Quotes: Drinking, Smoking And Dope

"They don't want you to sober up. Even though you've kept to your word that you'd write no more booze songs... You can't really, you know, be too concerned with what people really think of you, you just kinda have to pursue your own... you're on your own adventure of growth and discovery. Like Charles Bukowski said: 'people think I'm down on 5th and Main at the Blarneystone. throwin' back shooters and smokin' a cigar, but I'm on the top floor of the health club with a towel in my lap, watchin' Johnny Carson.' So I mean, it's not always good to be where they think you are, especially if you subscribe to it as well, which is easily done coz, y'know, you don't have to figure out who you are, you just ask somebody else... "

Tom Waits (1976): "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." (Source: "Watch out for 16 year old girls wearing bell bottoms...". "ZigZag" magazine. Peter O'Brien. London. May, 1976)

Tom Waits (1976): "There's a common loneliness that just sprawls from coast to coast... It's like a common disjointed identity crisis. It's the dark, warm narcotic American night. I just hope I'm able to touch that feeling before I find myself one of these days double- parked on easy street." (Source: "Sweet and Sour", Newsweek, June 14, 1976)

Tom Waits (1976) "Nighthawks was a result of spending eight months on the road; it's just a lot of travelogues strung together. When you're on the road doing clubs, it's hard to stay out of the bars in the afternoons. You got time to kill before the show. Then you hang around the club all night and you're up till dawn, so you hang around coffee shops. It stops being somethin' you do - it becomes somethin' you are." (Source: "Bitin' the green shiboda with Tom Waits". "Down Beat" magazine. Chicago. June 17, 1976. Marv Hohman)

Tom Waits (1977): "I was sick through that whole period...And I'd get onstage at Reno's and be thrown off by the fancy surroundings. It was starting to wear on me, all the touring. I'd been travelling quite a bit, living in hotels, eating bad food, drinking a lot - too much. There's a lifestyle that's there before you arrive and you're introduced to it. It's unavoidable." (Source: "Smelling like a brewery, lookin' like a tramp". Rolling Stone: David McGee. January, 1977)

DM (1977): The final injustice came last spring in New Orleans when Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, Kinky Friedman and some other members of the "Rolling Blunder Revue" as Waits termed Dylan's entourage, took over the stage at Ballinjax Club just before Waits was scheduled to begin his set. TW: "They got up there for an hour just before I was supposed to begin my set, Nobody even asked me; before I knew it, fuckin' Roger McGuinn was up there playing guitar and singing and Joan Boaz and Kinky were singing. By the time I got onstage the audience was stoked. They were all lookin' around the room and shit. I don't need this crap - it was my show. I was drinkin' too much on top of everything else." (Source: "Smelling like a brewery, lookin' like a tramp". Rolling Stone: David McGee. January, 1977)

Tom Waits (1977): "I put a lot into 'Bad Liver and a Broken Heart'. I tried to resolve a few things as far as this cocktail-lounge, maudlin, crying-in-your-beer image that I have. There ain't nothin' funny about a drunk. You know, I was really starting to believe that there was something amusing and wonderfully American about a drunk. I ended up telling myself to cut that shit out. On top of everything else, talking about boozing substantiates the rumours that people hear about you, and people hear that I'm a drunk. So I directed that song as much to the people that listen to me and think they know me as much as I directed it to myself." (Source: "Smelling like a brewery, lookin' like a tramp". Rolling Stone: David McGee. January, 1977)

JH (1977): Tom, where do you hail from professionally? Is it the Big Apple, as they call New York I think? Or is it Hollywood? TW: I live at Bedlam and Squalor [points over his shoulder]. It's thata way. BG: I think we all lived there at one time. It's kind of strange to have a guy sitting here with a bottle in front of him... Ha, ha, ha... TW: Well, I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy!" (Source: Fernwood2night, sequel 21 (TV show). Date: USA. August 1, 1977)

Tom Waits (1978): "It's so American," he explained, in between puffs on one of the many cigarettes he would suck into his lungs that afternoon. TW: "Nothin' better than sittin' in a bar on a Saturday afternoon." But despite the connections, and despite the fact that an aura of inebriation is essential to his act, Waits wants to make sure it's understood that he is no "rumy" Hootch takes to great a toll on his body and his voice. At our meeting he was sober as hell, only drinking Tropicana on the rocks. TW: "I'm off the sauce," he said in response to my expression of disbelief at his order, "touring sixty cities, I gotta stay healthy." He's even trying to quit cigarettes too, but apparently without much success. (Source: "Nighthawks at the Chelsea". Modern HiFi and Musics SoundTrax: Larry Goldstein. October 1978)

Tom Waits (1978): "Success is purely relative: some peoples' 'bombs' go gold and other peoples' hits' just make the charts for a month or two ...I do have a tendency to live in a state of self-imposed poverty, but I always live this way. All I want is a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of bourbon." He took another drag and admitted, TW: "Naah, I'm not getting sentimental on you, I want more than that. I want a sandwich, but the restaurant is closed." (Source: "Nighthawks at the Chelsea". Modern HiFi and Musics SoundTrax: Larry Goldstein. October 1978)

Q (1979): What sort of status have you attained in America? What sort of progress do you think you've made? TW: "Well, it's taken seven years and I've gone from beer bars to small theatres, so I guess you could say that I'm breaking out of the bars... After seven years (laughs)." (Source: "The Neon Dreams Of Tom Waits". "New Musical Express" magazine. John Hamblett. London. May 12, 1979)

JH (1979): Are you conscious of having an image to live up to, or down to, which every the case may be? TW: "Yeah, and I used to work at it much harder than I do now. Now the only time I drink is when I'm with someone and when I'm on my own (laughs). No, really I've been trying to give up drinking, but every time I stop it makes me so nervous I have to take a drink." (Source: "The Neon Dreams Of Tom Waits". "New Musical Express" magazine. John Hamblett. London. May 12, 1979)

Tom Waits (1979): "You know people always expect me to be a drunk, but I ain't no drunk, If I was a drunk I couldn't be an entertainer. 'cos being a drunk is a full time occupation." (Source: "Tom Waits: A Sobering Experience", "Sounds" magazine. Dave Lewis. August 4, 1979)

SP (1980): Your voice sounds like it was in better shape for Heartattack And Vine than it was for your last LP (Blue Valentine ). TW: I quit smoking during the recording of the new one Maybe that had something to do with it. I tried to arrive at some level of personal hygiene. I thought the record deserved that. I just tried to clean myself up a little. I think it helped, you know. SP: What 'bout your drinking habits? TW: I just drink wine now. My favorite is Carlo Rossi. Have you tried Carlo Rossi chablis? SP: No. You have any around? TW: Ah, no, not right now. But it's a remarkable beverage!" (Source: Heartattack and Vine". Us promo pack: Stephen Peeples. September 4, 1980)

Tom Waits (1981): "I've grown a little. I think it's important now to be able to separate yourself as a performer and writer from whom you actually are. I Started travelling, singing and writing at a time when I was developing as a person, and the two got very confusing. I got swept away with it, then felt I had to live up to something... I was very naive. More than once I was lucky I wasn't shot. But I realised that a guy who writes murder mysteries doesn't have to be a murderer. More than likely it's distance which has given them the vision, not closeness. I don't feel I have to live up to something anymore, which is not to say I have turned into Perry Como - the expression was perfectly deadpan - although I still look up to Perry a lot." (Source: "He's A Coppola Swell". The Guardian. Mick Brown, London. March, 1981)

Tom Waits (1981): The encounter is taking place in Dino's, a classless Italian diner, full of South Ken schoolkids, across the road from the hotel. Tom's eyes roam the room until he zeroes in on a waitress. "Two double brandies and two toasted cheese sandwiches." he orders, then, looking at me knowingly, "You have to have the food to get the drink." It's an apology." (Source: "Tom Waits: Waits And Double Measures". Smash Hits magazine by Johnny Black. March 18, 1981)

Q (1981): Has marriage mellowed him? TW: "Yeah." Q: Cut down on the booze? TW: "Just got someone to drink with now." Q: Has that big myth always been just a little tipple anyway? TW: "You mean how much I like to drink? Am I a notorious alcoholic?" Q: Well, a hard drinker. TW: "I enjoy a little wine with supper." A little grin. "...have a glass of sherry before I go to bed." Q: So you don't hang around in bars as much as the songs would seem to suggest? TW: "No, not really. I don't like crowded bars all that much. When I was your age I was in bars a lot more than I am now." (Source: "Tom Waits: The Beat Buff Speed Poet Home Booze Hayseed" New Musical Express (UK). Ian Penman. March 28, 1981)

Tom Waits (1983): "When my wife heard that for the first time [Town With No Cheer] she said: "Oh gee, you must have loved her very much." So I said: "Wait a minute. This is not a love song. This is about a guy who can't get a drink!" (Source: Swordfishtrombones Promo Interview, "A Conversation with Tom Waits, Tom Waits talks about 'Swordfishtrombones' ", UK-83 Island TW 1)

KM (1983): There was talk for a while that you were destroying your voice with the way you were living, and I notice you're no longer smoking. TW: "Yeah, I've quit smoking so I've got more wind now, but I've never taken voice lessons or anything like that. Giving up tobacco was tough." (Source: "One From The Heart & One For The Road ". New Musical Express magazine. Kristine McKenna. October 1, 1983)

Tom Waits (1983): "I feel I've shaken off an identity that was hindering me for some time. People thought I was some kind of a throwback, a time-warp demented oddity." (Source: "Skid Romeo". The Face magazine. Robert Elms. Los Angeles, 1983)

PS (1985): Waits also had a reputation as a heavy drinker. Was this true? TW: "Well, that is what I call a direct question. I don't know how things like that get started. But you know how the press blows everything out of proportion. You know, you have a little glass of sherry before bed, read a little Balzac, hit the light about eight-thirty. Before you know it they've got you with a case of Cutty Sark in a cheap room with a dirty magazine." (Source: "The Sultan Of Sleaze". "YOU" magazine. Pete Silverton. New York, early 1985)

Tom Waits (1985): "They don't want you to sober up. Even though you've kept to your word that you'd write no more booze songs... You can't really, you know, be too concerned with what people really think of you, you just kinda have to pursue your own... you're on your own adventure of growth and discovery. Like Charles Bukowski said: 'people think I'm down on 5th and Main at the Blarneystone. throwin' back shooters and smokin' a cigar, but I'm on the top floor of the health club with a towel in my lap, watchin' Johnny Carson.' So I mean, it's not always good to be where they think you are, especially if you subscribe to it as well, which is easily done coz, y'know, you don't have to figure out who you are, you just ask somebody else... "(Source: "The Marlowe Of The Ivories". New Musical Express magazine. Barney Hoskyns. May 25, 1985)

Tom Waits (1985): "You know, you can't really be too concerned with what people really think of you, you know? You just kinda have to pursue your own eh... You know you're on your own adventure of growth and discovery... And eh... Actually people... You know, like Charles Bukowski said you know: "People think that I'm down on 5th and Main, you know, at the Blarney Stone, you know, throwing back shooters and you know smoking a cigar, you know, but I'm on the top floor of the health club, you know, with a towel in my lap, you know, with a blonde, you know, watching Johnny Carson." So, I mean, it's not always good to be where they think you are, you know? As far as the public goes, you know... Cause when people get like an opinion of you and eh... they're like fortune cookies you know? They kinda got you there and that's where they put you. And eh... if you subscribe to it as well, which is easily done, you know. Cause you don't have to figure out who you are, you just ask somebody else, you know. And if you do that... eh..." (Source: NME picture disc interview (Baktabak, UK) by Barney Hoskyns. May 25, 1985)

Q (1985): How do you construct a song? TW: "I put on a skirt, drink a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry, go out and stand on 8th Avenue with an umbrella and start reciting from the back of a parking ticket at full volume." (Source: "Lower east side story". The Face: Elissa van Poznak. Ca. October 1985)

Q (1985): You used to be noted for a "professional drunk" image - has that changed? TW: "Sincerely, I don't want to romanticise liquor to the point of ridiculousness." GM: Would you like a drink now? TW: "Maybe I should have a beer, what do you think? I mean, what time is it here? I'll have a Becks." GM: You have got your younger listeners to think of, you've got to set an example. TW: "Yah, setting an example. Well I don't think there's anything wrong with a little sherry before retiring, read a little Balzac and then lay out. I don't drink and drive, I enjoy a little cocktail before supper, who doesn't?" (Source: "Hard Rain", New Musical Express: Gavin Martin. October 19, 1985)

SH (1987): Are you still a drinker? TW: "Am I still a drunk? Heh heh. I have a little sherry before retiring, sure. It helps me sleep. Got nothin' against a little sherry or port. When I'm writing I'm usually pretty clean. I don't think it's alcohol that makes the music come out. It's hard to tell. Sometimes alcohol massages the beast, sometimes it doesn't. I kinda subscribe to my own particular madness rather than soak it." (Source: "I Just Tell Stories For Money". New Musical Express magazine. Sean O'Hagan. Los Angeles. November 14, 1987)

Q (1993): A lot of your songs have a certain melancholy, what's that from? TW: "Too much wine. Half of me, I feel like a jack hammer, I love to holler and stomp my feet and throw rocks. But there's another side of me that's like an old man in the corner that's had too much wine. I'm probably too sentimental for my own good sometimes." (Source: "Tom Waits". Thrasher Magazine: Brian Brannon. February, 1993)

Tom Waits (1993): "I bought some coke one night about four in the morning from a guy in an apartment building in Miami, real down apartment, and he had a gunshot wound in his chest and he was bleeding through the bandage, you know, and we were counting out the money on a glass table and he was, he kept (grabbing for his shoulder), and that was a really scary night. And the lighting in there was like whoa! God! All low light, desk light, nothing above the knees. The place was like a black swimming pool at night. This was some hellish scene. Somebody had a phone number, and it was after a concert, and we had to drive over there. Real gangster stuff. Y'know, with a gun on the table and everything. Bad Scene: Black guy with suspenders and a terrible wound. "No cops, no cops, no doctors. I'll ride it out." But you're burnin' up, you're runnin' a 106, it's off the map, I can't even record your fuckin' fever it's so high! "No cops." That could be the third scene in 'They All Died Singing'." (Source: "Straight No Chaser" Jim Jarmusch. October 1993)

DJ (1998): 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." 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." (Source: "Mixed Bag, WNEW New York ". Interview on WNEW FM. October 1998)

Q (1998): 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."(Source: "Mixed Bag, WNEW New York ". Interview on WNEW FM. October, 1998)

MB (1999): For a long time, Waits admits, he was in danger of being overtaken by the low life he wrote about. He drank too much. He made bad friends. TW: "I wanted to experience what it was like to be on the road the way I imagined it would be for all the old-timers that I loved, so I would stay in these down-joints because I was absorbing all the atmosphere in those places, the ghosts in the room." (Source: "Tom Waits, Hobo Sapiens ". Telegraph Magazine: Mick Brown. April 11, 1999)

KS (1999): I brought you a present. I hope you like it. You might not, and if you don't it's okay, you can throw it away. TW: [opens it] Oh no, it's beautiful. Wow. KS: It's a cigar box. TW: With Chinese lettering on it. Well, that's very nice of you. Well, there. It's a great box. It still smells like cigars. KS: Does it? I didn't smell it. TW: Oh yeah. Very distinctive. That's great. I appreciate it. I bet I could put cassettes in there. Or CDs. Or I could put record albums in there, but I'd have to fold them. Well thanks. I gave up smoking. But I remember it fondly. KS: You did? All kinds of smoking? [blush] That was a little more loaded than I meant it to be. TW: It was loaded. Sometimes I burn leaves in the yard and stand over them. "What are you doing, Tom!" "Oh, nothing!" (Source: "Holding On: A Conversation with Tom Waits". Newsweek: Karin Schoemer. March 23, 1999)

Tom Waits (1999): "We bought a house here several years ago right along the railroad tracks. And it was one of those things, they show you the house and you sit on the porch, and as you sit down on the porch there's a train going by, right? And the engineer waves to you. And then a cardinal comes and sits down right near your shoulder, and you hear the train whistle blowing, and the sun is going down, you have a nice glass of red wine. You think, "This is it." You buy the place, and the next day they say, "That was the last time that train ran. No cardinals have ever been seen around here. It must have been some freak thing." Then you quit drinking, and you're stuck with a house on a busy road, and the traffic noise is deafening." (Source: "Gone North, Tom Waits, upcountry". L.A. Weekly: Robert Lloyd. April 23-29, 1999)

Tom Waits (1999): "I used to take the bus to the Troubadour and stand out front at 9 o'clock in the morning on a Monday and wait all day to get up and do 15 minutes onstage... 'Cause you know, you never had confidence, you have absolutely no self-esteem, but you have this mad wish to do something public at the same time. You're sitting all day next to a guy with a silver trumpet who's on acid, you're sharing cigarettes and drinking Tabs." (Source: "Gone North, Tom Waits, upcountry". L.A. Weekly: Robert Lloyd. April 23-29, 1999)

RH (1999): Waits moved to New York around 1980, partly to shed some of the hard-drinking L.A. habits, even enrolling in a fitness class. Smiling as he recalls an image from that period, he says, TW: "I was running down the street to the Y to work out and I had a glass of alcohol in one hand, with some aluminum foil over it so it wouldn't spill, and a cigarette in the other hand, ...and I realized I was kind of coming apart." (Source: "Pop music: Tracking an Elusive Character" Los Angeles Times Home Edition. Robert Hilburn. June 6, 1999)

Q (1999): Do you still smoke? TW: "Gave it up. I'm like everybody else, quit a hundred times. It's a companion and a friend. I would smoke anything in the end. I would take a pack of cigarettes and dig a hole in the back yard and piss on them and bury'em. Dig 'em up and hour later, dry them in the oven and smoke. That's how bad I had it." Do you still drink? TW: "Now, is this of interest to your readers? We talked about the pointed shoes, the smoking - I have a feeling you're trying to steer me into the bars ... I just got an image of one of those emergency - wall things that says "Break In Case Of Emergency," and inside is the beverage ... I gave it up, gave it up. I haven't had a drink in six years." (Source: "The Man Who Howled Wolf ". Magnet: Jonathan Valania. June/ July 1999)

Tom Waits (2002): "Oh sure, it's inevitable, y'know? When you begin, it's a man takes a drink. When you end up, it's a drink takes a man. Keeping my balance during that period was tricky. When I was in my twenties, I thought I was invincible, made out of rubber. You skate along the straight razor and flirt with it all the time. I've been sober now for nine years; the best thing I ever did apart from getting married. Was it hard to quit? No, the hard part was before I quit. This is the easy part." (Source: "Everything Goes To Hell". Uncut 5th Anniversary Special. Take 61, June 2002 by Gavin Martin)

Tom Waits (2004): "I didn't know any way of finding a new one (voice), but I know I was anxious to reach a new channel, and sometimes we don't know how to do that. You're like a wound-up toy car who's hit a wall and you just keep hitting it. I was very self destructive. Drinking and smoking and staying out all night long and it wasn't good for me so I sounded like I had been screaming into a pillow. You know, I needed to shift gears - I knew that I wanted to change but I didn't really know how to do it. I got married there, right after, in 1980, so that was really the end of a certain long period of my life." (Source: The Mojo Interview: Tom Waits Speaks. Mojo Magazine (USA/ UK), by Sylvie Simmons. September, 2004)

RG (2004): "Waits moderated his drinking successfully and by all accounts gave up smoking more than 20 years ago. So why is he snuffling so excitedly at an empty packet of Luckies? 'Jim Jarmusch,' he says with a low, rumbling sigh, referring to the independent film director. 'He put me in his new movie Coffee and Cigarettes. It's me and Iggy Pop and basically what we had to do was sit around and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. I started again. Got hooked. Terrible. But hey, it takes a man, right? It takes a real man to quit twice .'" (Source: "Bard Of The Bizarre", Telegraph Magazine (UK). By Richard Grant. October 2, 2004)

WT (2006): "Metallica leader James Hetfield let his emotions out during a talk Friday at the MusiCares MAP Fun fundraiser. That organization helps musicians recover from drug addictions. Hetfield called the rock myth of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll "a horrible statement. It is a myth. And to have those things attached to music, which is the best drug in the world, moves me like no other." Tom Waits later congratulated Hetfield, saying "getting sober's not for sissies." (Source: "The drowsy chaperone - Short Takes". Kansas City Star. May 16, 2006. By Ward Triplett)

Q (2006): "Given that his early songs, his voice and his persona, were drenched in drink, how hard was it for him to give up? 'Oh, you know, it was tough. I went to AA. I'm in the programme. I'm clean and sober. Hooray. But, it was a struggle.' Does he miss the odd night-cap? 'Miss drinking?' he says, sounding genuinely surprised. 'Nah. Not the way I was drinking. No, I'm happy to be sober. Happy to be alive. I found myself in some places I can't believe I made it out of alive.' That bad, huh? 'Oh yeah. People with guns. People with gunshot wounds. People with heavy drug problems. People who carried guns everywhere they went, always had a gun. You live like that,' he says, without a trace of irony, 'you attract lower company.'I ask if he wrote a different kind of song when he was drinking. He thinks about this for an instant, then says, 'No. I don't think so. I mean, one is never completely certain when you drink and do drugs whether the spirits that are moving through you are the spirits from the bottle or your own. And, at a certain point, you become afraid of the answer. That's one of the biggest things that keeps people from getting sober, they're afraid to find out that it was the liquor talking all along.'" (Source: "Off Beat", The Observer Magazine (UK), October 29, 2006. By Sean O'Hagan)

WORD (2006): Do you miss it? Tom Waits: Smoking? I don't. I laid that off and I laid off drinking. My wife said, You drank enough. WORD: Wives are often better at knowing what's good for you than you know yourself. Tom Waits: WelI, it comes from love, you know? 'I want you to stick around, goddamit!' (Source: "My Wild Years And The Woman That Saved My Life", Word magazine (UK), November 9, 2006. By Mick Brown)

Further readingInterviews (complete transcripts)