November 14, 2006

Should I play ball with the dog, or walk away


Martin Parr, Think of England 85, Brighton, 1999

* 1993 Jim Jarmuch interview of Tom Waits. excerpt:

JJ: Do you sometimes sketch out your songs with other musicians?

TW: Yeah. We had a session a week ago where we took just viola, double bass and cello, and we created a pointillist kind of ant colony. It just happened very spontaneous and thrilling. Conceptually, working with suggestions is usually the best way for me. We made up a train, a monster-- Sometimes it's good to combine high music with low music, orchestral guys with guys that play in the train station. Then, through the conflict of background you go to a new place. And there's a lot of orchestral guys who rarely get an opportunity to just, to abandon their history on the instrument, just play free, go to a totally free zone, and you fall into these Bermuda Triangles of rhythm, melody. And lately those are the places that I like to go to.

But most of the songs I write are very simple. They're three-legged chairs, and you make 'em very fast. You provide just enough for them to be able to stand up...You paint 'em, let 'em dry and move on to the next one. I mean the songs on 'Bone Machine' are all really simple songs, "Murder in the Red Barn", "That Feel", "In the Coliseum", "Earth Died Screaming", mostly written with just a drum in a room, and my
voice, just hollering it out, until -- like the other day when we were in there making photos.
...
JJ: You've written stuff with him [Keith Richards] before.

TW: Yeah, he's all intuition. I mostly play drums, he plays guitar. He stands out in the middle of the room and does those Chuck Berry splits, y'know, and leans over and turns it up on 10 and just grungg! I mostly just play drums. He plays drums, too, he plays everything. It was good. I'm just recently starting to collaborate in writing and find it to be really thrilling. And Keith is great 'cause he's like a vulture, he circles it and then he goes in and takes the eyes out. It was great. I guess we maybe wrote enough for a record, but everything didn't get finished, so --There was one called "Good Dogwood", about the carpenter that made the cross that
Jesus hung on. (Sings:) "Made the other two out of pretty good pine, they all seemed to be doing just fine, but I hung my lord on good dogwood, huh!(40 ton)...And I made my house myself, and I know he likes the workmanship 'cause he's a carpenter himself, and I made the other two out of pretty good pine, they all seemed to be doing just fine, but I hung my lord on good dogwood." Dogwood is what the cross was made out of. And they say after Jesus went up to heaven that the blossoms on the dogwood developed a red cross in the bloom, and you can see it in the dogwood blossom. And that wasn't until after He had risen. So, uh, that was a good one.
...
JJ: When I was a kid and first read Jack Kerouac, when I was 15 or something, I read 'On the Road', and it didn't speak to me. I didn't get it. I mean I liked the adventure of it, but the language of it seemed slapped together and shoddy to me. And four or five years later I hear Kerouac on tape reading stuff, and suddenly I got it, immediately I got it, and I went back and I read that and 'The Subterraneans', and I understood. But without that first understanding his voice and his way of hearing language, it was hard for me to get it off the page. Now it's permanently in me, I can read it, I can pick up Kerouac and I hear his voice. Breathing and phrasing and be-bop and sound influenced his way of thinking about
language.

TW: Yeah, I agree. It's like for Robert Wilson, words are like tacks or like broken glass. He doesn't know what to do with them. He lays down on them and it's alway uncomfortable. He wants to melt them down or just line 'em up and use 'em as design, or whatever, because he doesn't like to deal with them. I love reference books that help me with words, dictionaries of slang or the 'Dictionary of Superstition', or the 'Phrase and Fable, Book of Knowledge', things that help me find words that have a musicality to them. Sometimes that's all you're looking for. Or to make sounds that aren't words, necessarily. They're just sounds and they have a nice shape to them. They're big at the end and then they come down to a little point that curls. Words, y'know, for me are really, I love 'em, I'm always lookin' for 'em, I'm always writin' 'em down, always writin' down stuff. Language is always
evolving. I love slang, prison slang and street idioms and --
...
JJ: What writers do you like?

TW: 'Course Bukowski, the new collection is great, the 'Last Night of the Earth' poems. The one called "You Know and I Know and Thee Know"...there's some beautiful things in there, very mature, and (with an) end of the world sadness. And Cormac McCarthy I like. He has a new novel called 'All the Pretty Horses'.

JJ: You worked with William Burroughs on 'The Black Rider'. What do you think about Burroughs? Burroughs has always incorporated the language of criminals and junkies and street stuff into that like process that he runs the words through.

TW: Yeah, I love Burroughs. He's like a metal desk. He's like a still, and everything that comes out of him is already whiskey.

* The best metal/punk band with an eight-year-old singer/guitar player.

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