Once you’ve dipped a toe in the world of Tom Waits, there’s no going back. Much like the wonderland of our Alice (which his album of the same name explored), it’s a world of sadness and light, of otherworldly freakiness and unexpected joy. Whether you dig the balladeering of his early Asylum records, the madman stomp of Bone Machine, or gravelly universal man-about-world anthems like ‘Come On Up To The House’, he’s an artist as impossible to pigeonhole as he is to compare.
Part of his far-reaching appeal has always been the persona- watch footage of his all-too-rare gigs, and they are as much stand-up show as concert. He’s self-deprecating, world-wise/weary, cheeky and quite clearly fucking shit-bat bonkers , managing to give the impression he’s just a Regular Joe whilst clearly having the mind that operates far outside the orbit of us mortals.
Renowned for pulling journalists’ legs, his interviews are so full of tales and left turns that you never really know if he’s lying or telling the truth. Of course this makes them all the more entertaining. Although I could never list all the memorable quotes attributed to the man in one piece and really you could just look through any interview and pluck a few pearls out, here’s a selection of some his better ones. Shout-out to the Innocent When You Dream interview compendium for supplying a lot of the quotes here: essential reading for any vague Waits fan, and probably the best toilet book on the planet…
1: “I taught Mickey Mouse everything he knows.”
2: “Most of the big things I’ve learned in the last ten years. Of course I’ve been sober for twelve years. Let’s see, what have I learned? As a nation we are addicted to cigarettes and underwear.”
3: “If there is a Jesus of Nazareth, there had to be a Mike of the weeds and a Bob of the parking lot, Jim of the river. Steve of the backyard.”
4: “Mostly I straddle reality and the imagination. My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane.”
5: "A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion. But doesn’t."
6: On Keith Richards: “An animal. He’s part of the earth. “
7: “All songs should have weather in them. Name of towns and street, and they should have a couple of sailors. I think these are just song prerequisites.”
8: “Thelonious Monk’s brother works in a tollbooth on the Jersey Turnpike.”
9: On Perrier water: “The French pulled one over on us. They wash their feet in it and sell it to us for ninety nine cents a bottle.
10: “You can bang on anything.”
11: Being asked for advice for younger musicians: “Break windows, smoke cigars and stay up late. Tell ‘em to do that, they’ll find a little pot of gold.”
12: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
13: “I disavow any knowledge of the world of surfing. I say that without fear of contradiction.”
14: “I was a bouncer and a doorman, which meant I was bounced nightly.”
15: Don't plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke 'em down to nothin'. They're your days. Choke 'em.”
16: Being asked his favourite occupation: “Blacksmith, ventriloquist, magician, jockey, train conductor, tree surgeons, and lion tamer.”
17: “I have slept in a graveyard and I have rode the rails.”
18: “Anything you absorb you will ultimately secrete. It’s inevitable. Most of us are an original painting, and it’s a mystery to us what is learned and what is borrowed, what is stolen and what is born, what you came with and what you found while you were here.”
19: “I fancy myself more of a storyteller. I talk too much sometimes on stage. When I got to a nightclub and I pay six bucks, I don’t want to watch some guy get up there in a suit and tell you about his old lady, and his dog, and his earth shoes. I want somebody to take me somewhere.”
20: “They said I should be doing Shakespeare instead of all this pop music crap.”
21: “My career is more like a dog. Sometimes it comes when you call. Sometimes it gets up in your lap. Sometimes it rolls over. Sometimes it just won’t do anything.”
22: On rap: “It’s a real underground railroad.”
23: “God protects drunks and fools and little children. And dogs.”
24: “Women hear rhythm differently than men. Do you think there’s any kind of biological reason so many girls play bass?”
25: “If you’re ever pursued by a crocodile, run in a zigzag fashion. They have little or no ability to make sudden changes in direction. But they’re fast, they’re very fast. In fact there are probably more people killed by crocodiles than are anything. More than heart disease.”