Title: Tom Waits - Guns 'n Violets 
Source: Graffiti Magazine (Canada), by Tim Powis. Transcription (excerpts) by Michael Forbes as published on Seth Nielsen's Tom Waits Digest
Date: December 1, 1988 (Volume 4, number 12)
Key words: The Black Rider, Harry Partch, American music, Disneyland, Kathleen, Michael Jackson, Voice

Magazine front cover: Photography by Jeffery Newbury


Tom Waits - Guns 'N Violets


"I got this Robert Wilson thing I'm starting on. I'm writing music for a cowboy opera. It's called the Black Rider. Four principle characters, all the rest will be carrying spears. One of these oblique pieces, based on a German folk legend." I'm not even sure how it's all gonna hang together yet. All these ideas are very easy to come up with, then the work begins. It's like the guy who sits down and writes at the top of the page: Rangoon 1890, and then tries to get a budget for it, y'know. I don't know what we're up against, but I'm very excited about it."

"He (Harry Patch) was like a real American hobo. Most of his instruments were built out of things he saw along the road. He was against the traditional musical forms as we know them in Western Culture. He said he went outside with his music, outside of music. That's where he played. I like Jessey Norman and the Replacements, there's a group called Seven Inches of Throbbing Pink Jesus. I'm not sure where they're from.

I guess if you're sensitive and open, you try to incorporate everything you hear. The form itself is rather limiting. I work in four-by-five. You slam it together, there's just so much you can do with it. You try to push out the envelope, but you can't always. Sometimes you realize there's a certain amount of resignation in song composing, but then you hear different people do different things with it. And then you deal with the ballistics of radio, where you're constantly reminded that the bullet must fit the chamber. They're striving for an American Rifle Association that creates this whole blue-metal network of sameness. Like a parts store. I don't strive to fit into that, but it's always there. In order to continue to develop and grow and change and even to have an effect on someone else, people have to be aware of you. I mean the stones had a great influence on popular music. They always stayed in the garage, but they still came out of the radio. It was amazing cause their albums are very primitive. Keith Richards says what he was trying to do was be the hair in the gate."

"I have very strong rhythmic instincts; I'm no longer terrified of percussion. I think I may wanna try something very loud and simple and rhythmic, almost like a rap-type simplicity: Pablo Neruda and Ice-T. I like all that stuff - they're like jail poems or jump-rope songs. They're very immediate. It's like the underground railroad. I don't like all the posing, building an entire career out of talking about what studs they are. But I like the ones that talk about community. I like the form. It was a necessary thing, it had to be born. Most of what I like in American music is black music, because black music is really the *only* American music. It really was cut and bled here..."

"It's interesting when you take certain rhythms: a mule skinner or a field holler. You lean just a little to the right and you're in Ethiopia, you push it back to the left and you're in Shanghai. If you voice a banjo just correctly, you can be in Paul Whiteman's orchestra or Mississippi or Hong Kong. I like all those places in music where things lose their identity and gain a new one. There are riddles and secrets inside rhythms."

"I love Yma Sumac on that, and the Replacements. Those were the two cuts they were trying to get rid of. Disney thought they were changing the lyrics and turning "Cruella" into a striptease number. And they thought I bastardized "Heigh Ho". I think there should be a "Heigh Ho" ride in Disneyland where they just pick these people up in their shorts and put 'em to work for eight hours."

"Elvis Costello asked me to do it, and T-Bone Burnett. I didn't know any of the songs, but I used to babysit for Roy so I'm kinda sentimental about it. I learned 'em all real fast."

"She's an avid reader and she tells me about the things she's read and I feel like I've read them. She's extraordinary. She's the brains behind the pa, as they say. She can catch a bullet in her teeth. And she's also a great writer: short stories. Paints, too.

"You're Fagen(1) and your songs are the little children who go out and steal for you every night. I had the necessary nightmare of business interruption through difficult deceptive alliances with characters I no longer associate with."

"He is a softdrink company. He's like a cartel. It goes beyond music. He's like a country. They make decisions like countries, based on economics."

"The damage has already been done. Y'know, I could sing like Caruso if I wanted to... but he's already done it."

"You know, cloning is very common in the vegetable kingdom. Did you realize that when a leaf drops off the African violet it puts down roots and grows a new plant? But it's the female plant that does that. So if a woman leaves a sweater behind at your house, you should be very careful..."

"I don't know what the big time is. It's relative to who you are and how far you've come...the big time is whatever you think it is: everything from 40 acres and a mule to owning Belgium, or having a pack of cigarettes and place to get out of the rain."


(1) Fagen: should be spelled as "Fagin". Referring to Charles Dickens's character Fagin from "Oliver Twist" (published in monthly parts Feb. 1837 - Apr. 1839). Fagin (Oliver Twist ) A crafty old Jew who runs a thieve's school near Field Lane in Saffron Hill. Oliver falls in with Fagin's band when he runs away from the workhouse. When Fagin attempts to help Monks destroy Oliver's reputation he is arrested and executed at Newgate. Fagin was based on real-life Jewish fence (receiver of stolen property), Ikey Soloman (1758-1850).