Monday, 24 May 2010

Tom Waits Interview Text

Pitchfork: There is a rich and wonderful American history of tough, scrappy songwriters-- everyone from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott to Bob Dylan-- compulsively mythologizing themselves, inventing backstories, changing their names, developing personas to work alongside songs. Is there a Tom Waits mythology? Tom Waits: I’m sure there is. The fact is most of the things that people know about me are made up. My own life is backstage. So what you “know” about me is only what I allowed you to know about me. So it’s like a ventriloquist act. And it’s also a way of safely keeping your personal life out of your business. Which is healthy and essential. I’m not one of those people the tabloids chase around. You have to put off that smell-- it’s like blood in the water for a shark. And they know it, and they know that you’ve also agreed. And I’m not one of those. I make stuff up. There’s nothing that you can say that will mean the same thing once it’s been repeated. We’re all making leaner versions of stories. Before there was recording, everything was subject to the folk process. And we were all part of composing in the evolution and the migration of songs. We all reached out, and they all passed through our hands at some point. You dropped a verse or changed the gender or cleaned up a verse for your kids or added something more appropriate for your community. Anything that says “Traditional,” it’s “Hey, I wrote that, I’m part of that.” Just like when a joke reaches you-- how did it reach you? If you could go back and retrace it, that would be fascinating. Pitchfork: So the second you write something down, it’s fiction. Tom Waits: There is no such thing as nonfiction. There is no such thing as truth. People who really know what happened aren’t talking. And the people who don’t have a clue, you can’t shut them up. It’s the same with your own stories, the ones that circulate around with your family and your friends. We’re all part of the same hypocrisy. Pitchfork: Do you keep a notebook? Tom Waits: Oh yeah, everybody does! Life is too confusing. Monkey wrenches, pocket knives, dog food, instant coffee, lipstick. You gotta get it organized somehow. Pitchfork: Thanks so much for talking with me. Tom Waits: Oh! OK. Alright. I’ll leave you with a few little things out of my book here. In Los Angeles, it’s illegal for a man to beat his wife unless he’s on the courthouse steps. In Tulsa, it’s against the law to open a soda bottle without the supervision of a licensed engineer. In Texas, the Encyclopedia Britannica is banned because it contains the formula for making home brew. In Claradon, Texas, it’s illegal to dust any public building with a feather duster. In Washington, it’s illegal to paint polka dots on the American flag. There are only two things you can throw out the window of a moving car, legally. Do you know what they are? Pitchfork: Um… Tom Waits: Water. And feathers. Everything else you can get in trouble for.

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