Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tom Waits for No One But Me

Where were these shots taken? Christ, it was at least 30 years ago, none of these people were famous yet, and I was bombed out of my mind, every night a new club, a screening, an art opening, something new to snort, smoke, or consume, another body part to commingle with someone else's body part.

It started when I went to the Troubadour, on Santa Monica Blvd. at the entrance to Beverly Hills, to see Melissa Manchester. Please don't ask me when it was. What did I say? 30 years ago? Let's leave it at that.
While waiting in line, I saw a big black '50s hearse pull up to the front of the Troubadour. Out popped this scrawny beatnik with a goatee and a shabby suit who went straight into the theater. I got out of line and looked in the car. It seemed that whoever that beatnik was, he was living in a hearse. There was no casket in back, just piles of junk and empty alcohol containers, while the front seat was covered with books of poetry by Charles Bukowski.
Then it was announced that Melissa Manchester had canceled and we were all offered our money back. The whole line took the Troubadour up on their offer, got their bread, and split. I have no idea why, maybe it was the allure of the Troubadour bar which was usually pickup heaven, but I decided to stick around and see Manchester's opening act who would be headlining for the very first time. I grabbed a waitress, guzzled a drink, snuck a joint in the men's room, snervled a toot, sat in the empty house, and watched that scrawny beatnik with the goatee and shabby suit, Tom Waits, do an hour-and-a-half solo set just for me.
After the set we talked because the two of us and the waitresses and bartender were the only ones there. I don't remember if I bought him a drink because he was so fucking talented or if he bought me a drink because I was the first person on earth to actually sit through a complete set of his music, but drinks were indeed consumed. He convinced me I had to read some Charles Bukowski, and I asked him if he really lived in the hearse. He said no, he lived at the Tropicana Motel up the street and that he basically hung out there all day at the coffee shop called Dukes.
Dukes became my new home. It was the greatest coffee shop on earth. Not only was the food spectacular and cheap, it was a genuine rock 'n' roll haven long before the phony Hard Rock Cafes tried to take over the world. The walls were covered with albums and signed posters of touring bands. Maybe big millionaire rock stars got put up at the Hilton by their record companies when they were on tour, but not so everyone else. Bands who weren't the Stones stayed at the Tropicana. Dukes, their coffee shop, was arranged in such a way that all the tables were pushed together like one enormous counter, so getting a private table was close to impossible. You would go there for breakfast and end up sitting next to the Cars or the Eurythmics or the Clash or Elvis Costello, but usually it was just Tom or Chuck E. Weiss because they actually lived there.

One day after a surreptitious shot of tequila and the best huevos rancheros on earth, Tom invited me to a concert that night. I wrote down the address. Do you expect me to remember where it was? Of course not. I do know this - I ended up backstage at a sleazy dive just north of Sunset, a wretched, sweaty, incandescent cellar without even a stage for the performers to stand on, bare walls making the music ricochet around the room, becoming virtually incomprehensible, only capable of holding about 80 people comfortably but packed with at least 150, circled around the performer in the middle.

Did I say backstage? I meant a room about the size of Snoopy's doghouse where people were crammed like sardines without the wholesome pleasure of olive oil to slide around in. Tom invited me in, then introduced me to his friend Chuck E. Weiss who said he was a musician too, and his girl friend Rickie Lee Jones, who I suppose must have performed too because her name is on the door. Tom was horrified by my Polaroids as you can see by his reaction in picture #3.

Maybe a month later there was this big hit song by Rickie Lee Jones about Tom's friend Chuck E. who was apparently in love with somebody, and the Eagles recorded Wait's Ol' 55 (Freeways, Cars, and Trucks), and suddenly they were all big stars, which must be why I took these pictures, because I knew it would happen. What were Dr. John and John Prine doing there? Despite the fact that I was the only one there at his premiere as a headliner, I guess word somehow got out that this was a guy to see.

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