Jemima Kiss

Hail, Tom Waits


It’s Sunday, and I’m praying at the church of the ‘latter-day beatnik’ and ‘gravel-voiced, beer-stained bard of the barstool’ Tom Waits. He is one of life’s artistic spectacles, a pure visionary. Nobody does it like Tom Waits.

As described and describing in an Observer piece from 2006:

“Around the back of Little Amsterdam, near the ancient rubbish bins and the furniture that has died from overuse, we are seated at a rickety table, beside on old broken-down, rain-warped piano. Waits is drinking black coffee from a paper cup, wearing a suit at least one size too small, scuffed biker boots and a wether-beaten look that says, ‘I’ve seen it all.’ His hair is thinner now, but still has a mind of its own. His guitar is nestling in a case on the tarmac, on which rests a well-work porkpie hat. He could have stepped out of one of his own songs.

“‘Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them,’ he quips. ‘Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers.’”

‘It’s all in there,’ he smiles. ‘Crop failures, Dad dying, train wrecks. It all gets handed down, and everything you absorb you’re going to secrete. A lot of those old songs stick to you, and others blow right through you, and some of them get trapped in there. You keep hearing them every time you sit down at the piano.’

On booze: “One is never completely certain when you drink and do drugs whether the spirits that are moving through you are 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 keep people from getting sober, they’re afraid to find out that it was liquor talking all along.”

On Leadbelly: “He died the day after I was born – 8 December 1949. I always felt connected with him somehow. He was going out as I was coming in. And, maybe we passed in the hall.”

“Someday I’m gonna be gone and people will be listening to my songs and conjuring me up. In order for that to happen, you gotta put something of yourself in it. Kinda like a time capsule. Or making a voodoo doll. You gotta wrap it with thread, put a rock inside the head, then use tow sticks and something from a spider web. You gotta put it all in there to make a song survive.”

4 Responses to “Hail, Tom Waits”

  1. Seamus Anthony Says:

    Mr Waites is, uh, really good. Oh, no “e” in “Waits”. Sorry.

  2. Amit Says:

    Totally dig Tom Waits too. Can’t forget the story of Big Joe and Phantom 309 from “Nighthawks at the Diner”

  3. Gary Says:

    Waits – the gravel voiced crooner is ++A

  4. Dick Madeley Says:

    Amen to that.