πŸ“‘ Play It Like Your Hair’s On Fire

Bookmarked Interviews: 2002

GQ magazine (USA) June, 2002 by Elizabeth Gilbert.

This is a fascinating insight into the music and the mind of Tom Waits. There is something mesmerising about the myths that he spins. It is a reminder of our tendency towards narrative.

Marginalia

“Children make up the best songs, anyway,” he says. “Better than grown-ups. Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don’t care if they lose it; they’ll just make another one.” This openness is what every artist needs. Be ready to receive the inspiration when it comes; be ready to let it go when it vanishes. He believes that if a song “really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song.” “Some songs,” he has learned, “don’t want to be recorded.” You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll only scare them off more. Trying to capture them sometimes “is trying to trap birds.” Fortunately, he says, other songs come easy, like “digging potatoes out of the ground.” Others are sticky and weird, like “gum found under an old table.” Clumsy and uncooperative songs may only be useful “to cut up as bait and use ’em to catch other songs.” Of course, the best songs of all are those that enter you “like dreams taken through a straw.’ In those moments, all you can be, Waits says, is grateful. Like a clever kid with a new toy, Waits is always willing to play with a new song, to see what else it can become. He’ll play with it forever in and out of the studio, in ways a real grown-up would never imagine. He’ll pick it apart, turn it inside out, drag it backward through the mud, ride a bicycle over it- anything he can imagine to make it sound thicker, rougher, deeper, different. “I like my music,” he says, “with the pulp and skin and seeds.” He’s always fighting for new ways to hear or perform things. (“Play it like your hair’s on fire,”(8) he has instructed musicians in the studio, when he can’t explain his vision any other way. “Play it like a midget’s Bar Mitzvah.”)

I like it when you come home at the end of the day from recording and someone says, “What happened to your hand?” And you don’t even know. When you’re in that place, you can dance on a broken ankle.” That’s a good day of work. A bad day is when the right sound won’t reveal itself. Then Waits will pace in tight circles, rock back and forth, rub his hand over his neck, tug out his hair. He and Kathleen have a code for this troublesome moment. They say to each other, “Doctor, our flamingo is sick.” Because how do you heal a sick flamingo? Why are its feathers falling out? Why are its eyes runny? Why is it so depressed? Who the hell knows? It’s a fucking flamingo- a weird pink foreign bird. And music is just that weird, just that foreign.

via Austin Kleon

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