The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Tom Waits

12-4-07 Tom Waits

(re-run from Aug. ’02)


I sure wish I had never sold my Japanese pressing double LP of this! I suppose it’s nice that a double LP can fit onto a single CD – but the ‘flat’ CD sound combined with the postage-stamp sized graphics make for a less aesthetically pleasing package overall. I would re-buy an LP version of this set, but I haven’t seen any around…lately.

Mr. Waits was very much on his way to figuring out what he was trying to do by this point. “Nighthawks” is a live album, and he is clearly having fun with his material and performance. Some of his pre-1980 studio LP’s don’t always convey this fun and expertise (to me anyway).

The band is good, his voice is pure gravel (but he still sounds young) – the humor was still being polished, but was 100% present here. If I were compiling a Tom Waits box set, I would liberally include material from “Nighthawks”.

Soon, “Heart Attack and Vine” (1980) would clearly point the way to his destination – his masterpiece LP’s such as “Swordfishtrombones” and “Rain Dogs”. The TV commercials for “Rain Dogs” are among the finest advertising I’ve ever seen (thanks to MuchMusic, Canada and my old C-Band 12 foot satellite dish!).

Here are some short Tom Waits stories, which were told to me by the people it happened to (so I don’t think these are Tom Waits ‘urban legends’):

When Peter Hammill first came to L.A. in the 1970’s, he stayed at the old Tropicana Hotel (Motel?) on Santa Monica Blvd. When Hammill’s name was spoken (upon his check-in), Waits (who was sleeping under a newspaper on a couch in the lobby) sat up and said loudly, “Hey, Hammill!”, as though they were old friends – Mr. Hammill had little or no idea who Mr. Waits was and was a bit taken aback. (Tony Harrington)

Once at a Filmex (L.A. 70’s film festival) screening (no, I don’t know for what film), a woman with lots of (presumably puffed-up) hair sat in front of Mr. Waits. According to the person who told me this story, Waits couldn’t stop talking through the film and making comments about the woman’s hair (a la, “Hey sister, you got a giant black Q-Tip or somethin’?” etc).

My own Waits story has little or no action in it – I saw him sitting near Mark Mothersbaugh at the Los Angeles concert of Les Rita Mitsouko back in the late 1980’s (at the Flaming Colossus, downtown).

2007 addendum: I still like everything from “Heart Attack & Vine” up to the end of his Island era. Where’s the DVD of “Big Time”?


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