Title: Late Show With David Letterman
Source: CBS TV show (USA) with David Letterman. November 27, 2006. Ed Sullivan Theater. New York/ USA. Transcription from tape by "Pieter from Holland" as published on the Tom Waits Library.
Date: aired November 27, 2006
Key words: Orphans, turkey vultures, deadringer
Accompanying pictures (screenshots)
Source: Late Show With David Letterman. CBS TV show (USA) with David Letterman. Date: November 28, 2006. Ed Sullivan Theater. New York/ USA. Credits: CBS, screenshots
Source: Late Show With David Letterman. CBS TV show (USA) with David Letterman. Date: November 28, 2006. Ed Sullivan Theater. New York/ USA. Credits: CBS, screenshots
Source: Late Show With David Letterman. CBS TV show (USA) with David Letterman. Date: November 28, 2006. Ed Sullivan Theater. New York/ USA. Credits: CBS, screenshots


Late Show With David Letterman


DL: Our next guest is considered one of the great American songwriters. He has a new 3-CD collection of songs called: "Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards." Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Waits! Tooom!

(Waits enters)

DL: Welcome back to the show Tom!
TW: Thanks a lot Dave.
DL: Uh, where do you live now?
TW: Uh, I live in a place called Spittleville...
DL: Spittleville...
TW: Spittleville, it's uh.. there's a lot of towns around the same area that have uh... names of secretions.
DL: Really! (laughs).
TW: I don't know how that happened.
DL: I don't know how that would happen either. Uh, but is this on the west coast? Is it in California?
TW: It's in California.

DL: Yeah... Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? A big family gathering and stuff there?
TW: I raked a lot of leaves.
DL: Uhu, that's good.
TW: I... uh it's the only way I can be alone during the holidays, cause no one wants to help you in. And it's...
DL: Yeah, I understand that..
TW: ... just you and the...
DL: Uh, and what do the kids do for Thanksgiving?
TW: Well, you know uh, it's "normal" to a certain point. And then, I overheard my son saying to a friend of his, who said: "Well, what have you been doing?". He says: "Well you know, we watched a lot of TV..." And uh, and I said, later to him, I said: "You don't watch a lot of TV! We don't HAVE a TV! I SHOT the TV!"
DL: (laughs) Is that right? You actually shot the TV!?
TW: He says: "I'm not talking about television dad, I'm talking about turkey vultures.."
DL: Turkey vultures!
TW: You know. And that's what we watch a lot of in town (points upwards). Turkey vultures.

DL: (laughs) Well, what can one learn from observing the turkey vultures?
TW: Well you know, they have a humiliating uh... experience. And uh, you know, they... Most of them are hit by cars whilst dining (laughter). And uh, so it's not easy. And the problem is, they're so light that they uh, they eat and they eat and they eat, and then they can't take off.
DL: Really? They consume so much food that they can't take flight?
TW: So you gotta choose between: getting hit by a car, or throwing up.
DL: Uhu... Wow!
TW: It's a tough choice...
DL: It is humiliating! So at the very end, if they wanna save their lives they have to eh...
TW: They have to throw up and then they can fly again.
DL: Oh my...
TW: So you know, I mean there are a lot of things that WE all go through, that are just as humiliating.
DL: I suppose that's true.
TW: Trying on clothes, or... you know?
DL: (laughs) Yeah.
TW: So, but I feel for 'em.

DL: Yeah. Now uh, do you enjoy it living in a small town, Tom?
TW: Well I do and I don't. I uhm... You know, when I first moved up I felt like an unplugged appliance. And it took some time to get used to where I was and uhm... The problem is, at the supermarket people get very friendly and they wanna look at all the things that you purchased and then they wanna build a story about 'em. If you're compelled, I hate it! You know? So I, now the things that I choose to purchase aren't really things I want (laughter). They're only things I think will make a good story, or a less embarrassing story. You know, it's...
DL (laughs). The uh cashier kind of puts together a narrative of your life, based on the items?
TW: A quick one, a quick sketch.
DL: (laughs) Yeah.
TW: You know like, if it's piza's: "Oh, pizza party!" But then, if it's razorblades and toiletpaper, you know, it's just uh... You don't wanna go there!

DL: (laughs) Right! I guess not! Oh boy, I hadn't thought of that! Uh, now you're uh... I consider you a well-read man, perhaps scholarly. But what kind of things, what's the most important lesson you learned from reading? Is it some great general notion about life, or is it more specific sort of silly little everyday kind of things?
TW: Well, I wouldn't say "silly", but I wouldn't say "everyday". Uh, you know, the most interesting thing I've heard lately was, my father in law sent me a lot of strange and unusual facts. And one of them was: the origin of "deadringer".(1)
DL: Yeah, it's a phrase you hear all the time.
TW: You hear it all the time, but most of us have no idea...
TW: I have no idea what it means. A deadringer is like: "You're a deadringer for Tom Waits"?
TW: Exactly!
DL: That's how I would use it.
TW: "You're a deadringer for Dave!" You know?
DL: Yeah, that's right.
TW: So, but what happened was.. This is... I have to go waaay back in time, back to maybe the 16th century. The tomato was considered a poisonous fruit. No one would eat tomatoes. But the problem was, they'd been served on lead plates. And the lead was leaching into the tomato, but it was giving the appearance of death. And a doctor in the community realized that most of the people that had been buried recently hadn't actually expired. And it was an alarming...
DL: Yeah, you would wanna get to the bottom of that and straighten it up.
TW: They opened the lid of several coffins and they found scratchmarks.
DL: Oh, yeah...
TW: So, the new law was that they had to tie a string around everyone who died, they had to have a string around their wrist and you run it up to the roof of the coffin and you put it over the limb of a tree and you put a bell on the end of the string (laughter). And that would connote a "dead ringer"
DL: As a dead ringer! Yeah, right (laughter). Well, I'm glad we got to the bottom of that!
TW: And there's one other thing. There's one other job involved, and that would be the guy who has to sit in a chair in the graveyard, and listen for the "dead ringers".
DL: For the bells, yeah.
TW: And that's called "the graveyard shift".(2)
DL: Oh, there you go. How about that?
TW: It's interesting...
DL: Costs you a little more, but well worth it I would think!
TW: Yeah.

DL: Uh now, when we come back you're gonna sing something from the new collection?
TW: Oh, yeah absolutely.
DL: We'll be right back with Tom Waits everybody! Always a pleasure Tom!

(Performs: "Lie To Me")


(1) And one of them was: the origin of "deadringer": Dead ringer: A duplicate; a person, animal, or thing that very closely resembles another person, animal, or thing; a double; a ringer. 1891: "Homan is a 'dead ringer' for Anson." N.Y. Sporting Times, July 4, 10/4. 1937: "He was such a dead ringer for my ex-boss..." Weidman, Wholesale, 38. (Source: "Dictionary of American Slang". Wentworth and Flexner, 1975.Thomas Y. Crowell Company. ISBN 0-690-00670-5)

(2) And that's called "the graveyard shift": n.: A working shift that begins at midnight or 2:00 A.M. to 8:00 A.M. It refers, of course, to the ghostlike hour of employment (Source: "Dictionary of American Slang". Wentworth and Flexner, 1975.Thomas Y. Crowell Company. ISBN 0-690-00670-5)