What Tom Waits Says

From American Songwriter magazine, a collection of quotes from Tom Waits on Tom Waits, which comes out next month.

The last album, Nighthawks, was booming along the charts and it got to 169, and then I got real excited when it hit 200, until someone told me it was supposed to be going the other way.

(How he constructs a song): I put on a skirt, drink a bottle of Harveys Bristol Cream sherry, go out and stand on Eight Avenue with an umbrella and start reciting from the back of a parking ticket at full volume.

Never have your wallet with you onstage. It’s bad luck. You shouldn’t play the piano with money in your pocket. Play like you need the money.

Songs are really simple. You hold them in your hand. I can make one right now and finish it. But because they’re so simple, it’s like bird-watching, you know. You gotta know something about birds or you won’t see anything: just you and your binoculars and a stupid look on your face.

I’m like a ventriloquist. You end up doing it in order to survive. So you never have to be where you say you are. It’s just simpler after awhile. You have at least two rooms in your house. And you’re never in both at the same time.

Towards the end it’s always good to whip the songs a little bit, scare ‘em, and then make fun of them. And then they change. You come back the next day and they’re better behaved.

My theory is that songs have to be anatomically correct. They need to have weather in them and the name of a town and usually something to eat — in case you get hungry.

I think that everybody likes music but what you really want is music to like you.

People who make up songs… the stuff you usually like the most is the stuff that refreshes you, the new stuff. Some songs you know right away that you’ll never sing it again, others you know that thirty years down the road you’ll still be trying to figure out what it means.

The trick is to have a career and have a family. It’s like having two dogs that hate each other and you have to take them for a walk every night.

Most artists you hear are really doing bad imitations of other people. And they’re afraid you’re going to notice it. If Howlin’ Wolf told you he was really trying to sound like Jimmy Rodgers, you’d say “nice try, missed it by a mile.” Well, that mile is his work…



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One Comment

  1. Posted July 25, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Love. It. I have a new found love for Waits, now. Think I’ll go and listen to a little. Thanks.

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