Title: A Rumor In My Spare Time
Source: Hit Parader magazine, by Deane Zimmerman. October, 1978. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donating scans
Date: published October, 1978
Key words: Public image, Commercial success, Touring, New York

Magazine front cover: Hitparader. October, 1978

Accompanying picture
1978 or earlier. Photo credit Retna. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donating this scan


A Rumor In My Spare Time


Gruff, scruffy, jazzy, funky... such words have been used to describe Tom Waits, who is not really a folk singer, not a jazz singer, but a combination of both whose honky-tonk style is part of his personal mystique. Waits is a singer whose cult (at one time it could be called nothing else) has definitely grown to a national following.

Sitting in his cluttered "work" room at LA's seedy Tropicana Motel(1) ("Most people in this hotel are more like inmates than guests; they're all mad here," he laughs). Tom was dressed in black and talked about his image.

"I'm really getting a little tired of being referred to as 'wino man'. It was okay for a while, but I would like to be a little more three dimensional. I don't think I'm odd. I may be a bit of a misfit but that's about it.

"It's been a blessing and a curse," he adds. "It's important to have an image, and a signature and all that, and I'm glad I have one. But from there I want to build and show some other sides of me. I'm going to try and write with that in mind.

"Onstage in particular - I want to try and explore some new ideas I've got, and maybe keep my 'wino' in my pocket. I don't know. I'm wrestling with that idea right now."

Waits, who records on Elektra/ Asylum, acknowledges that it may have been difficult in the past for his record company to "merchandise" him but feels that they've done the best they can.

"I'm not easy to merchandise," he says, "I'm on the road 8 months a year. That's what I end up doing and that's more of a sales pitch than anything anyone else can do. The record company doesn't attempt to make me 'palatable', they don't look over my shoulders. I do what I can... I give them albums.

"I want to put out a Christmas album in August," he laughs, "called 'Tom Waits Christmas Album'. It'll have nothing to do with Christmas, but it will give them a handle. Maybe I can be passed out in a convertible with a Santa Claus suit on or something. That might help them a little."

Tom began touring in 1971, shortly after the release of his debut lp, Closing Time, and has been at it almost constantly ever since. At first he never wanted to come home. He enjoys the transient life, living in hotels most of the year, as he says, "on the verge of becoming a rumor in my spare time." But after eight years he admits that the work is starting to wear him down.

"I've been headlining in small theaters and lately people are going beserk," he says. "I was an opening act for a long time and there's something about being an underdog which is exciting. It drives you, and you can turn it around, but I have to admit I like having my own crowd better. Now I've somebody opening the show for me.

"I go out on the road for so long, and I play my songs so much, that I have to come home and write new stuff just so I'll have new tunes to take out. If I play the same song in 50 different cities over a period of four months it gets boring.

"People like to think you do one concert a year and you're doing it in their town, just for them, but it does get a bit tiresome. I change the show every night, the order of the tunes is different. I throw out some, add new tunes. I always try to keep each evening unique - for me, mainly.

"I ain't got no hits or nothin' but I do put in some tunes I think people want to hear. I guess some do come to hear certain tunes."

Even though Waits likes to think he's capable of writing about anything, it doesn't always come easily, and now, since his audience has grown, he feels the pressure that comes with more people listening to what he's saying.

"I try to make some kind of breakthrough on each album - that's why each album is more difficult to do than the one before. That's why the stories are so important to me.

"There are a couple of good stories on the last album (Foreign Affairs). I thought "Potter's Field" and "Burma Shave" were real good and I think "Small Change" (from his 4th lp) is good too.

"I don't write on the road anymore - too busy. Somebody pulling on my coat all the time; get no sleep; different town every night. I'm a real scatterbrain out there - now I just come home to write. But I end up laying around the house, watching "Rifleman," "The Big Valley," and then there's "Bonanza," and "I Love Lucy"... It gets dark and I get some beer and lay around. It's really easy to slide into that; it's kind of pathetic but that's what I'm trying to get away from.

"I want to kick my own ass, apply my own pressure. A lot of times it seems as though you're beating your head against the wall but then you realize that you built the wall yourself..."

Although Tom lives in L.A., close to the town Whittier where he (and former President Nixon) grew up, his music sounds more New York flavored than the laid-back sounds of those L.A. people like Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles.

"I don't like them people. I don't hang out in the same places that they do. There is an inner sanctum of pathetic sort of groups out here that I find very tiresome and tedious. I don't know where they get their ideas from... my ideas, well, I sleep with one eye open.

"My music is very urban. I like L.A. but I enjoy going to New York, I feel very at home here... just hanging around."

Waits, who gets collect phone calls from Japan(2) and an occasional visitor camping out on his doorstep at 3 A.M., doesn't want to insulate himself from his fans. It sometimes "gets a little creepy," but he doesn't seem to mind the adulation.

"I ain't no prima donna. I want to keep one foot in the street, I think that's important. I don't like artists who have an image of themselves as a bigshot. I'm listed; people know where I am and I get a lot of phone calls.

"In that sense my personal life hasn't changed very much. When I'm on the road it's different, but when I'm home I'm just like everyone else here.

"Right now I get up at 3 in the afternoon, go downstairs and get some eggs, hang out in the lobby of the hotel, watch "Days Of Our Lives," come back here, smoke some cigarettes and do a little reading. Then, as soon as it gets dark I usually go out to a bar somewhere. 'The life of Riley'(3)..."


(1) At LA's seedy Tropicana Motel: Further reading: Tropicana Motel.

(2) Collect phone calls from Japan: This is the hilarious incident as told by Chip White:
- "We went to Japan one time. We went to Japan and he met a lady over there, and there was some confusion because she got kind of friendly and everything and she thought that he was asking her to marry him - to get married but he was not asking her to get married. So then we go back to California and we're playing at the Roxy on Sunset Strip one night with Jimmy Witherspoon. There were the two bands. We're playing and a strange thing happened because a car crashed into a telephone pole and knocked all the lights out in the club, completely blacked out and just at that moment this lady came from Japan to meet him. It was incredible because everything got dark and somebody'd light candles and then she walked in just when we lit the candles. So it was strange. And then we thought they'd fix the power but they could not fix the power so all the clubs - everybody went out in the streets and they were drinking and smoking - so the whole Sunset Strip is like one long party and he's there with this lady from Japan that's gonna marry him. But he's not gonna get married." (German/Swiss? interview with Chip White - date unknown. Transcription by Gary Tausch as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, August 8, 2001).Further reading: Anecdotes

(3) The life of Riley:
- "Life of Riley on a swing shift, girls follow my drift" ("Jitterbug Boy" from the album "Small Change", 1976):
- The good life. William and Mary Morris, in "Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins", conclude that this phrase arose when the vaudevillian Pat Rooney sang a song called "Are You the O'Reilly" during the late 19th century. The audience would sing along with this song, which dealt with what it would be like to be wealthy. The lyrics included such lines as `A hundred a day will be small pay' and `on the railroads you'll pay no fare.' However, H. L. Mencken attributes the origin of the phrase to "The Best in the House is None Too Good for Reilly," popular at the turn of the century. (Submitted by Ulf Berggren. eGroups Tom Waits Discussionlist. March, 2000).
- "There are several explanations for this phrase, all of them centring on popular music. William and Mary Morris point to a comic song written by the vaudevillian Pat Rooney in 1890 in which the hero of the song, a hotel-keeper named Reilly (or Riley), describes what he will do when he strikes it rich: New York "will swim in wine when the White House and Capitol are mine". A version made famous by burlesque performers Ned Harrigan and Tony Hart has these lines in the chorus: Well, if that's Mr. Riley They speak of so highly. Why, faith, Mr Riley, You're looking quite well. It was revived and updated in 1915 as a patriotic war song under the title Are you the O'Reilly? as an attempt to cash in on the success of It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary, and contained the chorus line "Gor blim me, O'Reilly, you are looking well". H L Mencken suggested as an alternative possible source The Best in the House is None Too Good for Reilly, which was written by Lawlor and Black at about the same period as Pat Rooney's song. On this side of the Atlantic, it is firmly believed that the song is of Anglo-Irish origins, and that the popularity of the phrase dates from a music-hall song My Name is Kelly written by Pease in 1919, which has the line "Faith and my name is Kelly, Michael Kelly, But I'm living the life of Reilly just the same". Pease is here using a phrase which he obviously expected his audience to recognise, but we have no earlier recorded use. Eric Partridge also thought the phrase is British and that it was taken up in America only in the 1930s, which would make the various US songs irrelevant as sources. But we just don't know the truth of the matter. The spelling of the name is as variable as that of the Irish surname itself, but Riley now seems to be preferred." (Source: World Wide Words is copyright � Michael Quinion, 1996-. All rights reserved. Page created 31 October 1998.)