Tom Waits gave a wide-ranging, bizarre interview around the release of his 1988 album Big Time, and now PBS has animated it as part of its imaginative Blank on Blank series. Topics in the chat included the singer-songwriter’s habit of laughing in inappropriate situations, the moles that reportedly live under Stonehenge, the surreal world that is New York City and what he thinks the phrase “big time” means. Journalist Chris Roberts conducted the interview in 1988, which is now part of Rock’s Backpages Library.
The chat jumps between topics abruptly, but the singer tells one particularly entertaining anecdote – fittingly, for Waits, about a derelict he once encountered – at the end. “I met a guy one night who came up to me with his hand out. I said, ‘Oh, no, no,'” he recalls. “He said, ‘Yeah, yeah. Listen, man, it’s not what you think. I don’t want any money. I just want to be your friend.’ He said, ‘My name is Charlie. What’s your name? How you doing?’ He said, ‘That’s all I wanted. See?’ He went all the way around the block, came all the way back, and then when he came around the corner, he saw me, he said, ‘Hey, Tom. It’s your old buddy Charlie. Could you loan me a couple of bucks?’ I got a kick out of that.”
He also provided vocals on the song “Shenandoah,” featuring Keith Richards, for the 2013 compilation Son of a Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys. He previously sang the blues song “Little Red Rooster” with the Rolling Stones on their 2013 tour. Earlier this year, he paid tribute to the Rolling Stones guitarist by penning a poem titled “Keith Richards” for Rolling Stone.
PBS’ “Blank on Blank” series regularly animates archival interviews with a wide swath of musicians, actors and celebrities. Previous subjects have included Michael Jackson, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Tupac Shakur and Jim Morrison.