Title: Long Gone
Source: Rock's Back Pages. September, 2004. By Barney Hoskyns. Transcription by Larry DaSilveira as sent to RaindogsToo Listserv discussionlist. October 3, 2004
Date: September, 2004
Key words: Real Gone, recording, Marc Ribot, politics, Kathleen


Long Gone

Tom Waits Talks
Barney Hoskyns, Rock's Backpages, September 2004

RBP: Is it true you cut Real Gone in an old schoolhouse in the Mississippi delta?

Well, we just said the delta, and most people just assumed it was the Mississippi delta. But see, there's a Sacramento delta, and that's where we were. It was an old schoolhouse, and that seemed to help the music somehow, I don't know how.

You're presumably aware that Bj�rk has pipped you(2) to the post on the "human beatbox" front. Where did the notion come from?

Uh gee, I dunno. My approach was very crude. There's guys that do this and you just can't believe they're capable of that kind of complexity. I'm more like a rhythm guitar that I play with my throat. It adds texture and corn starch to the existing tracks. They're weren't loops, because loops start feeling like wallpaper after a while - you know it's coming around again and your mind has no need to probe any further. But when you're trying to communicate with a drummer and you don't play the drums, the first thing you do is use your voice to illustrate what you want.

Was it quite liberating to put the piano to one side?

Well, uh, my theory is that if you don't bring it with you, you're definitely gonna need it. I bring hundreds of instruments into the studio, and everybody else who comes in, they bring a coupla hundred too. So you end up with this plethora of instruments that you don't even know where to begin. It's just colours and things to have if you're looking for something. It just increases your vocabulary. I don't know why the piano didn't get used, it just didn't work.

Why has it taken so long to be reunited with the great Marc Ribot?

He's a busy guy, y'know? It just seemed like the right one for Marc to play on, and I was lucky enough that he had the time to devote to it. He's really indispensable if you're looking for diversity and electromagnetism. It's so difficult to be a unique and distinctive guitar player, and he's in a category all his own.

Why has it been 17 years since you last played in the UK?

Well, I got stuff to do, you know. And I get real grumpy, real cranky, on the road. It's a diminishing return, and I have to know when to diminish and when to return.

Am I right in saying you've never written anything as political as some of the songs on Real Gone?

I'm not a politician, and I keep my mouth shut(3) 'cos I don't want to put my foot in it. But I guess at a certain point, saying absolutely nothing is a political statement all of its own. I don't know, I read the paper. It's difficult to frame songs in such a way that they don't sound like you're preaching. I don't know, I wanna get Bush out of there. The thing is, he really just wanted to be baseball commissioner. And I say, let him be baseball commissioner: let him chew tobacco and slap people on the back. I don't know that Kerry is the answer either. I think we really have a one-party system with two heads on it. It's like Bill Hicks said(4) , when a new president is elected they take him into a room and show him a little film of the Kennedy assassination - from an angle that no one has ever seen before. And then they turn to you and say, 'Are there any questions?' This is an enormous global cartel. We're going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street. Bush has probably set us back about 75 years.

Do you ever imagine where you might be now if you hadn't taken the radical fork off the road that was Swordfishtrombones?

I don't know. I told my wife, I said if I hadn't have met her I'd probably be playing in a steakhouse. And then I said, Let me correct that - working in a steakhouse!

You'd credit Kathleen with a lot?

Oh yeah, absolutely. We collaborate. It's not always 50-50. Sometimes it's 70-30. It's like any relationship. She doesn't like the spotlight, I do. She likes it backstage. She's like a heavy-equipment operator.

� Barney Hoskyns, 2004


(1) Long Gone: refers to the documentary film directed by: Jack Cahill/ David Eberhardt. "Intertwining stories of six tramps who hop freight trains to travel across America over a seven year period, the movie forms a portrait of contemporary "hoboes" who struggle to overcome their pasts, haunting war memories, substance abuse, shattered marriages and criminal warrants. Presented in a sympathetic and clear-eyed way, this debut film is humane and unflinching. Original music by Tom Waits. Winner of Best Documentary and the Kodak Vision Award for Best Cinematography at the Slamdance Film Festival (premi�re)." TW: composer. "Besides helping to score funding for the project, Waits would use some of the rail-riding tunes for his comeback album Mule Variations." (City Pages review of "Long Gone" by Jeremy O'Kasick for the Twin Cities City Pages, April 2, 2003). On soundtrack: "Lost at the Bottom of the World" (first release), "Down There by the Train" (first release), "On the Road/ Home I'll Never Be", "Pony".

(2) Bj�rk has pipped you: refers to Bj�rk's seventh album 'Medulla' (released: August 30, 2004 on One Little Indian). Human beatbox extraordinaire Rahzel lends his talents to this largely a-cappella album with only minimal backing music

(3) I'm not a politician, and I keep my mouth shut: It is indeed remarkable that Waits openly discusses politics or gives political meaning to his songs. Waits is known to avoid any political complication what so ever. This is one of the first times he speaks out.

(4) It's like Bill Hicks said: refering to track 31 "The elite" from the album Rant In E-Minor (Rykodisc, posthumously released in 1997)