Tom Waits sat at a table at Pete's Henny Penny in Petaluma last week talking about his forthcoming release, "Bad as Me." The 61-year-old singer, songwriter, actor and roustabout calls record promotion "doing the dishes" — talking to the press after the feast that is the creative process is finished. The Times will have a full-length feature on his new album in Sunday's paper, but here he discusses the late singer and artist Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, who died earlier this year.
Pop & Hiss: I understand you had a friendship with Don Van Vliet in his final years.
Tom Waits: I can't say we were close friends, but he corresponded with a lot of people, and as he got slower and more incapacitated, he was on the phone a lot. And I had asked if I could call him, and I did. And he was very quick, and bright, and original and cultural right up until the end.
It seems as though you channel him a few times on "Bad as Me," especially in the title track.
Yeah, yeah, well, I hope so. Isn't that what we all really kind of — we want to enter the culture, we want to enter the bloodstream and be part of the soil, so that when other people are growing they say, "I see that, I see that." He was such a unique individual. I think he was constantly covering up his tracks. He was very secretive about his process. He was a riddle. And then you have his songs, and you have those to wonder about. I just played "China Pig" for an Australian radio show, and they said, "Pick a bunch of songs that you want to play," and we put that on and it was really great to hear. That's when you realize that words are music. Period.