Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters


Tom Waits, even with his barnyard growl and urban hipster yawp, may just be what the Daily Telegraph calls him: “the greatest entertainer on Planet Earth.” Over a span of almost four decades, he has transformed his music and persona not to suit the times but his whims. But along with Bob Dylan, he stands as one of the last elder statesmen still capable of putting out music that matters.

            Journalists intent upon cracking the code are more likely to ...

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Tom Waits, even with his barnyard growl and urban hipster yawp, may just be what the Daily Telegraph calls him: “the greatest entertainer on Planet Earth.” Over a span of almost four decades, he has transformed his music and persona not to suit the times but his whims. But along with Bob Dylan, he stands as one of the last elder statesmen still capable of putting out music that matters.

            Journalists intent upon cracking the code are more likely to come out of a Waits interview with anecdotes about the weather, insects, or medieval medicine. He is, in essence, the teacher we wished we had, dispensing insights such as: “Vocabulary is my main instrument;” “We all like music, but what we really want is for music to like us;” “Anything you absorb you will ultimately secrete;” “Growth is scary, because you’re a seed and you’re in the dark and you don’t know which way is up, and down might take you down further into a darker place . . .;” and “There is no such thing as nonfiction. . . . People who really know what happened aren’t talking. And the people who don’t have a clue, you can’t shut them up.”

           Tom Waits on Tom Waits is a selection of over fifty interviews from the more than five hundred available. Here Waits delivers prose as crafted, poetic, potent, and haunting as the lyrics of his best songs.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"This book is filled with verbal fireworks and lyrical bon mots."—American Songwriter Magazine

"Absolutely required for Waits fans old and new, this pile of interviews is a magic mountain of weird."—

"Recommended for all Tom Waits fans."—Library Journal

Library Journal
Tom Waits has been an idiosyncratic, eccentric singer/artist/actor with a devoted cult following for over 40 years. He has carefully guarded his private life, but, as this book shows, he has cooperated in many entertaining if not always informative interviews. The book covers Waits's entire career and focuses on interviews and interview excerpts about each of his albums. Maher (Jack Kerouac's American Journey), who compiled a similar book on Miles Davis (Miles on Miles), presents a wide range of interview styles and results. He interjects short narratives to highlight Waits's life events and progress from album to album. VERDICT For fans who have not discovered the interviews section of the comprehensive website devoted to Waitsana (, this book will provide a wonderful overview of the artist and his many distinctive albums. Recommended for all Tom Waits fans.—Bill Walker, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., Stockton, CA
Kirkus Reviews

The singer-songwriter-actor-playwright with a rare gift of gab gets a second anthology of interviews.

Given the richness of Tom Waits' nearly 40-year career and his unique gifts as a word-drunk raconteur, a compilation of old interviews with the musician is a natural. In fact, editor Maher (Jack Kerouac's American Journey, 2007, etc.) has been beaten to the punch by Mac Montandon'sInnocent When You Dream: The Tom Waits Reader(2005), which brought together many of the best pieces on Waits from top-flight periodicals. This book contains lesser stuff. Maher admits in his introduction that he couldn't afford to pay the permission fees for stories from higher-profile magazines. Thus, his compilation leans on B-team writers and work from sometimes obscure (and often now-defunct) music rags and alternative weeklies. Organized by album-release cycle, Maher's anthology attains a repetitive rhythm in the early going, which recounts the performer's 1970s development as the jazzy beat/boho poet laureate of the American underside; the narrative shifts gears after Waits' 1980 marriage to Kathleen Brennan, who became his writing collaborator and helped steer his music into riskier, more cacophonous realms. The package is messily edited, with flat-footed interstitial material. Writers' expositions of the vocalist's life and career, and some of Waits' gags, incessantly duplicate one another. British journalists—including Sylvie Simmons, Mick Brown, Pete Silverton—seem to fare best with Waits. Interestingly, some of the most revealing American interviews are with radio hosts: L.A. folk DJs Roz and Howard Larman and Philadelphia veteran Michael Tearson. But many of the interrogators are unable to hit their subject's obfuscating curve balls. Some, likeSpinmagazine's insufferable Bart Bull, flash plenty of sub–Lester Bangs style to zero effect. The least of the material is perplexingly culled from press kits for record and movie projects. Though always entertaining, Waits conceals more than he exposes; as he notes to Amanda Petrusich in the book's most telling quote, "The fact is most of the things that people know about me are made up. My own life is backstage."

Some entertaining yarns lurk among a great deal of garrulous dross.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781569763124
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/1/2011
  • Series: Musicians in Their Own Words
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 595,031
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Maher Jr. is the author of Jack Kerouac's American Journey and Kerouac: His Life and Work, editor of Empty Phantoms, and coeditor (with Michael K. Dorr) of Miles on Miles.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I

Closing Time (1973) 3

September 21, 1973-Interview with Tom Waits Howard Larman 6

January 13, 1974-"From Bouncing to Hooting to Playing the Road" Lou Curtiss Stephen Swain 12

February 18, 1974-"Tom Waits: Saturday Night Seeker" Kenny Weissberg 18

July 23, 1974-Interview with Tom Waits Howard Larman 20

The Heart of Saturday Night (1974) 27

October 1974- The Heart of Saturday Night Press Release Tom Waits 28

January 12, 1975- Interview with Tom Waits Howard Roz Larman 30

January 17, 1975-"Tom Waits: Los Angeles is Poetry" Marco Barla 34

June 21, 1975-"Waits: The Beats Go On" Jeff Burger 39

Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) 43

Oct. 17-23, 1975-"Tom Waits: In Close Touch with the Streets" Todd Everett 45

June 11, 1976-"Play It Again Tom" Robert Ward 51

Small Change (1976) 63

December 23-29, 1976-"Tom Waits for No One?" Jim Gerard 70

December 30, 1976-"The Ramblin' Street Life Is the Good Life for Tom Waits" Rich Trenbeth 77

Foreign Affairs (1977) 85

November 1977-"After a One-Night Stand" Bart Bull 87

November 13, 1977-"A Rumor in My Spare Time" Pete Oppel 93

Blue Valentine (1978) 97

December 2, 1978-"Poet and Person Merge into Paradox" Pete Oppel 102

December 12, 1978-"Waits Bringing New Band, Same Old Clothes" Charley Deliste 104

January 23, 1979-"Tom Waits for No One" Stan Soocher 107

Heartattack and Vine (1980) 113

September 4, 1980-Elektra Records Promo Interview' Stephen K. Peepies 114

One from the Heart (1982) 123

July 1 -7, 1983-"A Simple Love Story" Peter Guttridge 124

Part II

Swordfishtrombones (1983) 129

Late 1983-"A Conversation with Tom Waits" 130

September 1983-"Skid Romeo" Robert Elms 136

Rain Dogs (1985) 151

Late Summer 1985-"The Sultan of Sleaze" Pete Silverton 153

Late Summer 1985-"Waits Happening" Pete Silverton 158

Late !985 - Rain Dogs Tourbook Tom Waits 164

Late 1985-Interview with Tom Waits Michael Tearson 168

Franks Wild Years (1987) 181

September 1987-"Boho Bfues" Bart Bull 182

October 1987-"Better Waits Than Ever" Sill Forman 193

Big Time (1988) 203

Part III

Bone Machine (1992) 209

July 1992-"The Lie in Waits" Pete Silverton 211

September 1992-"Composer, Musician, Performer, Actor: Tom Waits Is a Renaissance Man Whose Musique Noir Captures the Sound of the Park Age" Derk Richardson 216

October 12, 1992-Interview with Tom Waits Chris Douridas 225

The Black Rider (1993) 239

Mute Variations (1999) 243

April 10, 1999-"Hobo Sapiens" Mick Brown 243

April 22-29, 1999-"Tom Waits for No Man" Brett Martin 253

April 22-28, 1999-"Wily Tom Waits's Barnyard Breakthrough" Tim Perlich 257

May 1999-"Interview with Tom Waits" Gabriella 260

June/July 1999-"The Man Who Howled Wolf" Jonathan Valania 263

October 13, 1999-Interview with Tom Waits Bret Saunders 278

July/August 2000-"Tradition with a Twist" Bret Kofford 286

Alice, Blood Money (2002) 297

April 10, 2002-"Grimm's Reapers" Terry Gilliam 299

May 2002-"Tom Waits" Russell Bongard 307

May 29, 2002-"Tom Waits" Keith Phipps 312

June 2, 2002-"The Hobo Comes Home" Iain Shedden 322

June 13, 2002-"We're All Mad Here" Robert Lloyd 326

September 2004-"One Wild Ride" Pamela Feinsilber 344

Real Gone (2004) 349

August or September 2004-"It's Last Call Somewhere in the World" Jonathan Valania 350

September 2004-"The Mojo Interview: Tom Waits Speaks" Sylvie Simmons 366

December 2004-"Tom Waits: Dancing in the Dark" Tom Moon 376

December 2004-"All Stripped Down" Tom Lanham 385

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (2006) 395

October 27, 2006-"Tom Waits: Call and Response" Katherine Turman 396

November 16, 2006-"Tom Waits: Haunted Songster's Revelatory Dispatch from the Twilight Zone" Tim Perlich 411

November 27, 2006 "Interview: Tom Waits" Amanda Petrusich 416

December 2006-"My Wild Years and the Woman That Saved My Life" Mick Brown 425

May 20, 2008-"True Confessions" Tom Waits 442

Permissions 453

Index 457

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