Sunday, August 30, 2020

Waits and Me - Ramblings From 3am

When I look at the gritty persona and the Bukowski stylings, I can't associate much with Tom Waits. His is a life I am both jealous and afraid of. But when he talks about the Sav-on and the heart of Saturday night, I find a lot of me in there. It's the storytelling where we mesh. Indeed, Waits and I have told so many different stories that it's difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.

Waits spent most of his youth in Whittier, California with his parents and two sisters. His father played Spanish guitar, his mother always singing, the house filled with music. Waits then learned piano from his neighbor. 

There is so much "Jay" in that (of course, a shameless plug for Jay and the Americans). My neighbor in 7th grade was a woman who taught piano and worked in a piano bar on Roscoe Blvd. in the Valley. She'd written a hit for Frank Sinatra, and still she worked in a piano bar with a tip jar until 2:00 in the morning. She gave me free piano lessons and a key to her apartment, but I was as lazy as the day was long and her instruction never got me past Shaum's red book.

Like most of the kids, Waits had a gang of neighbor buddies and they were doing standard kid stuff - "Hanging around in the Sav-On parking lots and buying baseball cards" (from "Kentucky Avenue"). During one of his concerts in 1981, an incredible performance at McCabe's, Waits mentioned those little meaningful things from his childhood like having a tree fort, his first cigarette when he was seven, and being the neighborhood mechanic, repairing everyone's bicycles. When he was ten, his parents were divorced, and he moved with his mother and sisters to Chula Vista. He was fascinated by neighboring National City, a grimy suburb of San Diego, and here is where Tom was indoctrinated into a whole new world - he started hanging out with "pool hustlers, vinyl-booted go-go dancers, traveling salesmen and assorted gangsters." He was spending whole days watching movies at the Globe, a local movie theater, or playing on an old piano (which he got from a neighbor) in his garage. Tom acquired his appreciation for the blues while he was attending an all-black junior high school. There he became a huge fan of Ray Charles. 

So that's some romantic shit right there; I was too afraid of life for that. 

When he was fourteen, he worked at Napoleone's Pizza parlor. By then, music was the only thing that was important to Tom. He dropped out of school and began writing songs in earnest. Later he had a series of dead-end jobs like janitor, cook, dishwasher, cabdriver, fireman, delivery guy. Pretty much like all of us, but few of us have the opportunity to turn the mundane into genius.

You know that kid who everyone liked and the teacher thought was going to be a big star? The handsome guy who won the talent show and was popular with the ladies? Yeah, that wasn't him. Tom Waits said: "If I exorcise my demons, my angels may leave too" (from "Please Call Me, Baby"). When I wrote the character Maxwell Tennial (Max Ten), a young Waits was what I had in mind; a philosopher rogue who was popular despite himself – Tennial/Waits was who I wanted to be, my Tyler Durden, quoting Rimbaud and Hemingway. I didn't even come close, of course, just close to people like him – I was a disciple not a guru, but Waits, too, had the disciple in him, though his gurus were Bacon and Bukowski (mine, instead, was Walt Disney, and the Hari's on Hollywood Blvd - again, read Jay and the Americans).

That in mind, "Champaign for my real friends,/ Real pain for my sham friends" was actually from Francis Bacon, and from Rainer Maria Rilke, who rejected psychotherapy with the words, came the words, "If my devils are to leave me, I am afraid my angels will take flight as well." It's the sign of a good storyteller, steal from others without anyone even knowing. Thanks, Tom. Thanks, Max.

No comments:

Post a Comment