The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: At Home with Tom Waits in ’76
Hell didn't exactly break loose when Richard Cromelin went to visit Tom Waits in Silver Lake, but Cromelin did come away with this great portrait of the professional barfly for the Los Angeles Times, date March 14, 1976——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages
There's no place like Tom Waits' home. There's no home, at any rate, quite like Tom Waits' place. The Silver Lake court cottage looks like the neglected back room of a slumping thrift shop, its contents to be filed when there's room up front.
"You might see something here that I've been looking for for six months," Waits growls from amid the chaos," and I wish you'd tell me because I've lost a lot of things."
A bookshelf holding poetry volumes and vintage hardcover copies of Angry Young Men novels is the room's only concession of Kerouac's Visions of Cody and an album featuring Kerouac reading to Steve Allen's piano accompaniment receive no special treatment. They lie among the skin magazines, traffic tickets, discarded socks and shoes, beneath the Waits Towers — precarious piles of records, tapes, boxes and beer cans atop hidden pieces of furniture. The ashtrays overflow with Old Gold butts, and a huge neon sign proclaiming "Cocktails" leans into one corner. Waits, on a dare, unbolted it from the front of a downtown bar one night. It was heavy, but the demise of his '54 Cadillac's power steering has led to strong biceps.
Tom Waits is one of the most critically admired writers and performers around and the object of a small but intense and growing following. Whether you're a friend, foe ("You are an insensitive bastard and I wish that I'd never met you," reads a sample of his fan mail. "Also you are extremely cruel and thoughtless") or of no opinion, you must concede he's a one of a kind.
Artistically, he's a specialist, the poet of the heart of Saturday night — "the dark, warm narcotic American night," he calls it in 'Putnam County'. His flair for pungent detail and his sensuous imagery bring vibrancy and dimension to his neon maze and its asphalt escape chutes (from 'Ol' '55', the Waits "signature piece" that he wishes weren't: "... I'm riding with lady luck/ Freeway cars and trucks/ Stars beginnin' to fade/ And I lead the parade.")
From the vantage point of the determined loner, he strolls the all-night diners, burrito stands, truck stops and Hollywood dives on a sacramental midnight mission, ending in a dawn that, for him, cracks like a bullwhip and turns the sky the color of Pepto-Bismol. Paul Bunyan used logs as toothpicks; for Waits, the parking meters are walking sticks.