Title: Cool Ivories
Source: American Routes radio show (USA), by Nick Spitzer. Transcription from tape (American Routes) by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library
Date: February 16-22, 2005, Orleans (USA)
Key words: Childhood, influences, recording, religion, drinking, fatherhood, Real Gone, Carol Wayne, Day After Tomorrow

Picture: Nick Spitzer, 2004



Cool Ivories


NS: I'm Nick Spitzer and this is American Routes.

[Just Another Sucker In The Vine - excerpt]

NS: Tom Waits has been making avant vernacular music on the fringes of Pop and Rock, Blues and Jazz for over three decades. Waits started as a pianist and singer, recording his debut Closing Time at age 23. That LP attracted a cult following and critical acclaim that has never left him. Waits continued releasing records about down and out characters from the American underbelly. By the 1980's he began a career as an actor, appearing in movies like: Down By Law and The Outsiders. And writing plays with William Burroughs and others. At the same time his music took a more theatrical turn. Each song cast with a distinct vocal role and perspective. Now a family man, Tom Waits is still leaping boundaries, and keeping his eye on terra firma where his roots begin...

TW: Oh I see roots, you know American roots. So you're looking for my uh. places I've gone, things I've done, places I've lived. Uhm gee I don't know. Well my dad moved to California when I was a kid, cause uh that's where they used to tell you to move if you had bronchitis. My dad's name is Jesse-Frank Waits. He was named after Jesse AND Frank. There was some trouble right at the beginning. He dropped the Jesse and just took the Frank.

[Franks Wild Years - excerpt]

TW: I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I thought I'd probably wind up in the restaurant business. You know, cause my first job was, I was fourteen I worked at a Pizza place.(1) I mean half of you knows what you wanna do and the other half, I don't know, hopes that what you end up doing recognizes you. You know?

[On The Other Side Of The World - excerpt]

TW: I think that when I was a kid I trusted older music cause I thought it had more authority. And the people that had played it were older then me and I respected them. Bing Crosby, you know, Frank Sinatra. You know Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong. You know, people like that.
NS: Aha, so you grew up kinda in that period of Rock 'n Roll and the British Invasion in the 60's/ 70's...
TW: Yeah, yeah but I really liked all the old men music you know. I really kept living my life upside down. I really wanted to be an old man when I was a kid, and now I think I'm going to my teens. Finally. It's a little confusing at home. Kids don't really understand.

[Straight To The Top - excerpt]

NS: It doesn't sound like you were the kind of kid that had piano lessons. Or if you did, maybe you didn't enjoy it.
TW: I had piano lessons for a while. I didn't really take to it. You know what I ended up doing at the piano was, I learned a song and then I just learned it cause I heard it, and then I would pretend to read the notes of the page.
NS: Oh yeah.
TW: If I heard it once, I could play it. I couldn't remember, you know, long division or fractions or decimals but I could play a song back to you.

[Martha - excerpt]

NS: When you listen back to a song like "Ol' '55" at this point, what does that do for you? How do you feel about a tune like that?
TW: How do you feel about old pictures of yourself?
NS: They put me into my memories I suppose.
TW: I mean, you have big ears and. a weird haircut and . I just sound like a kid!
NS: Well you look like a kid on that record. I mean you WERE a kid.
TW: I was a kid yeah. So it stands to reason that you would sound like a kid when you were a kid.

[Ol' '55 - excerpt]

NS: It strikes me that a voice is ultimately... is such a personal thing for conversation or performance. When do you think you maybe began to feel like you had a voice either for words you could say or something you could sing?
TW: Well it's still developing. Hopefully it keeps evolving. I'm chanting and scatting on the new one. But yeah, I'm like uh, it's ventriloquism for fun and profit.
NS: (laughs) I know it's a kind of a standard question but I just kind of wondered if there were models around you that you took to, either in your family or out beyond on the radio or records that maybe influenced you're sense of voice.
TW: Well you know, Marty Robbins, Harry Belafonte. People like that. Uh Wolfeman Jack I listened to a lot when I was a kid, but you know, most people's uh. the influences that people have aren't necessarily something you would be able to spot you know? You know, if you found out that Frank Sinatra really loved The Rolling Stones, would that surprise you?
NS: Yeah.
TW: Because you know, if two people know all the same things, one of you is unnecessary.
NS: You know I have to say there was one tune I really enjoyed, the "16 Shells From A Thirty Ought Six".
TW: Alright.
NS: You actually I think make flams or something that gives a certain authority or emphasis
TW: Flam with authority yeah!?
NS: Yeah!
TW: That's good!

[16 Shells From A Thirty Ought Six - excerpt]

NS: In your own voice, it seems though you picked up a lot of vocal roles.
TW: Uh it's really just whatever fits. Most musicians are able to play a variety of styles. You know, I'm a plumber but I do a little electrical as well you know?
NS: (laughs)

[Can't Wait To Get Off Work - excerpt]

TW: You know I'm not even sure that songs really like to be recorded, to be honest with you. I think as soon as you turn the tape on, you know, you are changing everything.
NS: Right, you're wanting to record the reality and yet you're altering the reality by saying that you wanna record the reality.
TW: Yeah it's like "reality television". Isn't that like a contradiction in terms?
NS: Yeah the very word "re-cord" or you know "record" is almost scary. I mean I got word when ASCAP(2), a few years ago, was talking about trying to charge the boy scouts for singing campfire songs you know?
TW: Oh, I like that! There's a lot of money there. Boy scouts! You know they always carry a lot of cash with them. You know, out in the woods and uh, you know. I think they should pay! You know, if I found out that one of those boy scouts was singing one of my songs, I'd nail them!
NS: Well, maybe you ought to. "Way Down In The Hole", if they were singing that along the trail, maybe you would.
TW: They're doing that song out in the woods!?
NS: Well they might be, they might be.
TW: Oh if we can just police that!

[Down In The Hole - excerpt]

NS: When you write a song like "Way Down In The Hole", or you know, any of the songs that involved you know images of Christianity, are you in a sacred mood with that? I mean, are you a believer, are you a believer in Jesus?
TW: Gee I don't know. Uh, yeah uh (laughs). Yeah, I don't go to church on Sunday.(3) But I uh, you know I'd say I'm a spiritual person.
NS: You got one song about Jesus, uh in the words of a.
TW: "Jesus Gonna Be Here".
NS: Yeah, I mean, you know, you kinda catch the street corner preacher meets uh the surviving alcoholic. And it's got a lot of pathos and joy in it all together.
TW: Oh yeah. Well it's hard to catch songs. Some songs are rather evasive. As they should be I guess.

[Jesus Gonna Be Here - excerpt]

NS: Let me ask you about elixirs for a minute. I don't wanna misquote you but I think I saw you once say something like: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy."(4)
TW: Alright.
NS: A very succinct and poetic line.
TW: Uhm.. I read that on a bathroom wall.
NS: Oh, did you really?
TW: Uhu, yeah.
NS: But it strikes me it's also somebody, saying that at that time, that maybe drinking was probably pretty important to you at that point.
TW: Oh, well I haven't had a drink in like fourteen years.
NS: But when you said that, my guess would be that you probably were, unless you were totally playing a character.
TW: Oh yeah, I was drinking in those days. Yeah sure.
NS: Yeah, yeah. I just wondered how, now you are able to achieve some of the creative work that you do, uhm without.
TW: Without drinking? (laughs)
NS: Yeah. Well yeah. Or with some kind of elixir. Maybe of another kind?
TW: Oh gee I don't know. Uhm I go under the trance. I mean in the old days, yeah I would go into a room with a piano and an ashtray and a bottle and come back out with all the songs and yeah. You know, I laid it down. You know, that's really the long and the short of it.

[The Piano Has Been Drinking - excerpt]

NS: When you'd become a father and you've got these kids out there, doing all their own little things, does that change your perspective on the kinds of reportage you can do in songs?
TW: I have to fight for my right to the turntable.
NS: Yeah? (laughs)
TW: Yeah. And I don't always win. I infrequently win, as a matter of fact. "Dad, if you put on one more song by Leadbelly, I'm gonna throw this bottle at your head! And you've taken all our toys!" You know? "Where's that little blue and white piano I used to have?" You know, "Where's my little megaphone, with the voice changer on it? Where is that?!"
NS: Well, where are those things?
TW: I took 'em!
NS: Oh! To the studio?
TW: To the studio! (laughs)

[Hoist That Rag - excerpt]

NS: Your latest record is Real Gone. I like that song: you're "Dead And Lovely". It's got a sort of macabre feel to it.
TW: Well you know I have (..?..) thing, "Dead And Lovely". You know, live hard and die young, have a good looking corpse.(5) You know people that live in your memory as beautiful people because they died when they were young and they'll always be young and they'll always be beautiful. And they'll always be dead. You know what I was thinking about? There was a gal named Carol Wayne(6), who used to be on the Tonight Show, and she did goofy dumb blonde stuff you know. And she was real shapely and she died in Mexico and I don't know if they ever solved the crime or not. It always, always made me uh kinda sad.

[Dead And Lovely - excerpt]

NS: I wanted to ask you about one song in particular here on the record called "Day After Tomorrow". It's a soldier writing home.
TW: Yeah, yeah. Yeah just a soldier writing home to his family. Tried to make it so it's not really about necessarily this war that we're in now, the Iraq war, but in fact about any war really. Because I guess the letters home are probably the same. I think most of the soldiers are really like the gravel on the road.(7)
NS: What do you mean by that?
TW: Well the gravel on the road that the others are driving on, you know? Spent shell casings.

[Day After Tomorrow - excerpt]

NS: Tom Waits, what is your sense of the future and your own music and art? Where do you want to go, or how would you describe the future?
TW: I don't know. Carry it on I guess. You know, breathing in and breathing out. You know, keeping the music alive. Cause you know when I listened to other people's stuff I learned from it. And I hope that people listen to my stuff and learn from me, so. those are my dissertations.

[How's It Gonna End - excerpt]

NS: Speaking with the evocative, evasive singer, songwriter, pianist and hipster Tom Waits. His recent record is called Real Gone.


(1) I worked at a Pizza place: Further reading: Napoleone Pizza House

(2) ASCAP: "ASCAP is a membership association of over 200,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers of every kind of music. Through agreements with affiliated international societies, ASCAP also represents hundreds of thousands of music creators worldwide. ASCAP is the only U.S. performing rights organization created and controlled by composers, songwriters and music publishers, with a Board of Directors elected by and from the membership. ASCAP protects the rights of its members by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted works." (Source: ASCAP official site). Waits is a member of ASCAP.

(3) I don't go to church on Sunday: quoting from "Chocolate Jesus" (Mule Variations, 1999)

(4) I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy: from the famous TV appearance "Fernwood2night, sequel 21. August 1, 1977". Read entire transcript.

(5) Have a good looking corpse: quoting from "Mr. Siegal" (Heartattack And Vine, 1980): "... on the other side of the Nevada line. Where they live hard die young and have a good lookin' corpse every time."

(6) Carol Wayne: "If you watched the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson during the Seventies, you may remember sexy Carol Wayne. She was the big-busted, bubbly Matinee Lady of the 'Tea Time Movies with Art Fern' sketches that began in 1971 and stayed popular throughout the decade. Carol Wayne was also a frequent guest on game shows like Celebrity Sweepstakes and The Hollywood Squares, she also made quite a bit of money doing personal appearances. She had the ability to make the most innocent remark seem like a dirty joke with her little girl voice, wide "innocent" eyes and ultra-ample bosom. It was often joked that Carol Wayne would never drown with those large breasts of hers - but ironically that's exactly how she did die. To this day, the exact circumstances leading up to her death in 1985 remain a mystery. Carol Wayne's troubles started in 1980 when Johnny Carson threatened to quit his lucrative role as host of the popular 'Tonight' show. He demanded that NBC cut the show from ninety-minutes to sixty. The new sixty-minute format meant that Carson had less time for skits starring familiar characters like Aunt Blabby, Floyd R. Turbo, and Art Fern. As a result, Carol Wayne's appearances on the 'Tonight' show became fewer and farther between. Carol Wayne was no longer in demand for daytime game show appearances either, that genre was dying on the vine. In 1980 she divorced her husband, bestselling writer Burt Sugarman. In 1984 a thin, pale Carol Wayne declared bankruptcy due in large part to a cocaine and alcohol problem. It was said the entertainer was reduced to being an occasional escort for wealthy businessmen in order to make a living. According to published reports, Carol Wayne was on vacation in Santiago Bay, Mexico with Los Angeles car salesman Edward Durston on January 10, 1985 when (it has been reported) the couple had a argument about where they were going to stay that evening (they were scheduled to fly back to Los Angeles the next morning). Durston checked into a hotel and Wayne reportedly left to walk down the beach (to cool off?). That was the last time anyone saw her alive. Local fisherman Abel de Dios found her limp body floating in the shallow bay waters three days later. Mexican authorities wondered how Carol Wayne came to drown in waters four feet deep, fully clothed. There were no cuts or abrasions, so a fall from the nearby rocks was ruled out. The coroner stated that death occurred 3 - 4 days earlier and the body tested negative for drugs and alcohol. Suspicions were raised: Carol Wayne had to be identified by workers at the Las Hadas resort where the couple had been staying earlier in the week. When locals went to look for Wayne's traveling companion, they discovered that Edward Durston checked out three days earlier - leaving Wayne's luggage at the airport with a message that she would pick up her bags in the morning. Carol Wayne could not swim, and reportedly did not like to go too near the water. So how did she happen to be found dead in calm and shallow waters? "Carol Wayne's death is unsolved, certainly," the U.S. Consular William LaCoque was quoted as saying in 1990. "But I don't think it was a drowning. A drowning, yes, of course, but there is much more to it than that." What more, we may never know."(Source: "The Strange Death Of Carol Wayne", by Billy Ingram. TVparty.com)

(7) Gravel on the road: as mentioned in "Day After Tomorrow" (Real Gone, 2004): "I just do what I've been told. We're just the gravel on the road." and "Sins Of The Father" (Real Gone, 2004): "Hand on the wheel and gravel on the road. Will the pawn shop sell me back what I sold."


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