Title: Well Worth The Waits
Source: Times online (The best of The Times and the Sunday Times, UK). October 22, 2004. By David Sinclair. Transcription as published on http://www.timesonline.co.uk. Rock and Pop. �2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Date: October 22, 2004
Keywords: Real Gone, the public, touring, politics, acting


Well Worth The Waits


David Sinclair

Tom Waits rations his appearances to keep his public hungry

NEXT month(1) Tom Waits will make his first British concert appearance for 17 years. And if the word filtering back from Vancouver and Seattle, where he played his only North American shows earlier this week, is anything to go by, the 54-year-old troubadour is on cracking form.

"True original remains haunting, hypnotic as ever," trumpeted the Seattle Times on Wednesday, the day after his show at the Paramount Theatre, while the Seattle Post-Intelligencer declared that the songs from the new album, Real Gone, which peppered the set list, showed Waits off "at his growly best". The fans were euphoric. "I've seen them all, The Who, Dylan, the Stones, " wrote Dave on a Waits website. "But this kicked the ass of every gig I've had the fortune of attending. In a word: genius."

While doubtless flattered by all the favourable attention, Waits declares an ambivalent attitude to the public's appreciation of his work.

"You have to look at it in terms of commerce," he told The New York Times . "I get these songs for nothing. They were growing at the side of the road like berries. And I sell them at a premium. I have a love-hatred relationship with it. They (the public) want to celebrate you, and then they want to kill you. They want to cook you and then they want to eat you. And then they want to remember you - even when you're still alive."

For Waits there is a fine balance to be struck when it comes to putting himself and his art on the market, which is why, after all these years away, he will be performing only one show in Britain on his forthcoming European tour.

"You want to make sure that your demand is much higher than your supply," he says. "The public is a wild animal. It's better not to feed them too well. These long tours only make me even more grumpy. I leave home and my family. I'm dealing with tickets and cabs and theatres. And hotels. Four walls, a TV and an ice machine. I used to like it, but now I have really had it after two weeks."

The irony is that after a professional lifetime spent on the margins nurturing his cult - hero status, Waits now finds himself more commercially successful than ever. In America Real Gone entered Billboard's Top 200 at No 28, the highest chart placing of his career, while in Britain its Top 20 status compares favourably with all his previous releases, bar Mule Variations, which reached No 9 in 1999.

One of the new songs which attracted most attention at the Seattle show is Day After Tomorrow(2) , a poignant cry from the heart based on a soldier's letter home from the Iraq battlefield: "I am not fighting for justice/ I am not fighting for freedom/ I am fighting for my life and/ Another day in the world here."

The song plainly has an antiwar sentiment, and Waits has donated it to a fund-raising compilation CD Future Soundtrack for America, featuring numbers by acts including R.E.M., Blink-182 and David Byrne, on behalf of the anti-Bush "advocacy group" MoveOn.org. But Waits insists he is not belatedly turning into a political activist.

"I'm nobody's spokesman," he says. "I don't work for anybody else. I'm not that naive to think that a song can change elections. It's like throwing peanuts at a gorilla."

Waits has rarely bowed to anyone's will but his own. However, he has collaborated with his wife, Kathleen Brennan, for many years, and the influence of his family has become even more pronounced on the new album with the inclusion of his 18-year-old son Casey on drums and turntables.

"When I was a kid, I listened to old men's music," Waits says. "I didn't listen to the stuff my friends were listening to but to their dads' records. But now I have three kids and whether I want it or not, I hear their music all the time. Our house is full of rap and hip hop and that influences my music now. I'm like the old man in the red sports car now."

As a sideline to his music, Waits has also appeared in more than a dozen films over the years, including Jim Jarmusch's Down by Law and Robert Altman's Short Cuts. His latest is a cameo in the new Jarmusch movie, Coffee and Cigarettes, in which Waits plays himself engaging in conversation with Iggy Pop. The movie hinges on the idea of the various participants interacting over coffee and cigarettes. Waits whose gravelly, wheezing voice is partly a result of his heroic consumption of the weed in his youth, had long since kicked the habit (along with the booze), but briefly found himself hooked again, thanks to the film.

He has no regrets about making the movie - "It takes a real man to quit twice," he says - but as with his music, Waits has no intentions of flooding the market with the fruit of his acting endeavours.

"Right now I'm not interested in doing any more of it," he says. "I don't want to be away from home that much."


(1) Next month Tom Waits will make his first British concert appearance: November 23, 2004 at Carling (Hammersmith) Apollo theatre. London/ UK

(2) Day After Tomorrow: read lyrics: Day After Tomorrow