Title: Watch Out For 16 Year Old Girls Wearing Bell Bottoms Who Are Running Away From Home And Have A Lot Of Blue Oyster Cult Records Under Their Arm
Source: ZigZag magazine (UK), by Peter O'Brien. No 62. July, 1976. Photography by Chalkie Davies. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donating scans
Date: London. June 3 (?), 1976. Published July 1976
Key words: Ronnie Scott's, Favourite cities, Cars, Studio recording

Magazine front cover: ZigZag magazine (UK), no 62. July, 1976

Accompanying pictures
Page lay-out (first page of article). Asylum promo picture 1973/ 1974. Photography unknown. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donating this scan
Ronnie Scott's Club London. May 1976 (?). Photography by Chalkie Davies. Thanks to Kevin Molony for donating this scan


Watch Out For 16 Year Old Girls Wearing Bell Bottoms

Who Are Running Away From Home And Have A Lot Of Blue Oyster Cult Records Under Their Arm

I met up with Tom Waits at 9 in the evening outside Ronnie Scott's(1). He looked just as you would imagine from the sleeve of Nighthawks, only tattier. We tried a nearby corner pub. In one door, straight out of the other, into a different street. "Just passin' through", Tom growls as the nonplussed barman. We ended up in the corner of the pub opposite the old Zigzag offices in Old Compton Street. Strangely appropriate! Tom sits hunched over a pint of lager, endlessly rocking back and forth while we talk, restlessly turning a silver dollar over and over in his left hand. Much of what follows seemed, in retrospect, a rehearsal for his show that evening. Plenty more was genuine response, particularly his very real concern about the artist, his songs and music. Oh yes, sometimes things come out better if you can read them aloud rather than silently. Try this in your best American, and make it gutteral. Then you, too, can share the sore throat my Tom Waits' impersonations have left me with.

ZZ: Ok. Now I'll tell you what I was hoping you would do then you can do what you'd like after I've told you"! I've never been to America, so I have this great fantasy picture of the country. Take me on a journey across America. Start where you like, take as many little side turns and blind alleys as you like.

TW: You gonna correct the spelling after I'm through? Shit, that's a real hard thing to do because actually I'm working right now on material for a new album(2) called 'Pasties On A G-String'. I'm writing all the stuff out here on the road. Where do you want to start? You could start in Seattle or Portland or Cleveland or Phoenix or Albuquerque or Miami or St. Petersburgh or Key West or Bangor, Maine or Bloomington, Illinois or Montana or South Dakota. You could start out in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or New Orleans or east St. Louis or Cincinnati or Dayton or Ashland... you could go just about anywhere if you got the bus fare.

ZZ: Where would you go?

TW: If I had a ticket, you mean? I could go anywhere I want. I don't know, I might go to Phoenix. It's close to Los Angeles. I drive with a wild hare up my ass every night, giving the finger to the oncoming traffic and tossing out Miller High Life cans along the way. Drive to Phoenix in a 1954 black Cadillac four door sedan every now and then. One eyed jacks across the railroad track(3). Van Duren road is really the place to be in Phoenix. It's kind of called Hotel Road. There's more hotels than you can shake your dick at. There's a lot of bars. A place called Jenny's Bar. There's the Travel Lodge Motel. A lot of pavement princesses or women of the evening. You can get just about anything you want. You reach over and scratch your ass and six girls will stop and ask you if you want a date. It's cold in the winter, real cold in Phoenix. In fact I walked all the way from Phoenix to Goodyear one night, which is a 15 mile walk. Couldn't get a ride. I don't know what it was. I was well dressed and everything. Laying down in the road pretending I was dead. Nothing happened. I don't know. Depends what you are and what you're looking for. If you're looking for action, or are you looking for girls, do you want to buy a watch, do you want to buy some swamp land in Florida? You got the time and I'll see you at the bottom of a bottle of scotch. I like bars. There's some good bars in Philadelphia, some great bars in New York city. There's a great bar in Denver, Colorado called The Sportsman; it's an after hours joint. It doesn't open until 4 in the morning and it's open till about dawn. That swings. This is very difficult for me to give a complete story about the United States. I can't do that. That's what I'm trying to do in my work right now, and I just can't do it sitting here talking in a microphone, 'cos it's really what I'm concerned about right now, and I just can't do it off the top of my head and make it educational as well as entertaining. It was a good idea, but I can't do it.

ZZ: When did you first start travelling around? You must have travelled a helluva lot...

TW: Yeah, I have. Worked on the road a long time. Not just travelling to play clubs, I drive a lot. I've had a million cars. The first car I had was when I was 14. It's kind of an American tradition. Getting a license is kind of like a Bar-Mitzvah. It's nice to have a car, but in winter you gotta have a heater, especially when it's colder than an American Jewish princess on her honeymoon. I've always had cars. Had a '56 Ford Mercury and a '55 Buick Roadmaster, a '55 Special, a '55 Buick Century, a '58 Buick Super, a '54 Black Cadillac four door sedan, a '65 Thunderbird, '49 Plymouth, let's see, I think I had a '62 Comet. I dunno. Try to stay with Buicks myself.

ZZ: Are these convertibles?

TW: One of them was; it was a pain in the ass. it was busted, and the rain came in all the while, I won't have another convertible.

ZZ: Was it San Diego you came from?

TW: I lived in San Diego, went to high school in San Diego. I was born in LA at a very young age. I was born in the back seat of a yellow cab in Murphy Hospital Parking Lot(4). I had to pay a buck eighty five on the meter to move. I didn't have my trousers on yet and I left my money in my other pants. I lived around LA and moved around LA. My dad's a Spanish teacher, so we lived in Whittier, Pomona, LaVerne, North Hollywood, Silver Lake, metropolitan areas surrounding Los Angeles. I was working a lot of jobs during school. I didn't find much in school. I was just getting in a lot of trouble so I hung it up.

ZZ: America being so vast, I can quite understand you not being able to do what I hoped. How about California, vast through that is itself. If I was there, what should I visit, what should I look for?

TW: Watch out for falling rocks and eighteen wheel vehicles. Watch out for the clap. Watch out for 15 year old girls wearing bell bottoms who are running away from home and have a lot of Blue Oyster Cult albums under their arm. Be careful of that... If you go to the Tropicana Hotel(5), watch out for Chuck E. Weiss, 'cos he'll sell you a rat's asshole for a wedding ring. Watch out for Martin Mull. He'll punch line you to death.

ZZ: Even you?

TW: "Actually I'm only afraid of a few things. I'm afraid I'm gonna be walking along some day in Los Angeles and drop into a manhole, and down there's gonna be, like, 500 unemployed bossa nova musicians and they're gonna 'Girl from Ipanema' me to death. Hasn't happened to me yet. I tried to take out some Ipanema insurance, but they won't cover you. Actually the only thing I'm afraid of over here in London is... I'm afraid when the moon is high and my hotel room is dark, that I'm gonna start sprouting cameras round my neck, and my trench coat is gonna turn into a flowered shirt, my black slacks are gonna turn into Bermuda shorts. I'm gonna grow some white socks and wing tips that look like old Pontiacs. then, right next to me is going to sprout a wife, and she's going to be growing larger and larger till she's overweight and she's got bovine perspiration on her upper lip area(6), (And a glazed eye, eh Tom?), and a see yourself shine on her forehead, and her feet hurt, she's trying to find a travel brochure and a cigarette, and she wants to sit down, and... that hasn't happened yet. Been pretty lucky.

ZZ; And careful.

TW: Yeah, careful. Course, like I told you before, I have been around the block. Slept with tigers and lions and Marilyn Monroe. I got drunk with Louis Armstrong, rolled craps in Las Vegas, been to the Kentucky Derby, seen the Brooklyn Dodgers play at the Ebbets Field, and I taught Mickey Mantle everything he knows(7).

ZZ: So what are the good things about California? You told me all the terrible things.

TW: Oh, those weren't terrible. That was nothing. Rush hour traffic on the Harbour Freeway on about 110 degrees outside, got no air-conditioning in your car. You got a cigarette, but you ain't got a match. You got hemorrhoids, need a shave and... that's fascinating. That can be fascinating.

ZZ: So you don't spend your time at the beach? You're not a surfer, that's for sure.

TW: No, I disavow any knowledge of the world of surfing. I say that without fear of contradiction(7). I don't know the first thing about surfboards. Which way you ride it, or what side is up, and I don't wanna learn.

ZZ: Do you ever go down to the beach.

TW: Yeah, I've been down there a couple of times. I got lost. Sure, I go to the beach. Last time I went, I got a tattoo. They told me it would wash off, though, but I've done been scrubbing on that sunbitch, but I'm not using the right soap. It's on my arm. Give me ten bucks and I'll let you see it.

ZZ: I understand you were a doorman at a nightclub in Philadelphia!

TW: Yeah; I was a bouncer and a doorman, which meant I got bounced nightly. In the summer we'd get about 25 Hell's Angels coming into town, and I was like, holding down the fort. They'd give me the arm of a chair to defend myself. It was like a toothpick to a Hell's Angel, so I had my moments. It was real experiment in terror. Some nightly catastrophes, but I made it through by hook or by crook, come Hell or High Water. Under the circumstances, I managed to get out alive. But really it was a night club kind of fashioned after Gerde's Folk City. They dealt mainly in traditional music. A lot of guitar players - blues and bluegrass mainly... I got bluegrassed to death. I must admit that the only thing I.. I don't mean to sound disdainful, but I guess the only thing I hate is bluegrass played poorly. I guess the only thing I hate more than that is bluegrass played well. That's what really gets me, is when they play it well. I like to see 'em funk it up. I like to see them with the drawers down. It's just got something about it, I don't like it.

ZZ: Is that when you started writing?

TW: "I dunno when I started writing really. I was, like, filling out applications and stuff real early. Last name first, first name last, sex. 'occasionally' , stuff like that. Then I was writing letters, filling out forms, writing on bathroom walls. I saw some great graffiti in a bar in Cincinnati. No, it was east St. Louis at a place called The Dark Side Of The Moon. It's a club, I don't even know if it's there anymore. Anyway, it said: 'Love is blind; God is love; Ray Charles is blind; therefore, Ray Charles must be God'. I knew right away I was in a college town! That the lights were on and somebody was home and.. so.. but... what was I talking about?

ZZ: I don't know. We were just... talking!

TW: (Belches loudly). Oh, excuse me... actually, I usually vomit. I'm sick all the time, I'm just used to it. I feel bad all the time now so it's... bad lungs, bad liver, broken heart(7), after a while you get used to it. I'm thinking about opening up a night club: you can go into the club and, like, the cigarette machine's busted, nobody speaks English(7), and you can't get change for a dollar. While you're in there, somebody's shipping your wife and stealing your car, and a big Sumo wrestler(6) wants to break your neck. All the girls are carrying the disease, and they're really transvestites. The band are six winos that were selected at random and given electronic instruments. It's for people that really don't know how to have a bad time. And there's no cover charge. They don't charge anything to get in, but they charge 100 dollars just to get out.

ZZ: Is recording difficult? Does it come out sounding the way you want?

TW: I'm real awkward in the studio. Don't like it. It's really like pulling teeth. Everything is real fastidious. I dunno, I'm afraid of it. I'm afraid of it, and I'm just a nervous wreck the whole time, because you spend a lot of time working on this material, which is really the crux of it, where the real sweat is. Then you can have major surgery done to something you just busted your chops over. So it's real sensitive, and a lot of heated arguments, a lot of fist fights. I don't look forward to it.

ZZ: I have your three albums here in my bag...

TW: They're harmful to swallow. If rash develops, discontinue use and consult physician immediately.

ZZ: Has your writing changed in the way your albums have changed?

TW: Yeah, I really have changed. I've become a little more ambitious about it. For me it's also a craft. It's not something that drops out of the sky. It's not something where you sit at your picture window, and watch the sun glistening off the trees and a deer walks by and whispers in your ear. It's really a craft, and it's hard work. It's just a lot of discipline, and hopefully, you get better with each project. I've just about worked out the stuff for my next album, so what I'm going to do when I get back to Los Angeles is get drunk as a skunk, and stay that way for about three days. then I'm going right into the studio.

Peter O'Brien

Note: The foregoing was edited from a much longer and uniformly interesting transcript. No doubt the remainder will appear in a forthcoming issue of Peter's excellent magazine 'Omaha Rainbow'.


(1) Ronnie Scott's: Ronnie Scott's Club, Soho/ London. May 31 - Jun. 12, 1976. Further reading: Performances

(2) New album: that would turn out to be "Small Change" released September 1976.

(3) One eyed Jacks: Waits would use this expression a year later in "Burma Shave" from the album "Foreign Affairs", 1977

(4) I was born in LA: Waits was born December 7 at Pomona Park Avenue Hospital. His parents lived in Whittier at that moment

(5) If you go to the Tropicana Hotel: Further reading: Tropicana Motel.

(6) Bovine perspiration:
1) This is quoted from "Dinah-Moe Humm", 1973 by 'Frank Zappa & The Mothers': "She looked over at me with a glazed eye And some bovine perspiration On her upper lip area And she said... Just get me wasted An' you're half-way there 'Cause if my mind's tore up Then my body don't care"
2) Live intro from State Theatre, Sydney, Australia. May 2, 1979: "This is a story that takes place on 23rd street in New York City. On a hot summer night. A place called the Chelsea Hotel. On this particular night, there was an incident that never made the papers. No one squandered over this thing. Kojak wasn't there this night. Some little guy with bovine perspiration on the upper lip area walked over and said 'Bag 'im and tag 'im'. It's about a guy named Small Change. On this particular night he got rained on with his own thirty-eight..."

(7) Without fear of contradiction: Waits (in the middle of writing his next album), is throwing in routines/ expressions that would later be included on "Small Change" (released September, 1976)