Title: The Next Stage For Tom Waits
Source: Daily News - Los Angeles area (USA). By Evan Henerson. LA Daily News official site, April 23, 2006. �2006 Los Angeles Newspaper Group.
Date: published April 23, 2006
Key words: The Black Rider, Robert Wilson, Orphans

Magazine article: The Daily News. April 23, 2006. Copyright � 2006 Los Angeles Newspaper Group


The Next Stage For Tom Waits


The whiskey-over-nails rasp is near unmistakable. It's Tom Waits, California's back-roads troubadour, on the other end of the phone, and he's singing an occasional verse and tossing off references to obscure musical instruments, da Vinci (the man, not the code) and three-legged dogs.

More than 15 years after Waits first teamed up with director Robert Wilson and Beat novelist William S. Burroughs (who died in 1997), the trio's folk opus, "The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets," arrives at the Ahmanson Theatre for its L.A. premiere(1).

Waits, "Black Rider's" composer/lyricist, is arriving as well, from his home in Petaluma, to work with the Magic Bullet band. Before his arrival, he called us from up north. Call it "Tom Waits, Reloaded."

Q: So while you're in town, will you sit in with the Magic Bullet band during one of the performances?

A: I've done that, but mostly I'm just going down and checking tempos. I get to bring a lot of instruments from my own collection of stuff, like these Balinese instruments that are like three shakers united on a frame(2), and they're both metal and bamboo. We have a saw player; that was exciting, and a pump organ. I think a pump organ is appropriate on just about anything.

Q: On one of these instrument lists, I read something about a "drunken piano." What in the heck is that?

A: I would say probably a piano that's severely out of tune. Yeah.

Q: This version of "The Black Rider" is essentially identical to the one that played London, San Francisco and Australia last year. Yet you're coming back to put in more work. Is your work on this one never done?

A: The thing about theater is it's like putting a child in the living room and coming back five minutes later expecting to find it in the same spot. It doesn't happen. It always gets into something. That's the hell of that and the great part of that. It's always evolving and it's always kind of a three-legged dog. I don't mean that in a negative way. I own a three-legged dog and I love my three-legged dog.

Q: Wilson is quoted as saying that theater is "in your blood." Meaning in your, Tom Waits', red and white cells. Is he right?

A: Gee, I don't know. Hey, if Wilson said it, I'll take it. Because I love Bob. We're very different people, which is probably why we appreciate each other. There's a part of Bob that's a scientist, like he's working in a lab, mixing things. I'm much more like I kick around the yard,and see what I can dig up and find. Wilson's the best. You can't work with Wilson and come away from it without being changed in some real significant way as an artist.

Q: You've now done three projects with him(3). How have those experiences changed you?

A: Well, I think I'm probably a little less uptight with things. I've learned to be a little more playful and not get so hung up on the permanence of it all. We're making a record, and ultimately you want to make this thing be the same way you left it 20 years later.

Q: Take us back to the 1980s. What was going on in your life when "Black Rider" came together?

A: My life was in constant turmoil, I lived in about 12 different places over a two-year period, and I had two kids. My wife and I were bouncing around New York, and she thought I should meet Wilson. She'd seen "Einstein on the Beach" and was really moved by it. We met him, and he said something like, "I've got some time in, like, 2009," and he wasn't being facetious. He's really booked up into the future. But we wound up going to Lawrence, Kan., and met with Burroughs. There was a little summit meeting out there, and it was really exciting getting this whole thing off the ground. Nobody knew what it would be or the form it would take.

I remember Burroughs started singing, "Ain't no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones."(4) For some reason, with him looking all skeletal himself, holding a drink in his hand and kind of doing a little jig in the middle of the floor, it was inspiring."

Q: How goes the new album?

A: We're doing a thing called "Orphans,"(5) a lot of songs that fell behind the stove while making dinner, about 60 tunes that we collected. Some are from films, some from compilations. Some is stuff that didn't fit on a record, things I recorded in the garage with kids. Oddball things, orphaned tunes. I think that's going to come out in the fall sometime.


(1) The Black Rider: Premiere April 22, 2006. Further reading: The Black Rider.

(2) Three shakers united on a frame: Angklungs: Angklung is a style of gamelan found primarily in Bali, Indonesia. It is also the name of a bamboo musical instrument from which the ensemble gets its name. The musical instrument called angklung is made out of two (or three) bamboo (or metal) tubes attached to a bamboo frame. The tubes are carved so that they have a resonant pitch when struck. Further reading: Instruments.

(3) You've now done three projects with him: Further reading: The Black Rider, 1990Alice, 1992Woyzeck, 2000.

(4) Ain't no sin to take of your skin and dance around in your bones: quoting from "'T Ain't No Sin" (Edgar Leslie/ Walter Donaldson)

(5) Orphans: As rumoured since February 2003. First confirmed by Waits in Time Out London magazine (UK). November 17-24, 2004.