Title: Ghost In The Machine
Source: Rock World. October, 1992. By Michael Fuchs-Gambock.
Date: Paris, France. Published October, 1992
Keywords: Bone Machine, family life, fatherhood,

Magazine front cover: Rock World. October, 1992

Accompanying pictures
Rock World. October 1992. Entire article
Source: from the cover of the book: "Beautiful Maladies", Amsco/ Jalma Music 1997. Still from video promoting "Temptation" (Island, 1987). Date: August 19, 1987
Date: ca. Feb. 1986 or earlier. Credits: Photography: Michael Tighe, Philippe Robert, Howard Rosenberg
Source: Bone Machine promo picture. Also printed in Rock World October, 1992. Date: ca. 1992. Photography: unknown


Ghost In The Machine


TOM WAITS is a true enigma - respected as much for being an alley poet, street-bum and general drunk as he is for being a proud father and family man. Now on his eleventh album, 'Bone Machine', he's still showing up the all-American way of life for what it really is. MICHAEL FUCHS-GAMBOCK gets the story from the dark side.

Interviewing Tom Waits can be a strange affair. There are so many sides to his personality - both true and rumoured - That it's impossible to predict what kind of monster you may encounter. After all, what do you say to a man who has so many masks that you wonder whether he knows which one he's got today? Having lived on the dark side of the streets he's well-equipped to talk, write and sing - if that's the right word for his smoke saturated growl - about the bums, weirdos and general eccentrics that inhabit his strange world. But now he's crawled out of the alley and agreed to talk, prompted into action by the release of his new album 'Bone Machine'. It's classic Tom Waits - strong words and even stronger stories are bucked by a style so unhip it's cool - sleazy bar jazz, Vaudeville, unfeasibly sad ballads and scat vocals.

The interview setting is perfect. A Parisian street caf� sees Waits extending a gnarled hand to me and growling a greeting that any tramp would be proud of - he's been gargling with broken glass again to get that voice. Waits is smaller than the pictures show and, incredibly, better dressed and in a great mood. I expected otherwise. Dressed in funeral black, he wears a hat screwed on tight to his mop of hair that shows just a faint streak of grey here and there. One funny story follows another, odd obcenities, jokes and impressions fall from his mouth in an odd form of stream-of-consciousness. This is one happy Waits - at ease with the world and himself. But if he's so happy, how come each album seems to be more and more obsessed with his fear of death and dying. The new album is no different.

"Oh yeah, blood and death, those are my pet subjects. I compose funeral music, ha! ha!" Tom finds this terribly funny. "OK, joking aside. those comparisons are pretty well what I was aiming for when I started writing songs for the album. It really is all about bones, cemeteries and dirty blood. And maybe also about how tomorrow I might have a drink even though the world's a desolate place."

Ah, so he's drinking again, I think. But didn't he just say something about growing up being his most important goal at the moment? "To me," growls Tom breaking my train of thought, "being grown up means nothing more than that in the last year I've grown so much that I can't drive around in a toy car anymore. It might have something to do with my drinking habits." Eh?

However, all this growing up stuff that you're so fond of talking about probably has more to do with the fact that you've had to become more responsible. After all you've now been married twelve years and you're the proud father of two children... "Of course!" smiles the happy father. "Because I utterly adore my wife and kids I had no choice but to grow up fast. You can't bring kids up if you're still one yourself. On top of that, being a father has a lot of advantages. You get healthier. Life is quieter and you can concentrate on work better. I am my work, and only when I work can I really express myself and what's inside me. I learn more about myself through it. To get to that stage I have to have peace and quiet and the family is a vital part of that.

"I'm happy with it that way. Someday you just have to quit being a vagabond, and being drunk every day. One day you just wake up and realise that there's an empty space in your soul. It's not cool, just weird." But this harmonious family life seemed to bother his faithful who had always seen him as the underdog of the avant-garde intellectual scene. It was even suggested in some quarters that, heaven forbid, he'd sold out! He'd thrown away a status he'd spent years working on and refining. But, hero that he is, Waits just smiles wryly and comments: "That's their problem. I'm content that life starts with the family unit and not ends with it. The feeling you get when you hold a baby in your arms - suddenly you realise how strong life is. These guys who came up with all that can't have any kids of their own. I'd bet they're all homos anyway!" "So what! My family is the source of all my inspiration, but it still lets me do what I want and have to do. At the moment there's nothing in my life that I want to change. I'm really happy. Who would have believed it?"

Who'd have guessed he'd be this content? After all, when Tom started his 'career' back in the early Seventies he also started on a path that twisted him for years to come. For a decade or so Tom was both a drug addict and an alcoholic and his writing was a mixture of fear, aggression and hate. However, despite his suffering he also wrote with a remarkable warmth and feeling. Not only did he write about these emotions - he lived them, and lived them twenty-four hours a day, week in week out. He knew nothing else as people stayed away in droves from his albums, albums which are now a must in every collection.

But the gods smiled on Tom in 1985. That year 'Rain Dogs', his eighth album, came into the world and he secured a lead role in the Jim Jarmusch cult flick 'Down By Law'(1), to which he added a few of his own songs. People went in droves to see it, and seemingly followed it up by buying his album. Suddenly Tom was big business and everyone loved him, when minutes before he'd been an outsider, a bum on the streets just like his hero Jack Kerouac the Beatnik genius of 'On The Road' fame. Kerouac lived for the road and its weirdness but Waits seemed to take it just one step further down the road to Weirdness City, Nowhere State. But Tom interrupts my day-dreaming again. "I wouldn't go that far in my respect for the road, even though it did have a huge influence on me. As a musician you're always tied to the road, that's part of the job. When you're a musician and you want to get somewhere you have to take your songs from town to town and present your music here, there and everywhere. "So songs and streets have a certain symbiosis - they briefly flourish and then destroy each other. And the singer becomes part of the road. First it kicks your songs into life and finally, when they are performed night after night in different places with different variations, they begin to take on a life of their own, their own vitality."

Even though nowadays Tom isn't really part of the genuine 'on the road camp', he's genuinely pleased that his current music retains that distinctive road flavour.

"When the road has you in it's grip you can't escape its clutches. It's deep in you. It's a partner for life! Ha! Ha! Ha!"


(1) Down By Law: Down by Law (1986) Movie directed by Jim Jarmusch. Shot on location in New Orleans in 1985. TW: actor & composer. Plays main role as DJ Zack. On soundtrack: "Jockey Full Of Bourbon" and "Tango Till They're Sore". Further reading: Filmography