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Happy Birthday, Tom Waits!

| December 7, 2014 | 6 Comments


Tom Waits is as much of a character as any of the hundreds of freaks, carnies and people waiting for salvation at the bottom of a glass that he creates in his songs.

It was in 1973 that Waits launched his whiskey-soaked persona with the release of Closing Time, an album of bluesy ballads of love gone sour that perfectly matched the atmosphere of the smoky places he played. His stage shows consisted of a piano, a lamp post, a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of bourbon, while he rasped his way through the lives of lovable losers with brilliant lines like a sailor who “dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes and marmalade thighs and scrambled yellow hair.”

After four decades, a 2011 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 24 albums and countless characters later, Waits is still making us smile, cry and sing along to songs that set the bar for what great writing is. “Ol’  55,” “Heart of Saturday Night,” “Grapefruit Moon,” “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” and “Day After Tomorrow,” just for starters. Tom Waits is a national treasure, and today we celebrate his birthday with a few of his memorable quotes and clips. Happy, happy birthday, Tom!

On goals:

“I’m skeptical about a lifestyle in which you are doing nothing more than having a vicarious thrill about the way things used to be.”

On success:

“It’s very easy to elevate yourself from the things that used to really bother you. The music industry is famous for it. And what it does is drive you further and further from those things which are originally inspiring and important for you to deal with, live with, and write about.”

On his birth:

“I was born in Pomona. I couldn’t help it. Told the cab driver to keep goin’ ’cause I wanted to be born in Pico Rivera.”

On his stage act:

“I fancy myself more of a storyteller. I talk too much sometimes on stage. When I got to a nightclub and I pay six bucks, I don’t want to watch some guy get up there in a suit and tell you about his old lady, and his dog, and his earth shoes. I want somebody to take me somewhere.”

On touring:

“Touring is like an affair with the country. It’s like this big girl, and you’re slowly undressing her. You start in Washington, D.C., finally peel her like a grape. Then she falls asleep.”

On adventures on the road:

“I once got caught in a pimp war in a grease joint at 9th and Hennepin in Minneapolis [note the ” 9th and Hennepin” song title on the 1985 Raindogs album.] I remember I was listening to Dinah Washington sing ‘Our Day Will Come,’ and that it was taking on new meaning as I watched a 13-year-old pimp hurling kitchen utensils out the door. He picked up my napkin dispenser and used it as a weapon. They were shooting live ammunition over all our heads. It was very basic training for everyone present. And it was about 30 below.”

On turning points:

“I remember the first time I sat in a nightclub and watched Lightnin’ Hopkins. Man, you know? I was trying to decide then that I didn’t want to work in a furniture warehouse, and I needed something to push me over the falls. That did it.”

On his voice:

“It’s true, I’ll never sing opera again. It is, however, an appropriate organ for conveying; it’s the right horn for my car. People get out of the way when I blow it. It frightens children and gets me a seat at the bar. What more do you want from a voice?”

On songwriting:

“If you can make a little painting for the ears with a few words, well, I like words: I like cutting them up and finding different ways of saying the same thing. I get into a spell, and it all comes easy. I don’t labor over it. I go inside the song. I think you make yourself an antenna for songs, and songs want to be around you. And then they bring other songs along, and then they’re all sittin’ around, and they’re drinking your beer, and they’re sleeping on the floor. And they are using the phone. They’re rude, thankless little fuckers.”

On his habit of writing songs quickly, in a short span of time:

“Which is not to say that you write at the last minute. It’s to say you had six months to think about it, and six hours to put it down. If the equation is turned the other way, it doesn’t help you.”

From Performing Songwriter Issue 39, July/August 1999

Category: In Case You Haven't Heard

Comments (6)

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  1. Larry Linn says:

    Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends.
    TW

  2. patricia says:

    Whoa city, been listening to u since 70′s ( high-school, MD.)
    Awesome ur great…..loads of good memories & No worries coming up
    living the vida loco…many thank yous Tom.

    Pat. (Around Chicago)

  3. Linn Bobo says:

    Wishing you a very Happy Birthday and to thank you for bringing us your music!

  4. Rose says:

    Happy Birthday Tom Waits! I am so thankful that you were born so that I and millions of others may listen to your genius. Your lyrics and voice make my heart happy.

  5. mark edwards says:

    Happy b-day Tom, another year shot to hell,,,

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