If ever there was an epitome of what cultural critic Greil Marcus describes as the “crank prophet”, it is Tom Waits.
Part carnival barker, part wild preacher, part sonic pioneer, Waits has survived and thrived against all odds, to become one of the real eccentrics of his time. The iron curtain that protects his hermit-like private life has only added to his mystique, while his penchant for wild tales has embellished the little truth that has weaseled its way out into the daylight. Those who desire a deeper look inside the crazy world of this troubadour will gladly lose themselves within the pages of Innocent when you Dream: The Tom Waits Reader.
This first collection of writings on Waits includes interviews, reviews, profiles and conversations that span his 30-year career in music, film and theatre. Editor Mac Montandon has collated a fantastic collection of writings that will have you in stitches one minute and deep introspection the next, such is the persona that Waits brings to the interview table. Whether he is discussing the demise of swing with Elvis Costello — “Jazz developed nylon socks, it was out by the pool eventually” — or telling Jim Jarmusch about recording with Keith Richards — “Keith is great ’cause he’s like a vulture, he circles it and then goes in and takes the eyes out” — Waits is on top form, which makes this book a real page-turner.
The other recent Waits release is his 56-track outtakes compilation titled Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards (Alter-Ego). The story goes that three years ago Waits and his wife Kathleen Brennan began to gather together rare tracks for an outtakes compilation. As this process of rediscovery took shape, however, they began to rerecord older songs and write new material, so the project mutated, changing shape as they went along. The end result is 26 rare Waits tracks and 30 brand-new recordings, effortlessly coexisting across three themed discs.
You get the 16-track Brawlers containing his primal blues, rock’n’roll boogies and roadhouse workouts, of which the highlight is the bluesy Israel/Palestine protest song Road to Peace, which sees Waits tackling the volatile world of suicide bombers, over-the-top Israeli military retaliations and American apathy. But the 20-track disc, Bawlers, which contains Waits’s lonesome ballads and gospel-influenced tracks, is the most accessible of the three discs. Shuffling jazz numbers such as You Can Never Hold Back Spring effortlessly blend in with country ballads like Long Way Home and waltzes like Widow’s Grove. The third disc, Bastards, is an 18-track disc of sound experiments, dark tales, covers and various other odds and sods.
Waits has said that he wanted the record to be like emptying pockets on the table after “an evening of gambling, burglary and cow tipping”. As a whole, Orphans remains an undeniably seamless portrait of the weird and wonderful world of the outsider artist, an inspiring cacophony of the dark, twisted America that Waits has been introducing us to for decades. Perhaps we should leave the last word to Waits himself when he describes Orphans as a “dead-end kid driving a coffin with big tires, across the Ohio River, wearing welding goggles and a wife beater, with a lit firecracker in his ear”.