|Title: Mixed Bag, WNEW New York
Source: audio tape. Transcription by "Baltimore Mike" as published on Gary Tausch's Tom Waits Miscellania. Kind permission: Gary Tausch
Date: October, 1988
Key words: Big Time, Bruce Springsteen, Louis Armstrong, Kathleen, Family life
Mixed Bag, WNEW New York
[Disk Jockey] ...Back at WNEW FM with my very special guest, this morning, Tom Waits.
[Song: Yesterday is Here (Live), Tom Waits accompanying himself on guitar]
[DJ] All right. And today is here, a day that we have been waiting for, literally, for years, Tom Waits. [TW groans, strums] to have you as a guest with us on Mixed Bag. Thank you for coming.
[TW] uuuhhh. Okay great, thanks for having me.
[DJ] The voice is cooperating. I appreciate that. You are here, largely I guess, because you have not only a new record but a movie that you're involved in-
[TW] Oh, yeah, Christ...
[DJ] both of which have the title, Big Time
[TW] Yeah, Big Time, yeah (mumbles)
[DJ] So uh, welcome to the big time, WNEW FM
[TW] Yeah, right. Yeah, we're uh... Prizes, prizes, prizes, you know...
[DJ] Step right up?
[TW] Yeah, we're leafletting and we got the blimp going, and everything, you know.
[DJ] Do you have forked out the spectra-color thing in Times Square? That seems appropriate.
[TW] Yeah (laughs)
[DJ] Both the, um, the movie [TW off-mike "Mmm-hmmm"] and the previous album, "Frank's Wild Years" [TW on-mike "Mmm-hmm"] have the subtitle, "Un Operachi Romantico." [TW grunts] Was that a good, decent pronunciation? [TW grunts louder] Close enough for rock'n'roll?
[TW] Hey, yeah, I guess that's all right. That's like just a... one a those expressions. [DJ attempts to speak, stops] My wife came up with it. It's kind of a mutant combination of "Opera" and "Mariachi." Whatever that means. You know, it's just ah... That's what I love about the English language: it's always reinventing itself. So...
[DJ] So, it's an opera in the sense that it's kind of related songs, but we shouldn't take it too seriously.
[TW] Aayyy, yeah well, I wouldn't call it an opera, I mean per se. Well, you can call it an opera if you want. I mean ah... y'know, I mean I think most of, uh... I mean, y'know, Caruso, Rigoletto, all that, you know. It's in there, somewhere.
[DJ] Pavarotti and Waits in the same breath?
[TW laughing] Yeah, right.
[DJ] Can we handle that?
[TW] They're always comparing me to him. Frankly, I'm sick of it.
[DJ] Are you? Huh. Well, you're better-looking, so, what can I tell you?
[TW] Well, thank you, thank you.
[DJ] The movie, which has just opened in New York and I guess at theaters around the United States...
[TW] About fifteen cities.
[DJ] .. is not a concert film in the usual sense, although most of the footage was shot at a concert, right?
[TW] Yeah, well, I think you could say it's a concert film because it was all shot in one day for about a hundred bucks and on-stage, with a band. I mean there's some other footage in there. The famous "shower scene."(1)
[DJ] Right. The scene on top of the theater with the -
[TW] - the burning umbrella
[DJ] ... the burning umbrella, which -
[TW] - I'm traipsing around on the rooftop in black pajamas with a pencil-thin moustache and all that, so. Basically, I would say that it's a concert film. Most of the footage is concert. You know, concert.
[DJ] If anybody saw your shows last year on Broadway, just about a year ago, [TW "mm-hm"] most of what they saw would probably be in the movie, right?
[TW] Uh, yeah, most of it in there, uh. All the scenes with Faye Dunaway were cut out [DJ laughs]. But it's, you know... All the cruise ship sequences are intact, tribute to Frank Sinatra in New York is in there.
[DJ] Actually, there is some Sinatra-esque kind of stuff in there, isn't there? What is it, uh "Straight to the Top," [TW "MMMhmm"] and "Make It Big in New York?"
[TW] "I'll Take New York"
[DJ] "I'll Take New York"
[TW] My tribute to New York, and uh... It's good to be back in New York.
[DJ] How do you like New York, by the way?
[TW] Yeah, I love it, yeah. [clears throat] I was here for about three years, went by the old apartment, y'know...
[DJ] What lured you to New York in the first place?
[TW] I came here for the weather, you know. Marvelous weather. And the golf.
[DJ] Lots a golf courses.
[TW] Wanted to have my own pool.
[DJ] There you go.
[TW] Somebody said "New York."
[DJ] I knew I shouldn't have asked that question straight.
[TW] And the parking. [DJ laughs] I think for what I used to pay to park here I now rent an apartment in Los Angeles.
[DJ] Are you living in a higher-rent district than you were before your recording [TW "Bel Air"] took off?
[TW] Bel Air [DJ "yeah?"] Maybe you've heard of it.
[DJ] I've heard of it. [TW chokes a laugh] That's at least one step up from the Tropicana Hotel(2), right?
[TW] Yeah, well I think one step. Exactly one step.
[DJ] Were you in fact living out of your car, though, for a while before your career was launched?
[TW] You know it's amazing what they have now. You can get CD players that actually plug into the cigarette lighter [DJ "This is true"] uh, in your car. Uh, hot plates, that type of thing. I mean the technology has just taken off, and it's made living in your car a lot more relaxing and enjoyable than it used to be, so.
[DJ] Getting back briefly, to the Big Time, as we were. The music that is on the Big Time album, and this gets a little confusing, because, many of the songs that are on the movie are not in the album and vice versa.
[TW] Yeah, gosh, I'm sorry about that.
[DJ] Why'd you do that, just to confuse people?
[TW] Well, [clears throat] there's some bonus cuts on there, there's some surprises...
[DJ] Actually, there's and interesting song on there that features Richie Hayward and Larry Taylor and Fred Tackett...
[TW] Oh yeah, "Falling Down." That was cut in the studio. That's kind of.. Song I was doing on the road but we never got a good take of it. So, I got home, rather than bring a band out from New York to Los Angeles, I worked with people who were already there: Larry Taylor and Fred Tackett, and Richie Hayworth, so it... We put that on there, too, so, you know, you can get a subscription to Playboy if you send in $5 and eh, I'll send you some Spencer steaks, we're having a contest...
[DJ] Well, what do you say as a special bonus at no extra charge, we'll play "Falling Down" for the audience right now...
[TW] Yeah, that's a good idea.
[DJ] ...and they can hear it right here on Mixed Bag on WNEW FM.
[TW] Okay... Okay.
[Song: Falling Down (commercial version, Big Time)]
[DJ] That's "Falling -
[TW] "Falling Down, right"
[DJ] (laughs) We're literally falling down in the studio. Tom Waits on WNEW FM from Big Time. Tom, you once in one of the interviews you've done in the past, one of the rare interviews you've done in the past, described your songs as "little dramas."
[TW] Oh, that's a good one.
[DJ] You like that? Actually something that I read I think is very interesting, and I don't know whether you still feel it to be true, that you say, "It's one thing to be commenting on a character, and another to go into the story, to dissolve into it, rather than standing on the edge describing it." Is that, in fact, a pretty accurate way of how you go about writing your songs these days?
[TW] Yeah, I think I write 'em a lot faster now. Y'know, foxtrots, cha-chas, beguines, tangos.
[DJ] I mean literally, there is a, a dance beat to a lot of what you're doing, too, right?
[TW] Yeah, I was terrified of drums for a long time and now I'm less frightened of percussion than I used to be.
[DJ] But you do seem to have a sense, without trying to put too fine a point on it, of creating songs that are from a character's point of view, I mean isn't that kind of what you're writing is now?
[TW] Well even though if a song starts with "I," you know, "I fell from my chair," it's not necessarily me falling from my chair. It's somebody in there falling from their chair, you know, I mean this... Stories, you know about people and things I've seen and places I've gone.
[DJ] Aahhhh. MMMmmm. Well having become a veteran of the screen these days, has that affected the way you're writing?
[TW] Well, I wouldn't call myself a veteran, come on, I -
[DJ under TW's answer] Well, you've done five or six movies -
[TW] I done a [breaks into a Brooklyn accent] couple a pictchas. 'Bout tree or fower pictchas, ya know. [then normal voice] But I wanna do otha pictchas. I guess it's affected my writing, I don't feel so confined to myself as a character, I feel like I can speak about other things, from other points of view, adopt other personalities without ah, you know, compromising myself and I can... I'm learning how to do that.
[DJ] Well, the offers are in fact, do keep on coming, don't they?
[TW] The phone's still ringing, so yeah, I dunno, I'm doing a little bit more of it, but I'd like to branch out a little bit, maybe play a father, female impersonator, y'know, cop. So I'm doing a little bit more of it.
[DJ] I mean are you gonna get to the point where there will be a screen play by Tom Waits? Perhaps starring Tom Waits?
[TW] Gee, I don't know.
[DJ] You must have thought about this.
[TW] Mmm-Hhmmm [swallows liquid] I dunno, maybe some day.
[DJ] So many of your songs have been covered by an amazing array of people, I mean obviously the Eagles and Bette Middler to Dion and Marianne Faithfull(3) -
[DJ] Uhh, do you have any particular favorite cover versions of your songs?
[TW] Hmmmmm? I dunno, uh, I had a uh... There was a Danish version of "In the Neighborhood"(4) that was very amusing. [Imitates Danish] "Ach nich nush naf naif neffuf." Ah, it was very funny, and I liked that a lot.
[DJ] When you wrote "Jersey Girl," [TW "mmm"] did you have Bruce Springsteen in the back of your mind? I know you've been asked this.
[TW] No, well I wrote it for my wife, she's from Jersey, well she's originally from Illinois, she moved to New Jersey, and she grew up there, Morristown, New Jersey, and so I wrote it for her when we met, and eh, so.. eh.
[DJ] Were you flattered by Bruce Springsteen doing it?
[TW] Yeah! I like it, I like that version. I got up on stage and sang it with him one night in Los Angeles(4) in front of about ten million people, and it scared the hell outa me. Um, Yeah I do like it. With the little glockenspiel in there, an a...
[DJ] It's seems somehow very natural for him to do it, seemed like it sort of fit into his style well.
[TW] Well, I've done all I can to help him, you know. He's been in such a jam, financially so uh, y'know...
[DJ] I'm sure he appreciated that a lot..
[TW] No, iss.... I really liked that version.
[Song: Jersey Girl, recorded live performance by Bruce Springsteen]
[DJ] We'll be back to talk more with our special guest, Tom Waits, on Mixed Bag, right after these messages.
[source tape paused, resumed DJ mid-phrase] ...special guest this morning, Tom Waits. Listen Tom, your voice is certainly one of the more idiosyncratic instruments in music. I've seen it described as everything from the sound of a terminal tobacco fiend to ah, Louis Armstrong and Ethel Merman meeting in hell.(6)
[TW] Watch it, pal. [DJ laughs] You're on the fightin' side of me.
[DJ] What's your favorite description of your voice?
[TW] I never heard that one: "Ethel Merman and and -
[DJ] - "Louis Armstrong meeting in hell."
[TW] "Meeting in hell." That's pretty good.
[DJ] I can show you where it's from at some point.
[TW] Oh yeah, people say I sound, you know, like a barking dog, or that I gargle with various cleaning products, that type of thing. But umm, I'm trying to do more with it. Get out more.
[DJ] I mean, seriously, you also have been praised for your voice. These are not necessarily put-downs, I mean they're colorful descriptions...
[TW] Oh yeah, I take that as a compliment.
[DJ] I mean, for instance, just say Louis Armstrong, whose voice was very gravelly, is revered by Frank Sinatra and people who themselves are superstars.
[TW] You always hear him smiling in his songs. I heard that the biggest disappointment for him was that he was never asked to sing the National Anthem at the opening game of the World Series. It was his big dream, and they never asked him.
[DJ] Now let me ask you a question that I hope is not pointed, cause I don't mean it that way. But if you take the fact that a lot of your songs are about people who are down and out [TW "umm?"]... Well that's fair enough, isn't it?
[TW] Well, [swallows liquid] I dunno, I write about a variety of things, you know. I guess most of the songs on the last three records are jail poems, field hollars, spirituals, waltzes, some Caribbean influence in there. Um, some jump tunes.
[DJ] There was such a drastic change in direction, though, from the older albums, which were on Asylum, to the new ones on Island. Was there something that caused that?
[TW] Ah, well, you know, I got married, um... The earlier albums for me, all the strings on there. I really don't like all those strings on there. They feel like eh... They remind me of sweaters, somehow. I don't wear sweaters.
[DJ] There's the classic, "Nighthawks at the Diner," though, with you and basically a jazz combo.
[TW] Yeah, I sound like an old drunk, when I listen to that stuff off that album, and...
[DJ] Were you in fact a young drunk at the time?
[TW] I dunno. I was trying. I was working at it. Yeah, I sound a bit forced.
[Song: Better Off Without a Wife. Commercial Version: Nighthawks at the Diner.]
[DJ] Do you think you would have been on the road to ruin, as it were, if you hadn't ended up with this particular wife in this particular, ah...
[TW] Hey, I don't know where I was headed. When I got married, I had about $27 in the bank; I thought I was a millionaire. [Laughs deeply] And so I think my wife is really the brains behind pa, as they say. And it's had great influence on my music and my life as well so. She opened my eyes to a lot of things, and my ears. You know, opera, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, John McCormick, gypsy music, makeup secrets, that type of thing. Kathleen's a writer, and we collaborate on some songs, stories, a lot of things, children, heh. So, we met, I been married eight years. And I got three kids, and I'm uh... Things are going okay.
[DJ] What does this do for your image now, I mean, the guy who's living in the gutter, uh, living in his car. I mean to turn around and find out that you're a father of three, married for years..
[TW] Hey, it's a happy ending. To a terrible story.
[DJ] I mean sometimes I think people aren't prepared for the reality. We had Leon Redbone as a guest, who has always had this kind of mysterious image [TW "mmm. MMMm"] and he showed up with his wife and his two daughters.
[TW] Yeah, right.
[DJ] So I guess it's comforting to know that people who may in fact be eccentric in their music can still be somewhat normal in their lifestyles.
[TW] Yeah, well, living with kids is like living with a bunch of drunks. You know you really have to be on your toes all the time. You know, things are falling over and breaking and spilling and, you know. If you live on the second story, you really have to keep the windows shut all the time.
[DJ] Do they have a clue as to what daddy does?
[TW] Yeah, they just think I play.
[DJ] That's pretty neat.
[TW] They don't think I have a job. They think I'm just like them.
[DJ] And are you?
[TW laughing hard] [They think I] Just get up in the morning and you know, fall down on the floor and roll around and yell and laugh.
[DJ] Well I hate to disillusion people who are at home right now listening who would probably think of you as having a two or three day stubble or looking like an unmade bed. You look very healthy.
[TW] Hey, thank you. Very much.
[DJ] Are you happy to be told that?
[TW] I work at my appearance.
[DJ] Nothing's safe. Somebody, somewhere, said, "Thing about Tom Waits is, there's nothing safe about the music." Do you think that's a fair description?
[TW] You mean it's - Dangerous Music.
[DJ] Subversive, perhaps?
[TW] Ah, I don't know. Well that's a compliment.
[DJ] I would think so.
[TW] Cause I don't want an air-conditioned taxidermist in the studio with me. So, I'd like to think that the songs are still alive.
[DJ] Well, they're unpredictable. [TW "mm-hm"] There's always the unexpected that comes out, and I somehow have the sense that maybe you're pushing, as they used to say about the astronauts, the edge of the envelope a little bit, in the way you arrange them and write them.
[TW] The envelope please. As they say.
[DJ] Well, listen, you're here with your guitar, and if I can impose on you to do maybe one final, stripped-down simple living-room treatment of a Tom Waits song...
[TW] Well, this is real homey here, real folksy.
[Song: Time (Live), TW accompanying himself on guitar. Chair creaks rhythmically throughout song.]
[DJ] Mister Waits, thanks for spending some time with us. [TW "whoah"]. And speaking of time, we get in one last plug for Big Time -
[TW] Oh, right.
[DJ] - which is the movie playing, unfortunately not at a theater near you unless you live in the Village, but..
[TW] Coming soon to a slaughterhouse near you, as they say...
[DJ] But worth seeing at the Bleeker Street Cinemas, I believe in New York City.
[TW] Yeah, yeah. Bleeker.
[DJ] And also, uh, an album entitled Big Time, some of which is the soundtrack of the movie and some of which isn't, and all of which is worth hearing. Tom, thank you so much for being our guest on Mixed Bag.
[TW] Okay, Right. Okay.
[Beatles: She Loves You, first two seconds]
(1) The famous "shower scene": Waits standing in a bath tub, singing "Innocent When You Dream". Further reading and pictures: Big Time
(2) That's at least one step up from the Tropicana Hotel: Further reading: Tropicana Motel.
(3) The Eagles and Bette Middler to Dion and Marianne Faithfull: On The Border. The Eagles, 1974 Label: Elektra/ Asylum LP 1004. Song covered: "Ol' '55". (Re-released by Elektra Entertainment in 1990). Broken Blossom. Bette Midler, 1977/ 1995 Label: Atlantic. Song covered: "I Never Talk To Strangers" (same cut as on "Foreign Affairs"). The Return Of The Wanderer, Dion (DiMucci). 1979/ 1996 Label: Lifesong (1979)/ Ace (Return Of The Wanderer & Fire In The Night 1996, UK). Song covered: "The Heart Of Saturday Night". Strange Weather. Marianne Faithfull, 1987 Label: PGD/ Polygram 842593 (CD). Island Records 7 90613-1 (LP). Island 422 842 593-2 (CD, 1990). Song performed: "Strange Weather" (written by Tom Waits). Also has version of "I Ain't Goin' Down To The Well No More" (not written by Tom Waits). Further reading: Discography - Covers
(4) A Danish version of "In the Neighborhood": there is no Danish version known of "In The Neighborhood". Probably refers to: "Stamcaf�/ Een Lied Voor Jou". Willem Duyn. 1984. CNR (Holland) 142.074 (in Dutch: "Stamcaf�") or "Viel Zu Sch�n", Manfred Maurenbrecher. 1984. CBS / LP (in German: "In der Nachbarschaft"). Further reading: Discography - Covers
(5) Sang it with him one night in Los Angeles: Live duet with Bruce Springsteen. L.A. Sports Arena. August 24, 1981. Transcript and further reading: Jersey Girl
(6) Louis Armstrong and Ethel Merman meeting in hell: unknown/ unidentified origin