Title: Wildman Waits Hits Broadway
Source: New York Post (USA), by Lisa Robinson. Transcription as published on Seth Nielsen's Tom Waits Digest
Date: October 13, 1987
Key words: Franks Wild Years, Studio recording, Kathleen


Wildman Waits Hits Broadway


Tom Waits who opens tonight at the Eugene O'Neill Theater(1) for six consecutive nights, is one of our truly rare talents. The singer/songwriter who's been compared to artists as diverse as Lenny Bruce, John Lee Hooker, and Wallace Beery, has that growly raspy voice, perhaps the most sophisticated (and growing) "cult" audience around, and a repertoire of songs that have been heralded as poems. He's also got a hell of a way with a telephone.

"Uh, could you call back?" he asked politely during the first telephone interview attempt, "my home is on fire." (In fairness, the call was placed during the first, and the biggest of Los Angeles' recent earthquakes. That serves him right for moving back there from a three-year attempt to settle in New York.) The next attempt produced the desired effect, Waits was able to talk, although can you imagine talking to someone on the phone who has a truly sharp sense of humor and not being able to see the glint in his eye or the tongue in his cheek?

"My house wasn't really on fire," Waits explained about the initial introduction to his conversational style. "It does catch on fire in its own way, and things are insane until you put it out, that's all I meant."

Waits, whose newest album is "Frank's Wild Years" ...[excerpt removed]... "Before we did the play of 'Frank's Wild Years,' I wrote the songs," he said, "and they were songs first, they lived outside the story. Then they were changed to accommodate the play; sometimes you have to cut the hand to fit the sleeve."

Waits has said he likes to tamper with the way the songs are perceived, adding, "In the studio I can make them sound as if they're coming over a crystal set. You can shape them like they're made out of wire."

"Onstage is another issue; you're dealing with the hammer and nails of the stage, everything's architecture and design. While in the studio, it's made of smoke, you can just move it around. If you strip the songs down, they're very simple."

From his infinite variety of choices, how does he decide which way to record a song? "I go to a spiritualist," says Waits. "No I'm very neurotic. Somebody says to me, 'enough already. Are you out of your mind?'"

If left to his own devices, he says he would be in the studio "until the cows come home. It's like 'Fantastic Voyage.' You get in there, inside the watch mechanism, and you have to shrink yourself down and march across the machine."

"And then make yourself bigger when you get out. It's taking longer and longer; this last album we did in two cities, Chicago and Los Angeles. But these days you know, you need music doctors, specialists. You can't just go in there yourself; you need a research team."

Waits, whose show has been described as "a garish buffet of waltzes, field hollers, jail poems, and rhumbas," says "When it's going well, it's effortless. When it's not, you're carrying an air conditioner on your back. I used to go out longer, that's when I was playing lunchrooms and army bases."

"And before that I used to break in other people's shoes. They used to pay me money to break in their shoes. Two hundred dollars, I'll wear your shoes for two months. I'll bring them back and you'll love them."

Performing on this tour with Waits are musicians Greg Cohen, Marc Ribot, Michael Blair, Ralph Carney and Willie Schwartz. Also accompanying him is his wife Kathleen, who helped write the album as well as the play.

"We're great together," says Waits of his better half. "It's a real even exchange. She's Irish Catholic, she's out there, a real hothead. I'm not, I'm the stability factor."

And with that, there was the distinct sound of a chuckle.


(1) Tonight at the Eugene O'Neill Theater: October 13-18, 1987: Eugene O'Neill Theatre. New York/ USA (w.: Cohen, Ribot, Blair, Carney and Schwartz). Further reading: Performances