A Grizzled Troubadour Dusts Off His Bowler–LISTEN—
ON an impulse, or so it seemed, Tom Waits pulled his S.U.V. onto the railroad tracks that run behind his favorite defunct truck stop: a place formerly called Rhinehardt’s, now locked up and out of business with its old Formica lunch counter still visible in the dusty interior. About a half-hour earlier, as we were conversing in the parking lot, a train had rushed past with its whistle hooting. “What if I just turned the car off and I can’t get it started again?” he asked. “You O.K. with that? Let’s just live dangerously.”
He cut the engine and gazed out along the tracks. And after a suitably dramatic pause he started up again and pulled off, smiling at the little burst of what-if adrenaline. “It’s a lifesaver, adrenaline,” he said in his famously gravelly voice. “I think I have an adrenaline addiction, no question about that.”
Adrenaline and restlessness course through “Bad as Me” (Anti-), Mr. Waits’s new album and first full set of new songs since “Real Gone” in 2004. Mr. Waits, who largely shuns interviews, was diligently promoting it, showing some personal landmarks in the Northern California town where he has long resided.
At 61 Mr. Waits is acclaimed as an American marvel: a songwriter who can be smart and primal, raucous and meticulous, ethereal and earthy, bleak and comical. He has sung about drunks, tramps, carnies and killers, spinning tall tales and reeling off free-associations that somehow add up; he has also shown a vulnerable side in tender, unironic love songs. He has been recording for four decades and persisting on his own terms, particularly since 1980. That’s when he married Kathleen Brennan, who became his partner in songwriting and production and helped forge a sound to match his voice and their lyrics: part old weird America, part junk sculpture, part mad-scientist experiment, part cartoon, part hellfire sermon, part throw-down.
Tom Waits: A Desperate Voice For Desperate Times
Tom Waits generally sings like a psychotic carnival barker or a drunken lounge crooner. And I really mean that as a compliment.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, that voice. Pushed to extremes like the characters in his songs, his voice is an exaggeration full of truth. He’s a singer of blues sentiment like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins or Howlin’ Wolf or Radiohead‘s Thom Yorke. His latest album is called Bad As Me, and the songs on it sound truer than ever — partly because Waits’ songwriting and arranging are still extremely potent, and partly because his thematic desperation fits this particular moment in history like a ragged glove.
Tom Waits: The Fresh Air Interview
Tom Waits recorded his new album Bad As Me,his first collection of all-new studio recordings in eight years, in his studio, which he calls “Rabbit Foot” for good luck. The space, a converted schoolhouse, still has class pictures dotting the walls of each classroom.
“I never had my own place before,” he tellsFresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “[In a studio], you know there was a band before you and you know you have to pack up at the end of your session because there was a band behind you. You have to photograph the board so no one changes your settings. Now, this is my own rig. It’s my own trailer.”
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