|Title: Egos & Icons - Skid Romeo
Source: Canadian television show, broadcast on Muchmusic in 1992. Interview by Denise Donlon(1). Transcription from tape by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library
Date: Prairie Sun Recording Studio(2). Cotati/ USA. October, 1992
Keywords: songwriting, fatherhood, studio, Keith Richards, Chicken ranche, Dracula
Egos & Icons - Skid Romeo
Q: Do you feel like, a little bit like a lightning rod for songs? Like the songs just gonna come to you? Or do you have to come out with a butterfly net and get 'em, even if they don't wanna come?
TW: Mmm... I don't know. Uh, sometimes they come like good little children, sometimes they don't. Uh, the best ones really do come out of the ground like a potatoe, for me. Uh, and with others you've seen them before. You already dug it up once and then buried it again, and then you dug it up again and you thought it was new. Uh, it's just... it's partially decomposed, but uh... Every song has a different way of being hatched. They're all different. Some of 'em come willingly, some of them need to be, you know, tied up and told the day.
Q: Does it somehow, you know, twink a different musical part of you when you pick up an instrument you're not used to?
TW: Always does, yeah (picks up Metal Angklungs and rattles them). Now these for example... These are hard to find. So...
Q: Probably even harder to find people who are really masters at playing it too?
TW: I'm no master, I just rattle it and hit it.
Q: (holding some mallets) So these are essentially the "bones" on Bone Machine?
TW: Well, the bones are usually the "nothing" of it. And I thought, that what it is, is usually... If you find a good room, the room is kind of an instrument in itself. It's kind of... uhm, it's what you don't play that gives it a bony quality.
Q: You used to spend a lot of time moving around. City to city. Living in the back of cars and stuff. You seem to have really put down some roots these days.
TW: (Dryly) No, I'm no longer living in a vehicle. Well, the thing about living in a small town, is like uh...You see people that are really trapped in it, you know. It's one thing when you've been to a lot of places, I've been to, you know, Japan and Australia and, you know, you go places. A small town is not a prison if you've seen the world. If you haven't seen the world a small town is a crummy little shoebox and you want to get the hell out of there and never come back, you know. So, uhm... I can enjoy it more than the people who live here (laughs). I think. I don't know! (laughs)
Q: Did being a dad change your outlook on things?
TW: Oh yeah, sure, of course. Oh yeah.
TW: Dramatically, yeah. I think I'm more of a kid now. My kids are growing up and I'm getting smaller. I'm getting like, you know... I don't know it's uh.. Yeah it's happening.
Q: Are you training innocence maybe?
TW: I'm encouraging them to become more of a ...?... while I become more of a ...?... This is probably illegal, I mean... In some states, I don't know!
TW: "If you find a good room, the room is kind of an instrument in itself - it's what you don't play that gives it a bony quality, not what you do play - the basic elements of music - wood, metal, glass, skin - it's how you put it all together."
TW (on Keith Richards): "He's great, he's made of mud and blood and bone and hair - he's really a natural musician, music follows him around - his arms are like a fisherman - he's physically very strong and really - he can go up 20 flights of stairs like that."
TW: "Chickens have always been part of my life. When I was a kid I had a chicken claw on a tether around my neck for a whole summer - it was my amulet when I was about seven years old - you find little themes in your life - chickens seem to be one of mine."
TW (on dogs): "I can't have a dog because I am a dog so we already have a dog. Dogs show up a lot in songs, you find things that you like to put in songs. Everybody has certain material they feel they can use."
TW: "I'm no longer living in a vehicle. The thing about living in a small town - you see people that are really trapped, it's one thing when you've been to a lot of places, I've been to Japan and Australia(3) - you go places - a small town is not a prison if you've seen the world, if you haven't seen the world a small town is a crummy little shoebox and you want to get the hell out of there and never come back. So I can enjoy it more than the people who live here. A lot of vultures around here, an inordinate amount of vultures."
TW (on film and music): "I believe that all things aspire to the condition of music, including films, stories - and that if it has some music in it then it has value. I don't think songs try to be films, I think films try to be songs. It's a pure form of expression and it's a very simple one and it's one that anyone can do. You don't have to have a whole lot of gear - kids write thousands of songs before they learn to talk. Everybody has music that they just have to try to get out."
Q: "Are you close to getting out what you hear inside."
Tom Waits: "It always seems to me like that thing at the carnival, that little steam shovel that goes down in a big pile of pearls and watches and candy - you never get the watch - you never get the pearls, you get the little wax candy."
TW (on Dracula): "I frightened myself a couple of times - it was thrilling. I was scared and screaming - and being hosed down in an insane asylum and I've never been so happy in my life."
TW (on Coppola): "I told him I was Renfield and you gotta get me in there. He hadn't cast Renfield yet, he had cast all the other parts - and I really came at it like a kid - make me Renfield - and if you come at him like that, he comes back at you like a kid - okay, you'd make a good Renfield, okay."
TW (about the studio): "I don't know what outside is, really, this is just a room that really sounded good cause it had never been used for music. A lot of studios are designed for - to sound a certain way, I like things that sound good without knowing it, without knowing that they sound good - and they only sound good to me. I like experimenting with sounds, that's what we do here. We bring em in here, we tie em up, and we slit their throat - this is the slaughterhouse and it's not pretty, not pretty."
TW (on his persona): "Everybody in show business has some kind of ventriloquist act going - it's just survival, you gotta do it, like you're not gonna hang your underwear out there for the whole world to see - you gotta do an Edgar Bergen(4) to get by."
Q: "... the underwear in your songs?"
TW: "It's someone else's underwear. I like to put other people's underwear in my songs which, again, is probably illegal. I don't know, is there an ordinance against it here in the county or not?"
Q: "So the people who know your songs don't know you?"
TW: "No, they know the underwear of strangers!"
(1) This interview is from 1992. The MuchMusic TV special has some snippets from other interviews mixed with the original interview:
- From April, 1979 (unidentified interview in Toronto/ Canada): Tom Waits on life at the Tropicana: "I moved out just before I left town, it got a little too aggravating for me. The place was turning into a kind of an amusement park for guitar players, It's lost a little of its old charm. I moved in about 5 years ago primarily just to kind of hide out there and what's happened is the joint has gotten a certain amount of publicity and subsequently it's kind of defeated my original purpose for being there - so I left and I now live on Crenshaw Blvd, no-one will ever find me, it's a long street." Tom Waits on writing: "It takes a certain amount of discipline to be a writer - it requires setting aside time for yourself to write - it's difficult to write on the road cause it's very time consuming out here. I don't have a lot of days off. I manage to keep a list of things and I have a pretty goodmemory for ideas and I'm working on stuff right now. While I'm out here it's difficult for me but I'm trying to work on stuff for a new album called Heartattack & Vine." Interviewer: "Are you a national American hero?" Tom Waits: "I don't think that I'm a hero, I try to keep a low profile - success on your own terms is very difficult in this business." Interviewer: "What are your own term?" Tom Waits: "All I want is a pigfoot and a bottle of beer."
- From November, 1980 (CBC Canadian TV special. Unidentified Canadian CBC TV show. November 19, 1980).
- From 1987 (unidentified interview): Tom Waits: "Cigarettes? - no, I gave it up, it was staining my teeth. " Tom Waits: "I don't like people who use sports metaphors to describe where thety are- it 's not a horse raceyou know - I mean your own growth and development, whatever you're trying to do is your own journey and I don't look at it like - I'm not competitive." Interviewer: "Even with yourself?" Tom Waits: "Maybe myself, but I don't think that's competition, that's just keeping an eye on things." Tom Waits: "Business is a system, it's structural, like ballistics, you have a bullet and it's just the right size for the chamber and everything's just so big, it fits in, and when you're gone there's another one who moves up." Tom Waits: "Actors jump at the thrill of living in the skin of someone else or fraying or working out their psychosis in a light."
- From unidentified interview (date unknown). Jim Jarmusch: "Tom is very aware of himself as a performer and he's very aware of the kind of persona that he's created for himself but it's not just a pose, it's a persona that was created out of his own experiences and his own affinities with certain kinds of people, that kind of outsider, so it's very hard to distinguish these things. He's aware of the act of performing and creating this character as a musician, as a songwriter and as an actor but those are things that come from Tom. He does exaggerate certain things but Tom isa poet - he's very aware of language. I think of Tom as a poet more than a musician even though he's a brilliant songwriter. Tom's very contradictory, it's hard to dissect him and say what is calculated and what is not. The more I know him tthe less clear those things are."
(2) Prairie Sun Recording Studio: 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) I've been to Japan and Australia: Japan: January 1977 (Small Change tour). Australia: May 1979 (Blue Valentine tour), September-October 1981 (Heartattack And Vine tour). Further reading: Performances
(4) Edgar Bergen: "Born in Chicago in 1903, Edgar Bergen developed a talent for ventriloquism at a young age. When Bergen asked a local carpenter to create a dummy, the wisecracking Charlie McCarthy was born. The duo began their career as talent show headliners, performing in Chicago while Bergen attended Northwestern University. Bergen eventually left Northwestern to concentrate on performing, but Charlie received an honorary degree from the school in 1938, a "Master of Innuendo and Snappy Comebacks." Bergen and McCarthy made their radio debut on Rudy Vallee's Royal Gelatin Hour in 1936 and were an instant success. In 1937, they were given their own show for Chase & Sanborn. Almost immediately, The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy Show became one of radio's highest-rated programs, a distinction it enjoyed until it left the air in 1956. Edgar Bergen died on October 1, 1978." (Source: "Radio Hall Of Fame", 2004)