Title: Poet And Person Merge Into Paradox
Source: The Dallas Morning News (USA). January 21, 1979 by Pete Oppel. Thanks to Ken Langford for donating scans
Date: published January 21, 1979, conducted ca. December 2, 1978
Keywords: Dallas Palladium, touring


Poet And Person Merge Into Paradox


Tom Waits is tired of the life that has made his songs unique

By Pete Oppel

Tom Waits was in a rotten mood. His shows a few moments earlier at The Palladium(1) had not been one of his best and he knew it. Not only was he sick, but some special effects, particularly a gimmick that gave the illusion rain was falling on stage, had not worked properly. He sat in the corner of his dressing room, shivering slightly. Someone had been rushed to a nearby drugstore to get some medicine for the ailing Waits. He blamed his condition on too many nights on the road with too little sleep. "This has been one long experiment in terror these last two weeks." Waits said. "The hardest part is no sleep and a lot of traveling."

It presented a strange paradox. Because too many nights and too little sleep are what earned Waits the limited reputation he has. Waits has been dubbed "The Poet of a Saturday Night." He writes and sings about the underside of life in a gravelly voice that has kept him off most of the nation's major radio stations. The closest he's come to having a hit record is a song of his, Ol' 55, that was recorded by the much smoother sounding group The Eagles.

BUT WAITS DIDN'T sing Ol' 55, a song from his first album, during his Palladium show that night. In fact, he didn't sing anything from the first four albums, concentrating solely on the last two. He bristled when he was asked why. "I decide what I'm gonna play," he said, rocking back and forth in his chair, his arms wrapped around him as if that would protect him from the chills he was feeling. "I don't ask the audience (what I should sing). I don't have any hits. Helen Keller gets more (radio) airplay than I do. I'll do whatever I want on the stage. They don't play me on the radio stations so when I get on stage it's my radio show and I'll do whatever I want."

But it seems illogical Tom Waits will ever have a hit single as long as he pursues his current musical style. He has a wide cult following (both of his shows with Leon Redbone at the 600-seat Palladium sold out) and when he was asked whether he would rather have this following or "The Hit" he answered:

"I'D RATHER HAVE 12 hours of sleep, that's what I'd rather have. I'd rather have 12 hours of sleep, 12-year-old Scotsch and a 12-year-old girl. That's what I'd rather have. Right now!" Waits said it's impossible for him to write on the road, although lonely people in strange towns are the subjects of the overwhelming majority of his songs. So when does he write? "Well, first I inject a lttle marinated herring in my jugular vein, put on some Bermuda shorts, white socks, some wing tips, go out and sit in the yard with an umbrella," he says.

Waits has become associated with the types of songs he's written, he's on the verge of becoming a caricature of himself. Tom Waits the person has created Tom Waits the character and the two are beginning to become indistinguishable. Waits, however, disagrees with this generalization. "It's better than a career in air conditioning." he says. "I can do whatever I want. Nobody's telling me what to do. That's why I got into this. I can play an ax murderer or anything. "Right now I'm doing my thing, writing and trying to develop - theatrically develop. Eventually I would like to go and do what I'm doing now - very disciplined - and do it, like, in New York, in a theater, on Broadway. I'm getting tired of playing beer bars. They all have bad plumbing, termites and junk all over the carpet. I'm sick of 'em. I'd like to stay in one town for a couple of months. Go to work and do what I have to do and just walk across the street."


(1) At The Palladium: December 2, 1978. The Palladium. Dallas/ USA. Early show and late show. Opened by Leon Redbone. Further reading: Performances