Tuesday, 15 July 2008

capturing birds

Here's the inimitable Tom Waits on writing songs -

'You have to have kind of an innocent bravery trying to get started looking for songs … Sometimes you scratch and scratch and you can’t find any seeds and a moment later there isn’t enough pots & pans to catch it in. The beauty of that is that it could be a very ordinary thing that you get an idea from. Something falls, a pigeon flies in, or you hear a siren' (280-1).

'Every song needs to be anatomically correct: You need weather, you need the name of the town, something to eat – every song needs certain ingredients to be balanced (303). … I go looking in other people’s songs for their towns … I don’t know, everybody has things that they gravitate towards. Some people put toy cars or clouds or cat crap. Everybody puts something different, and it’s entirely up to you what belongs and what doesn’t. They’re interesting little vessels of emotional information, and you carry them in your pocket like a bagel ...' (365)

'Children make up the best songs anyway. 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 … Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them. Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers …. Some songs don’t want to be recorded. You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll scare them off more. 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 … The best songs of all are those that enter you like dreams taken through a straw. At such moments, all you can be is grateful' (346-7).

'Recording for me is like photographing ghosts ...' (317).


Extracts from interviews with Tom Waits in Mac Montandon (ed.), Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits – The Collected Interviews, London: Orion Books, 2006. Tom Waits photo by Anton Corbijn

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