Title: No Tom Like the Present
Source: Entertainment Weekly Magazine Issue 659. June 21, 2002 (USA) by Rob Brunner. Transcription as published on Entertainment Weekly's EW.com
Date: China Light restaurant Santa Rosa. June, 2002
Keywords: Alice/ Blood Money, Kathleen

Magazine front cover: Entertainment Weekly Magazine Issue 659. June 21, 2002

Accompanying picture
Entertainment Weekly Magazine Issue 659. June 21, 2002. Photography by Anton Corbijn (1999?)


No Tom Like The Present


Tom Waits Serves Up a Double Shot of His Strange Brew With a Pair of High-Proof Albums

Three hours late for a scheduled interview, Tom Waits finally rolls up at the wheel of a lime green '52 Chevy pickup, a Chesterfield dangling from his lips and a Mickey's Big Mouth sloshing in his hand, a midget in a sombrero perched atop a truck bed full of tangled antique implements of Indeterminate function. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance," he croaks.

Or that's what you'd expect if you've immersed yourself in the carnivalesque demimonde depicted in most of Waits' 18-plus albums (including the new, simultaneously released 'Alice and Blood Money')(1). In reality, Waits, 52, is perfectly punctual and navigating a cavernous but conventional Suburban. "Come on in," he says, steering toward the China Light restaurant, a favorite haunt in downtown Santa Rosa, Calif., not far from where he lives with his wife and two of his three kids (the third is in college). "Do you like the new Wu-Tang Clan album?"

It's soon clear that Waits is a guy who knows things. He knows how to find lodging in a strange town ("I'd ask a taxi driver if they have any hotels named after presidents. 'We have a Taft...' I'd say, 'Well, that's where I'm going, then. I'm going to the Taft"'). He knows which room in your hotel is haunted and that the night bell-hop, Valentin, is a clairvoyant who used to work for Mario Lanza. He knows that if you turn the volume WAY up at the end of Buddy Holly and the Crickets' "I'm Gonna Love You Too," you'll hear...chirping crickets.

He also knows how to maintain his own mystique. Take Waits' murky description of his key musical collaborator, wife Kathleen Brennan, who, according to Waits, once worked as a Hollywood newscaster, a Cadillac dealership service manager, and a chauffeur; can fix motorcycles and fly airplanes; is "a leading authority on African violets"; and was, he claims, on the verge of becoming a nun when they met in the early '80s. "I don't actually have a family," he jokes (probably) at one point "I'm like the guy in 'A Beautiful Mind'. I talk about them, but they don't exist. I live alone, I eat here [at China Light]. I have a rooming house across the street."

But why get distracted by reality when Waits' albums are, in both senses of the word, so fantastic? 'Alice' and 'Blood Money' - the former a new recording of his music for a 1992 Robert Wilson opera about Lewis Carroll, the latter inspired by Wilson's adaptation of the famously odd play 'Woyzeck' - are classic Waits, full of unfathomable sadness and infused with Weill, Armstrong, and Bukowski. "I like beautiful melodies telling you terrible things," he says, slurping wonton soup. "I don't know why. It's a curse. After a while it becomes a steady companion. It's not something you distinguish. Is it my thorny, dark, oozing side, or is it Just the way I see the world?

"Most people in show business are mining the strangeness that's Inside of them," he says. "I tried for a long time to be like everybody else. You know, there's only seven haircuts available at the barbershop and a certain limited supply of shoes. But at some point, if you do have things about you that are irreconcilable, you say to yourself, 'Maybe I can make some money out of this.' You join the circus. That's what music is. So that's what I did."

After lunch, Waits climbs into the Suburban, cranks up a dementedly lovely recording of William S. Burroughs choking out Marlene Dietrich's "Falling In Love Again," and heads back to his family. Or, perhaps, the rooming house, the Taft Hotel, or whatever unpredictable place the circus happens to have pitched its tent in this week.


(1) Alice and Blood Money: Alice (the play) premiered on December 19, 1992 at the Thalia Theater, Hamburg/ Germany. Further reading: Alice. Woyzeck (the play) premiered November 18, 2000 at the Betty Nansen Theatre in Copenhagen/ Denmark. Further reading: Woyzeck.