Title: Sonicnet Full Chat Transcript
Source: Sonicnet chat, hosted by Michael Goldberg & Gil Kaufman. Internet chat transcription as published on Sonicnet
Date: April, 1999
Key Words: Computers, Birdy Jo Hoakes, Touring, Alice, Blues Musicians, William Burroughs, Favourite covers


Tom Waits: Sonicnet Full Chat Transcript


Tom Waits: Let's droid forth into the cyber-world. Let's go cyberly forth, in a droid fashion!

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: Greetings Tom! Thanks for joining us. It's been quite a while since you last released an album. Why now?

Tom Waits: I'm strapped in here, got my headset on, and my seatbelt is securely fastened around my waist.

I knew you were gonna ask me that! Have I been conspicuous in my absence? There's plenty of old stuff to listen to . . .it's all individually wrapped. Are you saying the older material is starting to go bad? This is a brand-new batch! You get tired of the old ones, so you make some new ones. Where have I been? Working on my ice sculptures, and would you believe, medical school?

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: Are you scared of cyberspace? When we talked to you up in Petaluma, seemed like you weren't too keen on computers.

Tom Waits: I've made a profound transformation. I've fashioned some cyber-underwear. I'm not scared of anything! Actually, I am scared of a few things. Cyber world is a world of adventure, a new galaxy. I'm big on adventure. But I don't assume that just because the word cyber is being used as a prefix, doesn't give it anymore value or credence. Cyber relationships have the illusion of intimacy, sometimes with the absence of intimacy. Is it better to have a conversation in a cafe or on the telephone?

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: You just said you're scared of a few things. What ARE you actually scared of?

Tom Waits: Fishing.

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: Come on!!!

Tom Waits: Driftwood sculptures, they scare the hell outta me. People glue pieces of wood together and try to sell it to you for $30. But, then again, that's probably the equivalent of what I'm doing. Songs don't come out of the ground like potatoes, they are made out of things you find around the house.

SonicHost2: Gil: This album features a lot of the sort of oddball characters that tend to inhabit your songs: the Eyeball Kid, Molly Be Damned. Where do you meet these people? Are they real and why do they seem to be attracted to you?

Tom Waits: The other thing that scares me is when your neighbor asks you to go to the liquor store. You're in a red corvette, going 120 miles per hour. You're going around a corner, and he takes his hands off the wheel and skids! But then I recover! It's just a momentary thing. Once you get used to that sort of driving, it becomes part of your autocon, the automotive version of lexicon.

Why are they saying all those terrible things about me? These are people who inhabit the geography of the imagination and American history and the Salvation Army. And the stalactites of my mind. They inhabit letters and books. Some are actually blood relatives. Some are old neighbors. Some are people whom I've never met. This one gal, her name was Pretty Jo Hoax. Her name was Birdy Jo Hoakes. She pulled this beautiful hoax. She told the ticket vendor at Greyhound that her aunt in California had sent a dispatch to the office in West VA. Some money had exchanged hands, and there was supposed to be some sort of cyber ticket. This was going to make it possible for her to ride the Greyhound continuously. One of those all-day passes. The whole thing was that she created in her mind, she managed to three card molly a ticket! They finally busted her and took away her ticket! But, before they caught her, she crossed the US something like 100 times! But, if you're out there, Birdy, my hat's off to you!

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: We saw you perform in Austin at that old movie theater for the SXSW music conference(1) . We thought it was quite great. How did you think it went, and why?

Tom Waits: I think I shoulda worn a tie. There were some unflattering photographs taken from an oblique angle that I wasn't thrilled about, but other than that I thought the show went good, all things considered. The contrabassoon player was detained at customs, and never made it to the show. It was an exciting evening.

SonicHost2: Gil: You got DJ Mark Reitman credited with "turntable" on your album on a couple of songs. Is this the first time you've used a turntable or scratching on an album and how did that come about? Are you a fan of hip-hop scratching?

Tom Waits: Yeah, I am. I never used it before! And I've managed to get this far without it, but I like it. He is amazing. He can take a Lithuanian language record and make it sound like the Tiko drummers from Japan! Now that's what I call transformation! I'm in favor of anything that moves a culture forward. I recently had sushi in Mexico. The guy asked me if I wanted it with cheese! That's what I call a living culture.

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: When are you gonna tour, and will you bring along the same musicians you used in Austin?

Tom Waits: It's collage work. You still have to be careful as far as dismantling the entire purpose of a piece of music, in such a way as to remove its heart and lungs. It's inevitable that people will continue to use what's out there. And tear off Van Gogh's other ear, and use it for a paper cup.

You got me talking like a cyber nut! I don't know who's going out on tour. Some will, some won't. The list of contestants is yet to be completed.

bonemachine23: What songs are on the Storytellers special?(2)

Tom Waits: They will be chosen for the mission. Based on speed, height and capacity for pain and discomfort. I don't know yet.

bonemachine23: What made you turn the corner from the early piano blues days of "Heart of Saturday Night" and the strangeness of "Bone Machine?"

Tom Waits: "96 Tears," "Walk Don't Run" and "Angel Baby." Those are the 3 so far . . .

I left my head out in the rain. Ha-ha! I don't know. Why did the chicken cross the road?

joeycoconut: tell us about the movie Bearskin!!!

Tom Waits: I don't know what to say about that . . .Eduardo Guddes, the director . . . it was a long time ago, and I feel that my work was sub-standard. I don't know what to make of it. It did not come out of the ground like a potato for me. But they were great people to work with, but I missed the boat.

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: You're both an actor, and a musician. Do you approach acting differently than you approach making music?

Tom Waits: Well, I'm more experienced as a musician. I can go off the high-dive and do a little barrel racing. But, in acting, I do some acting, but I don't know if I would consider myself an actor, by profession. By profession, I would say that, more accurately, that I'm in the salvage business. There are a lot of great actors that I admire. Like Nick Cage, Warren Oates, Sara Bernhart, and I don't know. Robert De Niro, Marlon Brando, Sylvia Miles. Sylvia Miles has said, "Men will come and go, but theatrical memorabilia will never, ever let you down, if you keep it in clear, laminated plastic."

Ohio_Moist: Tom, you've been talking about starting to use technology here at the beginning of the chat, I notice that there seems to be more programming and some turntables on the new album, do you feel at peace with the concept of technology in music?

Tom Waits: I'm ok with it. You still have to determine whether what you're doing has musical qualities in abundance, whether or not they were recorded in the bathroom, the nightclub or the K Mart Disc. Recording is tricky because you are trying to capture something that is living. You have to be careful not to pull its wings off. It's only human, technology is human. It wasn't here before we got here. We're evolving, or devolving, I'm not sure which.

Anklefish: Hi Tom, you kick more ass than most things that kick a whole lotta ass. Is there any truth to the rumor about having a walk-on bit in the new Star Wars flick?

Tom Waits: I got the big money. I did a walk on. I brought down the big-face money on that. I'm a big plastic-head in one movie, so you can't recognize me, unless you're a relative! Ha!

dliebs: I was lucky enough to see "Alice", It was beautiful! Any chance the rest of us will ever get to hear it?

Tom Waits: Maybe, down the road. The show's not running anymore, but the songs are still alive. I also collaborated with my wife, Kathleen Brennan. Maybe we'll make a record someday. But no plans for the immediate future. There was an interesting song in that collection of tunes, called "Poor Edward."(3) It's about this guy who woke up in the morning and found another face developing out of the back of his head. There are a lot of good songs in that show.

SonicHost2: Gil: There's a really heavy blues influence on this album on songs like "Eyeball Kid" and "Filipino Box Spring Hog." Have you been re-discovering the blues lately, if so, who is on the top of your list?

Tom Waits: That was a Robert Wilson production. The songs will stay in cold storage until they're ready.

The blues is like a planet. It's an enormous topic. There are so many people, it's like a phone book. If I tell ya who's at the top, I'll keep thinking of others . . . Son House, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Skip James . . . Jellyroll Morton, Memphis Minny, One-string Sam, I dunno. It's an enormous topic, I don't know where to begin. But you can't ignore the impact that it has had and continues to have on the whole musical culture. It's a tree that everyone is swinging from. Without it, I don't know where I would be. It's indelible and indispensable.

TunnelHead: What was it like working with W.S.Burroughs on "The Black Rider"?

Tom Waits: Charlie Patton, Cryin' Sam Collins, yeah. Anybody who's first name is "Little." Little Jimmy Scott, Little Stevie Wonder . . .

He knows a lot about guns, snakes, insects . . . he knows a lot about circus freaks. He's like Mark Twain standing in a black light. He's like the boogie man. But I think he's probably the psionic nerve of American letters.

W_Ader_99: If Jerry Lewis is revered in France, and David Hasselhoff is a musical mega-star in Germany, isn't being "Big in Japan" a little scary??

Tom Waits: It's a goof, you know. Everybody's big somewhere. Big is something relative to many things. It's not a political statement, it's a goof.

W_Ader_99: Tom, your line "Never trust a man in a blue trench coat," would that be a reference to Leonard Cohen and his "Famous Blue Raincoat?"

Tom Waits: No. It's just words, y'know? No deeper meaning there.

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: What was/is your reaction to the Colorado mass murder?(3) Any thoughts on why those kids would do that?

Tom Waits: I can't even . . . next question.

The_Spim: you've had a ton of people cover your songs. Do you have any favourites, and is there anything you've been tempted to cover yourself?

Tom Waits: The Ramones did "I don't wanna grow up." I liked that. Jeffrey Lee Pearce, from the Gun Club, he died a few years ago. He covered "Pasties and a G-string." Anytime someone covers someone else's song, it's good, it's part of the folk process. Well, I like that Stones song off Exile on Main Street called "I just want to see his face." "El Paso" by Marty Robbins. Ha! What else? "Pushin' Too Hard" by the Seeds. Other than that, that Sinatra tune, "It was a very good year." Gordon Jenkins or Gordon Parks did it originally.

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: There was a great review of your album in the San Francisco Chronicle this past weekend. Do you pay any attention to what the critics say about your work?

Tom Waits: Well, you know, you should probably should ignore the good ones and ignore the bad ones. Ha-ha! They seem half-cocked. Well, somewhat, but as a rule, I don't pay attention. I don't bathe in them. It's like you're throwing rocks, waiting for the sound of it going through the window. But sometimes, they really get it wrong.

Goth_Geek: So Tom, how do you like your first experience with the Internet?

Tom Waits: Tastes just like chicken! Ha-ha!

wrongdimensionboy: How can I join the Lee Marvin Secret Society?(4)

Tom Waits: Oh boy, that's tough. You have to be recommended for valor. You have to get recommended by one of the sons of Lee Marvin. We have annual meetings. You might get in touch with Jim Jarmusch. He'll tell you the same thing. I'll dare you. No, I said, "solidarity!"

SonicNetHost: Goldberg: I agree with you that a bunch of critics just don't seem to get it at all. What's the song that you've written, or entire album, that you're most proud of, and why?

Tom Waits: Hey, I like this one! It's got comfort and rotability, y'know. It's got protection from viscosity and thermal breakdown. That's why when folks come up to you, say it's your latest. I like 'em all for different reasons, but some are made of bone, some are made of scale, some you eat 'em with the heads on! They're just records, y'know. It's not open-heart surgery. Music is the opiate of the people! Keep your powder dry. Stay off the shoulder. Go west, young man.

SonicHost2: Gil: Well, to say that it was an honor breaking Tom into the Internet would be an understatement. We hope no bones were broken or noses scraped. We hope no fingers were sprained in the typing and no eyes gouged in the reading.

Tom Waits: Never give a sucker an even break. We'll see ya on the other side. You now what they say, the way you do anything, is the way you do everything.


(1) SXSW music conference: March 20, 1999: South by Southwest music conference (SXSW '99) "A late Evening With Tom Waits" at the Paramount Theatre. Austin/ USA. Tom Waits: vocals, piano, bullhorn. Smokey Hormel: guitar, banjo. Larry Taylor: bass. Stephen Hodges: drums. Further reading: Performances

(2) Storytellers special: April 01, 1999: VH-1 recordings for the Storytellers' special. Burbank Airport. Los Angeles/ USA. The show aired May 23, 1999. Further reading: Performances

(3) Colorado mass murder: The Columbine High School Massacre occurred on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School in Jefferson County near Littleton, Colorado, United States. Two teenage students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, executed a planned shooting rampage killing 12 other students and a teacher before committing suicide. It is considered to be the worst school shooting in U.S. history.

(4) Lee Marvin Secret Society: Jarmusch/ Waits hoax about a fictional secret society called "Sons Of Lee Marvin". Further reading: Sons of Lee MarvinMarvin, Lee