|Title: KCRW-FM Radio: Morning Becomes Eclectic With Chris Douridas
Source: audio tape. Transcription by "Baltimore Mike" as published on Gary Tausch's Tom Waits Miscellania. Kind permission: Gary Tausch
Date: Santa Monica/ USA. October 12, 1992 (August, 1992 ?)
Key words: Bone Machine, Switching labels, Frank's Wild Years, One From The Heart, Dracula, Acting, Serge Ettienne, Conundrum, Studio recording, Kathleen, Family, Filipino Box Spring Hog, Religion
KCRW-FM Radio: Morning Becomes Eclectic With Chris Douridas
[Song: Shore Leave]
[Chris Douridas:] That's from 1983's Swordfishtrombones. Tom Waits, his first release on Island Records. I'm Chris Douridas, you're listening to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW and joining us is Tom Waits. It's- it's really great to meet you, finally.
[Tom Waits:] Ay, good to meet you, Chris. [clears throat]
[CD] Um, Swordfishtrombones, it marked a new direction in your work, it seemed to, it's almost like you suddenly took the bull by the horns and you began producing projects yourself and seemed as though you kinda began a whole new adventure that we're still hearing chapters from now even with your new work, Bone Machine.
[TW] Oh yeah. Well I like songs with adventure in them. I think that's what everybody's looking for: songs with adventure and, you know, acts of depravity and eroticism, and shipwrecks, murder...
[TW] Uh, I dunno, that was for me, I think up until that point I had been, uhh, I don't think I was done yet, I think at that point I tried to make songs that felt a little more hand-made. Um, experiments and expeditions into a world of sound and stories, so I mean, particularly with percussion, I was more interested in percussion in these Bermuda Triangles of percussion, that you find and sometimes you drop off the edge of the world, and [clears throat].
[CD] Did that new need that you were having, did that warrent the label change?
[TW] Actually, no the album was made for EA [Elektra/Asylum], and Joe Smith heard it; he didn't know what to do with it. He looked at me like I was nuts. At first he said, "Produce your own record, go ahead, make your own record, you should be producing your own record." So I said, "Okay, good." I made about three or four things and brought 'em in and he heard 'em and he said, "Well, I dunno, eh..." Then [I] made a whole record, and played it for him, and he said, "I dunno if we can put this thing out or not." So Chris Blackwell heard it, and I left EA through a loophole in my contract and I snuck out. Chris Blackwell loved the album, said "We'll put it out." [pause] So that's what happened. He was very in tune with it. Blackwell has great ears [CD laughs] you know. Because he liked what I did, so I guess that means he has great ears, you know.
[CD] That also was the beginning of the appearance of Frank, who stuck with your work for a good while. Where did Frank come from? Where's he from?
[TW] Oh gee, I dunno. It's like a ventriloquist act, I dunno Frank's Wild Years, was just a little story about a guy who, well, from a small town who went away to try and make something out of himself, I don't know where it came from, it's just a- Frank's Wild Years, the little story that was on Swordfishtrombones was just a, just a oddball short story.
[CD] Obviously, he kept you a little interested because it kept getting tinkered with and expanded, and turned into a stage [production] you had taken on tour.(1)
[TW] A good butcher uses every part of the cow.
[Song: Frank's Wild Years]
[CD] I dunno if it's just coincidental, but after Frank started lurking around, you began to get involved with film work. The acting side of your life started to grow and expand and I guess that came first through your contacts with Francis Ford Coppola.
[TW begins to talk with a cup in his mouth, clears throat] Well, I dunno, let's see, I done couple films before I worked with Francis. My first project with Francis was One From the Heart(2) . I was living in New York, and he longed to do a lounge operetta, that's what he called it. It was kind of a step backwards for me a little bit cause I had already tried to break out of my mortuary piano and cocktail hairdos in the songs, I was really trying to shut the door on that whole obsession with these- with liquor, and my own perverted enjoyment of all that. And so he wanted cocktail songs and I so I came back to L.A. from New York and started writing in an office. I'd never really written in an office before with wood panelling and all that. It was good, it was very satisfying to work with him, and since we've done other things together. You meet people along the way you have a rapport with, that's really great.
[CD] What of the acting work, so far, what are you most happy with?
[TW takes a drink] I like Ironweed. [clears throat] I had a part also in this Robert Altman film which isn't out yet [Short Cuts]. I played Earl Piggins, a limo driver who drinks, and I was married to Lily Tomlin. [clears throat] And Robert Altman was great to work with. And he's like a good sheriff in a bad town. I was in Dracula;(3) that's coming out pretty soon. That was great; I had a really, really great time doing that.
[CD] Now you're playing Renfield in Dracula which is just an incredible opportunity, I would think to just let it ...
[TW] Just go crazy.
[CD "yeah" while laughing]
[TW] Well, you see a lotta people think that I ate these insects and I wanted to really set the record straight on that cause I didn't actually eat the insects cause, you know, I put 'em in my mouth like I gave 'em a carnival ride like a funhouse. I put 'em in the funhouse and I let them move around in my mouth and then I brought 'em back out again. You know, I didn't actually murder them with my teeth.
[CD] Eating them is too easy.
[TW] [breathless] yeah. But I had a good time, I was, I had some frightening moments, when I was both frightened and exhilarated. Being hosed down in and insane asylum, dressed like a moth. I also had to wear these hand restraints that were really painful. They were designed, uh- they were based on a design they had for piano players actually in Italy, to keep your hands straight. They were metal braces, and they corrected anything that your fingers may want to do that's un-piano-like. They were like, uh, I dunno, it was like having a corset for your fingers. It kept them perfectly, like this [demonstrates?] And it was all metal, and then [it had] these caps that went over your fingers and [it was] really painful to your cuticles and it looked really scary. That was the idea.
[CD] Yeah, I was gonna say, why would they have those on Renfield, I guess it must just look very bizarre to begin with.
[TW] Yeah, it looks funny.
[CD] In the film though, don't we see more of the history of Renfield?
[TW] I don't know, I haven't seen the movie, I don't know how much of Renfield that we get to see.
[CD] So never before do you see, um, Renfield before he got to the... [asylum?]
[TW] Yeah. There's a photograph of him in the hat and suit before he started to lose it.
[CD] I guess he was a businessman.
[TW] Yeah. Solicitor. For a real estate outfit.
[CD] He made house calls. It must be kind of strange for you. When you work on the music side of things, you're completely in control, producing it, every inch of it is you, [Tom: "yeah, yeah"] and when you're working in film, it's almost like you're back to the Asylum years or something.
[TW] Yeah. [clears throat] I dunno. Yeah, film is difficult sometimes, because, well you know, they don't pay you to act, they pay you to wait. And you do a lot of waiting, so I dunno. Somebody told me, well acting makes a woman more of a woman and a man less of a man. I said, "Oh God, so that's what's been bothering me. Thank you." [CD laughs] [TW clears throat] Fussin' around with your hair, you know, gettin' up six in the morning and having to, you know, all these people fussin' all around. [laughs a little]
[CD] That's a good point. That's a good point.
[TW] But ah, I like it when I can actually leave the ground; that's rare in film. It's more common in a play where you can actually experience flight. [CD "yeah"] Film is so broken up, it's a mosaics. But in working with good people it's always enriching and always satisfying. So, but some films are like you boght the last ticket on a death ship. [sinister voice] And you'll never come home.
[CD] Do you think that you ever might take more of an in-control role in film work, maybe do some directing?
[TW] Gee, I don't know. [pauses] You gotta know a lot about a lot of things to do that. I'm not a- I wouldn't want to be a what do you call it. I dunno, it's a lot to do. There's para-ventricular prosthetic titanium adapters and thermal decapitators and bio-flesh regenerators, that type of thing. You have to know a lot, and I'm not really at that point in my career. It's like you gotta be like Tesla.
[Song: Going Out West]
[CD] You're listening to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW, I'm Chris Douridas, and we have with us Tom Waits. That's music from the new release, Bone Machine. Going Out West. It's actually the first single that has an accompanying video(4) , which is a knockout. What first strikes you about this new release, or it struck me, was the heavy percussive feel, and the raw and gritty textures that are so much a part of it. And um. Lot of violence...
[TW] Mm. Uh. Well. Uhhhh. Always good material for songs.
[CD] Really. Seems there's more of a, more of a home-based project for you too. Closer to home.
[TW] Hhhhmm. Well, you know, it was all done in a little room at the studio, it was not a room that was designed to be used as a recording studio, so I think that's what helped us. [It was] just a room that sounded great. Cement floor, wasn't sound-proofed, broken window, you know, s'great. It was just a room, a storage room.
[CD] This is, what, a shed on your property?
[TW] No, it was at the studio(5) . They had other rooms; we worked at it for a couple days in a real studio, and I was really upset, just depressed. This room sounds awful, and I said, "No music will ever grow in this room." I was furious. I was so, I was so... I was down. But, so I went 'round looking around the place, and I said, "What about this room over here, I bet this room sounds good," and everybody laughed. I said, "No, really, what's wrong with this room here? Feels better. Hot water heater, a door, a window, table a chair some maps on the wall. Get all these crates outta here, and let's do it right here, just run the wires down the hill." It was rainy season. Everybody said, "Oh, sure." And they did, and we got in there, and everything started to come together, so it was good, was good the project had a flat tire on the first day, cause outta that we invented a new place for it to happen.
[CD] Well, you had lugged into there a lot of instruments that, have that kind of found quality to them. There's actually a new instrument on the album, that um-
[TW] Oh, a conondrum(6) .
[TW] Yeah, Serge Ettienne built that, a friend of mine. It was, it's really... It's just a metal configuration, like a metal cross. It looks a little bit like a Chinese torture device. It's a simple thing, but it makes... It give you access to these alternative sound sources. Hit 'em with a hammer. Sounds like a jail door. Closing. Behind you. I like it. You end up with bloody knuckles, when you play it. You just, you hit it with a hammer until you just, you can't hit it any more. It's a great feeling to hit something like that. Really just, slam it as hard as you can with a hammer. It's good therapeutic, and all that.
[Song: In the Colosseum]
[CD] You're listening to KCRW. Morning Becomes Eclectic is the show. I'm Chris Douridas and we have with us Tom Waits. Um. Do you try a lot of different things when you're working out a song? The way I understand it is that you, and your wife, Kathleen [Brennan] had come up with about sixty different ideas for this album, and after whittling them down, you came up with what you have left on the album-
[TW] You always throw out a lotta songs. Not throw 'em out, but you cannibalize 'em. That's part of the process. Frankenstein that number over there, take the head offa him and put it, sew it onto this guy, immediately. Keep him alive until the head has been severed. And it's part of song building. Kathleen is great to work with, she's a lapsed Catholic from Illinois. She's loaded with mythology and great sense of melody, and I spin the chamber and she fires it. It's Russian roulette. Sometimes you get great things. [laughs] But eh, the collaboration is great, with her, and we did have a lot of songs that were discarded, but that's part of the process.
[CD] Your kids actually contributed some to the record as well.
[TW] Oh yeah. Well, phuh . . .
[CD] How does this come up, is this like breakfast table conversation?
[TW] Oh, you know how- Everybody gets in [like Jimmy Durante] "Everybody wants a get inta the action." Eh, my little girl said- she has a word called, the word is "strangels(7) ." It's a cross between "strange" and "angels." Strange angels. Strangels. They're called "strangels." Or I said, or you could have "braingels(7) ." Those are the strange angels that live in your head would be "braingels." We just went around and around with it, and it wound up in "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today." [clears throat] That little suicide note on the album. Yeah, kids. Great for the... Hey, kids write thousands of songs before they learn how to talk. They write better songs than anybody. So, you hope you can write something a kid would like.
[CD] Toughest audience.
[TW] Ah, I got a fan letter from somebody in the Midwest. They said, "Well, my little girl is just coming around to your songs now, she-. They scare her a little bit. She thinks you sound like cross between a cherry bomb and a clown." I like that. Yeah, kids. You can't fool kids. They either like ya, or they don't.
[Song: The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today]
[Commercial version: Bone Machine]
[CD] The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today. That's a song from Bone Machine, it's the new release from Tom Waits. It's on Island Records. You're listening to Morning Becomes Eclectic on KCRW and we're happy to have with us, Tom Waits. When you finally get the songs down to where you want them to be, lyrically and musically, and you've got the band there, as you're trying things out do you have the tape rolling or do you wait til you've got it, you rehearse it, and then you get the tape going, or is it-
[TW] Do you stir the milk in before you add the batter, do ya, do ya add the eggs before you put- When do you put the cinnamon in? [CD laughs] Is it after the nutmeg? Or do you first put the scallions in and you dice- What, do you brule� that? Saute� that? I dunno. Sometimes. Do you lift the lid, or do you not lift the lid?
[CD] How do you know when a song is dead? When it's just not gonna come to life?
[TW] Well, some of 'em are, yeah, never come to life, some of 'em- It's like being, sometimes you have to be like aamm, a doctor. You have to look at them medically, "what's wrong with this." You have to diagnose them. Some have maladies that are impossible to deal with. Some of 'em you can't diagnose. Some songs, you work on them for months and they'll never make the journey. They'll be left behind, and someone has to break the news. We had a lot- We had one called Philipino Box Spring Hog(8) , it was a song about this old neighborhood ritual, and the song didn't make it on the record, it broke my heart, but, it just couldn't come. It was good, maybe it'll come out on something else. It was a song about a, kinda like jumbalaya, you know. Jumbalaya. Crawfish pie. Filet Gumbo.
[CD] So it goes back in the scrap heap if you don't use it. [TW "yeah"] Back in the compost?
[CD] Are you a particularly religious person?
[TW] No, I wouldn't say- No, I'm not religious.
[CD] Brought up religious at all?
[TW] Oh, I had church when I was a kid, yeah. My mom heard the title of the album and she didn't like it. Bone Machine. She says, "Why must we always degrade?" [CD laughs] She says, "Remember, the devil hates nothing more than a singing Christian." So.. I went to church when I was a kid, and one Sunday morning, I finally decided I wasn't gonna go any more. So, I stopped. I dunno what's out there or up there, or... Little office, maybe a little office, like when your car gets towed in New York and you have to go down to Pier 74, and it's like four in the morning and there's a Plexiglas shield, it's like three inches thick with bullet holes in it and an old woman with bifocals, sitting there at a typewriter, and you realize that your car... is... You can see it, along, y'know, chain-ganged to hundreds of other cars over there, and your car looks ashamed and embarrassed. And you realize she, she's got the whole... She's got your destiny in her hands. So it's probably something like that. I mean, after you die. People think it's gonna be simple, but, I mean, please. It's gonna be an organizational nightmare after you die. All these spirits, who-where-wha-whe, you know, what did you do? And where's- Do you have your number? It's gonna be hell. So. You're gonna have to be really.. And to be able to find somebody after you've died is really gonna be hard, cause there gonna be people that can't identify their loved ones cause they're just little lights blinking. It's gonna be rough. So... [sighs]
[Song: Jesus Gonna Be Here]
[Commercial version: Bone Machine]
[CD] Tom Waits. That's from Bone Machine. Your'e listening to KCRW, Morning Becomes Eclectic. I'm Chris Douridas and we have Tom Waits with us. What must your upbringing have been like? I mean were your parents musical at all? Were they funny people?
[TW] Funny people? (phuh)
[CD] When you were growing up? (laughs)
[TW] My dad was very musical, my mother also. They both sang. [CD "really?"] We had music in the house. We had Bing Crosby. We had Harry Belafonte. We had Marty Robbins.
[CD] So they sang along with the records, and...
[TW] Uh, A lot of Mariachi music. My dad loved, and still loves. He's a Spanish teacher, so that's what we listened to more than anything else, really. I wasn't allowed to listen to any of that hot rod music. So, I don't know where your musical education usually comes from, a little bit you heard when you were a kid, and then you're off on your own expedition, and what you do with it is up to you, how you integrate it. I have always felt like I'd find things that have fallen off a truck. Like the sound of this, I'll find some way to integrate it. I go at it like the Eyeball Kid(9) . I try to sorta annex this, change this, I don't know how it all comes together, but once you have musical confidence, and that usually comes from being naive enough to explore without feeling self-conscious, cause you really do want songs to like you as much as you want to like them, and there are things about music that... There are places in music that you can only go if you're an idiot. That's the only way you can get in. You know, there's high music, there's low music. We put an orchestra together in Hamburg(10) [Germany] that was half guys in the train station and half were all orchestral guys, and they- Nobody got along. You think, "Oh, great. Every one'll teach everyone how to..." You know, there were some places where it did come together great, but. I don't know, music is a living thing, and so it can be... You can hurt it, you can bruise it, you can bruise the gin if you're not careful. So I dunno, I love to... Songs are strange, they're very simple, they come quickly. If you don't take them, they'll move on. They'll go to somebody else. Someone else will write it down. Don't worry about it.
[Song: Who Are You]
[Commercial version: Bone Machine]
[CD] Tom Waits, from Bone Machine. Tom Waits is with us. I'm Chris Douridas, this is Morning Becomes Eclectic. Tom, have you realized the music the way you've heard it in your head?
[TW] Well, you know, I always make compromises. If I really put it down the way I really want to hear it, nobody else would wanna listen to it but me.
[CD] So you mean the way you-
[TW] I clean everything up. Within reason. Cause I'm getting more and more, like I like to step on it. Step on the negative. Grind it into the gutter and put that through the projector. I always love it, it's what Keith Richards calls the "hair in the gate" at a movie. You know when everybody's watching a movie and all of a sudden a piece of hair catches in the projector and everyone's going, "Wow, look at that hair." And then Whooooh! and it flies out. And that's like, that was the most exciting moment in the film. It's like orchestras tuning up, sometimes, are the most interesting point in the evening's performance. "You know when you guys were tuning up, you really, well you had something there. And when you started to play, the music left."
[Song: That Feel]
[Song: Black Wings]
[CD] Our guest has been Tom Waits on Morning Becomes Eclectic on 89.9 FM KCRW.
[Announcer] You've been listening to music and conversation with Tom Waits.
(1) Turned into a stage [production] you had taken on tour: further reading: Franks Wild Years
(2) One From the Heart: further reading: One From The Heart
(3) I was in Dracula: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) Movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola. TW: actor. Plays R.M. Renfield.
- Rip Rense (1992): "Renfield was a masochist's nirvana. Waits wore a straitjacket for much of it, as well as manacles that imprisoned each finger individually (based on an actual apparatus used in Italy two centuries ago to teach young pianists to keep the proper position at the keyboard), thick glasses and one of those Supercuts-from-Bedlam haircuts. For a good deal of the movie, he was wet. "I was hosed down," he says. "And they seemed to want me that way...I got to have a really meaningful scene with Winona Ryder. Not how I imagined it would be, though. Bug juice dripping from the corners of my mouth. Unshaven. Totally gray. Screaming behind bars. Not how I saw our scene together. But I tried to rise above it." One more "Dracula" item, heretofore unreported, bears mentioning: Waits' voice was employed for the "primitive" vocal utterances of the Count. Gary Oldman was unable to get the desired horrific element into the lusty animalistic grunts and snarls of the character, so Waits was enlisted: "There's the lady in the back of the room with the bifocals on the chain, and the sweater, and the hair up, coffee and a cigarette, looking at the script," says Waits with bemusement, "and they're telling me, 'Tom, it's deep growl - you're killing her, and yet you're drinking of her'. And she looks up from her coffee and says, 'Tom - savor it!' And then looks back at her script. 'Oh, OK, savor it.' It was like porno radio. It was actually demeaning. But I think it will be good." (Source: "Waits In Wonderland" Image magazine (USA), by Rip Rense. Date: December 13, 1992)
(4) The first single that has an accompanying video: Goin' Out West (1992) TW: musical performer/ actor. Music video promoting: "Goin' Out West" (Island Records/ Boss Films 7/7/92). Directed by Jesse Dylan. Crew: Angus Wall, Harris Savides, Eli Miller, Brent Boates, Ellen Somers. Waits had made videos for singles before: In The Neighborhood (1983, Downtown Train (1985/ 1986), Blow Wind Blow (1987), Temptation (1987), Cold Cold Ground (1988). Further reading: Filmography
(5) No, it was at the 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
(6) Conondrum: Percussion rack with metal objects. Made for Waits by Serge Etienne. Further reading: Instruments
(7) Strangels/ braingels:Tom Waits: "There's a song on here - The Ocean Doesn't Want Me Today - my little girl came up with a word called Strangels, Strangels are strange angels. Then I said, well, yeah, then we can have Braingels too- those are the strange angels living in your head would be called Braingels. So we put it in there." (Source: "KCRW-FM Radio: Evening Becomes Eclectic" Date: Santa Monica/ USA. October 9, 1992 (?))
(8) Philipino Box Spring Hog: later released on Mule Variations (1999). Read lyrics: Filipino Box Spring Hog
(9) I go at it like the Eyeball Kid: further reading: Eyeball Kid
(10) We put an orchestra together in Hamburg: The Magic Bullets/ Thalia Theatre. Further reading: The Black Rider