Saturday, August 29, 2020

Waits and Morrison, The Early 70s and the Tropicana Motel

1970 was quite a year for the Doors. Morrison Hotel was recorded and released at the beginning of the year, Elektra released both a Live LP and a compilation of hits called 13. By year's end, they were writing material for their last LP (as a foursome), L.A. Woman. It was in 1970 that, while Jim was falling apart, his voice matured to that of the consummate blues singer. I've been listening to both Morrison Hotel lately, and to L.A. Woman, what I consider the Doors' best, and one of the things that strikes me is the lessons that Tom Waits must have learned from Morrison. Or maybe it's just the similarity in their soaked in whiskey vocals. Both, by the way, lived, not that long apart, in a seedy L.A. motel called the Tropicana.

One-time Tropicana employee remembers the Trop on a typical day in the early 70s. "I was doing the night audit, and in came Tom. 'I want to watch Spartacus on TV,' he said. About that time a girl walked in. I didn't think she was a prostitute, so I rented her a room. Two minutes later her pimp pulls a gun on Nick Lowe from Rockpile. I'm calling the sheriff, and I got Tom Waits on the floor, rocking back and forth with a bottle of Cognac. Right then, four gay Filipinos came in. I gave them the room next to the office and not 15-minutes later they’re having an orgy in there, banging on the walls. Meantime the sheriff pulled up, and there’s a big confrontation in Nick Lowe’s room. At that point, a Mexican guy pulled in with his six kids in an old car. While they're in the office, his car caught on fire. Went up like a torch. He starts crying. The four guys are still banging on the wall. The cops are arresting the pimp. And, lastly, I got Tom Waits yelling, 'I love the scene of Spartacus on the hill!'" You could probably interchange a number of rock star's names for Waits, Morrison among them.

Waits once said: "I always had a great appreciation for jazz, but I'm a very pedestrian musician. I get by. I like to think that my main instrument is vocabulary." Jim may have felt the same way. There is something about both Waits and Morrison that screams out a film-noir version of L.A., a street-tough sensibility that might have Phillip Marlowe's narration as a voiceover.

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