From bar room Bukowski to circus ringmaster
Ten Things You Never Knew About Tom Waits

From bar room Bukowski to circus ringmaster. We pull back the curtains on an American institution with ten things you never knew about Tom Waits.

1. Post-Hardcore outfit The Fall Of Troy named the tenth track on their second album, ‘Doppleganger’, after the gravelly-voiced one himself. Waits repaid the honour by writing the harrowing family tale ‘The Fall Of Troy’ for the 2006 collection ‘Orphans, Bawlers & Bastards’. Something for them to tell the grandkids.

2. The early Nineties found Sunset Strip club The Central on the verge of closing until Waits rang pal Johnny Depp and suggested they change the name to The Viper Room. Becoming the place to be seen, its atmosphere was soon tarnished by the tragic death of actor River Phoenix outside.

3. While touring 1976 album ‘Small Change’, a stripper would appear during ‘Pasties And A G-String’. Seductively walking over to the performer she would drop her clothes and the two would tango around the stage. Once finished, Waits would yell, “Gee, that was great. I haven’t seen my mother in years.”

4. He’s a member of the ‘Sons of Lee Marvin’ secret society, along with director and founder Jim Jarmusch, Iggy pop, John Lurie and Nick Cave, amongst others. A private and humorous group consisting of members who could plausibly look like Lee Marvin’s son in appearance, it isn’t quite the Freemasons.

5. Tom explores hardware stores for items that could be used as percussion instruments. He once converted a four cubic yard metal box (intended as a debris dumpster) into an instrument he named ‘Strata Dumpster’. He cut a two-foot hole into one side and stretched seven piano strings across it. Job done.

6. Well known for his wit, it’s not only Waits’ lyrics that will stand the test of time - his quotes are just as memorable. Questioned on a talk show about his drinking habits, he replied: “Well, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” Classy.

7. Wait’s announced his most recent tour, Glitter And Doom, by uploading a press conference to his official site. Ever the eccentric, things weren’t what they seemed when after three minutes of answering queries the room was revealed to be empty and the sounds just a pre-recorded vinyl playing off screen.

8. Owner of an impressive acting resume, Waits has appeared in nearly thirty movies. Eagle-eyed cinephiles may catch his cameo as a disabled Viet-vet offering protagonist Jeff Bridges sound street advice in Terry Gilliam’s 1991 picture The Fisher King. His most bizarre acting credit to date is, ‘Petrified man at carnival’.

9. The cover of ‘Heartattack And Vine’ is a soiled, red wine spotted newspaper displaying a worse for wear Tom. Penciled on the top right-hand corner is a fake Manhattan number with the name “David ‘Doc’ Feur”, Waits’ psychiatrist during a four-month spell spent living in the Big Apple.

10. Always one to stick out, as a child, Tom carried a cane carved with his initials he purchased from a salvation store to give himself a distinctive walk and look. Rather than play with friends all day, he would often talk to their dads about ‘grown-up stuff’ like life insurance.

Words by Sam Walker-Smart

Follow Clash: