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Waits And Measures

Stuart Bailie | 23:39 UK time, Monday, 23 June 2008

It's August 25, 1992 and I'm in a San Francisco diner with Tom Waits. He's just as I hoped he would be, with the pork pie hat, the grifter goatee, the three button hand-me-down and the engineer boots. He's ruminating about his life out on the farm out in Sonoma County, where he builds his own instruments out of scrap iron and where the rough fever of the 'Bone Machine' album was recently birthed.

tomwaits200.jpgOwing to some wonky communication I actually stood the guy up a week ago. I had to see a priest about my impending wedding in Manchester and Tom didn't get the message until very late. But he seems to have forgiven me and he's even brought along his wife, Kathleen Brennan, to say hello. She's a cool artist and a writer, and they met on the set of 'One From The Heart'. They married in 1980 and took a honeymoon to Sligo. Kathleen perks up when she hears my accent and I give it some extra sparkle with the eyes. Just a few hours previous, I had bought my wedding suit in a vintage clothes store on Haight-Ashbury - a lovely piece of tailoring that had once belonged to the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. It's been a tremendous day, thus far.

elvis150.jpgTom has picked up a copy of the Weekly World News, which makes the National Enquirer look classy. Only eighty five cents, though. The cover story has imagined an Elvis wedding to a 30 year old waitress in Mississippi. That's Tom's excuse to unspool a few yarns himself, and pretty soon I don't know where the truth of the story may be. Hilariously, it doesn't matter.

He's riffing about ancient police station logs, and the weird old crimes recorded therein. He tells me about his mother and the religious tracts she sends him. And he reveals a rare admiration for Keith Richards, who features on the new album. It's only when I mention a few recent law suits that Tom becomes restless and our meeting comes to a civil end.

tom2_200.jpgOn the way out, he grabs a pen and draws a moustache and a beating heart on the Elvis cover of the newspaper. And then he signs his work: "best wishes, Tom Waits". He flashes me a conspiratorial wink. "There ya go... it's worth forty dollars now."


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