Monday, June 16, 2008

"Tom, you project a very strange image..."

Welcome to Tom Waits Week here at Catfish Vegas Presents...

Until Friday we'll be celebrating and sharing the music and stories of the great and truly singular American icon Tom Waits. And then on Friday, it's off to El Paso to see the man himself in concert. Two Phoenix shows sold out in something like eight minutes (and tickets on Craigslist are going for something like $500 a pair), but apparently the LA crowd isn't willing to cruise the extra few hours down I-10. I was shocked a couple weeks ago when some friends said tickets were still available, but I got to it and ordered a pair myself.

And I've certainly been preparing, listening non-stop to Tom Waits. And while I had no doubt that his recording career was rich and varied enough to support this sort of extended immersion, the breadth of excellence is truly astonishing. The volume of top quality songs and albums recorded by Waits puts him in a league with probably just Dylan, Springsteen and Neil Young. And his personality dwarfs all those other fellers in terms of how captivating he is as a sheer character.

The quote leading off this post is from an appearance Waits did on The Mike Douglas Show in November 1976. Douglas introduces Waits as a "combination of a poet, jazz singer and vagrant, with a surprising amount of personal charm."

I'm about halfway through Jay S. Jacobs marvelous biography "Wild Years: The Music and Myth of Tom Waits," and Jacobs describes how shocking Waits was to the television folks: first Waits missed out on rehearsing because the security guard refused to let him into the building, then Douglas himself nearly freaked out when he found a "homeless" guy asleep on the green room couch.

After playing "Eggs and Sausage," Waits sat in for a typically mystifying interview, telling Douglas that he's "an unemployed service-station attendant" and he "just talk(s) this way on the weekends." Check out the clip:

And here's an August 1977 Waits appearance on Fernwood Tonight, with "The Piano Has Been Drinking" and another curveball interview:

Tom Waits - Eggs and Sausage (live KQRS, Minneapolis, Dec. 16, 1975)
Tom Waits - The Piano Has Been Drinking (live WNEW New York, Dec. 14, 1976)

Stay tuned all week for more Tom Waits...

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