Title: Tom Waits
Source: Thrasher Magazine (US skate magazine), by Brian Brannon. Transcription by Cindy Plant, as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, September 12, 1996
Date: February, 1993
Key words: Bone Machine, The Earth Died Screaming, Skating, Mr. Stitcha

Magazine front cover: Thrasher magazine. February, 1993


Tom Waits


No matter what they may claim, few performers let it go all the way Tom Waits does. Screaming, moaning, smashing the ivories and smacking the strings, he speaks in tongues and plays with abandon, painting bizarre patterns and unraveling tangled memories. His latest works include a skull crakin' CD of primitive clarity that rocks dem bones called Bone Machine. Waits also contributed an eerie, earthy soundtrack to Night on Earth, a film by Jim Jarmusch.

What do you like to hit the most when you're mad?
I got a bass drum that's about 59 inches across. It's enormous, it's like hitting a dumpster with a sledge hammer. It'll free ya.

Do you ever notice some things feel like they'd be good to throw?
Yeah, I like to do that with family heirlooms, things that have value to others.

I see you have Les Claypool(1) playing bass on this new album.
He came up and played on "The Earth Died Screaming." He was in between fishing trips at the time. He's great, he's got such an elastic approach to the instrument: a fretless, spastic, elastic, rubberized plasticene approach. He's like a fun house mirror. He can take and elongate his face. He's a real pawnshop weasel, endlessly in pawnshops. I think that's why he tours.

Didn't you do the voice of Tommy the Cat on Primus' "Sailing The Seas of Cheese?"
Yeah, he sent me a tape with him doing it where it sounds like an auctioneer on helium. I said, "Man I can't talk that fast." It was rough.

On that song "The Earth Died Screaming," do you think the Earth is dying and we're just living in our own little dreams and ignoring it?
I guess, but I think the world is going to be here a whole lot longer after we're gone. I'm just waiting for the whole world to open up and swallow us all in, scrape us all off its back. I think the world is a living organism. When you stick a shovel in the ground, have you ever heard the earth go "Uhhgm?" And we're living on the decomposed remains of our ancestors, both animal, mineral and vegetable. So it is a living thing. I don't think it's going to die screaming, I think we're going to die screaming, in the swamp of time.

So I heard that you moved to the country and there's a lot of roadkill out there?
Yeah, roadkill, gun racks, collapsing chicken coops and organized vultures.

And there's always some killing?
There's always some killing you've got to do around the farm. Barns are painted red because that's where all the slaughtering is done. Originally barns were painted with the blood of dead animals. Before they had paint, there was blood.

A lot of your songs have a certain melancholy, what's that from?
Too much wine. Half of me, I feel like a jack hammer, I love to holler and stomp my feet and throw rocks. But there's another side of me that's like an old man in the corner that's had too much wine. I'm probably too sentimental for my own good sometimes.

What would you say to people who don't know where you're coming from?
I try to nail a lot of different things together. I'm more and more getting interested in rhythm. I like to really kick it hard. I like to play the drums until my knuckles bleed, until I pee my pants. Throw myself against the wall. They think I'm a crazy old man probably, "Check this guy out."

Aren't you using less symphony instruments?
Yeah, I'm getting away from that. Trying to do things with just the essential elements of music. It's like making ashtrays: just put three groves in it and call it an ashtray. I found a great room to work in, it's just a cement floor and a hot water heater. "Okay, we'll do it here." It's got some good echo.

So going crazy making music goes back forever, right?
I guess so, yeah. Concerts are very tribal and I guess it's the same as an insect ritual, and mating rituals. We all have a drum in our chest from the moment we're born. I think music where the tempo is faster than the heartbeat excites you and music that is slower than the heartbeat calms you down. We all have a constant rhythmic beat going on, whether or not you hear it, it's continuing. You feel it all the time whether you acknowledge it or not.

Did you ever skate?
I used to make skateboards out of plywood and go down to a roller rink called Skate Ranch and buy just the wheels. We used to skate down this hill called Robert Avenue and it was a great curve and you dug up a lot of speed. It went by our neighbor Mr. Stitcha. He lived in the beauty of the curve, where all the momentum culminated in a beautiful slough of cement. It took you right past his house but as close as you could get to his porch. Mr. Stitcha(2) drank to excess. This was common knowledge in the neighborhood. He had the thick glasses and the red face and the red wine stains down the front of his t-shirt. That's like I look now. Anyway it was the only place to get that kind of speed and thrill, so the front of his house became sort of a festival for all the skateboarders in the whole area. On Halloween he had a heart attack and died on his front porch and we were all told he died because we skated by his house and that each and everyone of us killed him in our own way. And we were all left with the memory that we all had a hand in his murder. It was like a Shakespeare thing, everybody had their hand on the knife. So I carry this with me, but I just want to say here and now, in Thrasher Magazine, that I did not kill Mr. Stitcha. It took a lot of therapy and it took a lot of liquor. Mr. Stitcha rest in peace.


(1) Les Claypool: Waits and Claypool have collaborated several times from 1991 and on: - The Primus album: "Sailing The Seas Of Cheese" (Interscope, 1991). With Waits guesting on: "Tommy The Cat". Singer, bass; - The album 'Bone Machine'. Album released: August, 1992. Electric bass ("Earth Died Screaming"); - The album 'Mule Variations'. Album released: April, 1999. Bass ("Big In Japan"); - The album 'Real Gone". Album released: October 3, 2004. Bass (Hoist That Rag, Shake It, Baby Gonna Leave Me). Further reading: Who's Who?

(2) Mr. Stitcha: also mentioned in "What's He Building?" (Mule Variations, 1999)
- Tom Waits (1999): "Mr. Sticcha was my neighbor when I was a kid. He didn't like kids and he didn't like noise. All the kids would go past his house yellin' and making noise, and you would see his fist out the window and he'd threaten to call the cops. His wife used to say, "You're gonna give him a heart attack if you keep this up." And he finally had a heart attack and he died, and his wife told us that it was our fault, that we had killed him as a group. We all had to distribute that guilt and live with it, and it was upsetting: "Sticcha died and we killed him." We might just as well have plotted his murder." ("The Man Who Howled Wolf ". Magnet: Jonathan Valania. June/July, 1999)