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Tom Waits, Real Gone (Hour Magazine, cover)

Nighthawk in the light of day: Tom Waits gets Real Gone on latest album and leaves the piano at home

“Hi, I’m calling from Tom Waits’ office,” says the pleasant publicist voice on the other end of the line. “I’ll put Tom through now. Are you ready?”

Tom Waits has an office? It strikes me as weird to be on the phone business-style, waiting to talk with a man who has written so many deeply moving love songs involving telephones. “Hello, hello, there is this Martha/ this is old Tom Frost,” I think to myself, quoting from the love ballad fromClosing Time (1973). “I am calling long distance/ don’t worry ’bout the cost.” Then there’s “I got a telephone call from Istanbul, my baby’s coming home today” from Frank’s Wild Years (1987). There’s Please Call Me, Baby from The Early Years Vol. II, and so on.

Telephones are in the Tom Waits idiom like whiskey, rain, red shoes, automobiles, bars, barns, coffee shops, Illinois, tango, female hitchhikers, the movies, glass eyes and peg legs, Jesus, shotguns and the circus. Good things every last one, and ample fodder for Waits’ 24-odd albums, movie soundtracks, musical plays, road shows and collaborations, which have influenced the American songbook like no other. His songs have been covered by Springsteen, The Eagles, Johnny Cash and, yes, Rod Stewart, to name a few. He’s gotta do business. So a telephone, sure. But an office?

“Hello there, where you calling from?” a voice on the other end of the line interrupts my reverie. Tom Waits sounds conversational, relaxed and slightly bored, but it’s Tom Waits nevertheless. For some reason I kind of expected him to be growling or hollering through a bullhorn. Read article