Title: Tom Waits
Source: Downbeat magazine, by Bill Milkowski. Transcription by Larry DaSilveira as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, September 24, 1998
Date: November, 1985
Keywords: Beacon Theatre, Paris


Tom Waits


New York - We were waitin' for Waits (as the Richie Cole/Eddie Jefferson song goes)(1). Nearly two hours (and a half-pint of scotch) after his scheduled time of arrival, the Raspy One hit the stage with a tongue-in-cheek apology to a packed Beacon Theatre(2) crowd: "You probably blame me personally, as you should," he began. "I was shampooing my dog. And he likes to have a moisturizer, too. Once you start with the toiletries, there's no end in sight."

What a sly out. From that point on, the impatient Waits fans were tamed, riveted to their chairs by his growling vocals, his Kerouac charisma, and tales of one-armed dwarves, hookers from Minneapolis, homeless bums in the rain, and tattooed barmaids.

Waits had just returned from Paris(4), where his engagement at the Folles Bergere was hailed as something of an historic event (he was the first American entertainer to perform there).

It's easy to understand why the French love the enigmatic Mr. Waits. Everyone knows the French are suckers for the blues. And with that rip-throated howl of his he must sound to them like the reincarnation of Howlin' Wolf, especially on raunchy workouts like "Big Black Mariah" and "Union Square", two numbers from his recent release, Rain Dogs.

But there are other sides to this guy. Like dig the unmistakable stamp of Kurt Weill on the quirky "Cemetery Polka". Or the Lord Buckley-like poetry rap on the gloomy "9th & Hennepin". And check the country & western twang of "Blind Love", with Keith Richards and Robert Quine trading steel guitar-type lines.

There's also a tender, poignant side to this scruffy character. Tunes like "On the Nickel", "Time", and "Diamonds & Gold" have a schmaltzy quality that recalls the heart-wrenching fare of Edith Piaf or Billie Holiday. The French are particularly fond of this aspect of Waits--the tortured/vulnerable soul in confessional reverie.

Rain Dogs is Waits' most solid work to date. It's a more focused and satisfying affair than his more experimental album of 1983, Swordfishtrombone, a project that owed more to Harry Partch(4) than Howlin' Wolf. And it's a long way away from his 1973 debut for Elektra, Closing Time. Now Waits is less the jivey beat poet, more the bemused tour guide.

What's he got planned for an encore? Plenty. Currently in New Orleans filming "Down by Law" (directed by Jim 'Stranger Than Paradise' Jarmusch), Waits plays a frustrated DJ who is thrown in jail, where he becomes the instant adversary of an inmate played by John 'Lounge Lizards' Lurie. In March he begins filming "There Ain't No Candy Mountain", playing the part of a kid from New York who sets out in search of a reclusive Les Paul-like figure in self-imposed exile in Nova Scotia. Then it's on to Chicago, where he'll star in his own musical drama to be premiered this summer by the Steppenwolf Theater Company. Co-written with his wife Kathleen Brennan, "Frank's Wild Years" is based loosely on a Waits song of the same name.

All this from the man who was "conceived one night in April 1949 at the Crossroads Motel in La Verne, California, amidst the broken bottle of Four Roses, the smouldering Lucky Strike, half a tuna salad sandwich, and the Old Spice across the railroad tracks..."

Bill Milkowski


(1) Richie Cole/ Eddie Jefferson song: "Hollywood Madness". Richie Cole, 1979/ 1980 Label: Muse MCD-5207 (1980)/ ITM 14102 (1979). TW contribution: "Waitin' for Waits" (spoken word only)

(2) Beacon Theatre: November 20 -21, 1985. Beacon Theatre. New York, USA. Further reading: Performances

(3) Just returned from Paris: November 15 - 18, 1985. Folies-Berg�re. Paris, France. Further reading: Performances

(4) Harry Partch: San Diego multi-instrumentalist. Developed and played home made instruments. Released the album" The World Of Harry Partch". Major influence for the album 'Swordfishtrombones'. Partch died in San Diego, 1974. Further reading: Partch, Harry 1Partch, Harry 2Partch, Harry 3;