In 1971, Tom Waits pulled up a bench behind a drunken piano in a Los Angeles jazz bar and weaved half notes through the smoky air like sonic beacons through the fog. He prowled around with the kind of voice that could open an oyster a mile away, partly because the little thing would be hated not to catch a glimpse of the seductive numen on stage.
However, he was so truly singular that when he looked up from the keys of the Steinway to see the reaction was largely positive, he was so startled that he nearly dropped his whiskey as an inch of ash hung from the cigarette. somehow defying gravity and balancing between his lips. Had the holy brew slipped from his hands, he might have stopped it, but luckily for us, he managed to grab it like a crucifix, and it still drew little wonders from the ether.
He soon found himself signed to Asylum Records and then fatally tasked with a creative soul mate in the form of producer Bones Howe. What followed was a host of unique, piano-driven masterpieces that combined beat literature with its own stories stuck to the sticky mats of dive bars like wrappers for a pocket caramel – stories soon torn out and raised to floating heights in the middle of Waits. wildly imagined firmament.
Eight years after his musical exploration of the peripheries of society in a somewhat professional capacity, a rather drastic change in style has occurred. In 1982, Waits produced the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola’s film one of the heart. His label at the time, Elektra-Asylum, deemed his style change disastrous and dropped him. It was picked up by Island Records and, as if to rub it on his old label, he produced three more experimental tracks and they were all met with rightful praise.
Behind this change was a giant inspiration. one of the heart was the last album Waits recorded with Bones Howe after a decade of collaboration. As the producer recalled, “He called me and said, ‘Can we have a drink?’ He told me he realized one night that while writing a song, he thought, ‘If I write this, will Bones like it?’ I told him that we were becoming a bit like an old married couple. I said I didn’t want to be the reason an artist can’t create. It was time for him to find another producer. We shook hands and that was it. It was a great race.
And speaking of married couples, thanks to Coppola, Waits had a new muse. While working on the album at Wally Heider Studios in Hollywood, Waits waltzed in one day and passed out for employee Kathleen Brennan so hard that his hat almost finally wobbled off his twisted head. Luckily, he pretty much stuck around and backed up her mojo enough to ask her out and later ask her to marry him. She said yes.
“Kathleen was the first person who convinced me that you can take James White and the Blacks, and Elmer Bernstein and Lead Belly – people who could never be on the bill together – and they could be on the displays together in you,” Wait once said when discussing the strength she had for her ensuing creative output. “You take your dad’s military uniform and your mom’s Easter hat and your brother’s motorcycle and your sister’s handbag and sew them all together and try to make something meaningful out of them.”
albums like rain dogs reaped the rewards of that creative momentum as Kathleen encouraged wild new license. The records that followed were frenetic and filled with so many artistic influences that they eventually resulted in something so singular it could only be described as Waits-ian. And what’s more, the couple have remained mutual muses since they first met me and fell in love.
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