Title: Waits: 'A Rumor In My Spare Time'
Source: The Dallas Morning News (USA). November 13, 1977 by Pete Oppel. Thanks to Ken Langford for donating scans
Date: November 13, 1977
Keywords: San Diego Serenade, stage personality, Tropicana, Foreign Affairs, Small Change
Accompanying picture
Source: The Dallas Morning News (USA). November 13, 1977. Date: November 1977 or earlier. Credits: photograpy unknown. Thanks to Ken Langford for donating scan


Waits: 'A Rumor In My Spare Time'


Never saw the white line 'til I was leavin' you behind
Never knew I needed you until I was caught up in a bind
Never spoke "I love you" 'til I cursed you vain
Never felt my heart strings until I nearly went insane

- "San Diego Serenade" by Tom Waits

By Pete Oppel

Tom Waits, his shoulders hunched forward and swaying, his left foot tapping the floor, sat in an easy chair just in front of the only window in the room. The curtain was drawn across the window pane. It was as if Waits was seeking the light, but afraid of it at the same time.

"That song was about a girl I knew once," Waits said about "San Diego Serenade," one of his few compositions that displays any sort of personal reflection. "I was crazy about her," he said. "So was her husband. But that went the way of all flesh."

The moment was one of the few sentimental ones Waits shared. And it didn't last long.

"WE'RE ALL GOING to check out of this hotel sooner or later," he said, casting his eyes away from the floor and peeking up out of the corner of his left eye. "I wrote that song because I wanted to show the guys down at the service station that I was good for more than just a ring and valve job."

Tom Waits is a full-blown product of the '70s. He has no known musical background in the '60s like some of his Southern Californian counterparts - Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther, Linda Ronstadt.

"I had lots of jobs in those days," Waits said. "I was a labor organizer in a maternity ward. I rotated tires on a miscarriage. Then I saw this matchbox. 'Success without college. You, too, can attain the unattainable ICS high school diploma.' I also worked in a commissary on a Navy base and as a doorman. Had a job as a street sweeper. Best job I ever had. Chances for pay raises. Self employed. I've worked a lot of different jobs.

"I was born at a very young age - I'll be frank with you. I was born in the back seat of a Yellow Cab in Murphy Hospital parking lot. I grew up in Los Angeles. My dad's a Spanish teacher and my sister's a communist. And I'm an unemployed service station attendant. My father got the chance to open a translating business so we moved to San Diego. Went to high school there, but got in trouble and dropped out."

Waits didn't seem to want to talk about the "trouble" except to say "I'm a closet kleptomanic."

Waits is the songwriter's answer to the newspaper reporter and his beat is the all-night cafes and bowling alleys, the strip joints, the tattoo parlors. Both offstage and on he dresses like the people who inhabit this world - a shirt that hasn't been ironed in months (if ever), a string tie with a knot that settles against his chest, a tattered sports coat and a broken-billed cap. Waits said the man on stage is not a character he invented and developed.

"Sometimes it's hard to seperate the two identities," he said. "I may exaggerate a little on stage, but I'm not trying to be anyone else but me. I try not to be compromising and condescending. I talk about things I know about. deep down inside there isn't a man wearing a leisure suit.

:I live in a run down hotel - the Tropicana(1). All room rents paid in advance. The other people who live there are 4-speed automatic tranvestites, unemployed firemen, dikes, hoods, hookers, sadists, masochists, Avon ladies on the skids, reprieved murderers, ex bebop singers and one-armed piano players. The whole gambit - lock, stock and bagels.

"But I'm big in Philadelphia. They keep putting me in Philadelphia. And Missoula, Mont., and Japan. I kill 'em in Japan. Little Japs with cameras go crazy over me. I'm also big in Brussels."

Although Waits has recorded five albums, he remains pretty much of a cult figure. His fifth album "Foreign Affairs," is only No. 120 after four weeks on the national charts. Really not that big of a deal and not as good an appearance as his last record, "Small Change," which was No. 105 its first week.

"I'M PROUD of that record ("Small Change")," he said. "As a merchandisable property with a residual future, it didn't have a Chinaman's chance. It reflects my passive-aggresive personality."

Waits, 26, sang more on his first two albums than the last three, which contain more of a recitation style.

"My voice is changing, that's why," he said. "I'm just going through puberty. I'm a late bloomer, I'm developing a bit of a conversational style, but then I never was a Maria Alberghetti. Those efforts were thwarted by continuous self abuse.

"But as far as my being the poet of the night - if you want to know about the night ask a cop, or a paramedic, a fireman, a night clerk, a newsboy, a bartender, a waitress, a club owner. They'll tell you about the night. Ask the people who sweep up after you. Or ask the people who sweep you up."

Tom Waits will be in Dallas Sunday night(2), playing shows at 9 and 11 p.m. at Faces. He has the perfect opening act - a stripper. But after this, and all the other clubs and all the other Saturday and Sunday nights?

"In January, I'm either going to Japan or star in a major motion picture(3)," he said. "I haven't decided which yet."


(1) Tropicana: Further reading: The Tropicana

(2) Dallas Sunday night: November 13, 1977. Faces Club. Dallas/ USA. Further reading: Performances

(3) A major motion picture: might be refering to Waits's movie debut in Sylvester Stallone's "Paradise Alley" (released September, 1978)