|Title: Grimm's Reapers
Source: Black Book magazine (USA) June, 2002 by Terry Gilliam. Transcription by Pieter from Holland as published on Tom Waits Library. Special thanks to Dorene LaLonde for donating magazine. Photography by Jean-Baptiste Mondino
Date: April 10, 2002
Keywords: Alice/ Blood Money, recording, Tideland, crows
Magazine front cover: June, 2002. Thanks to Dorene LaLonde for donating magazine
|Date: 2002 (1992?). Credits: photography by Jean-Baptiste Mondino|
|Date: 2002 (1999?). Credits: photography by Jean-Baptiste Mondino|
Set to release two new albums, Alice and Blood Money, legendary musician Tom Waits talks with visionary director Terry Gilliam. Carnivals, crows, and freak shows aside, they speak in tongues.
Story: Terry Gilliam(1)
Photography: Jean-Baptiste Mondino
April 10, 2002
Terry Gilliam: How have you been, man?
Tom Waits: I've been OK, staying out of trouble.
TG: Why have you decided to be in competition with yourself?
TW: The reason no one does two records at the same time is that it's just too damn much work. It [was] really a question of making sure both of them had diverse textures and subject matter.
TG: Did you do them back-to-back, or did you swap between one to the other, back and forth?
TW: Back and forth, depending on how I was feeling. Most of the musicians drove up [on a] two-hour drive from San Francisco, and I instructed them that they were not allowed to listen to any music in the car on the way up, and I wanted them there by 10am, so they were clean, you know? Their heads were clean. And we could start fresh. It's like actors ... you know, you want people [who] will throw themselves down in the brook and drink with their hands.
TG: Yeah, these people have no shame; it's clear.
TW: You have to be able to melt yourself like candle wax and vanish into the picture.
TG: I'm just curious how you build those tracks. Does everyone play at the same time, and then you just start laying layers after that?
TW: Well, sometimes it comes out of the ground just like a potato, as you must realize yourself, and then other times you have to go in and use physics and math and finance and threatening remarks or embarrassing them.
TG: Do you actually arrange the parts and write them first?
TW: Well, I try to work with people who ... will go anywhere, and then use metaphor... I go in with a certain number of experimental musical instruments. I try to use unusual sound sources, so that I'm putting on record things that may have never been used as an instrument before, and [songs] always get an unusual texture from that.
TG: That's what always gets me with your stuff. It gets my brain and parts of my body to vibrate differently. And it really thrills me - it scares me and thrills me at the same time, and it triggers all kinds of resonances in my own brain.
TW: Yeah. I like old records. I think what I likeabout old records is . . . the surface noise sometimes more than I like the music itself, or the two combined that creates some kind of a ghost. When you're listening to an old, scratchy recording of Caruso, it always sounds like he's trying to reach you from far away and you want to help him. You kind of lean into the speaker.
TG: [Your music] is exotic, even if it's talking about some shitkicker in . . . in Missouri, somewhere in the country. Nineteenth-century Grimm's fairy tales are the things that keep coming to mind.
TW: Well, I'm flattered, Terry. I'm glad it penetrated your ears. Your films have taken me into another world for many years. I've seen [The Adventures of] Baron Munchausen(2) probably - I don't know - probably 50 times. . . . Which I guess is a test of a good piece of work - that it can endure and grow with you, and you can continue to rediscover it, and it rediscovers you.
TG: I agree with you. I mean, whether it's a painting, a piece of music, a poem - it just keeps resonating.
TW: And, of course, I always love seeing a nun float by - and your relationship with little people. It's better than going to the circus!
TG: You're obviously obsessed with that, aren't you? Carnivals and circuses and freak shows?
TW: I think I ran away and joined the circus. I think that was what I wanted to do in music, and I guess at certain points I think we discovered that we have something peculiar ... that makes us different.
TG: And no one is celebrating uniqueness - or bizarreness or weirdness or wonderfulness.
TW: I agree.
TG: I mean, I don't know how we bring that back and separate. I suppose we just keep doing what we do.
TW: I think the world looks like it's owned by three or four different cartels at this point, and it seems like eventually we're all going to be working for one or two of them.
TG: Who's [your] record company ... Anti?
TW: Epitaph is the name of the record company. And the group that I'm with is called Anti. That's this collection of artists - Joe Strummer ... Tricky ... Merle Haggard.
TW: So, it's an unusual place. It's a bit of an asylum for damaged artists, I think. Because it's also very just and sane and fair. You know, you take your suit to the cleaner's and you actually get your suit back.
TG: These are strange people to be working with. [laughs]
TW: Are you sensitive to how the world collaborates with you ... is it like Fitzcarraldo(3), where you're literally taking a boat over a mountain, or does the world want you to make the movie?
TG: Well, I'm not sure if the world wants me [to], but I think it's - I think I sort of believe in the platonic ideal of each film. It's up there pulling the strings, trying to make itself, and I become the hand that writes.
TW: I see.
TG: And it's purely that. And you find events start collaborating, mistakes . . . all sorts of things happen, and in most cases, [they] improve the film. I think the end result, I look at the stuff and I think, "Yeah. That's better because of the mistakes or the calamities that occurred."
TW: It's like life.
TG: I think that's right.
TW: My wife and I collaborated on all the songs, and we produced the record together, which was a feat unto itself. And we're still speaking to each other.
TG: I love collaborating. I mean, I have very firm ideas, but then, at a certain point, they kind of start boring me. With a collaborator, we can start leapfrogging. It gets much more exciting.
TW: Well, you want someone you can dig to China with(4), you know?
TG: All of your stuff, it always comes out as paintings or little films to me.
TW: Songs are movies for the ears or jewelry for the ears.
TG: What you do and hopefully what I do is we keep painting these pictures of the world, and hopefully one or two people notice that that is in fact what is going on around them. Because I find we're fighting the other forces. Whether it'spublicity, advertising, movies - normal movies - which are so busy painting a completely fraudulent picture of the world.
TW: There's a battle going on all the time between the light and the dark. And I wonder sometimes whether the dark side doesn't haveone more spear.
TG: Because the dark side - they present it as lightness and fun and entertainment.
TW: And that's the flimflam.
TG: Yeah! Flimflam is exactly what it's about. Everybody says my stuff is dark, and they probably say your stuff is dark, and I don't think it is. I think it's closer to the light than what is being presented out there.
TW: The tail has been wagging the dog for a long time now.
TG: Sometimes I listen to your stuff and I don't even know what the words are - I just know the sounds.
TW: Well, sometimes that's how they began. And then slowly the words were evolved out of the sounds. In fact, that one song, "Kommienezuspadt," is a completely invented language. And there's something thrilling about spending almost four minutes with the confidence of a language that you're discovering a word at a time.
TG: It's interesting that you've done an Alice because one of the projects I'm working on now is from a book called Tideland, written by a guy who lives out in Tucson.... It's about an eleven-year-old girl who is an Alice of sorts, whose parents are junkies. And she ends up with her father who is - well, we find out later - has beensitting there dead for some time. And she starts creating a world around her in a similar way. I've always been drawn to the Alice story because [Lewis Carroll] inverts the world all the time, and it's the power of that little child.
TW: Well, it sounds . . . wonderful - it sounds almost like a Grimm fairy tale.
TG: When I get this Tideland thing off the ground ... I keep thinking of you. I've been thinking about you for quite a while on this one.
TW: Well, I'm ready.
TG: I'm looking down at [lyrics I've written] here and I keep seeing things like, "On the porch, geese salute."(5) Is that the way the lyrics go?
TW: Oh no. That's even better. "In a Portuguese saloon." But I like that better. I'm going to write that down. [Terry repeats as Tom writes]
TG: What makes me crazy is that surrealism has been completely prostituted - it's used for advertising and selling shit now.
TW: I know. I hate that.
TG: It has no content anymore. It has a lot of the imagery, but none of the content. [Crows] keep appearing in these albums a lot.
TW: Oh, crows. Well, crows are the teenagers of the bird world. And they say the trouble with crows is that by nine o'clock they've done all their work and they've got too much time on their hands. And they will spend the rest of the day playing a primitive form of rugby. Or playing keep off the nest. Or they'll sit and yap and chat. And they've discovered that there's no biological reason for this . . . but a crow will sit on an anthill until he's completely engulfed by the ants within and be in an almost hypnotic state during the sitting. They said that the only answer they can come up with is that it's pleasure for them. That it's a form of drug abuse.
TG: I'll bet!
TW: And their eyes roll back in their head and they tip their head up to the sky. They said it's part of a crow's destiny, because they've got the largest brain in proportion to their bodies of any bird and they have a lot of time on their hands. It's inevitable there'd be a descent into drugs. [Both laugh]
TG: That's quite wonderful.
TW: Have you ever eaten crow?
TG: No. Is it good?
TW: I haven't either. Well, I have - symbolically. A pretty steady diet of it for a number of years.
TG: Yeah. It keeps me healthy. [Both laugh]
Tom Waits' Alice and Blood Money (Anti) are out now. We can hardly wait for Terry Gilliam's Tideland,hopefully with music by Tom Waits.
(1) Terry Gilliam: Gilliam, Terry - The movie 'The Fisher King' (1991). With supporting role for Waits as disabled veteran beggar. Director; - The movie '12 Monkeys' (UNI/ MCA Records, 1995). Tom Waits on the soundtrack with: "Earth Died Screaming" & "Fateful Bullet/ A Boot From The Trunk/ Cole's Longing" & "This Is My Dream/ Cole's Call/ Louise & Jose". Director;
(2) Baron Munchausen: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989) directed by Terry Gilliam. "This production proved to be very painful for all concerned, especially Terry Gilliam. Shooting started at Cinecitta in September 1987. From the first moment, there were delays. Filming during the day was intolerable due to the heat and, consequently, shooting was allowed only at night. Progress remained slow over the next few weeks, and as a result Gilliam fell out with Schuhly. Language became a huge problem, increasing lost time. A further problem arose when the Munchausen production received a lawsuit from Allan Buckhantz, who owned the rights to the remake of the 1942 German film The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen." Further reading: Dreams, Terry Gilliam Fanzine, The Terry Gilliam Files.
(3) Fitzcarraldo: Refers to the 1982 Werner Herzog movie "Fitzcarraldo" with Klaus Kinski. In an attempt to harvest rubber from a remote, almost inaccessible piece of land in the Peruvian jungle, Fitzcarraldo manages to pass through hostile Indian territory and sets about to pull his entire ship over a mountain ridge in the jungle to reach his goal.
(4) Someone you can dig to China with: From "Get Behind The Mule". Mule Variations, Anti Inc., 1999: "I'm diggin' all the way to China with a silver spoon..."
(5) "On the porch, geese salute.": From "The Part You Throw Away". Official release: Punishing Kiss - Ute Lemper, 2000 (early version performed by Ute Lemper), Blood Money, Epitaph/ Anti Inc., 2002 (Tom Waits version): "In a Portuguese saloon, A fly is circling around the room..."