Tom Waits: Georgia Lee

7 Dec

Tom Waits: Mule Variations

Tom Waits' 1999 album Mule Variations

Birthday greetings to Tom Waits, who celebrates No. 62 today.

If you’re wondering why Waits recently released his first new album in five years, the answer is on his website: Said Waits: “There’s only one reason why you write new songs: You get sick of the old songs.”

Waits might, even if his audience doesn’t. For that we can be thankful, because a new album means a new round of interviews, and a new round of witticisms. Waits’ website even has a listing of  his best through the years; some, but not all, of those that follow are from there:

  • On being inducted into the Hall of Fame: “They say I have no hits and that I’m difficult to work with . . . like it’s a bad thing.” (New York Times)
  • On corporate influence in rock and roll: “If Michael Jackson wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn’t he just get himself a suit and an office in their headquarters and be done with it?” (wikipedia)
  • On helping his kids with their homework: “The other day I overheard my older kids talking to my younger boy and they were saying, “Don’t ever, don’t ever ask Dad to help you with your homework.’ They said I made up a war once.” (
  • On giving up drinking: “I didn’t know what to do with my hands.” (Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross,,
  • On his parents: “My father was an exhaust manifold and my mother was a tree.” (David Letterman interview;

If there was a They Said It for musicians, as there is for sports figures in Sports Illustrated, Waits would be omnipresent.

(That’s before we even delve into his lyrics: “Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, that’s just God when he’s drunk;” or “If I exorcise my devils. Well my angels may leave too.” or “I don’t have a drinking problem ‘cept when I can’t get a drink.”)

If Oscar Wilde’s wit is present in music today, it’s best evoked by Tom Waits, in the voice famously described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding “”like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.”

And yet Waits can use that voice to  emote vulnerability, too, or tenderness, as he does in I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You or Little Trip To Heaven (On The Wings Of Your Love).

The New York Times once called Waits the “poet of the outcasts.” Thankfully, there’s a whole lot of outcasts for him to reach.

“I guess I’ve always lived upside down,” Waits told Terry Gross in an interview this fall with NPR’s Fresh Air. “I want things I can’t have. My wife, actually, thinks that I have a syndrome, it’s called reality distortion field. You know, it’s kind of like drugs, only you can’t come back from it, you know. Reality distortion is almost a permanent condition. So I guess to a certain degree, I did that with myself.”



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