I would never say that Tom Waits is a fake: he quite obviously isn’t. But he is a poser. He's a man who knows how to adopt a pose and hold it for as long as required, which may be a very short time, say the fraction of a second it takes for a camera shutter to open of close, or for the length of a concert, or (as it is now) the length of a career that’s lasted more than four decades.
The fact is, it’s much easier to pose with a guitar in your hand, or at a piano, on a bar stool, or leaning against an old truck, than it is to pose while walking. Oh sure some people affect a swagger while walking, or a strut, or a lope, but send ‘em on a good long hike, and ten miles down the road you can be pretty sure their stride will be revealing their true self.
There’s an interview Tom Waits did with the beloved Terry Gross on National Public Radio in 2002 in which she asked him whether, when he started listening to “older music” it affected the way he dressed or spoke or behaved. Waits replied “Oh yeah, sure. You know I bought an old hat and drove an old car. Yeah sure. I walked with a cane. You know, I was going overboard perhaps but ...” And Gross interrupts to ask what kind of walking cane it was, did it have a silver top? “No, no,” says Waits, “an old man’s cane from a Salvation Army. Yeah. And I carved my name on it and everything you know ... It gave me a walk, I guess. It gave me something distinctive. ‘Oh who was that guy in here with a cane? Did you see that?’ It just gave me something I liked identity wise.”
There was a time a few years back when I was suffering from all kinds of foot problems. And the real problem was finding a doctor who knew what I was actually suffering from. I got diagnosed as having tendonitis, bursitis, plantar fasciitis, all good names, all of which essentially mean that you’ve got a pain in your foot. But none of the quacks I saw (and one of them was an absolute genuine quack) were able to do a damn thing about it.
Things got so bad that I could hardly walk outside the house, so I asked my wife to buy me a walking stick. She found a place on Hollywood Boulevard that sold walking sticks with handles made of Lucite, with a spider set in them. She bought me one of those. It looked pretty sharp, and it was some help in getting around.
And then after I’d had it about a week I realized the top screwed off, the cane was hollow metal, and there was a swordstick stick hidden inside. That made it seem even sharper. It seemed like the kind of cane Tom Waits ought to have used, and I could certainly see the attractions of walking along with a cane that contained a spider and a concealed weapon. It was the kind of affectation a man might get used to. But I gave it up once my foot got better (long story, I found the right doctor). I didn’t want to use the stick as part of a pose. I reckoned that one day I might really need a cane full-time, and I didn’t want to bring it on by using one before I needed to.
There’s another interview with Tom Waits, by Robert Sabbag for the LA Times Magazine, in which he talks about Keith Richards. Waits says, “He stands at ten after seven, if you can imagine that.” (I can just about) “Arms at five o’clock, legs at two o’clock” (and no I can’t imagine that at all) “with no apparatus, nothing suspended. He’s all below the waist. And if he doesn’t feel it, he’ll just walk away.”
Well yes, you can believe that. Of course, some people find it hard to believe that Keith Richards is able to stand, let alone walk, but he still seems well able to put one foot in front of the other. He doesn’t even need a cane, though he does have Patti Hansen for support.