Tom Waits on 'One From the Heart' - Rolling Stone
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Tom Waits on ‘One From the Heart’

The singer discusses working with Francis Ford Coppola and starting a new album

Tom WaitsTom Waits

Tom WAITS; performing live onstage at the Victoria Apollo, London, England, March 23rd, 1981

David Corio/Redferns/Getty

When Francis Coppola asked Tom Waits to write the score to his ‘One from the Heart,’ Waits’ experience in film music had been minimal: a pair of songs in ‘Paradise Alley,’ the title track to Ralph Waite’s ‘On the Nickel’ and an old song used by Nicholas Roeg in ‘Bad Timing.’ But in two years –with time off to make the ‘Heartattack and Vine’ album and to do some touring – Waits came up with the year’s most prominent musical score, a dreamy series of duets with Crystal Gayle that drift in and out of the film, comment on the action and supply some crucial transitions. The release of the soundtrack album, however, has been delayed because of a dispute between Columbia Records and Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios. We talked about the film and other bits of loose change with Waits, who has moved back to Los Angeles after some time on the East Coast.

How did you get involved in ‘One from the Heart’?
Francis got in touch with me when I was living in New York, because he’d heard a duet I’d written for Bette Midler and myself (“I Never Talk to Strangers”). It gave him the thread of what he wanted for this score, which was a lounge operetta: piano, bass, drums, tenor sax and musical commentary.

Were you aware of the prominence the music would have in the finished film?
Yeah, I guess I was. It was terrifying when I realized the urgency of the conditions – that so many people were depending on the musical decisions I made, because the music was going to be woven into the fabric of the piece and the singers were integral characters in the development of the story. I was writing music for scenes that hadn’t been finished, and they were developing scenes for songs that hadn’t been written —– leaving space for an alleged musical number with no real designated form. Traditionally, films are cut and then the music is arranged to fit in, but that wasn’t the case here. At the end, they had to tear the back off the film and push the music through the rib cage.

So you had a lot of musical freedom?
Yeah. There’s some danger in having a considerable amount of freedom, but I made some musical … not breakthroughs, but I got to stretch a little. I wrote my first tango. That’s always a big moment.

I understand you just won a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department.
Yeah, finally did. I was picked up at a restaurant by three cops and accused of challenging to fight, fighting in a public place, being drunk in public. It was insulting and embarrassing, so I felt it was my duty to make sure the record reflected the truth of the matter. It dragged on for five years before I got my day in court, with a little arbitration hearing, and I finally got a small settlement ($7500).

How’s your next album coming along?
I’m just starting to write it. Circling the beast, currently. I’ve thought of Flesh Peddlers as a possible title, which I may use as a direction. But I’m looking for a new producer and a new manager now. And I’ve been talking with Elektra/Asylum about doing something like twelve new songs and a story in some kind of video presentation. But it’s all early on.

In This Article: Coverwall, Tom Waits

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