Title: Songs Of Decay From Waits
Source: Toronto Star (Canada). October 5, 2004. By Vit Wagner. Transcript as published on www.thestar.com. �Toronto Star Newspapers Limited
Date: published October 5, 2004. Telephone interview
Key words: Real Gone, Day After Tomorrow, politics, Metropolitan Glide

Accompanying picture

Source: Toronto Star (Canada)/ www.thestar.com. Photography by: unknown


Songs Of Decay From Waits


Brilliant, gloomy music from a pursued psyche.
He's not coming soon to Toronto. Nothing personal.
Vit Wagner Pop Music Critic

Tom Waits pauses briefly to consider whether "Day After Tomorrow," which takes the form of a letter home from a soldier at the front, should be interpreted as anti-war in general, or anti-Bush in particular. In the end, he decides, it all comes to the same thing.

"Bush calls himself a wartime president, so if you're anti-war you're anti-Bush and if you're anti-Bush you're anti-war," reasons Waits, during a recent phone interview.

"I don't know whether he came in knowing he was a wartime president and said, `Well you know what, the only thing missing here is a war.' He's like a doctor who breaks your leg. And then comes in and fixes it for you."

Waits' suspicions do not end there. While the California resident intends to vote in next month's U.S. presidential election, he has serious doubts about whether his ballot will even be counted.

"I certainly don't trust the voting machines, which are all computerized now. I don't know enough about it, except that any computer is corruptible. You've already got a corrupt government, so ..." His voice trails off before widening the argument: "I don't trust anything they tell you. I don't trust the food I buy at the supermarket. You better grow it in your backyard or it's going to kill you."

If that sounds dark, it's perfectly in keeping with the sentimental thrust of the 54-year-old singer/ songwriter's gloomy but nevertheless brilliant new album, Real Gone (Anti/Epitaph). If you haven't guessed from the title, the disc's 15 tracks are steeped in allusions to death, decay and decline - whether individual ("Dead And Lonely") or imperial ("Hoist That Rag").

"I think there's a pretty heavy emphasis on mortality in whatever you do," he says. "How do you avoid it? We're decomposing as we go(1). We're the dead on vacation. It's not a theme I need to pursue. It pursues me."

Real Gone , which arrives in stores today, is Waits' 20th album and first - not counting 2002's Alice and Blood Money(2), both of which were written to accompany works for the stage - since 1999's Mule Variations.

Even by Waits' adventurously experimental standards, the groove-heavy, rhythmic emphasis is a significant musical departure. The songs, written and produced by Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan, sometimes sound as if they were recorded amid the clanging clatter of a forge or foundry. The piano, the singer's constant companion for more than two decades, is entirely absent. Instead, the orchestrations are dominated by the slashing guitar of Marc Ribot and the percussive and turntable effects created by Waits' son, Casey.

"We brought hundreds of instruments in there, including the piano," Waits says. "My theory is that if you don't bring it with you you'll definitely need it, which is not to say that if bring it you'll use it."

Waits is especially pleased with "Metropolitan Glide," inspired by a genre seldom heard since the early days of rock and roll.

"Instructional dance songs are a rarity these days," he says. "When I was a kid, it seemed that every single that came out was an instructional dance song. Like "The Locomotion," "The Jerk," "The Peppermint Twist," "The Grind," "The Mess Around" - there were a million of them."

Mind you, the actual steps are open to interpretation: "Turn off the ringer on your cellular phone/ Whip the air like a rainbow trout/ Drag your tailpipe till you bottom out/ Do the Metropolitan Glide."

Not that Toronto fans should expect to do the "Metropolitan Glide" at a live show anytime soon. Waits, who performed at the Hummingbird Centre in 1999, has no plans to stop here on a tour that so far includes only two Canadian dates, both in Vancouver(3).

We're advised not to take it personally. After all, when Waits plays London, England next month it will be his first show there in 17 years.

"I don't go on the road a lot. It makes me grumpy," he explains. "I go if I have to. It's like anything when you travel. Everything gets banged up, especially the songs. The acoustics are different every night.

"There's a diminishing return. But I still do it. I usually like it when I get out there. It's just the anticipation of airports and all that stuff. I'm an albino catfish(4). I like it in my tank."


(1) We're decomposing as we go: quoting from "Everything You Can Think Of Is True" (Alice, 2002) ..."Everything you can think of is true. The dish ran away with the spoon. Dig deep in your heart for that little red glow. We're decomposing as we go."

(2) Alice and Blood Money: further reading: Alice (play)Woyzeck/ Blood Money (play)

(3) Two Canadian dates, both in Vancouver: October 15, 2004 at the Orpheum Theater & October 16, 2004 at the Commodore Ballroom

(4) I'm an albino catfish: refers to the "Albino Seewolf/ catfish" at Little Amsterdam cafe/ restaurant (as mentioned in earlier interviews, 2004)