Tom Waits – Sleazy Rider (Relix Revisited)
Earlier this week Tom Waits was named as an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Back in 1978, he sat down with Relix for the following interview, which ran in the May/June issue of the magazine…
Remember when you were knee-high to a fireplug and you’d be driving through the wino part of town with your dad at the wheel, and your mom would lock all the doors so that one of the rot-gut low-lifes wouldn’t stumble into your Pontiac with Thunderbird on his breath? If you saw Tom Waits weaving around the gutter, you’d probably mistake him for one of these same cirrhosis cases: moth-eaten wardrobe from Frederick’s of Goodwill, 3-day stubble, and a voice like a disposal chewing up tire chains.
But Waits is actually not the degenerate with fermented grapes coursing through his veins you might imagine. He’s an intelligent, witty lyricist who plays piano and guitar, and croaks out songs on five albums for the Asylum label, his newest being Foreign Affairs. He “sings” lovelorn laments, bawdy blues, and scatty, jazzy numbers like no one you’ve ever heard. Though he is already attracting more publicity than flies, he is sure to be a household name when Paradise Alley, the next movie by the #1 box office actor Sylvester Stallone, is released. Waits plays a pianist in a bar and sings three of his new songs. The movie is set New York’s Hell’s Kitchen circa 1940, and although it appears from his aging, scrawny frame that he could have been living then, Waits is only 28. He lives in Los Angeles’ sleazy Tropicana Motor Hotel where Andy Warhol’s Trash was partially filmed. The $9-a night flea bag was once a favorite of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix (and we all know what happened to them ).
Waits has an affinity for the seamy side of the tracks, as evidenced by his recent stay at a join in San Francisco’s hairy Tenderloin district for this interview. When he arrived at road manager John Forchay’s room for the one hour session, he kicked open the door with a pointy, black shoe in true street-tough fashion. He lurched in, stuck up a lamp post pose against a wall, and then stepped on the balcony to banter with some kids smoking cigarettes below. “I saw you on t.v. on ‘Fernwood 2Night,’” said one of them, as Waits’ scruffy, whiskered face leaned over the railing. Later he expounded his gruff, trash compactor voice about recognition.
I’m never recognized when I need it most. It usually happens when I’m talking to some pretty girl in a bar. Some sophomore comes over and drools on my shoulder. So when I get lonesome I go to the baggage claim area at the airport. I saw Ravi Shankar there one night. He looked like Earl Scheib. I thought he’d be wearin’ that dumb sheet and sandals, but he had on a leisure suit.
“Now that you’re becoming popular are you going to move to Malibu near your friend Martin Mull?”
Nah. I can’t imagine him there…yeah, I can. Buncha assholes live out there, just like the assholes who love in Resting On My Laurels Canyon. I’m gonna stay where I am. Three pimps live next door and there’s some strippers, some Mexicans, and a guy named Sparky. This one guy who lives on my left side is a maniac, misfit unemployed actor named Richard Rust. He broke into my house while I was gone and stole my machete. He cleverly took the window off and came in and was sitting in the kitchen playing the piano about 3 in the morning. My friend Chuck E. Weiss was there and heard it and went OOOOOWWWWWEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOO (the scary sound Robert Klein makes). It was like The Beast With Five Fingers. Turned out to be Richard Rust high on some industrial strength shit. I’ve got some punks living behind me.
“Since your own music is revolting to some people, how do you feel about punk rock?”
I’d rather listen to some young kid in a leather jacket singing a song about, “I want to eat out my mother” than to hear some of these insipid guys, with their cowboy boots and embroidered shirts doing “Six Days on the Road.” It may be revolting to a lot of people but out of that will come some important events. I like Mink Deville. It’s a broad category, but at least it’s an alternative to the garbage that’s been around for ten years—like Crosby Steals the Cash. I’ve had it up to here with that; I need to hear another group that like that like I need another dick. I prefer an alternative to that, no matter how violent.
I was on the Bowery in New York and stood out in front of CBGBs one night. There were all these cats in small lapels and pointed shoes smokin’ Pall Malls and bullshitting with the winos. It was good. I was drinkin’ Wild Irish Rose. It’s not liquor and it doesn’t come from any produce, but it certainly alters your consciousness. The high lasts a couple hours and after that you go back to your hotel and throw up. You need a day off afterwards.
“Do you drink a lot to live up to your image?”
I Don’t drink when I’m working. John my road manager, does. He buys bargain stuff, like Frank’s Scotch, or Bensen & Hedges brewed in Rochester. He was my inspiration for my line, “I’ll meet you at the bottom of a bottle of bargain Scotch.” When I was on “Fernwood 2Night,” Martin Mull was the host and he apologized for having only a Diet Pepsi to offer me. I started drinking from a flask I had in my coat and he said something about me sitting there with a bottle in front of me. So I said, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” Later I said, “People who can’t face drugs turn to reality.”
Martin is an old friend of mine. I used to be his opening act. He got his start as a labor organizer in a maternity ward.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
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Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
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Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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