In 1974 Scott Smith was a young photographer living in San Diego, when he was introduced by a mutual friend to Tom Waits. Both Waits and Smith had a passion for music and they soon became friends.
Smith’s compelling black and white photographs of Waits document his start as a folk singer and songwriter, and then through a period of time during which Waits’ musical persona emerged.
Starting this Friday, these rare photographs will be exhibited for the very first time at Mr Musichead Gallery in Los Angeles. The show will be open May 29-June 15, 2015, with a reception for the artist at the exhibit opening on Friday, May 29, 7-10 pm.
Smith photographed Waits relaxing with friends, in performance, at his apartment, cruising in his car, playing pool, talking with locals at a lunch counter, and more, while at the same time photographing the Southern Californian environment they both grew up in. Smith’s images give us an intimate portrait of Tom Waits in the process of defining himself as a musical artist and the environment he lived in.
Scott Smith’s limited edition photographs are available through Govinda Gallery.
The campaign to publish Tom Waits For No One: The Illustrated Scrapbook has reached its funding goal, just five days into the campaign. The book will be published!
Having funded the book publication, the focus now shifts to restoring the live action footage that was used to rotoscope Tom Waits For No One.
Stretch Goal: $11,500
The live action film includes several hours of the original shoot. It hasn’t been seen in 35 years and needs to be rescued from the original, aging tapes.
Today sees the launch of a new Kickstarter campaign to publish Tom Waits For No One: The Illustrated Scrapbook.
Completed in 1979, too early for MTV, this groundbreaking animated short had no commercial release. Without distribution or a ready market, it slipped into total obscurity before being uploaded to YouTube in 2006:
The 160 page book will compile director John Lamb’s archive of character studies, animation cels, rotoscope drawings, backgrounds and photographs from the film’s production.
As well as the first edition book, rewards for those who back the project include rare original rotoscope drawings, a set of six postcards, a TWFNO t-shirt and a framed original animation cel sequence:
The Kickstarter will run for 30 days. Get behind The Mule and don’t let Tom Waits For No One be the one that got away!
Visit the Kickstarter page: Tom Waits For No One: The Illustrated Scrapbook
For more information, visit tomwaitsfornoone.com
With the filming complete and the live action now edited, we were ready to do the rotoscoping. The rotoscope was a device that included a lightbox for tracing, and required a dark room for the best image clarity. With no darkroom handy at the studio, we put the entire contraption in a standard clothes closet, leaving just enough room for the artist.
Keith Newton, the youngest member of the cast, had a beautiful line and his character study of Waits was masterful – and it was chosen for the film. His reward for this honor among the artists? He was elected to singlehandedly trace the entire 5 ½ minute live action film (around 4,000 drawings) by hand.
So there was Keith Newton, with Waits, the apparition and the rotoscope in that dark closet for 6-8 hours each day for three months. The apparition, played by the actress Donna Gordon, became a studio favorite. Apart from Waits himself, gorgeous Donna Gordon drawings filled the studio walls, and most of those drawings can still be seen throughout the Tom Waits For No One Scrapbook.
As weeks turned to months in the rotoscope closet, the tedious process was taking its toll on Keith, which became apparent in his random drawings: little cartoon demons looking over his shoulder while at the drawing table, and a nightmarish horned-Waits hovering over a bed, while a set of eyes (presumably Newton’s) peek out from under the covers. In retrospect, it had to have been hellish for Keith, and his drawings tell the story more clearly than he ever said!
When Newton completed a scene, it was off to the animators, David Silverman, Rod Dryden and Harry Sabin, to apply the character to every drawing. After the drawings were cleaned up, Mike Cressey would ink each one onto a cel, ready to be painted. Cressey had a beautiful line as well and hands like a surgeon. He inked the entire film himself.
The animation team experimented with several color combinations for painting both characters. When the colors were finally chosen, the cels were all painted by hand. Ray Roberts’ amazing airbrushed backgrounds completed the overall atmosphere of the film.
Once the film was finished, a squall of activity followed – the premier at a Hollywood film festival, early acclaim, interviews and articles about the film, the break-up of Lyon Lamb, and then – as fast as it had arrived, the film disappeared.
Tom Waits For No One is now being archived for preservation by the iotaCenter in Los Angeles, a non-profit which brings attention to and preserves underrepresented, experimental works in film and animation. The Scrapbook, is perhaps the most complete record of the talented team, their work, and the film itself. Completed in 1980 as a personal record, I simply put it away and moved on.
Just a few months ago, I discovered an article on the last page, pasted on the inside of the back cover. The Mix, a music magazine still in publication, featured an interview with Tom Waits (volume 4, issue 6) in an article titled “The Making of a Blue Movie”. An excerpt is included, the interviewer asks questions and Waits replies…
What do you think of the cartoon?
I think it’s remarkable. It has a lot of feeling to it…it moves very well.
Does it look like Tom Waits to you?
Yeah…it’s a little peculiar to see yourself. I think it’s got a lot of style…and it has a nice fabric to it. I think it’s got a big future…mine is a little bleak at the moment.
Several years after the film was completed, while waiting at a stop light in North Hollywood, a 1964 gold Coupe de Ville with white upholstery pulled up – it was one of Detroit’s finest. With the windows rolled down, a guy had his arm hanging out the driver’s side with his t-shirt sleeve rolled up. I then realized who it was. “Hey Waits,” I yelled.
Tom looked over at me, and said “Hey, you’re that Lyon Lamb guy…” and tipped his porkpie as the light turned green. I went east on Gower as Tom continued cruising that gold Caddy south in the Hollywood sun.
Part 1: The Story
Part 2: The Scrapbook
Part 3: The Shoot
(Credit: ©John Lamb)
The first edition of Tom Waits: A Photo Session With Mitchell Rose is now available exclusively at: www.mitchellrosephotos.com/waitsbook
To celebrate the release, Mitchell Rose is generously giving The Mule’s readers the chance to win a hardcover copy!
To enter the contest simply “Like” this post on The Mule’s Facebook page:
One winner will be randomly selected at 12:00 PM BST on Monday 6th October.
The book is available in hardcover and softcover editions, as well as a larger coffee table edition with a protective sleeve. For more information, please visit: www.mitchellrosephotos.com/waitsbook
The Tom Waits For No One Kickstarter launches today!
Completed in 1979, too early for MTV, this groundbreaking animated short had no commercial release and no distribution. Without distribution or a ready market, it slipped into total obscurity before being uploaded to YouTube in 2006.
The Kickstarter will help fund the 35th Anniversary Celebration of Tom Waits For No One, set to take place in March 2015 at Catchlight Studios in Hollywood, the old La Brea Stage building where the live action footage of Tom Waits was shot. In order for this to happen, the original live action footage and video pencil tests will need to be restored and transferred to a contemporary format to be screened during the event. All elements or the film’s production, including the original animation cels and Lyon Lamb Video Rotoscope, will be brought back together for the first time in thirty-five years. Both nights will also feature music by New Orleans pianist Tom McDermott and jazz singer Meschiya Lake.
A Tom Waits For No One Scrapbook will also be published as part of the Kickstarter campaign and will feature a bevy of miscellanea created, drawn, doodled or collected during the film’s production. It will include character studies, character turnarounds, storyboards and set concept drawings published in hardback and soft cover editions. The foreword, written by Gunnar Strom, describes Tom Waits For No One as “a pioneering American music video, it is also probably the first ever rotoscoped music video”.
Let’s give this remarkable film the recognition it deserves – get behind The Mule and don’t let Tom Waits For No One be the one that got away!
Visit the Kickstarter page: kickstarter.com/projects/719707576/tom-waits-for-no-one-35th-anniversary-celebration
For more information, please visit tomwaitsfornoone.com.
Tom Waits for No One was released in 1979, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to realize this film had a habit of being a first. For Lyon Lamb, my company at the time, it was our first animated film. It was the first production use of the Lyon Lamb Video Rotoscope, which was the latest in rotoscope technology. It would also be a first job in animation for most of the crew and arguably the first animated American rotoscoped music video.
In other words, we were blazing a mostly uncharted territory. The video rotoscope required extensive testing by the crew to figure out its technical parameters, while also experimenting at how to effectively rotoscope Waits. Lyon Lambs’ intent for Tom Waits for No One was simple: we wanted to make a unique video using this new technology, gambling with a build it, they will come approach.
Several months of preproduction culminated in a solid first draft storyboard. Everybody took a go at designing their interpretation of the Waits character. Then we had the task of figuring out which caricature would best animate and perform the poetic justice that Waits’ persona deserved. The one closest to that vision was created by Keith Newton. Keith was an amazing artist and only 19 years old – and this was his first job in animation. His portfolio came to me via friend of a friend. When I saw his work, he was hired on the spot, even though that spot was in the suburbs of Detroit and we were in Los Angeles. So we had to get him here. Arriving carless and homeless, we set him up near the studio in an unflattering post-war apartment on Olympic Boulevard with a company van, and put him to work. Keith was a drawing machine – reserved, talented, and relentless, coupled with a great sense of humor. Maybe it had something to do with his fresh arrival in a land full of strangers, but somehow the animated Waits became his best friend, at first. Keith would ultimately take on the task of the tortuous rotoscope, which required him to hand-trace 12 drawings for every 1 second of film.
All of that in place, we were now prepared to tackle the live action and we needed a stage. We found a vintage art deco facility, the old La Brea Stage in Hollywood – a fading relic from a by-gone era that was perfect for our scenario and comfortably fit our budget.
The grips plugged in the lights and experimented with the sound levels on the boom mics. Our set was a raised, faux back porch with hand railing and steps leading down to the “street”, an early 1940’s street lamp, reference points to indicate a curb and sidewalk, two agency dancers, and someone’s pet dog. To shoot the live action, two rolling storyboards gave us the general direction. We utilized 5 video cameras: 2 high, 2 low, and 1 handheld. The sound system was double checked as the lighting was readjusted. The camera operators were testing their video signals and correction levels, while make up was being applied to the dancers. The crew was ready. Where’s Tom?
Tom finally arrived in the conspicuous T-Bird, newspapers and all. He steps out of the Bird wearing a slept-in looking wrinkled old suit and carrying a duffel bag. He cautiously walked toward us, yanking on his tie and adjusting his Stetson, then gruffly asked for directions to the dressing room. “Whew, he’s going to change that suit”, I thought. He sure enough changed, right into another wrinkled old suit. Then he said, “Excuse me, but can somebody get me a pack of no filter Viceroys?” A crew member obliged. Tom paced back and forth as tensions grew until the hard to find Viceroys finally arrived an hour later. Once the Viceroys arrived, Waits became a professional.
It was time for the cameras to roll and for me, it seemed miraculous that it was all coming together. Waits sang while the background music set the mood. He just owned the place, all of it, and moved like silk gravel. We did six individual takes with two separate dancers. Between takes, Tom joked to the cast and crew in a sardonic repartee wrapped with a sense of humor that put everyone at ease.
Although our rolling storyboards made for good reference, in reality it felt like we were shooting on the fly and everything was organically falling into place at its own pace. As changes were made to the story during the shoot, we would take an occasional break and Tom would slip away to slowly work a Viceroy while sitting on his haunches, like he was alone in front of a campfire.
The whole animation and production crew was there: Keith Newton, David Silverman, Garret Smith, Mike Cressy, Ray Roberts, Gary Beydler, Steve Rogers. Every one of these talented people were hired because they shared the vision and the excitement I had for this project. We felt like it was the beginning of something great, and wanted to be part of every step. Somehow, though, we were all looking at the live action shoot through an animation lense – and we couldn’t wait to get started on the art.
With five cameras rolling and six takes, we ended up with thirteen hours of Waits footage that would soon become Tom Waits for No One.
Part 1: The Story
Part 2: The Scrapbook
(Credit: ©John Lamb)
To mark the release of Uncut Magazine’s Tom Waits Ultimate Music Guide, The Mule is teaming up with Uncut Magazine to give away two free copies! To enter the contest simply “Like” this post on The Mule’s Facebook page:
Two winners will be randomly selected at 12:00 PM BST on Monday 4th August.
The Mule is delighted to announce the release of Tom waits: A Photo Session With Mitchell Rose.
Tom Waits: A Photo Session With Mitchell Rose provides a unique glimpse into the time Tom Waits spent as a permanent resident at the infamous Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood. By 1977, Waits had immersed himself in the world of sleaze and excess he was writing about. Waits sits on a lawn chair in his cluttered bungalow, surrounded by empty bottles and cigarette butts atop piles of records, magazines, books and cardboard boxes. Other portraits show Waits playing the dusty piano where he composed in his kitchen, having sawn off the draining board to make room. Throughout this remarkable book, Mitchell Rose shares previously unpublished photographs from what he describes as the most memorable photo session of his career.
The book is available in both hardcover and softcover editions, as well as a larger coffee table edition with a protective sleeve.
Order your copy at: www.mitchellrosephotos.com/waitsbook
(Credit: ©Mitchell Rose)
The green light from Tom gave our project a GO. The Lyon Lamb studio was located in an old California bungalow nestled in the west side of LA, a place where the stars of Hollywood retired their parents, a friendly but nosey bunch that kept a watchful eye on the hood. If something was awry, it spread like wildfire through the blue hair grapevine. Tom came to the studio on a few occasions to check the progress of the film. One particular time, Tom pulls up in his ’66 Blue Valentine T-Bird with a rattle can paint job. I looked out the studio window just in time to see Tom pull up in his conspicuous Bird as the car belched to a stop. The entire cab, front passenger seat and back, was chuck-full of newspapers from floor to ceiling. There was nowhere to sit, much less peer out the windows… only room for the driver to see straight ahead and that was it.
He gets out of the car looking like a nickels worth of dirty ice, shuffles around a bit yanking on his wrinkled suit lapels, chin up high, and then with one hand adjusting the pork pie Stetson, he slowly turns around and saunters towards our studio. Before he gets to the porch, my phone rings. It’s the old lady across the street frantically calling me to warn me about an undesirable fellow heading my way and to see if she should call the police. No police are needed I said, but he may play a bit of piano if she would like to come over for a listen. She declined but he actually did sit down and play four songs on the upright in the living room. Fortunately, a tape recorder was on the piano and I pressed record.
During the Tom Waits For No One production, I had the opportunity to visit Tom’s place at the Tropicana. He had two adjoining rooms with the wall ripped out making it one large room. The apartment looked just like his car, newspapers and such stacked to the ceiling in every room, empties were like floor chimes on the narrow paths of carpet leading through the walls of newspaper, from the entry to the baby grand, the baby grand to the fridge, and from the fridge to other rooms that disappeared behind the newspapers.
Building the concepts, caricatures and storyboards began the several months of pre-production. The animators sketched up a tornado-like storm creating caricatures of Waits. Drawings were flying all over the place and the rejected ones ended up on the floor or in the trash. But they were just too beautiful to be trashed so I would systematically inspect the place when the animators left for the evening and saved the throw-aways. Everybody loved to draw and it was reflected in the atmosphere of the studio. There was a lot of humor and laughing going on which was a good diversion for the intensity of the work that was yet to come. The studio walls soon filled up with Waits drawings, along with extraneous but illuminating post-its, media clippings and ticket stubs from the life that was going on around us.
Once the look and feel of the film was determined, a first draft storyboard was created. We built two 8’x 5′ steel framed portable rolling cork panels for tacking up the storyboards to assist in visual continuity for the flushing out story concepts in boiler room sessions. Many character revisions ensued and the drawings they replaced were also saved. From time to time, the studio was cleaned, the walls would be stripped and the cycle would repeat itself. My conservator instincts prevailed, and I saved all of those items as well.
When the film wrapped, the stack of boxes filled with saved art was about four feet high and in chronological production order. That order was maintained, sorted and scrap booked. As it turns out, simultaneously mixing the production art with the current event clippings not only created a microcosmic peek into LA pop culture of the late 70s, it also illustrates the complete production process of Tom Waits For No One.
My respect for the art this incredibly talented team produced Is reflected in the collecting and preservation of these saved drawings, which they did often as a break from the work of film making. These guys relaxed from the task of drawing by doing more drawing, and the love of that work is present in every one of these throw-aways. It’s classic art for art’s sake. Just a few weeks back, 35 years later, I ran into David Silverman, one of the key animators. He looked through the scrapbook and hooted “Wow…I remember doing this drawing!” That, my friends, is what it’s all about.
Part 1: The Story
(Credit: ©John Lamb)
35 years ago, a rotoscoped, animated rock ‘n roll video was made. It debuted a year before Ralph Bakshi’s rotoscoped American Pop, and almost 2 years before MTV first aired. And then it slipped into obscurity, almost as quickly as it had arrived.
In 1977, Tom Waits was on the classic send-up talk show Fernwood 2 Night. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Waits’ appearance. After his rendition of “The Piano Has Been Drinking”, Waits took a slug from a bottle during the post-performance interview and set it down in front of him, the host looked at him and said “It’s kind of strange to have a guy sitting here with a bottle in front of him”. Tom responded “well… I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy”. I became an immediate fan.
Fernwood 2 Night, 1977
Later that spring, I stumbled upon Tom Waits at the Roxy. Leon Redbone opened the intimate venue, and Waits followed with a poetry-jazz/art performance that was mind blowing – unlike anything I had ever seen.
At the time, I needed to create a unique project for my company Lyon Lamb, which had just invented the Video Rotoscope. It worked along side our Video Animation System (VAS), which was a technological game changer for the animation industry.
To prove the video rotoscope’s viability, we wanted to make a one-of-a-kind animated short. I recalled Waits’ animated performance at the Roxy; his evocative music and style was exactly what we were looking for. Little did we know at that time, a huge change was coming.
So a pitch was hatched, phone calls returned and after various meetings with Tom, we had the green light. Concepts, caricatures and storyboards were created. Several months of pre-production began and a live action video shoot was scheduled at the old La Brea Stage in Hollywood. It took 6 takes and 13 hours of video to create a 5 1/2 minute live film, which was then rotoscoped, frame by frame, to create Tom Waits For No One.
The film premiered in 1979, lived one night with “Spike and Mike’s Festival of Animation”, took first prize at a single Los Angeles film and video festival, and quietly slipped into obscurity for the next three decades.
After 35 years, most of the live action and animation production elements of Tom Waits For No One have been re-discovered. A scrapbook of drawings rescued from the walls and trashcans of the original production studio has been re-opened, and the work is astonishingly talented and rough. When I began to look back at all the animators involved, many who had never had a job in an animation studio before, I was humbled and blown-away by the accomplishments they went on to achieve: the first (and still primary) animator for the Simpsons, Disney animators, Disney co-director, Disney background artist, senior illustrator for Electronic Arts, renowned fine-arts plein air painter, co-creator of DVD and HD technology, Academy Award nominee in animation, and Academy Award winner for invention of the Lyon Lamb Video Animation System. And then there was Tom. In 1977, he had a cult following.
Now, after so many years, it seems like Tom Waits For No One is finding a home in the digital world. The video, uploaded to YouTube in 2006, has gone quietly viral. Inspired by the public interest, my own interest was renewed to tell the story of the animators that made it happen. Quite literally, within hours of finishing a new web site, Jeremy Farrance found it and introduced me to his work and this excellent blog. Barely a week later, I’m thrilled to be able to share the Tom Waits For No One story, which seems to be reaching out from the 20th century to be told.
The song that Tom performed for the shoot was “The One That Got Away”. Ironically, this wonderful video appears to hold a special place in animation history: it’s perhaps one of the first animated rock videos ever created, the first American rotoscoped rock n’ roll video, the first use of the Video Rotoscope in a production environment. Tom Waits For No One appears to be a landmark in so many ways, and yet it’s virtually unknown and undocumented. To my eyes, it begins to look like the video itself, may be the one that got away.
Throughout this article are just a few images from the scrapbook and the web: Tom’s Fernwood 2 Night performance and interview; the 1977 ticket stub featuring Tom at The Roxy, and various choice drawings by the animators. So many years later, these are being seen for the first time…
(Credit: ©John Lamb)
“I first met Tom Waits in 1975 when Dutch music paper OOR sent journalist Constant Meijers to Los Angeles. I was his photographer for six weeks while he was there.
We met Tom while he was living at the Tropicana Motel for an interview and photos. Then we went to Duke’s which was the coffee shop of the motel.”
“Then we saw Tom do a midnight show at the Troubadour, where I did some more photos.”
“When I met Tom at the motel and coffee shop he appeared like an extreme oddball, but when I saw and heard him sing at the Troubadour that night I was so very much impressed by his talent, especially when he sang so visually about raindrops forming diamonds on his windshield, using parking meters as walking sticks and saying that he was so horny the crack of dawn had to be careful around him.”
“Later after I moved to Amsterdam, I saw him do a small show for insiders at the American Hotel in Amsterdam and I photographed him in the lobby of Wiechmann Hotel.”
(Credit: ©Barry Schultz)
The Mystery of Tom Waits
“February 4, 1999 was the scheduled day for my portrait session with Tom Waits. The location was to be Prairie Sun Recording Studio in Cotati, California. Cotati is 60 miles north of San Francisco and fairly rustic and Prairie Sun was just that…rustic. A beautiful state-of-the-art recording studio set on a 20-acre chicken ranch. There were beautiful hi-tech rooms built inside older re-furbished barn type buildings. There were also hundreds of chickens, old red barns with peeling paint, an abandoned claw foot bathtub and a motorcycle littering the grounds around the small buildings that housed the visiting artists who were recording there. Visually, you couldn’t ask for a better location to shoot someone like Tom.
On this crisp and clear winter day, I set up my Tripod with a 4×5 view camera behind a small tin-walled building that also sported an old fashioned water heater made out of steel. For the possible cover photo, I set up some studio lighting in front of an old set of wrought iron furniture with the beautiful blue sky and green hills as the background. I scoped out several other locations as possible backgrounds for available light shots where we could move around freely without the constraints of set lighting. I had lots of ambition, and a 30-minute window to get the cover shot and photos to be used inside the story.”
“When Tom arrived, I sat him down on the wrought iron furniture and shot a test Polaroid. He looked at it, and in his I just drank a bottle of whisky and swallowed a box of razor blades voice, said, “Jay, this looks like my grandmothers furniture, what else you got?” We shot no film. Next we went to the claw foot bathtub. “No, don’t like it,” he said in that raspy voice. We shot no film. “How about this wall on the side of the barn with the peeling paint I asked?” “Nah.” At this point about 10 minutes of my 30 had passed, and I had not taken a single picture. The publicist who was just as perplexed as I was didn’t know what to do. I lead Tom to the old motorcycle and he proceeded to circle it like a hungry vulture. Feeling a little bit nervous about the lack of photos taken, I started snapping pictures of him eyeing the bike. He sat next to it on the ground in the harsh sunlight, looked up at me with squinty eyes and I blasted off a whole roll of 35mm film. He got up and said, “he wasn’t feeling it.” Usually when I shoot an artist in one spot, even if it is just for five minutes, I might try a few different types of film, cameras and/or lenses. Things were not going so great. We walked over to where I had my 4×5 set up and I asked him to sit. He said, “I prefer to stand.” I offered to do a Polaroid of him both sitting and standing so he could compare. “You know what Jay, your right, it’s better with me sitting.” I shot about six sheets of 4×5 film, and about eight frames of 35mm when he got up and insisted that we leave the farm and drive to this house just two or three minutes down the road where he’d seen an old abandoned car earlier that day. Our 30 minutes were pretty much up, so I said “Yeah, lets go.” Tom wanted to change out of his jeans and in to his black Italian suit that was tailored to fit a man about two sizes smaller than he was. I huddled with my assistant to gather cameras and film as quickly as we could. We left all our lighting and 4×5 camera set up in their original locations and I jumped in to Tom’s truck with three cameras around my neck while my assistant and Tom’s publicist followed behind. As we drove down the backcountry roads Tom and I talked about people we knew in common, mostly musicians, kids and the weird relationship artists have with press. I shot a few photos while driving when he asked if I remembered the old woodpecker stickers from the sixties with the big wide mouth grin. Before I could answer he began to make the face for the camera and me.”
“After about 20 minutes of driving to the house that was two or three minutes away, Tom informed me that we were possibly going to run out of gas. I thought, “How great, pictures of Tom Waits pumping gas! Very cool!” He said “there are no gas stations on this road”, much to my dismay. After 30 minutes and almost half way back to San Francisco, he announced we had arrived.”
“About 200 feet up a long driveway, behind a small house with all the windows covered by old sheets, and over a short barbed wire cow fence, sat the car he had scoped out. “Jay, I don’t know who’s house this is, or who that car belongs to, but you are the captain of this ship so you better go knock on that door and ask permission to take some pictures.” With my cameras around my neck, I quickly went to the door and started ringing a doorbell that did not seem to be working, first knocking politely and than with a louder, fist-pounding action. No one answered. I went back to the truck and informed Tom that no one was home and we should just “do it.” He agreed, and the four of us started to work our way up the long driveway towards the car. Halfway there, a little old lady came out of the back of the house. She was wearing what would now be considered a vintage overcoat, but for her, the same coat she wore when it first was in style 40 or 50 years ago and a chiffon scarf tied around her head and under her chin. She yelled at us in a piercing scream, “Can I help you?” I responded that we were wondering if it would be all right if we hopped the fence and took some pictures of my friend Tom in front of the car. She responded in an even louder voice, “THAT CAR, IT DOESN’T DRIVE.” “No,” I answered. “We don’t want to drive it, just take some pictures,” as I held up two of the cameras that were weighing me down like the Dennis Hopper character in Apocalypse Now. Again she screamed ” IT’S GOT NO WHEELS!” I shook my head, motioned to my cameras and Tom and realizing the woman was as deaf as a stone, I loudly replied, “We just want to take some photos.” Her response was “IT HAS NOT BEEN DRIVEN SINCE MY HUSBAND DIED 30 YEARS AGO.” I grabbed a piece of paper and sharpie from my assistant, and wrote – “We just want to take some pictures; I can pay you $25!! ” Waving my offer of money away with her hand, She responded in an even louder voice, “OK, BUT IT’S GOT NO WHEELS!” She walked back to the house and we proceeded towards the barbed wire fence and the setting sun. The car was beautiful! When Tom got in front of the car, he went into character as the “sleazy car salesman” waving his hand out like an automobile spokesperson and added the wide grin woodpecker face in for fun. He prowled around the car, stopping to inspect the trunk, the sides and eventually the front grill where he insisted that his face and the grill of the car looked alike!”
“I was shooting as fast as I could knowing that our 30 minute shoot was now well over 90 minutes and could end at any moment. After the grill shots, Tom jumped up and I broke out a fun little plastic toy camera called an “action sampler” and shot what would be my last roll of film. I was hoping we could have done a few more angles – you know, “just one more shot,” but he jumped over the fence and I quickly followed carrying just an old fashioned Polaroid Land Camera that does not really focus. He trotted down the driveway with me in hot pursuit shooting Polaroids and dropping them on the driveway as we went. He got to his truck, shook my hand and kept driving south most likely in search of the nearest gas station.
The three of us who remained were feeling a bit dazed and overwhelmed by what just happened over the last 90 minutes, and gathered our things and headed back north to the studio to retrieve my photo equipment and make the drive back to San Francisco.
All we could wonder was if this was some completely once in a lifetime experience, or was this what Tom’s everyday life was really like? The mystery of Tom Waits….”
More images from the shoot can be viewed on Jay Blakesberg’s Facebook page.
(Credit: ©Jay Blakesberg)
“These are pictures I took of the Tom Waits concert at ‘Exit’ in Rotterdam on April 19, 1979.
I was an art school student, very proud of my Nikon F2 camera. I had an 85mm 1.8 lens and pushed the B&W film to 1600 asa, so I didn’t have to use the flash. At one point I actually had my elbows at the far end of Tom’s piano!”
“For years I thought I had lost the negatives, but they popped up during the cleaning of my studio. I only printed a couple of photos back then, so most of the pictures where a nice surprise.”
“During the same period I worked as assistant photographer at the Rotterdam film festival, and my girlfriend did too, as assistant to the director. I heard at an early stage that Francis Ford Coppola’s film “One from the Heart” was programmed for the festival, but Coppola couldn’t come in person, so I suggested “why don’t you ask Tom Waits?” And that’s what happened…
I had the pleasure of picking him up from the airport. At the same festival there was this young independent American filmmaker with his first film, Jim Jarmusch with “Permanent Vacation“. The rest is film history…”
“We kept in contact for years, Kathleen would always invite us. I remember we where in the conductor’s room of the Amsterdam Concert building, Tom was playing a lullaby on the piano with one hand, and was holding the baby in his other arm…
Over the years we lost contact, Tom didn’t play in Holland for a long period, but I’m still a faithful Waits addict.”
More of Billy’s photos can be viewed on The Mule’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/muleblog
(Photo credit: ©Billy Leliveld)
“In the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was a staff photographer for Andy Warhol’s “Interview” magazine. Besides developing Andy’s film from his nocturnal jaunts, I often shot portraits of the musicians for Glenn O’Brien’s “Beat” music column.
Glenn often reviewed up-and-coming artists. I got a call from the magazine asking me to shoot Tom Waits for his interview and the editor gave me Tom’s NY number and told me to arrange something with Tom.
At the time, all I knew about Tom was that he wrote off-kilter songs, smoked a lot and had a raspy voice. When I called him to arrange a shooting, he just told me that he wanted to shoot in Times Square. I had photographed several musicians and bands in Times Square and it seemed that location was popular with out of town artists.
One trick I had used previously in Times Square was to take a bag of chips or popcorn and spread the snacks all over a traffic island between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. There was a cast iron building facing west and pigeons would hang out on the facade of the building, basking in the warm sunlight. As soon as the food was sprinkled over the traffic island, the birds would swoop down from the building to eat. When someone in the band dropped some keys or made a loud noise, the startled pigeons would fly up and I could get a couple of shots with the group and the flying pigeons.
For Tom, another idea came to me. I thought I would get some shiny new steel chain with very large and thick links. I would wrap Tom with the chain, leaving one arm free to hold a cigarette. The shot would be called “The Prisoner of Times Square”. I called Tom and explained my idea. His only comment was, “I don’t smoke.” I guess he had recently quit. Wife’s orders, I suppose…”
“I knew that there would be direct sunlight on the traffic island in this afternoon in February, so I asked Tom to meet me at 43rd and Broadway to shoot with uptown Times Square in the background. As it was February and the sun was setting early, I asked him to meet me there at 3pm.
It was so cold that day, that when I arrived at the location with my cameras and popcorn, the pigeons weren’t basking in the sun at their usual location, rather they were standing on a steel grate that allowed the warmer air from the subway below to rise up. Then I noticed that Marriott had built a new hotel since the last time I had visited Times Square and there was no direct sunlight on that old cast iron facade of that west-facing building.
I explained the plan with the pigeons and the popcorn to Tom and we sprinkled popcorn all over the sidewalk. I got my cameras ready and took a Polaroid to check the exposure. It was so cold that the Polaroid wouldn’t develop, so I had to use the in-camera meter, which I always tried to avoid.
At any rate, I shot two rolls of 35mm film. Tom was amazing with his poses. He just kept changing his position and his hands, I did full length shots and some closeups and all the shots from this session are amazing.
Tom tried to get the pigeons to fly and was even kicking his foot at them, but they just hopped out of the way and refused to fly up.
What a character!”
“The second time I had the honor of working with Tom was in the summer of 1985. I was the photo editor of SPIN magazine and we were doing a story on Tom.
This time, Tom wanted to shoot in Chinatown and not in any specific location. We just walked around Chinatown and Little Italy for a couple of hours, chatting and then stopping at spots that had interesting backgrounds or crowd scenes. It is during this shoot that I saw Tom was wearing the famous alligator shoes that were thrown out the window by his irate girlfriend in the movie “Down By Law”. Tom was obviously proud of those shoes and wanted me to feature them in several closeup shots.”
“Tom asked me if I was hungry and since I was also a starving artist, I replied in the positive. Tom told me that he had a friend who owned a Chinese restaurant and we could go there for lunch.
When we reached the restaurant, we were warmly greeted by the owner, given menus and led to a table in the back of the restaurant. Quickly making our choices, Tom asked me if I thought we should take some photos in the kitchen. I didn’t know that Tom had worked in a Chinese restaurant when he was younger, but he asked the owner if it would be OK and we went into the kitchen.
Tom certainly seemed at home at the stove and posed with a wok for about 45 seconds. He didn’t seem to want to make a “big deal” out of the kitchen photos, but they are some of my biggest selling images of Tom.”
“My photos from these two sessions with Tom are amongst my biggest selling images in my archive. I have to confess that I am a little jealous of my colleague, Anton “Ze Famous” Corbijn, having photographed Tom on so many more occasions than I did. It is only that Tom didn’t play any “roles” in the photos that we made together. It was just Tom being Tom.”
These and other photos are available as fine art prints. Please visit George-DuBose.com for details.
(Photo credit: ©George-DuBose.com)
Chris Blum, director of “Big Time”, answers your questions for the film’s 25th anniversary…
What or who brought you and Tom together in the first place? (Andre Hunt, San Francisco, CA, USA)
In about 1980, a mutual friend who is a private detective introduced us. I think Kathleen was writing a piece about him, as in certain circles he is a famous character. Tom and Kathleen were looking for a place to live in the area that I lived, and the intent was for me to show them around. We immediately became friends and have been ever since. We started working together doing some short little press/promo films for “Rain Dogs“, then we did the “Blow Wind Blow” music video and finally we did “Big Time”. We also worked on the sets for “Frank’s Wild Years” together and recently on the design of the “Real Gone” release.
Were you and Tom ‘on the same page’ when it came to your vision of what kind of film “Big Time” should be? (Jim Williams, Stafford, England)
We were on the exact same page. We both agreed on the story, attitude and overall vibe, and that it should be timeless and appear to have been “hand made”. The coloring of the film is a result of Tom being color blind and the colors you see in the film are the only colors he can see. A lot of the look was pre-determined because we were basically shooting the stage show. Although we pre-designed both the stage and film elements to work for both… for example the large colored light boxes were designed as lighting for the “live” show and to also function as practical “film” lights. We also moved them around as lighting and as props for the in-between sketches.
Were there ever plans to develop more of a narrative in the film? (Jeremy Farrance, Surrey, England)
Yes, there was a lot more narrative planned and even storyboarded but we had one of the infamous “budget cuts” that invariably happen in the Music business while we were shooting, so we had to eliminate a lot of the substory, which was based loosely on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” along with the remnants of Frank’s life – (“Frank’s Wild Years – the stage play presented by Second City in Chicago, which I also designed the sets for). The basic story is… After putting a nail in his wife’s forehead and burning down his house, Frank attempts to start a new life in “show business”. He ends up as janitor, night watchman, and all-round handy man in an “off, off, off” Broadway Tin Pan Alley theater (this is as far as “Frank” got in his quest for a show biz career).
Because he is the night watchman and he has nowhere else to live, he sleeps at the theater and has a dream that he is a performer. Just as in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, the guy left alone starts playing around with some of the things in the sorcerer’s den, but in this case the night watchman starts playing around with some of the musical instruments some band left on the stage from a previous performance and fantasizes that he is a star (just like the apprentice fantasizes that he is a sorcerer). There was a lot more material that explained this and that tied the whole thing into “Franks Wild Years” but because of the budget cut we had to live without it. As a result we went in a more impressionist way and took the stance – “continuity is for sissies”.
Everyone knows that Tom and Kathleen are a dynamic duo of creativity. In your opinion, how crucial a role did she play in the production of “Big Time”? (Andrea Whelden, Portland, OR, USA)
Kathleen always plays an important role. She is basically the only person that Tom totally trusts. She is a great writer, she has a good handle on the big picture and she has a finely tuned shit detector. she sees through the eyes of a poet and has a way of eliminating the jive BS factor.
Was Tom the type of actor that required a lot of directing or the type you could turn loose and just trust the take to come? (Mike Durham, Metamora, IN, USA)
Tom is his own director, all I had to do was capture it.
Who came up with the ideas for the in-between song sketches? (Andrea Whelden, Portland, OR, USA)
Tom, Kathleen and myself came up with most of the material, Although I was the one who had the idea in my mind for the point of view (“Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and was responsible for turning the material into connective tissue to connect the various songs.
When the camera pulls back during “9th & Hennepin”, it looks like the umbrella is pretty well engulfed. Were there any special tricks employed to keep the umbrella from burning through and dropping molten bits on your star? Was there a stunt coordinator on set? (Bonnie Burch, Franklin, TN, USA)
It was one continuous take. there was asbestos lining inside the umbrella to protect Tom. No Stunt coordinator – dangerous & dumb – but fun.
“Big Time” is filled with incredible performances. One of the best is heard over the end credits, an amazing version of “Big Black Mariah”. Was that performance filmed, and if so, why didn’t it make it to the final cut? (Mikael Borg, Lund, Sweden)
That piece was recorded earlier and not part of what we filmed, but we thought it was appropriate so we used it.
IMDb lists two production companies: Island Visual Arts and Vivid Entertainment. Island Records was Tom Waits’ record company at the time, but Vivid Entertainment is a company occupied in pornographic films. What’s the story behind this? (Stefan Vandenberghe, Mechelen, Belgium)
Vivid Productions was a London based company and is no longer in business. The Vivid Porn Co. is a different entity.
Vivid Productions (London) was a combined effort of Chris Blackwell (who has endlessly deep “cred” in the the music world and, Luc Roeg who is the son of Nic Roeg – who has endlessly deep “cred” as an amazing film maker, and Jeremy Thomas who has endlessly deep “cred” as a world class executive producer (right before this project he had just won an Academy Award with Bertolucci for “The Last Emperor”). What a stellar Team! Complete creative freedom was promised and everyone involved kept to that promise. Tom and I had “final cut” and we were in total agreement so it worked out very well. The only problem was the budget cut which caused us to have to eliminate a lot of the narrative that was the connective tissue. But maybe the lack of any kind of normal continuity makes it even more “cult like” and adds to the mystique.
Have you ever considered getting together with Tom again to make another film? (Andrea Whelden, Portland, OR, USA)
We spent almost a year and a half (15 months) on this film and had a great time, every moment of it was enjoyable and to try to recreate that experience would probably be futile. Similar to having a great party with great people and then a year later inviting the same people to a similar party and expecting the same experience – “it’s not going to happen”.
Have you discussed the idea of a “Big Time” DVD release with Tom? If so, what is the biggest obstacle when it comes to getting the film released on DVD? Is there anything the fans can do to help? (Mike Durham, Metamora, IN, USA)
Yes, we have discussed it and would like to see it happen, although I was recently told that it is now available on Netflix Streaming which might make the DVD redundant. Fans could contact MGM.
I’ve read that you edited the film from more than 30 hours of footage. If a DVD was released, could some of that be included? (Marco van Bergen, Baarn, Netherlands)
We filmed two live concerts, the one in San Francisco had SIX cameras, every angle possible, plus extreme telephoto which captured body details like Tom’s hands. Tom has very unusual anatomy which I was interested in showing, you can really see it in the close-ups of his double jointed fingers when he is playing the piano. The six cameras is how we ended up with over 30 hours of accumulated film.
The folks at The Criterion Collection have said they would love to release “Big Time” to the collection. Have they ever reached out to you, or you them? If the release ever became a reality, what supplements would you like to see included with the DVD? Would you be up for doing a director’s commentary? (Chris Ambrosino New York, NY, USA)
We have not heard from Criterion. It is really a deal that has to be made between Criterion and MGM which legally owns the film by way of acquisition of Vivid Productions. Unfortunately Tom and I do not have control over what is done with the “rights” I would like to see a couple of songs we did not include and yes I would be happy to do a commentary.
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“I didn’t know at the time that my first Rolling Stone Magazine assignment photographing Tom Waits would be one of the most memorable photo sessions of my career. Arriving at the Tropicana Hotel in West Hollywood in 1977 where Tom Waits lived in a little bungalow in the back… a very crowded and congested space. I didn’t know much about Tom at the time but not before too long I knew that this was not going to be easy to pull off. A little nervous to say the least armed with my Nikon F camera and some assorted lenses.”
“I placed Tom in an outdoor lawn chair that really looked a little odd inside the room but after awhile and looking around at all the eclectic furnishings and decor it looked pretty good through the camera. The image that was published in Rolling Stone was my first setup… I couldn’t get any eye contact from Tom so I’m basically lying on the floor shooting up so he would be looking at me. I remember a quote from him early in the shoot “Mitchell you’d be better off taking pictures of landscapes then taking pictures of me”. When I first saw the photo in the magazine I was quite happy about the results.”
“Tom had a very dusty piano in the corner of the room and that image is also one of my favorites. We then left the Tropicana and started driving around Hollywood stopping at certain locations which led to personally my all-time favorite image of Tom with the two kids. What made the photo so appealing here is this tall man dressed all in black and the kids could not care less..they paid no attention to him. Eventually Electra Records cut out the image of Tom and made it a standup poster in the record stores… I also won a contest with this image from Bam Magazine. I eventually got one of the standup posters that was life size… to this day I have no idea what happened to it.”
“After leaving the location with the kids I found a few more stops that were pretty interesting but it was really difficult to beat the first two images. When people come to my studio for a shoot I give them a tour of my work and Tom gets rave reviews… I have two very large framed photos of the lawn chair shot and of course the black and white one with Tom and the kids. Later on I shot Tom with the Patti Smith Group and Iggy Pop.
All of my Tom Waits prints are for sale and I am currently working on a book with about ten Waits images. I’ve been doing Photography for about 40 years and I will never ever forget this experience.”
(Photo credit: Kind permission of Mitchell Rose)
“Marv Holman called. He said he was interviewing Tom Waits. We both worked for Down Beat magazine. Bring the camera, he said. “I’ll be at the Victoria Restaurant. I’m going to try to get him across the street to Cliff Raven’s (tattoo parlor).” Marvin thought taking photos of Waits getting a tattoo would be great for the story.”
“I didn’t know Tom Waits. Maybe I had heard the name.
The Victoria was under the L tracks on Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Belmont Ave. was not an upscale street.
It was a cold day in 1976. I’m not sure whether it was March or April. Waits was playing at the Quiet Knight almost next door to the Victoria and staying at the Wilmont hotel. A transient lodging less than a block away. “I like the Wilmont,” he said. “My manager likes staying downtown, but at the Wilmont I just walk in and throw my key on the desk.”
Marv and Tom Waits were there when I arrived, sitting at a booth by the window. “4 fried eggs, toast, jelly & coffee $1” read a paper sign taped to the window. The train screeched overhead.”
“Tom Waits’ long wool coat, looking third hand, was thrown in pile on a window ledge. He was drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. His shirt sleeves were rolled up. He already had a tattoo. “Nighthawks”. His album “Nighthawks at the Diner” had been released less than six months earlier.
Marv was taping the interview with his boom box’s tape player. We weren’t too high tech in those days. I was introduced. I don’t recall a conversation.
The interview was getting started. I unpacked my Leica M4 and took some pictures.”
“After an hour or so Marvin and Tom were finished. We said goodbye and I went back to whatever it was I had been doing that afternoon.
“Bitin’ The Green Shiboda With Tom Waits” by Marv Holman appeared in the June 1976 issue of Down Beat. I think a piece I wrote about the Crusaders was in the same issue.
I eventually bought “Nighthawk at the Diner”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing– jazz, hanging out grit and echoes of the Beat poetry scene–Corso, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti. Waits’ world hit home. Loved that double vinyl set. I still do.
I liked the pictures from the Victoria. Years later I began exploring my jazz and blues negatives (still at it) and making prints including the Tom Waits session. The first time I put one in a show along with Charles Mingus, Frank Zappa, Muddy Waters, Roland Kirk, it sold almost before the opening. That’s when I realized something was up with Tom Waits.”
“I still make custom gelatin silver prints from the original negatives on request. The prices depend on the size of the print.
Oh yeah, the Quiet Knight closed long ago. The Victoria was torn down and replaced by something-or-other. Everyone has a tattoo. The Wilmont is still on Belmont Ave., I think. Maybe I’ll check it out. Belmont Ave. is only a few “L” stops away.”
(Photo credit: Kind permission of Herb Nolan)
Chris Blum directed the concert film Big Time.
In celebration of Big Time’s 25th anniversary, Chris Blum will be answering questions submitted by the The Mule’s readers.
Please submit your question, along with your name and location to: email@example.com
Submission ends Friday 16th August.
In 1983, Tom Waits visited Michael A. Russ’ exhibition Prussian Blue and commissioned him to create the artwork for his upcoming album, Swordfishtrombones.
The album cover features Tom Waits alongside actors Lee Kolima and Angelo Rossitto, who would go on to appear in his “In The Neighborhood” music video. The video was co-directed by Michael A. Russ and Haskell Wexler, and the concept was born out of the album artwork.
Michael discussed both shoots with David Smay for his book Swordfishtrombones:
30 years later, Michael has opened his archive, making fine art prints from the legendary shoot available: Swordfishtrombones Cover Art Gallery
Michael has recently published a limited edition book, featuring previously unpublished images: Swordfishtrombones – The Shoot
A letter from Tom Waits:
(Photo credit: Kind permission of Michael A. Russ)