|Title: Anti Electronic Press Kit/ We're All Mad Here
Source: Anti Records promo interview, by Robert Lloyd as distributed through the Anti website. Directed by Jesse Dylan. Transcription by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library (thanks to Laura Rangel for help with transcription). Released in December, 2002 as "We're All Mad Here: A Conversation With Tom Waits": Music industry promo. (P) & � 2002 Epitaph/ Anti Inc. 86632-2P1. � 2002 Jalma Music (ASCAP). CD, 2002
Date: First published on Anti Records website June 13, 2002. Recorded on the same day the video for "God's Away On Business" was shot (Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles/ USA)
Keywords: Alice/ Blood Money, God's Away On Business, Kommeniezusp�t, I'm Still Here, Misery River, Kathleen, Crows
Record front cover: "We're All Mad Here: A Conversation With Tom Waits": Music industry promo. (P) & � 2002 Epitaph/ Anti Inc. 86632-2P1. � 2002 Jalma Music (ASCAP). CD, 2002
|Source: screenshot from Anti Records promo interview as distributed through Anti website (Anti Electronic Press Kit)|
Anti Electronic Press Kit
RL: Thanks for asking us into your house.(1)
RL: It's a rare treat!
TW: (laughs) You know, well, a lot of room. You know when you keep emus you know, you gotta have a lot of room.
RL: That's probably the cause of the lack of furniture.
TW: (laughs) Exactly! They'll eat anything, you know?
RL: Eh, we're here because you're putting out records. You're putting them out faster then anyone can believe. We gotten used to your. Your relative kinda Greta Garbo.
TW: Oh eh the "Leave me alone"... yeah.
RL: Yeah. Now you're putting out 2 records at once.
TW: Well, you know people complain when there's too much time between records. And then they complain when there's too many. The public is tickled, I can't be responsible for their feelings. I mean.
RL: So, is this a provocation?
TW: Ehm. Well, you know, the idea of the 2 records is: you got the stove heated up and you might as well make more then one pancake. Cause.
RL: People might be coming over.
TW: How often do you cook? You know? So you might as well make enough for the whole gang.
RL: Right, the whole gang.
Interview intruded by bystander (probably director Jesse Dylan)
TW: See, you're getting in trouble around here Robert (laughs)
RL: Well, that's our style though. We have a style.
TW: Okay, you wanna start over Robert? (laughs)
RL: Today in your house here, you've been singing a song about God being away on business. Why is he away?
TW: I don't know, it's hard to say. It's song-logic, you know. I don't know. Perhaps he's away indefinitely. Perhaps he was never here. You know, there are two different schools of thought on that I guess.
RL: And you called his office and got a message?
TW: (laughs) Yeah, well no. It's just eh, one of those things you say in order to explain the way that you feel in metaphor. I guess eh. It feels sometimes in the world that God is away on business and he's not coming back.
RL: And apparently he's left emus in charge.
TW: (laughs) He's been known to do that. You know he'll put an emu in the front-office as a receptionist and a couple down there in the stockroom.
RL: Now I understand that emus are closely related, barely of all, from the dinosaur. Is that true?
TW: They're direct descendants, yeah. You know scales are really feathers. before they were feathers. If you look at a scale you can tell. It's about to become a feather. in about two million years. But eh. I know very little about emus, except that they are interesting to look at. According to the trainers here: bird brains you know
RL: Which is we've said before, really an insult to birds.
RL: Tom, what is the world's smallest mammal?
TW: The world's smallest mammal? That would be the bumblebee-bat from Thailand(2). It weighs actually less then a penny. You can imagine something that small, that still gives milk, you know.
RL: Well, that's correct! You got that right. We're gonna try a little harder one now. What bone in the human body is shaped like Africa? Now take your time. Don't. because it may not be the bone that you think. You probably were gonna say: the Pelvis.
TW: No I wasn't gonna say: the Pelvis, I was gonna say: the Scapula.
RL: That's correct! The Scapula is shaped like Africa.
TW: Did I win the Frigidaire?
RL: You did. I see you have a lot of room to put it in.
RL: That's right, but why is it called the Scapula, that looks like Africa?
TW: That's a whole other area. You know Robert, I don't know what to answer to that.
RL: Shall we compare Alice, your record Alice to your record Blood Money. You have two records out. You have to give people some guidance I think, some consumer guidance. Because they walk into the store.
TW: Because they're consumers.
RL: They're consumers, they have their $ 14,95 or whatever records cost now.
TW: It's gone up..
RL: Yeah? Well that's odd to me. But help the people. They're looking at the covers and they can't choose. What would you tell them?
TW: Oh god. Well. Alice is kinda like taking a pill. It's a little more dreamier. It's a little more eh, more eh I don't know. More eh. druggy I'd say, more kind of an opiate. And dreamy. More of a song cycle. And then eh.what was the other one?
RL: Blood Money? Your record called Blood Money? I know you're putting out two. It's a lot to remember. Two titles at once, but eh really try.
TW: (laughs) Well its more rooted. You know more eh: thum-thum-thum-thum! More rhythmic, I guess more real, more in the real world.
RL: Is that really more the real world, do you think?
TW: (laughs) Don't try that! . I don't know. I'm oversimplifying.
RL: You are.
TW: I have a tendency to do that, you know.
RL: Yeah right.
TW: (looks in the camera) Who's watching anyway right?
RL: (lost in his papers)
TW: Come here, let me help you.
RL: Tom, you did write all these questions!
TW: (laughs) I did NOT write all these questions!
RL: Ehm. aw well, you make sounds. Do you sometimes, do you ever find this happening to you.
RL: You just suddenly, you're making sounds with your voice that have no meaning?
TW: It happens a lot.
RL: Does it?
TW: Yeah it does. It's called sub-vocalizing. And eh, I don't know, I guess maybe it's part of the evolution of language. It's going backwards though. Back to when sounds had just basic shapes to them and had yet to be applied to anything truly meaningful. And I guess I'm. I don't know, I'm probably dyslexic and eh you know eh, attention eh deficit disorder.
RL: Is there any examples on your new records?
TW: Actually there is. One of the songs on there, that's on Alice, the "Kommeniezusp�t". Which is eh. Actually there are a few words in there that have real meaning but the rest of it is just pure gibberish. But a lot of people when they hear it the say: "Ghee I didn't know you spoke Rumanian." or "I didn't know you spoke, the odd dialect of Finland." I have been known to tell them that I DO speak those languages, but truthfully I don't.
RL: Have you ever put one over on the Rumanians?
TW: No, not the Rumanians specifically. No, I'm having a ball with just the sounds. It's kinda thrilling to invent a language and not know from one word to the next what you're gonna say. You have no idea what you're gonna say. It's free, it's a free feeling.
RL: In your head is there anything that you think you say when you speak these languages?
TW: Yeah, you go through a series of emotions. You're angry, you're compassionate and you're sad. You go through a whole range, but you're doing it with eh.. just shapes. "Ein-choin, fein-mon tein-shein fun-ka", you know? "Hidde-minga, balle-minga, bolle-monga, kille-monga, bille-monga", you know?
RL: That was Chinese!
TW: (laughs) See what I mean! It's really a language. Sid Caesar(3) used to do it all the time (laughs). But it's actually eh therapeutic. You ought to try it. If you're angry: don't say words just say shapes and sounds.
RL: When I'm angry I can only say shapes and sounds, I forget how to speak.
TW: But that's really. Most lyrics and songs start just with the sound. And somehow the meaning finds the sound and they join, and eh you get over it. That's the way I do it anyway, you know.
RL: Now with the song "You haven't looked at me"(4)
TW: Alright eh.
RL: Now I think there might be a story behind that song because it says so on the paper. You didn't begin with nonsense syllables with that?
TW: The story is eh... I guess it was Oxford University(5) had a celebration. And they wanted Alice, the Alice of "Alice in Wonderland", they wanted her to come and speak in front of the class. Cause by then she was in her eighties. So she came all the way from, wherever she came from, and it was a long journey, and she got up on stage and she walked up to the microphone. You know eh, and banged on the microphone and said a few words to the class. And this was kind of a hypothetical song that we created to cover a situation like that. That you might imagine one would be singing or thinking about. It's just kind of an odd situation to imagine a story with a little girl who is like 9 years old, and then to see her as a grown woman walking out.
RL: So this is what she would have sung if she had burst into song at that moment?
TW: (laughs) Yeah, her musical, her Broadway, yeah.
RL: Now, I have another question.
RL: And again I want you to think carefully, before answering it.
TW: Okay, all right.
RL: What key do most houseflies sing in?
TW: Got it. Key of F.
RL: Key of F? One flat key?
TW: Yeah, one flat.
RL: Now do they run up the whole scale?
TW: No. no, it's the middle octave.
RL: It's the middle octave?
TW: Maybe towards the end of their lives maybe they fluctuate, you know.
RL: There's no modulation in the lives of flies is what you're telling me?
TW: Well, I'm sure they have meaningful changes they go through but they can't be determined by the tone of their voice, but eh. If there's a fly in the room now we can check it.
RL: There probably is a fly.
TW: I don't think so, not this time of the year. It's probably too early for flies.
RL: Especially when you keep the place this neat.
TW: Anymore questions?
RL: Yeah you have 15 out of 16. You left out 6.
TW: (to the camera) I hate to burn up all this tape.
RL: What did Joseph Stalin say about Jazz?
TW: You know what Joseph Stalin said about Jazz? He said: "Today you play Jazz and tomorrow you betray your country." And eh it was on a poster, I guess it was circulating in Russia at the time. It was in all the subways and theatres and beer halls. He wasn't a big fan of jazz apparently.
RL: Well everyone knows about Louis Armstrong's treason trial. That's fine I think.
TW: Yeah, he did like 30 years I think.
RL: Yeah, all these messages in his solos. "Lazy River" as I recall. It's a scandal!
RL: Who do you go to for advice? Do you need advice?
TW: Who do I go to for advice? Ghee I don't know. ..
RL: The Green Horn?(6) Fats Waller?(7) Oscar Levant?(8)
TW: (laughs) Actually The Green Lantern I've gone to for advice in the past. And the Silver Surfer(9) and of course the Eyeball Kid.(10) You can always count on him for.vision and eh clarity. But yeah, Fats Waller I looked in for guidance and eh Oscar Levant, if you can get him out of your medicine cabin. But I don't know. Yeah I do go to. I think I. I go to recordings usually for advice you know, when I need guidance you know.
RL: Would you recommend your own recordings as, you know as a life plan for anyone, you know. To look into the song like eh..
TW: (laughs) I don't know, I don't know about that Robert.
RL: Misery Is the river of the world for..?
TW: You mean: IS misery the river of the world?
TW: Is there a real river called Misery?
RL: Is there an actual Misery River.
TW: No, no, no. There is not a Misery River. I got a letter from a 9-year old girl in Illinois. Who said she brought a record of mine into school and got into big trouble. And she wanted me to come out there and defend her. Would I call her teacher and she left her teacher's home phone number and everything. She said she loved my songs and tells me that for her my voice reminds her of something between a cherry bomb and a clown. And I really liked that.
RL: There's a lot of room between a cherry bomb and a clown
TW: (laughs) Yeah! So we corresponded for a while. But we've drifted apart. We've lost touch.
RL: What is she 10 now?
TW: (laughs) She's much older now. Probably outgrew me. I'm probably like a turtleneck sweater to her now. But there was a period there I had meaning for her.
RL: I'll try and stub you again here one more
TW: Okay, I'm ready.
RL: Do giraffes have vocal chords?
TW: No they don't (laughs).
TW: Well it must have been a choice you know? Because God must have said at one point: "You can either have you know like a 27-foot neck or you can have vocal chords." They made their choice.
RL: When you were given that choice with God when he'd come back from being away on business, he got in touch with you and said: "Tom: neck or voice."
TW: I would have gone for the voice, yeah. Be nice to have both, you know. But I hear that they rarely offer the two of those together.
RL: Not like. Well, in fact not at all like your... no, exactly like your records that are coming out. Because they are NOT being offered together.
TW: No they're not, they're separate entities. Buy one, buy 'em both, but you know. But you're not obligated to buy them both... You're not obligated to buy either one of them for that matter (laughs)
RL: They must be members of your family no?
TW: No obligation necessary.
RL: Do you dance when you sing?
TW: I DO actually dance when I sing. Don't we all? I sing-and-dance. I guess I'm part of that whole tradition on a certain level. I'm like eh.
RL: Gene Kelly, Fred Astair.
TW: Yeah, I'm in the circus business I guess. This business we call show.
RL: And eh, when you we're on stilts(11) . You were very agile on them I must say.
TW: Thanks Robert eh..
RL: Have you ever been on stilts before?
TW: No, only as a child and I haven't been on stilts since. But it all came back. It's like a stilt-memory. I think we all have certain kind of primal. like eh. I thought I had forgotten all about how to fix a kite. And all that comes back. If you haven't flown a kite in years you'd be surprised (snaps fingers) it comes right back.
RL: What is that phrase? It's like "walking on stilts" is what they say? When remembering how to do things.
TW: Yeah exactly.
RL: When do you know when a song is finished Tom?
TW: You don't always know when a song is finished. And I'm not sure if a song IS ever finished to be honest with you. You know they're constantly evolving. It's like jump rope songs you know. When are they done? They are never done. You know people are always changing them, changing the tempo, adding new verses, getting rid of old verses. So I mean, when you are ready to record there is a certain finality to that. It's time to.
RL: To commit?
TW: Yeah, to cut the head off the fish. That's not really the right analogy for that (laughs). It's more like eh. A lot of people say: "You really captured something on that." Cause there's something alive in a song and the trick to recording them is to capture something and have it be taken alive. So there's always a trick in the studio.
RL: . The world is just a wild kingdom for you isn't it?
RL: I see you as the Yule Gibbons(12) of songwriting.
TW: Oh thanks! (laughs)
RL: . up to your knees. nonsense syllables. grabbing them as they fly by.
RL: Now Tom, if you didn't do this, and by this I assume that you mean sitting in a room talking to me, what would you do?
TW: Oh, Jesus I don't know. You mean: what do I have as a back-up?
RL: What's in the back pocket. What's in the back room. What's down that hallway waiting?
TW: (laughs) Well you know I had a mail-order night crawler(13) business when I was a kid. I sold night crawlers. And I always think back on that and I think, well I can always get that cranked up again (laughs). And of course there's motel management. Keep your present job!
RL: Well, I look around and I see that you have a gift for decorating.
TW: (laughs) Simple is best! Don't you think?
RL: I think.
TW: That eventually you are getting rid of anyway. Just start simple!
RL: It's true. start again
TW: Yah, that's what they say.
RL: I think I've asked you. Oh no, I haven't asked you all your own questions.
RL: You collaborate with your wife and you're still married...
TW: A very good question... No that's not really a question; it's a statement in there.
RL: Ehm. it's both a question and a statement...
TW: Okaaay, I...
RL: ... it's a statement in the form of a question.
TW: I DO collaborate with my wife. And I think that's why we're still married. Eh.. she was a blackjack dealer in a card room out in Emeryville when we first met. and eh she's done everything really. She was a eh. She does motorcycle repair (laughs), she does it all, and eh high finance, you name it. Deep-sea fishing. Has a pilots license. She's a barber, you know? Everything...
RL: When does she find time to work with you?
TW: Exactly! That's right. I gotta book early.
RL: Is that why it's so long between records then?
TW: There you go! Now you're starting to see the picture, yeah.
RL: When she's done with this Yamaha?
TW: (laughs) It works, I don't know how it works. I guess: "If it's not broke, don't fix it" right? It works, it's like eh... I don't know. Yeah, it just works: "You wash, I'll dry". We have a good rhythm together so. And I trust her opinion, you know. If you're not careful it gets like "The Emperor's new clothes", you know? You have to have somebody to say: "Honey what is this, is this hard wash, is this crap? What is this?" So it's good. She's got a great sense of melody. She's the only one who plays the piano actually and reads music, you know? So. and eh. yeah she's excellent.
RL: How have you kept her from going solo?
TW: Yeah, exactly she doesn't like the limelight. She doesn't like it. So. it works you know?
RL: Good choice of a partner there.
TW: Yeah, right... yeah.
RL: Stay in the background...
TW: (laughs) Stay in the background! Put a muzzle on, and chain her to the fire hydrant!
RL: Now eh, these records that you've made seem to be full of different forms of music.
TW: Yeah. . ..oh! Oh yeah!
RL: Like Cakewalks?
TW: Cakewalks yeah!
RL: No Barcarolles.
TW: Eh. like Barcwalks?!
RL: No Barcarolle. I hadn't heard of anybody writing a Barcarolle since Offenbach in "The Tales Of Hoffmann".
TW: Alright. Well Barcarolle(14) it's just a ship's Waltz. I mean "barc" can mean another word for ship. And then "roll". That's why there are so many waltzes written by sailors because they're always waltzing, you know? Moving from one side to the next. So eh. Barc-a-rolle, there you have it.
RL: And eh the cakewalk. What does the cakewalk mean to you?
TW: Eh, ghee I don't know. I remember in carnivals when I was a kid there was always a cakewalk. And then they put on a record and then you go round in circles and if you land on the right number you win a cake.
RL: Is that the term eh.
TW: (laughs) I don't know! Song forms are just like jell-o-moulds. I don't know. I like goofing around with them.
RL: You pour a flavour in there
TW: Yeah, and wait for it to set.
RL: Is there anything you'd like to say about any other member of the animal kingdom before we send you back to the emus?
TW: No ehm...
RL: The crows? The eh.
TW: .The crows?
RL: The eh... termites?
TW: .the crows? You mean the teenagers of the bird world?
RL: I've heard that they are.
TW: They are, the teenagers of the bird world. Because they eh... What happens is, they got all their work done about 9 am. They have a whole day. So they play rugby with a white rock. Or play keep-off-the-nest. And have little races around town. Kill bugs. Have bug killing contests, you know?
RL: Do they ever get in trouble with the bird authorities?
TW: (laughs) It's probably very likely, yeah they do. But when they have time to themselves they'll sit on an anthill.(15) And they'll wait till all the ants in the anthill have completely engulfed them. And they say there's no true biological reason for it. Except that it must give them pleasure... It's like eh... Their eyes kinda roll back in their head, and they tip to one side, ants crawling all over them.
RL: So there's no authority figures in their lifes to keep them in line?
TW: Apparently not, no (laughs). But they say, it's understandable though that they would choose something like that because they have a lot of time on their hands, they have the largest brain in proportion to their body than any other bird. It's kind of a slow descent into... it's almost like a form of drug abuse because they spend every possible moment on an anthill, after they've done their work in the morning though... and eh. . . You're looking at me like you don't believe me?
RL: I don't know...
RL: I've seen crows...
RL: ... do. work. I've seen them work...
TW: You've seen them with real jobs!
RL: I've seen them out there, taking care of business.
TW: Okay... ... well, maybe this was just a particular crow.
RL: Eh, more? Shall we.
TW: I think we're fine.
RL: .go one?
TW: I think we've covered it all and eh.
RL: Eh. well... this is. something else (looking in his papers).
TW: That's something else yeah.
RL: Here we go. Oh. "Any strange suggestions to musicians" do you wanna cover that one?
TW: Oh, oh musicians?
RL: When you're working with these musicians, that you hire to play on your records, do you have any strange suggestions for them?
TW: Well I wouldn't call it strange. But I try to tell them, when you're going to be in the car for any more than 2 hours, don't listen to any music. You know. Cause it's early in the morning and you gotta drive up here and record it at 10 am. in the morning. And I tell them, if it's at all possible, turn the radio off and don't play any music, because I like to start fresh and clean. That's really the only real thing that I'm adamant about.
RL: If you really wanted to start fresh and clean, you would just play with people that never played.
TW: (laughs). never played! Yeah, well it's just one of those things. It's like nice to know that whatever you're doing is the first thing that happened that day. I mean musically the first thing that happened.
RL: Right, some days you get up and you work with emus.
RL: .other days you get up and you work with musicians.
TW: Exactly, very similar.
RL: I would think so.
TW: Thanks Robert.
RL: Tom. no problem.
(1) Thanks for asking us into your house: First of many tongue in cheek references to the room where the interview was held. They are both in a completely empty building, which is of course not really Waits' home. It's the same building where Waits filmed the video for "God's Away On Business" and where some of the cover art for Blood Money was shot. This was at a wing of the deserted Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles (since then torn down).
(2) The bumblebee-bat from Thailand: As a matter of fact this answer is correct, so Waits apparently knows his mammals: "Kitti's hog-nosed bat or bumblebee bat. This species was first discovered and described in 1974. With its discovery it became the smallest known mammal, weighing only two grams at maturity. It is extremely rare, only having been observed in the Kwai river drainage in Thailand."
(3) Sid Caesar: "American legendary comedy icon. Caesar was one of the top TV stars of the 1950s before changing public tastes, plus his own well- documented addiction to scotch and barbiturates plunged him into two decades of career decline. "Your Show of Shows" ran from 1950-54. Caesar was at his best as an opera star babbling gibberish, as a turkey being eaten on Thanksgiving, or as Professor Ludwig von Votsisnehm." Further reading: The Sid Caesar Homepage
(4) "You haven't looked at me": This refers to the song "I'm Still Here" from the album Alice.
(5) I guess it was Oxford University: In 1932 Alice Liddell-Hargreaves was invited to visit the United States of America to receive an honorary degree from Columbia University in New York. The visit aroused intense press interest, which continued after her return to England. This event was the central theme for the excellent movie "Dreamchild" released in 1985.
(7) Fats Waller: Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller (celebrated jazz pianist, organist, composer and humorist) was born on 21 May 1904 in Harlem. Early in the 1920s, Waller became the prot�g� of the famous pianist James P. Johnson. He later accompanied such important vocalists as Florence Hills and Bessie Smith. Waller made over 500 recordings during his lifetime. In the early thirties, Waller became the hot property at RCA Victor. There was rising popularity in Harlem stride piano and the loose-knit combo sound of jazz. His first recordings as Fats Waller and his Rhythm on 16 May 1934 marked a new trend in jazz. His death, in 1943, marked the end of the swing era.
(8) Oscar Levant: "Oscar Levant (born December 27, 1906 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - died August 14, 1972) was a pianist and an actor, better known for his character than his music. In 1928 Levant traveled to Hollywood where his career turned for the better. During his stay, he met and befriended George Gershwin. Around 1932 Levant began composing on a serious note. During the years of 1958 and 1960, Oscar Levant syndicated his own talk show, The Oscar Levant Show. The show was highly controversial, finally being taken from the air after a comment in regards to Marilyn Monroe; 'Now that Marilyn Monroe is kosher, Arthur Miller can eat her.' He later refuted he "hadn't meant it THAT way." Several months later, the show was rebroadcasted in a slightly revised format. The show was now taped to use as a buffer to Oscar's antics. This however, failed to prevent Oscar from making some comments of Mae West's sex life, cancelling the show for good. Oscar Levant drew increasingly away from "starlight" in his later years. On his passing in 1972 he was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California."
(9) Silver Surfer: Comic character created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Further reading: Silver Surfer Website
(10) Eyeball Kid: Further reading The Eyeball Kid
(11) When you were on stilts: Robert Lloyd witnessed the shooting of the video for "God's Away On Business" in which Waits is indeed walking on stilts.
(12) Yule Gibbons: Famous dietary guru who advocated wholesome dietary habits. He was best known for his commercials for Grape Nuts cereal. He died at a fairly early age from a gastric ulcer. Yule Gibbons was a TV character logger/environmentalist in the 1970's that ate pine needles and tested plants to see if they were edible. He had a pet bear, and they lived in the woods, living off the land (Submitted by Laura Rangel. April 19, 2003)
(13) Night Crawler: "Any of various large earthworms that crawl out from the ground at night and are often used as fish bait. Also called nightwalker." (Source: The American Heritage� Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright � 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company)
(14) Barcarolle: The common explanation for this musical genre is: "A Venetian gondolier's song with a rhythm suggestive of rowing or a composition imitating a Venetian gondolier's song."
(15) They'll sit on an anthill: As a matter of fact, crows are actually known to do this. This strange behaviour is known as "Anting".
"What a curious thing is anting. This crow is sitting on an active anthill. The ants are crawling all over its body, biting and stinging the intruder in defense of their nest. Does the bird endure the pain in order to groom its feathers and rid itself of parasites? Or is a visit to an anthill, the corvid version of getting together with the gang for a beer? All that formic acid coming from those thousands of stingers probably produces quite a sensation. Do you think the crows might actually be getting high down at the old ant hill? More than one researcher thinks so." (Source:Carl Cook Photography)
"HAS SUCCESS SPOILED THE CROW? The Puzzling Case File on the Worlds Smartest Bird. ... But the final and most conclusive bit of data comes from a monograph by K. E. L. Simmons published in the Journal of Zoology, out of London. (Perhaps it's for deep reasons of national character that the British lead the world in the study of crows; in England, boredom has great cachet.) Simmons's paper is curiously entitled "Anting and the Problem of Self-Stimulation." Anting as used here is simply the verb (or to be more precise, participial) form of the insect. In ornithological parlance, it means that a bird - for reasons that remain mysterious - has taken to rubbing itself with mouthfuls of squashed ants. Simmons writes: "True anting consists of highly stereotyped movements whereby the birds apply ants to their feathers or expose their plumage to the ants." Besides direct application, done with the beak, there is also a variant called passive anting: The bird intentionally squats on a disturbed anthill, allowing (inviting) hundreds of ants to swarm over its body. Altogether strange behavior, and especially notorious for it are the corvids. Crows avidly rub their bodies with squashed ants. They wallow amid busy ant colonies and let themselves become acrawl. They revel in formication. Why? One theory is that the formic acid produced (as a defense chemical) by some ants is useful for conditioning feathers and ridding the birds of external parasites. But Simmons cites several other researchers who have independently reached a different conclusion. One of these scientists declared that the purpose of anting "is the stimulation and soothing of the body," and that the general effect "is similar to that gained by humanity from the use of external stimulants, soothing ointments, counter-irritants (including formic acid) and perhaps also smoking." Another compared anting to "the human habits of smoking and drug-taking" and maintained that "it has no biological purpose but is indulged in for its own sake, for the feeling of well-being and ecstasy it induces..." You know the pattern. High intelligence, large promise. Early success without great effort. Then a certain loss of purposefulness. Manifestations of detachment and cruel humor. Boredom. Finally the dangerous spiral into drug abuse." (Source: Kappa Delta Phi, Nu Chapter Alumni)
"More than 200 species of birds have been observed " Anting ". They will pick up ants in their beak and poke the ants under their feathers. Crows and thrushes will stand on an anthill and allow the ants to wander over their bodies. Scientists believe they do this because the ants discharge formic acid as a defense, and the formic acid kills mites and fleas on the bird's skin. A cloth soaked in formic acid and placed in a hive is being used by some beekeepers in North America to combat a vicious mite from the birds. " (Source: "How about a dust bath?" by Jane Atkinson, June 2, 1998. exn.ca)