Title: Bone Machine Press Kit
Source: Island Bone Machine press kit (Island Records, Inc. 400 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003. 212-995 0202 . FAX 212-995 7816). Interview by Rip Rense. Thanks to Dorene LaLonde for donating copy. (Interview reprinted as "Waits in wonderland". Image: Rip Rense. December 13 1992)
Date: Late 1992
Key words: Bone Machine, biblical references, studio recording, Clyde, Ode To Billy Joe, Tom Jans, Keith Richards, Eyeball Kid
Accompanying picture
Bone machine press kit, 1992. Photography by Jesse Dylan (Island/ PolyGram Label group)


Bone Machine Press Kit




Tom Waits' new album is made of clattering sticks, rusted farm equipment, choking demons, newspaper clippings, thundering stomps, Biblical myths, phantoms, marching skeletons, madmen, murders, lost friends, little kids, and a little rain.

He calls it Bone Machine.

"Hmm. Bone Machine..." said Waits. "Just trying to take two things and bring 'em. together, which is what you try to do with music; take something and make it work with something else. Bone Machine... It's a curious thing. Gives you something to think about. What's a bone machine? Most of the principles of most machines developed in the machine age were principles that were found in the human body. Originally, I was going to take sounds of machines I'd recorded, and add a really strong rhythmic sense; I was going to try to build songs out of the rhythms. But then it didn't really develop that way. The stories kind of took over. So it's more bone than machine. Bone Machine... We're all like bone machines, I guess. We break down eventually, and we're replaced by other models. Newer models. Younger models. Bone Machine... Sounds like a superhero, doesn't it?

Waits' wife and oft-collaborator, Kathleen Brennan, co-wrote eight of the albums' sixteen pieces. Their daughter contributed the word, "strangels," meaning "strange angels" to "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today." Keith Richards co-wrote a song on it(1), and joins Waits in what must be one of the least expected vocal duets since Bing Crosby and David Bowie. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos plays poignant violin and accordion on "Whistle Down The Wind," which must be one of the most affecting songs Waits has written.

Bone Machine is Waits' first album of entirely new work since 1987's soundtrack to his stage play, "Frank's Wild Years," unless you count his just-released mostly instrumental soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film, "Night On Earth." Like Night On Earth, the new album was recorded in a shed(2) and produced by Waits.

Musically, the record is his most daring. Few of the sounds on Bone Machine are predictable; most everything has been devised, designed --- and, in the case of percussion, sometimes invented --- to frame, decorate, and embellish the tales being told and thoughts being expressed. The noises are an unending surprise; the songs clang and float, waft, rave and slither. Waits was so finicky about the sonic personalities of the different pieces that, midway through the project, he nearly decided to abandon the studio and just record everything at home on a portable Sony. In his first interview about the new work (see attached) he referred to the album's selections as "little movies." More like little planets, perhaps --- so deep and distinctive is the atmosphere of each track.

Thematically, Bone Machine is undeniable weighty. It does touch repeatedly on aspects of death, from murder and suicide to more sinister, spiritual kinds of death --- far more so than any other Waits work. As Tom put it, "many songs live there." Bone Machine's "little movies," in no particular order, are: an anthem by one of those people from east of California who think Hollywood is the answer to everything ("Goin' Out West"); an eerie Faulkner-or-Flannery O'Connor-esque short story about a murder on a farm and how fast it is forgotten ("Murder in the Red Barn"); a ranting, sanguinary indictment of (at least U.S.) political processes ("In The Colosseum"); a deeply moving song dedicated to the late singer/ songwriter Tom Jans, an old friend of Waits and Brennan ("Whistle Down the Wind"); a raucous, wailing lament about the prospect of adulthood ("I Don't Wanna Grow Up"); a poetic and journalistic portrait of a woman's last moments alive ("The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today"); a love song that, its words aside, more suggests damned souls in the Inferno ("Such A Scream"); a depiction of those shadowy international power-broking sociopathic monstrosities who manipulate and "serve" governments ("Black Wings"); a free-verse excoriation of a former friend ("Who Are You"); an apocalyptic dream that might have unnerved Salvador Dali ("The Earth Died Screaming"); a paralyzingly sad confrontation with mortality ("Dirt In The Ground"); a kind of Mardis-Gras-in-Purgatory that explains dress code for the Rapture ("All Stripped Down"); an out-and-out gospel ("Jesus Gonna Be Here") with some lines that might not make it into a hymnal ("I got to keep my eyes open/So I can see my Lord/I'm gonna watch the horizon/For a bran' new Ford... "); a solo instrumental done at home with a title that probably reveals Waits' love of playing percussion ("Let Me Get Up On It"); and a song with a most disarming, lilting, Irish feel that deals so delicately with some of this world's great pities ("A Little Rain.") The whole work ends upliftingly, with an ode to the durable stuff of life --- written and sung by Waits and that durable fellow Keith Richards.

Bone Machine is unquestionably more verbally and sonically abstract than anything Waits has ever done, but there are also a few things that, at least superficially, set the album apart. First, Tom plays percussion and/or drums on almost every one of the sixteen album tracks (and upright bass on one(3).) Second, there are a couple of songs that deal brutally with societal/ political ugliness --- something that he has never done before. Third, this is the first album done since Waits left Los Angeles and moved to a small town.

The significance of this last point appears to be subliminal, at best. Asked about the impact of differences between country and city life, Waits said, "There's a lot of roadkill out here. Lot of dead animals on the road. First thing you notice. I'm pullin' deer off the road all the time. So, I don't know --- that's the most dramatic change for me, the amount of roadkill out here. Fewer bottle caps, too."

As for "issue-oriented" songs, Waits says simply that this is a "new category for him," but hastens to point out that "they're especially good for an election year."

Finally, Waits is quick to downplay his extensive percussive contribution to the album, labeling it a kind of "idiot" sensibility. Nonetheless, Bone Machine marks the debut of the "conundrum" --- a new instrument commissioned by Waits that "looks like a big iron crucifix, and there are a lot of different things that we hang off of it: crowbars and found metal objects that I like the sound of."

"I have a lot of very strong rhythmic impulses," he said, "but this is not my world. I just pick something up and I hit it, and if I like the sound, it goes on. So sometimes my idiot approach serves the music. It's like the chest of drawers with three legs. I can be the four books that are stacked up to keep it from toppling over. I like things that weren't intended to be instruments being used as instruments. Things that have never been hit before. So I'm always looking for those things; things that have been out in a field somewhere, or that you find in the gutter. I'm always dragging things into the studio,"

And dragging things out of the studio --- in this case, a new album that, after a 20-year recording career, suggests further exploration and risk-taking in the music and words of Tom Waits.


A little background...

Although it's been nearly five years since Tom Waits' last album of entirely new material, he has been quite busy. Aside from acting in eight movies, producing his highly regarded and rather theatrical concert film (and album), "Big Time," he wrote the songs and music for the Robert Wilson production of the opera, "The Black Rider" (William Burroughs did the libretto), which was premiered by the Thalia Theater Company in Hamburg, Germany in 1989 (and is now in repertory performance in Hamburg, and touring the world.) He is also composing songs and music for another Wilson/Thalia operatic production ---" Alice in Wonderland," due to premiere in Hamburg this December.

Waits has hardly been absent from performing or recording. He contributed two pieces to Ken Nordine's 1992 word-riff opus, Devout Catalyst, sang a song and made a video for the Red Hot & Blue AIDS benefit album(4), made a guest appearance on Primus's latest release, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, sang two songs on tenor sax great Teddy Edwards' album, Mississippi Lad, and just recently organized (and performed at) a fund-raising concert for victims of the Los Angeles unrest(5), with help from Chuck E. Weiss and the Goddamn Liars, Fishbone, and Los Lobos.

Tom Waits has been recording songs for 20 years now. His first album, Closing Time, was released in 1973. Aside from the two operatic scores mentioned above ("The Black Rider," incidentally, will be his next recording project), he has written two film scores: Francis Ford Coppola's " One From The Heart " (1980), which was nominated for an Academy Award for best original score, and Jim Jarmusch's just-released "Night On Earth." He wrote the theme song to Ralph Waite's portrait of skid row, "On The Nickel," in 1980, and contributed two yet-unreleased songs for the film "Street Wise,"(6) a 1985 documentary about street kids in Seattle. Including soundtracks, Bone Machine is Waits' 14th album.

Waits' songs have been recorded by, among others, Bruce Springsteen ("Jersey Girl"), Rod Stewart (Downtown Train"), Marianne Faithfull ("Stranger Weather"), the Bullet Boys ("Hang on St. Christopher"), Bob Seger ("Blind Love," "New Coat Of Paint"), and Dion ("Heart of Saturday Night," "San Diego Serenade.") Artists including Los Lobos have cited his influence as a songwriter.

The acting career of Tom Waits began with a small part in Sylvester Stallone's "Paradise Alley" in 1978. He has since had roles in Coppola's "The Outsiders" (1983), "Cotton Club" (1984); Jim Jarmusch's "Down By Law" (1986); "Ironweed" (1987), Robert Frank's "Candy Mountain" (1988); "Cold Feet" (1989), "Queens's Logic" (1990), "The Bearskin" (1990, released only in Europe), "The Fisher King" (a cameo, 1991), and "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" (1991.) Waits played the lead in a stage production of the musical he wrote with wife Kathleen Brennan, "Frank's Wild Years," performed by Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago in 1986. He will act the plum part of "Renfield" in Copolla's upcoming "Bram Stoker's Dracula."

The Waits story is probably best understood by listening to the albums. They are, in order:

Closing Time --- His 1973 debut LP was hailed by critics for the inventiveness of the songwriting, the beauty of the melodies, and the promise of things to come. The Eagles recorded its leadoff track, "Old '55," and many still consider "Midnight Lullaby" to be one of Waits' great songs.

The Heart of Saturday Night --- Regarded as a great leap forward from Closing Time, this 1974 work was still comparatively embryonic material. It was also critically endorsed, and lauded for the poignance of songs like "San Diego Serenade," "Shiver Me Timbers," and the pithy ode to the American night, its title song, "The Heart of Saturday Night."

Nighthawks At The Diner --- This 1975 live double-album brought attention to Waits, correctly or otherwise, as a beat storyteller given to stroking his goatee, smoking a lot, and singing anthems to alienation and hash browns (over easy.) "Eggs and Sausage" is still regarded as a minor Waits classic.

Small Change --- Although Waits has remarked that it's difficult for him to listen to some of his earlier albums, there is no denying the enduring potency of this completely remarkable 1976 record. Backed by the late Shelly Manne, Jim Hughart (bass), and Lew Tabackin (sax), Waits hit his first great stride with Small Change. He recently opened his fund-raising concert for unrest-ravaged Los Angeles with the title track --- a story of untimely and unnecessary death.

Foreign Affairs --- On this 1977 work, Waits worked with orchestral arranger on what can legitimately be called a symphonic poem, "Potter's Field, " and sang a witty and tender duet with Bette Midler, "I Never Talk To Strangers."

Blue Valentine --- Waits managed another tour-de-force of songwriting excellence in 1978, maintaining a very difficult album-a-year pace. "Kentucky Avenue," remains an arresting bit of poetry about a crippled child. The musically kinetic little drama, "Romeo is Bleeding," the title track, "Blue Valentines," and "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis" became concert staples for Waits, who was almost perpetually on tour in the 70s.

Heartattack and Vine --- Waits played a lot of electric guitar on this more R&B-oriented 1980 record, which yielded a song that eventually became part of Bruce Springsteen's repertory, "Jersey Girl." The album also included Waits' poetic title song from Ralph Waite's film, "On The Nickel." The album had a grittier edge than anything previous; Waits seemed to be pushing himself stylistically, perhaps as much out of restlessness as artistic drive.

One From The Heart --- For eighteen months beginning in 1980, Waits worked with Francis Ford Coppola on what the director termed his "lounge operetta." Waits composed and wrote according to Coppola's descriptions of the movie, rather than from a prepared script. With Crystal Gayle sharing the vocals, Waits' Academy Award-nominated soundtrack album came out in 1982.

Swordfishtrombones --- This 1983 critically hailed work was a breakthrough for Waits. It was far more abstract than anything he'd done before, musically and thematically, featuring everything from calliopes to Balinese metal aunglongs. Waits said he tried to "listen to the noise in my head and invent some junkyard orchestral deviation" to create a "demented journal of exotic design." While a precursor of even larger experiments in noise-making, the album somehow also yielded one of his most affecting songs, "Soldier's Things."

Raindogs --- This 1985 LP was the second part of what Waits has come to regard as a sort of trilogy, beginning with Swordfishtrombones. It pushed the tentative experimental forays of its predecessor further, notably in the new ways Waits began to manipulate his voice (including using a megaphone; Waits described his pipes at this point in his career as "the right horn for my car.") It was also critically lauded, and is one of the richest collections of Waits songs on one record. A landmark recording. (A "raindog," incidentally, is a dog befuddled by the rain erasure of canine territorial markings; this is a phenomenon Waits observed during two years in New York City in the mid-80s.)

Frank's Wild Years --- Dubbed "un operachi romantico in two acts," this 1987 work was made of the songs from Waits' stage musical of the same name, co-written with Brennan. The show was a parable, Waits said, a story of one accordion player's redemption and baptism. The album rivals Raindogs for its rich array of songs and textures. Styles ranged from Edith Piaf-ian melodies to what Waits termed "Jerry Lewis going down on the Titanic."

Big Time --- A mostly live concert album released in 1988 along with a concert film of the same name, it also featured two new studio tracks: "Falling Down," and "Strange Weather." Critics loved both the movie and the film. This is the only live album Waits has released.

Night On Earth --- The soundtrack to the just-released Jim Jarmusch film features three songs by Waits and Brennan: "Back in the Good Old World (Gypsy)," "Good Old World (Waltz)," and "On The Other Side Of the World," --- and fourteen instrumental tracks by Waits.


"Bone Machine"

Tom Waits talked extensively about Bone Machine and the state of his art in a recent interview with writer Rip Rense. Following is the transcript of the interview:

Q: There are many references to death --- physical and spiritual --- on the album. Was this by design or happenstance?

WAITS: Actually I think there could have been a lot more of it. You know, you design the kind of shape of the tree, how you want it to develop, and some of it really blooms and some of it dies. We had a lot of songs that were discarded or cannibalized. But yeah, this was a darker view. A darker lens of things. I seem more and more comfortable there. They're perfectly legitimate areas for songs. Songs live there. A great many songs live there. So that's where I've been digging lately.

Q: There are some horrific sounds on the record. I seem to hear choking demons on "Such a Scream."

WAITS: Oh, yeah --- that little field recording going through there. I wanted more of that stuff on it, and Kathleen and I had to play cards for it. I liked that stuff. Sounds like it was made in hell.

Q: Speaking of which, did you ever see a movie called "Witchcraft Through the Ages?" It was made in 1922 in Sweden, and contains what are probably the most simultaneously eerie and hilarious depictions of hell on film. There is a sequence in which damned women must, as the subtitle suggests, line up to "kiss the devil's arse."

WAITS: (laughing) In any particular sequence? Who plays the devil?

Q: Well, it's the filmmaker himself, which is probably the whole reason he made the movie, anyhow. I'll send it up to you.

WAITS: (still laughing) Yeah. I'll watch it with the kids.

Q: Getting back to the album, past works of yours have dealt with death, but on this one, the theme seems pervasive: "The Earth Died Screaming," "we're all gonna be just dirt in the ground... " "Black Wings," "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today." I suppose it really is the "only subject," anyway.

WAITS: (laughing) It's the only subject. Yeah, ultimately, it will be a subject that you deal with. Some deal with it earlier than others, but it will be dealt with. Eventually we'll all have to line up and kiss the devil's arse. Some of us have different places in line, and some have larger numbers than others. And then there's a lot of people cutting in line.

Q: I notice Biblical references on the album.

WAITS: There's a little Revelations mixed in there. A little Biblical material --- new area for me. The Bible is a new world for me.

Q: Been thumbing through it?

WAITS: Yeah, but only when I'm looking for something. And I remembered that Revelations is particularly dramatic. And there are a lot of turkey vultures around here, where we're living. I watch the way they work the room. You see like seven fenceposts, and they've all got one. They're all staring at a rabbit in the middle of the road, and they're waiting for the cars to slow down or stop. And they always get the eyes first. It's like a little hors d' oeuvre. If you go lay out under a tree for a half hour, they'll start circling. Word gets out. They start flying in.

On "Murder In The Red Barn," there's a line "there's always some killin' you've got to do around the farm" --- that was the line I responded to the most. That was a normal tale, I guess. It seems like the newspapers around here deal with car wrecks and murders. I don't know if there are a lot more murders and car wrecks around here than other places, but they sure do find a lot of them to write about. The car accidents are like warnings for kids --- don't leave home. A sixteen-year-old kid piles into a car and gets his friends to stop and get some liquor and they pick up a hitchhiker and skid out of control and, you know. All the way from Stockton, and no one had a license --- that type of thing. Happens all the time. Because you're trapped in these small towns, and people see the world through MTV and movies, and they don't see of that world where they live. So they go screaming out of these little towns looking for a piece of that, so they can jump into that river somewhere. I'm overly interested in it. To write about.

Q: You're writing more than ever with Kathleen.

WAITS: Writing with her has been great. It pushes me into new areas. She was raised Irish Catholic, grew up in Illinois on a farm, she's seen cats strung up by their necks swinging over the barn doors. She's got all kinds of things that she dredges up.

Q: It seems that a lot of the writing on Bone Machine is more abstract than anything you've done before; it all seems more like poetry than songs.

WAITS: Well, sometimes the way people talk normally is poetry. Maybe it comes down to what is poetry. To me, these (works) are like movies for the ears, and if you can make a little painting for the ears with a few words, well, I like words. I like cutting them up and finding different ways of saying the same thing. To me it's more what they sound like, because ultimately you're going to have to put them in the soup, and decide whether it's a tomato or a bone. That's just how you do it. You have to do it with your writing. I get into a spell, and it all comes easy. I don't labor over it. I go inside the song. I think you make yourself an antennae for songs and songs want to be around you. And then they bring other songs along, and then they're all sittin' around. And they're drinkin' your beer, and they're sleeping on the floor. And they are using the phone, they're rude, thankless little fuckers.

I think music does have a living quality to it, and there are places where it prefers to be over others. I'm not so sure that songs really like to be recorded. I don't know about that one. Capturing them is another thing. You know, you've got this dead song, so I don't know.

Q: You didn't capture these songs in a conventional studio...

WAITS: The good thing about recording in a rural environment(2), you find things from the shop that you can use --- you can mike and drag into the room. It rained a lot when we were recording, and we worked in a shed. Just a cement floor and water heater, we ran wires down the hill in the rain. It wasn't soundproofed. I worked at the same studio for the Jarmusch soundtrack, Night On Earth, but not at the shed. Sometimes the sound gets married to the music. I've become more and more in tune with that.

Q: And more in tune with your sense of percussion. You're playing a lot of drums this time.

WAITS: I'm very unconventional. I have a lot of very strong rhythmic impulses, but this is not my world. I just do what I feel. I just pick something up and I hit it, and if I like the sound, it goes on. So sometimes my idiot approach serves the music. It's like the chest of drawers with three legs. I can be the four books that are stacked up to keep it from toppling over. There are a lot of great percussionists that have a wide range of abilities, that this is their world. I like things that weren't intended to be instruments being used as instruments. Things that have never been hit before. So I'm always looking for those things; things that have been out in a field somewhere, or that you find in the gutter. I bring those things home. Well, I had a couple of things built. The thing that's called a conundrum(7), it looks like a big iron crucifix, and there are a lot of different things that we hang off of it. Crowbars, Tijuana sabers, and found metal objects that I like the sound of. It's a sideline of mine. People have been doing that for years. If you don't like the sound of the drums, you hit the music stand or the chair, or the wall. Or put the microphone in the bathroom and slam the toilet seat down. This is older than dirt, you know. If the room is right, you can get a great sound out of anything.

And I've got great engineers --- Tchad Blake and Biff Dawes and Joe Marquez, and they can get a great sound out of anything. They don't flinch. If you say you want to put a mike up that bull's ass over there, and you want to slap him on the stomach, they'd say, "well, uh, I guess we could use a 57." They wouldn't look at you twice. They'd say get the rope out and get that bull down here. I don't like the sound of a traditional drum set, particularly. You have to be an idiot to think about it. Why don't you just hit it with that? I think there are a lot of great percussionists who explore these things every day. I'm just kind of finding my own falling-down-the-stairs way about it. That's all. When I come to the studio, the car is loaded with junk.

Q: Maybe we can go through the album, track-by-track, and you can make comments. "The Earth Died Screaming."

WAITS: Went through a lot of different changes. Tried to get this pygmy drum thing. A field recording of people playing sticks outdoors. We had to go outside for that. The poker's in the fire, and the locust takes the sky, and the earth died screaming. There's an old science fiction movie called "The Earth Died Screaming." I've never seen the movie, I just heard the title. but I could work with that. I could do something with that. That's Les Claypool from Primus playing bass on it, and then there's bones, and then I put on the Tennessee Ernie Ford vocal. It's one of my favorites. It seems to march over the hill --- a bone parade marching over the hill.

Q: "Dirt in the Ground."

WAITS: That's what (jazz tenor sax great) Teddy Edwards(8) said to me. That's his line. That's what he used to tell girls in the lobby of the hotel. Trying to get 'em to come up to his room. Well, listen, darlin', we're all just goin' be dirt in the ground. So that kind of explains itself. There were some verses that we left out. It was getting too long. One of them was Mata Hari was a traitor, they sentenced her to death/ The priest was at her side and asked her if she would confess/ She said, 'step aside, Father, it's the firing squad again/ And you're blockin' my view of these fine lookin' men/ And we're all gonna be dirt in the ground ... That's what people say that were present, that just before the firing squad opened up she opened up her blouse a little bit, and then she winked, and then they took her down. Ralph Carney played the horns, and he gave it those low Ellington kind of voicings --- bass clarinet, tenor and the alto together.

Q: It must be tough to edit yourself, and leave out good verses like that.

WAITS: A lot of the songs had more verses than we could use. It's better than not enough.

Q: "Such a Scream."

WAITS: It just came real fast. The plow is red, the well is fill inside the doll house of her skull --- there's more of that bone. It's a love song. It's Kathleen. It's like when you see people write the names on the rocks when you're drivin' across country. It's the same thing.

Q: "All Stripped Down." Another reference to leaving this life?

WAITS: I think it's about death, but it's also a sexy thing, too. It's like Jerry Lee Lewis. Walk a line between Jesus and girls.

Q: That's Lewis' cousin, Jimmy Swaggart.

WAITS: Swaggart, yeah ... Maybe it would be more of a Swaggart approach. Because they say that's what you have to do before you can get into heaven. You have to be all stripped down. You can't go to heaven with your body on. You just go up there with your spirit. I guess it's going to be like a mayonnaise jar with some smoke in it. So I save jars. You want to save different sized jars for different family members. I think it's like a Prince song.

Q: The next one, "Who Are You," struck me as having been written more by Kathleen than you...

WAITS: I don't know who wrote most of what. Most of them, we just started out going back and forth. When you have kids, it's easier. You fight about so many other things, that writing a song is like ... Well, you still fight about what it should be. Oh, I think it should be six feet long and have blue hair and a bunch of nails sticking out of it. And she says no, it should be chrome. Chrome thing in shape of a pear, and it shouldn't have any hair. It's a cynical song; the kind of stuff you'd like to say to an old girlfriend at a party. Who are you this time? Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes? A thing you'd like to say to anybody who maybe raked you over the coals.

Q: "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me." This came from newspaper clippings?

WAITS: One of the local papers up here printed two photographs. One was a picture of a woman on the beach holding a bottle of beer and a cigarette, looking out at the ocean. And the next picture was the same day, a couple hours later, of her floating face-down in the brine, the beer still in her hand. And the photographer had walked past her and heard her say under her breath 'the ocean doesn't want me today.' He just clicked a picture. He went all the way down to the end of the jetty, turned around and came back, and then he spotted her floating in the surf. So it's a little suicide note. See, the riptide is raging and the lifeguard's away, it's like I can make my break now. Strangels. Like strange angels. Kellesimone said that. So if you have strangels, then you can have braingels. Those are the angels that live in your head.

Q: "Jesus Gonna Be Here."

WAITS: Probably would have been better if we'd gotten a Baptist choir, but I kind of like it by itself, just bass and guitar. I don't know, I was trying to sing, making my voice real big. It's a gospel song. So I guess I was thinking about different things to sing about. Because one tends to cover the same ground, you know. There are things you are drawn to, and will always be drawn to, and they'll keep happening and you'll keep writing about them, as if this time I'll solve it, you know, but I think the best songs are riddles that you try to discover what you think about them while you're writing them. And then the deeper the riddle, the longer you'll sing the song. And then, some songs, like Bob Dylan said, are best written in a very peaceful place and sung in turmoil, and then other songs are the other way, they're written in turmoil, and sung in a peaceful place. They really do have a lot of power and they really do help you sometimes.

Q: "A Little Rain."

WAITS: Oh, l love those expressions. I'm always writing those things down --- a little rain never hurt no one. Kathleen had this melody, and I saved it from the fire. She has all these Irish melodies. Then we read one of those terrible articles in a newspaper about a kid in a van that went out of control and went over a cliff, and they all died. Goes through some different time periods. Starts out with the ice man's mule, then it goes to the dancing on the roof with the ceiling coming down, and ends up in the van. So I think it comes forward in time, a little bit, with the images. But it's a song you can add another verse to, if you want.

Q: I notice it's dedicated to Clyde. Who the hell is Clyde?

WAITS: A friend of ours who drives a dump truck. He's bigger than most human beings.

Q: "In The Colosseum." Now this seems to be a first for you. It's what you might call an issue-oriented song. Seems to concern itself with the horror of human governing habits in so-called civilization.

WAITS: (laughing) It's a little cynical. Yeah, I like the lines in it. You can sing them with conviction and you know what it's about. I'm just tired of playing clubs, and I want to work the bigger rooms. So if I make a song called 'In The Colosseum,' maybe it'll get me into the bigger rooms. No, I just kind of imagine this modem 'Caligula' that government has become, and that we're all kind of marooned in this place where information and ideas become very abstract, but yet the hyena is still tearing at the flesh.

Q: "Going Out West."

WAITS: It's just one of those three chords and real loud things. When you live somewhere other than California, you do have this golden image that everything will be all right when you get here, no matter how twisted your imagination. Orange trees, bikinis, sunglasses. It's like a guy that gets out of jail and he's going to out there and shake things up, show 'ern what a real man's like. I'm goin' out west where the wind blows tall, because Tony Franciosa(9) used to date my ma. That's the only real contact you need.

Q: "Murder In The Red Barn"

WAITS: It is said, for some, murder is the only door through which they enter life. I guess that's true. It's just a story about a small town murder. How everything gets covered up. And the weather changes everything. Pretty soon you stop talking about it, and you don't even remember it anymore, and you move on. I don't know what else to say about it. I like it. It's like that Bobbie Gentry song...

Q: "Ode To Billy Joe."(10)

WAITS: Yeah. "Ode To Billy Joe." That's it.

Q: Right, that's the first thing I thought of. I took "Black Wings" to be a portrait of Death himself (or herself.)

WAITS: Well, it's got another one of those little voices. I like that place with my voice. Little of that Marconi feeling. It's a story about phantom type of characters --- you know, the government does business with people like that all the time, but they deny ever having met them.

Q: "Whistle Down The Wind," in my humble opinion, is one of the finest songs you've done. I notice it is for Tom Jans(11). Who is he?

WAITS: He's an old friend of ours who died in '83. A songwriter and friend of Kathleen's and mine. From the central coast of California, kind of a Steinbeck upbringing in a small town. We dedicated it to him. He wrote 'Lovin' Arms.' Dobie Gray recorded it, and also Elvis did it. He used to play with Mimi Farina. It was written about another friend, but it was the kind of song that Tom Jans would have written. He was there in spirit.

Q: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up." This, I assume, was inspired by your kids.

WAITS: Hey, they don't want to grow up, but hey, I don't either, you know? Jesus. How the hell did it get here so soon? That's a cold shot. I was going to throw (the song) out. I wasn't going to record it, but Kathleen said, oh no, you've got to finish that. I said no, that's cornball. Then in the studio it took on another life, because we put it through a Marshall and turned it up real loud, and then it felt better. It's like you could hear it at a carnival. Little county fair Buddy Holly kind of thing going on there. It's fast. The best ones come fast. They come out of the ground like a potato.

Q: The lone instrumental, "Let Me Get Up On It."

WAITS: Did all this preliminary recording in the house, and I ended up liking it better than anything we got in the studio for a while. I was threatening to pull the plug on the whole project, come home, and just sing all the songs into a little Sony tape recorder. This is one I did at home that I ended up liking.

Q: "That Feel," written by Keith Richards:

WAITS: We wrote a bunch of songs, but that's the only one that made it on there. Yeah, he writes songs in some ways similar to the way I do. Which, you know, you kind of circle it, and you sneak up on it. It was a real joy to write with him. You can't drink with him, but you can write with him. It was really a joy. I felt like I have known him a long time, and he's made out of very strong stock, you know. He's like pirate stock. He loves those shadows in music. And he's totally mystified by music, like a kid. He finds great joy in it, and madness and abandon. And it's still there, very much, for him. He looks at the guitar, and his eyes get all big, and he starts shakin' his head. He's made out of something that music likes to be around.

Q: Why the title, Bone Machine?

WAITS: Bone Machine. Just trying to take two things and bring 'em together, which is what you try to do with music. Take something and make it work with something else. Bone Machine. Curious thing. Gives you something to think about. What's a bone machine? Most of the principles of most machines developed in the machine age were principles that were found in the human body. I don't know. Originally, I was going to take sounds of machines I'd recorded and add a really strong rhythmic sense. I was going to try to build songs out of the rhythms. But then it didn't really develop that way. The stories kind of took over. So it's more bone than machine. Bone Machine. But we're all like bone machines, I guess. We break down eventually, and we're replaced by other models. Newer models. Younger models. sounds like a superhero, doesn't it?

Q: Well, now that you mention it...

WAITS: There's a superhero called the Eyeball Kid(12) that I've grown fond of. Actually, I've just heard the name. But I had my own image of what that is. I imagined it was just a guy with just nothing but an eyeball. Born without even a brow. And he could roll into places, and have a terrific view of anything that he wants. There is a comic book character, the eyeball kid, but he's different. He has a lot of eyeballs --- about eight. And that's great, too. So a Bone Machine is a little bit like one of those superheroes. Like he was thrown out of a car on the freeway at 90 mph, and he rolled over by a call box, wrapped around the pole, and crawled into the bushes where he spent the next year nursing his wounds. Some corn fell off the back of a truck and rolled over and he ate the corn. Quart of milk every now and then would fall off a truck and he'd have milk. There's a big bump there, and when trucks hit that bump, things would fall out. Some cabbage ... He'd always have enough to eat. And he lived in the bushes ... And then he goes into town and he becomes a crime fighter for justice and truth. And trying to clean up Los Angeles of all the crooked managers and attorneys and police.

Q: Do you have any idea what Bone Machine represents in the context of all your work?

WAITS: Uh, gee, I don't know. Of course, every time I make a record, I think, oh boy, this has got so many hits on it. People are just going to get sick of this. It's going to be like 'Beat It.' And they're going to go 'that again? 'Do we have to hear that?' 'Can't I go shopping or anywhere else without hearing this album? I think it's going to be another one of those. And it's going to almost become an anachronism, it'll be so large. It'll cross all boundaries. The cover will be in tepees in Wyoming, and in mud huts in Nigeria. T-shirts in Ghana. That's what I think. Then I think more clearly about it, and I don't know.

I guess people make music hoping that will happen. I don't really think about it. I do get a certain amount of satisfaction just from doing it. Then it's kind of sad when you're done with it, and you release it, and a lot of people get to hear it, too. But it was all yours for a while. You just turned it loose. I don't know where I'd put it. I'd like to think I'm headed some place. That I'm climbing something. Or maybe I'm going down the stairs (laughing.) But I don't know.


(1) Keith Richards co-wrote a song on it: read lyrics: That Feel.
Tom Waits (1992): "I love this song. We played it hundreds of times and then I made a version of it and then I took it to New York and he was there and he sang on it and played. I really have a soft spot in my heart for this song." (Source: "KCRW-FM Radio: Evening Becomes Eclectic" Date: Santa Monica/ USA. October 9, 1992 (?))
Jim Jarmusch (1993): Did you write "That Feel" with Keith Richards or did he just play on it? Tom Waits: No, we wrote it together. JJ: You've written stuff with him before. TW: Yeah, he's all intuition. I mostly play drums, he plays guitar. He stands out in the middle of the room and does those Chuck Berry splits, y'know, and leans over and turns it up on 10 and just grungg! I mostly just play drums. He plays drums, too, he plays everything. It was good. I'm just recently starting to collaborate in writing and find it to be really thrilling. And Keith is great 'cause he's like a vulture, he circles it and then he goes in and takes the eyes out. It was great. I guess we maybe wrote enough for a record, but everything didn't get finished, so -- There was one called "Good Dogwood", about the carpenter that made the cross that Jesus hung on." (Source: "Straight No Chaser" Straight No Chaser magazine (UK), by Jim Jarmusch. Date: October, 1992 (published early 1993)

(2) The new album was recorded in a shed: Prairie Sun recording studio in Cotati/ California. Former chicken ranch where Waits recorded: Night On Earth, Bone Machine, The Black Rider (Tchad Blacke tracks) and Mule Variations. Further reading: Prairie Sun official site

(3) And upright bass on one: "Jesus Gonna Be Here"

(4) A video for the Red Hot & Blue AIDS benefit album: Red Hot & Blue (1990). Aids benefit music video (Chrysalis) featuring B&W music video for: "It's Alright With Me". Directed by Jim Jarmusch.

(5) A fund-raising concert for victims of the Los Angeles unrest: May 30, 1992: LA Riot Benefit at the Wiltern Theatre, Los Angeles/ USA. Tom Waits: vocals, piano, guitar, bullhorn. Larry Taylor: upright bass. Mitchell Froom: keyboards. Stephen Hodges: drums, percussion. Joe Gore: guitar.

(6) Two yet-unreleased songs for the film "Street Wise": Streetwise (1984/ 1986) Movie directed by Martin Bell. Also features cameo by Ralph Carney. "Nominated for an Oscar, this movie portrays the lives of desperate teenagers. Thrown too young into a seedy grown up world, these runaways survive. With Rat the dumpster diver, Tiny the teen prostitute, Shellie the baby faced blonde and DeWayne the hustler. All underage survivors on the streets of downtown Seattle. Released by LCA in 1986." On soundtrack: "Rat's Theme" & "Take Care Of All Of My Children" (re-released on Orphans, 2006).

(7) The thing that's called a conundrum: Percussion rack with metal objects. Made for Waits by Serge Etienne. Further reading: Instruments

(8) Teddy Edwards:
- Tenor jazz saxophonist Teddy Edwards. Waits toured with Edwards in the early '80s (Tour promoting 'Heartattack And Vine'. November 1980 - October 1981) and recorded the "One From the Heart" film score with Edwards in 1992. Waits also resurrected Edwards' career in the early '90s when he hooked up Edwards on the Antilles label and sang two of Edwards' compositions on the album "Mississippi Lad" ("Little Man" and "I'm Not Your Fool Anymore"). Edwards died April 20, 2003 of prostate cancer. He was 78.
- (Source: Los Angeles Times. Apr. 22, 2003)
- Tom Waits (2003): "Teddy Edwards always sounded like he was drinking champagne on a train and wise to the ways of the world. A consummate arranger and composer, Teddy Edwards was one of the original architects of bebop. An elegant man with a large heart and generous spirit, he always carried himself with poise and confidence. Kathleen and I have lost a friend, the world of music has lost one of the most innovative presidents of jazz and we all have the gift of the great music he left behind." (Source: "Teddy Edwards, Tom Waits' longtime Saxophonist has passed away..." By: Rob Partridge at Coalition in London Apr. 24, 2003)

(9) Tony Franciosa: American TV-star in the 60's and 70's. He gained most of his fame by playing the playboy/ detective in the NBC's series "Name of the Game". Over his career, he has been billed as both 'Anthony' and 'Tony'. Franciosa was married to actress Shelley Winters from 1957 to 1960

(10) Ode To Billy Joe: Written by Bobbie Gentry (� Northridge Music Company/ Universal MCA Publishing.) From "Ode To Billy Joe", � 1967, Capitol. "It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day. I was out chopping cotton and my brother was baling hay. And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat. And Mama hollered out the back door "y'all remember to wipe your feet," And then she said "I got some news this morning from Choctaw Ridge," "Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge." And Papa said to Mama as he passed around the black-eyed peas: "Well, Billy Joe never had a lick of sense; pass the biscuits, please." "There's five more acres in the lower forty I've got to plow." And Mama said it was a shame about Billy Joe, anyhow. Seems like nothing ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge. And now Billy Joe MacAllister's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge. And brother said he recollected when he and Tom and Billie Joe, Had put a frog down my back at the Carroll County picture show. And wasn't I talking to him after church last Sunday night? "I'll have another piece of apple pie; you know it don't seem right. "I saw him at the sawmill yesterday on Choctaw Ridge, "And now you tell me Billie Joe's jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge." And Mama said to me: "Child, what's happened to your appetite? "I've been cooking all morning and you haven't touched a single bite. "That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today. "Said he'd be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way. "He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge. "And she and Billy Joe was throwing something off the Tallahatchie Bridge." A year has come and gone since we heard the news 'bout Billy Joe, And brother married Becky Thompson, they bought a store in Tupelo. There was a virus going 'round, Papa caught it and he died last Spring. And now Mama doesn't seem to wanna do much of anything. And me, I spend a lot of time picking flowers up on Choctaw Ridge. And drop them into the muddy water off the Tallahatchie Bridge."

(11) Tom Jans: "Tom Jans was born on February 9, 1949 (same year as Tom Waits), and died March 25, 1984. There's a lot of confusion about how he died. Some say drug overdose, others say he died shortly after being in a serious motorcycle accident, and Joan Baez, in her autobiography, says he died in a car crash. Perhaps she should know; she once introduced Jans to her sister Mimi Farina, who became Jans' singing partner in both touring and recording in the early seventies. Tom Jans seems to have had a reputation for never getting out of the Bay Area where he was born, but apparently he and Mimi even made it to the East Coast, playing clubs in New York. That's a bit further than Mercy Street and Grand Avenue, if those are indeed the Mountain View / Palo Alto area streets referred to in the song." (Submitted by Ulf Berggren. Tom Waits eGroups discussionlist, 2000).Further reading: Tom Jans/ Whistle Down The Wind

(12) There's a superhero called the Eyeball Kid: further reading: The Eyeball Kid