known, this is exactly how Tom Waits would invariably have it.
As he himself has oft said: ‘’Most of the things that people know about me are made up. My own life is backstage. So what you ‘’know’’ about me is only what I allowed you to know about me. So it’s like a ventriloquist act… I’m not one of those people the tabloids chase around. You have to put off that smell – it’s like blood in the water for a shark.’’
Tom Waits – the man, the myth and the magic – is herein divulged and deliberated upon, only to the extent that the artist himself will allow; which, as stated above, is how it ought to be. After all, it’s the beauty of his art we ought to be interested in, not the degree to which he likes to eat yoghurt.
That said, what little insight we do get, makes this book almost indispensable.