Title: He's A Coppola Swell
Source: The Guardian (UK), by Mick Brown. Photography by Garry Weaser. Thanks to Kevin Molony and Dorene LaLonde for donating article
Date: London. March, 1981
Key Words: London, One From The Heart, Marriage
Accompanying pictures
Page lay-out (entire article). Photography by Garry Weaser. Thanks to Kevin Molony/ Dorene LaLonde for donating article
Detail: Garry Weaser picture. Thanks to Kevin Molony/ Dorene LaLonde for donating article


He's A Coppola Swell

Mick Brown meets Tom Waits, who starts a British tour this week

The first time Tom Waits visited London(1), in 1976, he earned the dubious distinction of being thrown out of the club were he had been booked to perform. This was probably nothing new to Waits, who at the time gave the impression of having been thrown out of most places, and - to paraphrase Groucho Marx - of not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member anyway.

When Waits returns this week(2) it will be under somewhat different circumstances, to play a series of concerts at major venues throughout Britain, beginning on Friday at the Apollo Victoria in London. Waits's singular style of picaresque and highly literate storytelling, in a voice seemingly marinated in cheap booze and nicotine, has never been likely to reach a mass audience, but it has brought him a substantial cult following both here and in his native America.

It also suggested a potential artistic range far beyond recording and concerts - a fact recognized by the film producer and director, Francis Ford Coppola, with whom Waits has been working for the best part of last year, composing music for Coppola's new film One From The Heart. The subject of the film is most unusual for Coppola - a simple love story set in Las Vegas. "I think," Waits says, "he got tired of doing films about soldiers and hit men." Waits has written eight songs for the film, in a style he describes as "jazz-cabaret." They serve as both a score and an intrinsic part of the narrative "like Zeus and Hera looking down on Vegas, monitoring the romantic progress of the characters." Waits describes the result as "a kind of bastard musical." For Waits the move into film work seems particularly appropriate: his songs are highly visual in themselves; finely-painted cameos of American - and particularly Los Angeles - low-life, which are rich in drama, poignancy and humour. Waits's songs have always searched out and illuminated the humanity of society's losers; made loneliness seem and adventure, being dead-beat a state of grace. For a long time Waits himself lived by the principle that to write about the low-life you have to live it, existing in a state of what he calls "self-imposed poverty," cultivating the appearance, manner and habits of a skid-row derelict.

But now there are signs that Waits has lost his appetite for adventure. For one thing he has married(3); and while he jokes that marriage has not altered a disreputable life-style, "just given me someone to share it with," he has moved out of the low-rent Hollywood motel where he lived for five years, into a quiet residential neighbourhood "with dogs and children and more than one Catholic church." And he now talks of himself more as a creator of songs than someone who has just stepped out of one. "I've grown a little. I think it's important now to be able to separate yourself as a performer and writer from whom you actually are. I started travelling, singing and writing at a time when I was developing as a person, and the two got very confusing. I got swept away with it, then felt I had to live up to something... I was very naive. More than once I was lucky I wasn't shot. But I realised that a guy who writes murder mysteries doesn't have to be a murderer. More than likely it's distance which has given them the vision, not closeness. I don't feel I have to live up to something anymore, which is not to say I have turned into Perry Como - the expression was perfectly deadpan - although I still look up to Perry a lot." Having spent most of the past seven years on the road building a career, albeit "juiced, tired, lonesome and run down." Waits is now in a position to be more selective about his activities, touring less and under more comfortable circumstances.

Working for Coppola on One From The Heart has clearly had a significant effect on waits. "I've been sweating bullets since April," he admits. "I've never worked on anything as challenging as this, having to conceptualize and design the musical fabric of an entire story. But those are the real rewards when it comes down to it - working with someone like Francis who has so much insight and daring. Sitting down with someone like that over a glass of beer, talking about film, exchanging ideas, knowing you're making a contribution - that makes you feel you're really going somewhere."


(1) The first time Tom Waits visited London: Ronnie Scott's Club, Soho/ London. May 31 - Jun. 12, 1976. Further reading: Performances

(2) When Waits returns this week: Second European tour: March, 1981 (Copenhagen/ Denmark, Dublin/ Ireland. Holland. Waits accompanied by Kathleen Waits-Brennan). New Victoria Theatre, London/ UK: March 21, 1981. Apollo Theatre, London/ UK.: March 23, 1981.

(3) For one thing he has married: first mention of the marriage with Kathleen Patricia Brennan. It is said the two honeymooned and married in Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland. August 10, 1980. The two met at the Zoetrope studio's. Kathleen was a script-editor for Coppola. Jay S. Jacobs claims the two "...had been introduced at a party thrown by Art Fein, a fixture in the L.A. music scene and a close friend of Chuck E. Weiss". There has also been a wedding reception probably in an Irish restaurant on Western Blvd. in Los Angeles. Further reading: Quotes On Kathleen