Title: A Conversation with Tom Waits (Rain Dogs)
Source: Music industry white label 12" promo as sent to radio stations. 1985 (P) 1985 Island records Inc. PR 792. Transcription by Gary Tausch as sent to Rain Dogs Listserv Discussionlist, September 5, 2000
Date: late 1985
Key words: Rain Dogs, New York, Big Black Mariah, Keith Richards, Walking Spanish, John Lurie, Uptown Horns, Down By Law, Franks Wild Years

Record front cover: A Conversation with Tom Waits (Rain Dogs), 1985 (P) 1985 Island records Inc. PR 792


A Conversation With Tom Waits (Rain Dogs)


New release, Rain Dogs, what is a Rain Dog, you say, am I a Rain Dog? are you a Rain Dog? What is a Rain Dog anyway? And where can I get one - or how can I turn into one? Where can I purchase a Rain Dog? Have I been a Rain Dog all my life and not known it? Do I need a psychiatrist or do I need a rent-a-car? What do I need?

A Rain Dog is - you notice it more in lower Manhattan than anywhere else - after a rain in New York all the dogs that got caught in the rain, somehow the water washed away their whole trail and they can't get back home so about 4 in the morning you see all these stranded dogs on the street and they're looking around like - won't you help me get back home, sir, please - excuse me sir - excuse me sir - can you help me find my way back home - all makes and models, the short ones, the black ones, the tall ones, the expensive ones, the long ones, the disturbed ones, they all want to get home. So that's a Rain Dog. It's like falling asleep somewhere and you thought you knew where you were and when you woke up - it's like Mission Impossible - they changed the furniture and the walls and windows and the sky turned a different colour and you can never get back and most of the stories in this record have to do with people in New York who are experiencing a considerable amount of pain and discomfort.

And that's really what the record's about.

Side A starts with Singapore, Clap Hands, Cemetery Polka, Diamonds and Gold, Tango Till They're Sore - that's kind of a New Orleans thing with trombone - I had a friend of mine who'd fallen out of a window - he sent me a card later that said "May you always have confetti in your hair" - that's kind of sums that up.

Big Black Mariah: A Mariah is(1) - originally it was the woman that ran some kind of a cathouse in New Orleans I guess and every time it got popped they figured she was the one that blew the whistle so the paddy wagon pulled up out in front and down through the years they started referring to it as the Black Mariah. Now it's the hearse or whatever.

Time: Time is a precious commodity(2).

Midtown is an instrumental, it's kind of what it's like to get stuck behind a van or when you thought you had a brilliant idea. You were gonna cross at 29th St and you were gonna hit West St and make it all the way up. You get behind a bakery truck and you're there for like a year.

Gun Street Girl is about a guy who's having trouble with the law and he traces all of these events back to this girl he met on Gun Street(3) right there on Center Market right in Little Italy there.

Union Square, Keith Richards played on that, he plays that doghouse rhythm, it's just a killer.

Blind Love is one of my first country songs. I like Merle Haggard(4), most of those other guys, though, sound like they're all just drinking tea and watching their waist and talking to their accountant. This one I think subscribes to some of that roadhouse feel.

Walking Spanish, John Lurie(5) played on that. He's a saxophone player and actor. Walking Spanish is an expression they use when you don't want to go somewhere. It's 5:30 in the morning and the baby just woke you up screaming and you drag yourself out of bed, you're walking Spanish. Somebody says, "Listen, buddy, give me all your money." and your hand goes back around toward your wallet, you're walking Spanish, you don't want to go. Walking the plank, basically, walking Spanish is walking the plank.

Bride of Rain Dogs is an instrumental rendering of the lead cut there.

Anywhere I Lay My Head is a gospel thing, the Uptown Horns played on that(6).

Cemetery Polka - someone once said that the living are just the dead out on holidays and this is as if all your dead relatives came back from the grave and you owed them all money.

Singapore is kind of like Dick Burton in Taiwan(6) and he can't get a drink.

Hang Down Your Head has kind of a more popular music feel to it.

We're going on the road in October(8), we're going to Europe, it's about 6 weeks over there, a lot of one nighters, we're going to be in London for about 8 nights at the Dominion Theatre. We're doing a comprehensive tour, the first in a long time. Family man that I am now, I haven't toured over there in a couple of years so we're looking forward to this.

In November we're going to New Orleans. We'll be in New Orleans for about 5 weeks for a film(9). Jim Jarmusch, his next film, with John Lurie, myself, and Benigni, an Italian guy who plays accordian and has a great sense of humour.

In the spring we're doing Frank's Wild Years which is our big shot at Broadway and we're headed for Broadway with this one so hold on to your hats. Terry Kinney's going to direct(9) and it's written by Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits. This is the tale of an unfortunate American psychopath who leaves a small town called Rainville to seek his fame and fortune, ends up in Las Vegas. It's got lots of laughs and songs, something for the whole family, opening soon at a theatre near you.


(1) A Mariah is: The different explanations of "a Black Maria(h)" being either a police wagon or a prison van or a hearse (or even an ambulance) have led to different interpretations of the song. 1. An arrested person being taken to jail. 2. A prisoner being taken to death row. 3. A deceased person being driven to the graveyards. Though the first interpretation (police wagon/ paddy wagon) is most common, there's several clous in the song that seem to suggest this is about a black hearse (Boxed up, Sent to the skies, Of to bed without his supper, Do the story with the old widow Jones, He got a wooden coat, This boy is never coming home) (Thanks to Fran Mironchik for pointing to these alternative interpretations. September 17, 2003).Further reading: Big Black Mariah

(2) Time is a precious commodity: from "Tom Waits For No Man", Melody Maker, by Brian Case. October 29, 1983: "Tom stirs his hands around in the carny's misterioso, and quotes, "Time is a funny thing. Sometimes you wish you could take the time, put it somewhere, save it, because there's times when you haven't got time. Spend it there.. Ahhh - you kids! Gotta full life ahead of ya. I've had 35 summers. That's all/ Think about it."

(3) Gun Street right there on Center Market right in Little Italy: one is to assume that this is indeed the street as mentioned in the song "Gun Street Girl".

(4) Merle Haggard: American country singer. Further reading: Official Merle Haggard site

(5) John Lurie: Lurie, John - Lurie and Waits got acquainted in 1983, as Waits was temporarily living in New York and working on 'Swordfishtrombones'. Further reading: Who's Who?

(6) The Uptown Horns played on that: American brass section (Arno Hecht, Crispin Cioe, Bob Funk and recent recruit Larry Etkin). Further reading: Uptown Horns at Stereo Society

(7) Dick Burton in Taiwan: TW: "Sometimes I close my eyes real hard and I see a picture of what I want, thet song. 'Singapore' started like that, Richard Burton with a bottle of festival brandy preparing to go on board ship. I tried to make my voice like his - "In the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king" (Source: "Hard Rain". New Musical Express: Gavin Martin. October 19 1985)

(8) We're going on the road in October: October 1985 - November 1985: promoting 'Rain Dogs'. Tom Waits: vocals, piano, electric guitar. Ralph Carney: saxophones, horns, baritone, alto, clarinet, violin, bass clarinet, banjo, harmonica. Marc Ribot: electric guitar, trumpet. Greg Cohen: upright bass. Michael Blair: percussion, bass marimba. Stephen Hodges: drums. Further reading: Performances

(9) We'll be in New Orleans for about 5 weeks for a film: Down by Law (1986) Movie directed by Jim Jarmusch. Shot on location in New Orleans in 1985. TW: actor & composer. Plays main role as DJ Zack. On soundtrack: "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" and "Tango Till They're Sore".