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Authors: Jay S. Jacobs

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Wild Years

BOOK: Wild Years
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Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © ECW Press, 2000, 2006

Published by ECW Press
2120 Queen Street East, Suite 200
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
416.694.3348 /
[email protected]

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any process — electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise — without the prior written permission of the copyright owners and ECW Press.


Jacobs, Jay S., 1962-

Wild years: the music and myth of Tom Waits / Jay S. Jacobs – Rev. and updated ed.
Includes bibliographic references, discography and index.

ISBN 978-1-55022-716-I

1. Waits, Tom, 1949- . 2. Singers – United States – Biography.
3. Actors – United States – Biography. I. Title.

ML420.W145J17 2005  782.42164'092  C2005-907235-0

Front cover photo: Jay Blakesberg
Back cover photo: Ebet Roberts / Redferns
Copy editors: Mary Williams and Crissy Boylan
Cover design: Guylaine Régimbald –
Typesetting: Yolande Martel
Second printing: Transcontinental

This book is set in Minion and Univers





Introduction: Little Trip to Heaven

    Old Shoes and Picture Postcards

    Asylum Years

    Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night

    Warm Beer and Cold Women

    Foreign Affairs

    This One's from the Heart


    Frank's Wild Years

    The Large Print Giveth, and the Small Print Taketh Away

    Who Are You Now?

    What's He Building in There?

    The Long Way Home






I would like to thank all those people who played either small or large parts in the creation of this book. It would have been impossible without them.

To Leslie Diamond and Debbie Jacobs, thanks for always being there with advice, help, and the occasional kick in the backside when I needed it.

To Robert Lecker, Holly Potter, Emma McKay, Mary Williams, and the people of ECW Press, thank you for this wonderful opportunity and for having so much faith in me.

To Gary Tausch, thank you so much for your tireless assistance with my research, for sharing your encyclopedic knowledge with me, and for giving me access to your vast library. You were truly indispensable.

To Craig Morrison, I am very grateful for all of your editorial advice and suggestions. You have played a vital role in making this book what it is.

To Bones Howe, Jerry Yester, David Geffen, Mike Melvoin, Francis Ford Coppola, and everyone else who so generously shared their feelings about, and memories of, Tom Waits (both on and off the record), thank you. Also, to Barney Hoskyns, David Zimmer, Mark Rowland, and the good people at
Rolling Stone
and kcrw radio, thank you for allowing me to draw on your work.

To Lou Hirshorn, Mark and Marie Healy, Bob, Roni, and Colleen McGowan, Drew Bergman, Sam Bergman, John Ruback, Damian Childress, Phil Green, Ron Sklar, Mary Aloe, George Wagner, Ken and Terry Sharp, Lucille Falk, Frances Zucker, Wayne Diamond, Alan and Sandra Feroe, Dave Feroe, Kathy Feroe, Christina Feroe, Sheila Graham, Ron Merx, and so many others, thank you for taking me away from the computer for the occasional stiff drink (or whatever) and listening to me bitch on and on about things without telling me to shut up. It's appreciated more than you know.

Lastly — and most importantly — to Tom Waits, thank you for being such an inspiration, both as an artist and a man, for so many years. I know that your next fifty years will be as fascinating as your last fifty have been.


Diligent efforts have been made to contact copyright holders; please excuse any inadvertent errors or omissions, but if anyone has been unintentionally omitted, the publisher would be pleased to receive notification and to make acknowledgments in future printings.

Excerpts from “The Resurrection of Tom Waits,” by David Fricke from
Rolling Stone,
June 24, 1999, by Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P. 1999. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits for His Next Album,” by Mikal Gilmore from
Rolling Stone,
September 7, 1978, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1978. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits Talks to Barney Hoskyns,” “Tom Waits – the
Interview,” and “The Marlowe of the Ivories,” by Barney Hoskyns reprinted by permission of the author. Excerpts from “Side Man,” by George Kanzler, used by permission of the Newark (nj)
Star Ledger
. Excerpts from kcrw-fm interviews with Dierdre O'Donohue, Chris Douridas, and Tom Schnobbel, reprinted by permission of kcrw-fm, Los Angeles. Excerpt from email sent by Don Roy King to Blue Valentines, the Italian Tom Waits fan club, reprinted by permission of the author. Excerpts from “Smelling Like a Brewery, Looking Like a Tramp,” by David McGee from
Rolling Stone,
January 27, 1977, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1977. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits: A Drifter Finds a Home,” by Elliott Murphy from
Rolling Stone,
January 30, 1986, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1986. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “20 Questions: Tom Waits,”
magazine (March 1988). Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. Excerpts from “Tom Waits on ‘One from the Heart,'” by Steve Pond from
Rolling Stone,
April 1, 1982, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1982. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Quote from “Party 2000: Tom Waits,” by Tom Waits, from
Rolling Stone,
December 30, 1999–January 6, 2000, by Straight Arrow Publishers Company, L.P. 1999. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits Is Flying Upside Down (On Purpose)” and “Tom Waits' Wild Year,” by Mark Rowland, used by permission of the author. Quote from
Rolling Stone Raves! What Your
Rock & Roll Favorites Favor,
compiled by Anthony Bozza and edited by Shawn Dahl and published by Rolling Stone Press, 1983, 1995. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits and His Act,” by David Sheff from
Rolling Stone,
October 6, 1988, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1988. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits, All-Night Rambler,” by Rich Wiseman from
Rolling Stone,
January 30, 1975, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1975. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits Arrested in L.A.,” by Delores Ziebarth from
Rolling Stone,
July 14, 1977, by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. 1977. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from “Tom Waits' Hollywood Confidential,” by Dave Zimmer, reprinted by permission of the author.

Little Trip to Heaven

A seedy skid-row bar. A defective neon beer sign sputters and a television drones on, unwatched. A tired bartender with a hard face mops the bar top with a towel. A cocktail waitress, aged before her time, sits alone, occasionally casting glances at the joint's only patron. He motions once in a while for a refill and continues to gaze at the battered, varnished wood of the bar and the little bubbles in his glass.

Such scenarios come to most people's minds when they think of Tom Waits. A 2:00 a.m. world where the disenfranchised struggle to forget life's little indignities. Here, love is a fleeting ideal. Dreams never come true, but they are relentlessly manufactured, a comfort, a way to get through the night.

Tom Waits is the poet laureate of homesick sailors, down-on-their-luck traveling salesmen, dance-hall girls — anyone seeking refuge from life's disappointments at the bottom of a glass. Waits's vision is an American Gothic of three-time losers, lost souls, and carnival folk. Driving this vision is the artist's understanding of such people. He refuses to look down on them. Some of his critics have said that he has sentimentalized them, but this is rarely true. Waits habitually respects his subjects because of — not despite — their faults and weaknesses. To him there has always been a shabby nobility about surviving in a hard, cold world. And sometimes the bravest thing a person can do is stay the course and hold on to his dreams and ideals.

In 1976, Waits told
“There's a common loneliness that just sprawls from coast to coast. It's like a common disjointed identity crisis. It's the dark, warm, narcotic American night.”
This, more than anything else, is what intoxicates Tom Waits. Not alcohol, not drugs, not fame, not
fortune . . . but maybe love. He's inspired and challenged by the endless possibilities, the desperation, the hurried compromises made in order to survive and maybe even grab a little happiness.

The irony of Tom Waits's career is that
he found happiness, love, and sobriety, his music became more and more experimental. Starting with
in 1983, his work became increasingly primitive and sensual. The melodic conventions and piano-based instrumentation of his earlier albums gave way to a much more radical sound.

Then, in 1999, the album
Mule Variations
brought Waits's project full circle. The two extremes of his music — the jazzy saloon ballads and the weird Harry Partch–meets–Bertolt Brecht dance-hall music from hell —came together in a unified, breathtaking whole. Critical acclaim for his work intensified. In the meantime, Waits had abandoned his low-life urban hipster persona and been reborn as a nice, contented, slightly eccentric gentleman farmer, husband, and dad.

Still, as his music and his persona underwent these transformations, Waits's focus on the common man never wavered. And the consistency of his themes signaled to some members of the record-buying public that little had changed. “I seem to have a wide reputation,” Waits admitted to writer Mark Rowland in 1993, “but my records don't sell a lot. A lot of people seem to have bought one record or heard one record a long time ago and got me down, so they don't have to check in anymore: ‘Oh, that guy. The one with the deep voice without a shave? Know him. Sings about eggs and sausages? Yeah, got it.'”

BOOK: Wild Years
12.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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