A fan confesses, but it's not just me...
A few days ago vigilant Waits Watcher The Eyeball Kid wrote about a new book by a "Scottish musician and Tom Waits devotee" about his experiences following the Real Gone tour around Europe in 2004. The fan, a fella calling himself 'Raymy', was selling his opus, Stalking Tom Waits, via eBay for £3.50. Predictably, I put in my order and today a 36-page A5 photocopied 'book' arrived in the post.
It's an enjoyable, if slightly self-regarding volume (in the foreword Raymy dismisses the need of someone else having editorial control of his work; to be honest a friendly editor would've been handy). Nevertheless, it's a great yarn and one I could relate to to some extent. I'm like Raymy in thinking that Waits is the only musician I'd cross international borders to watch. I first saw Tom perform in Paris in 2000, flew to Berlin for one of the shows described in this book and have my Eurostar reservation for an encore Waits performance in Paris next month. Unlike Raymy I was lucky enough to buy my tickets to those three gigs at face-value from official outlets. The hook on which Raymy pegs his tale is that he had no tickets to any of the eight European concerts Tom played in 2004 but packed his bags and his guitar in search of entry to all of them.
What struck me about seeing Waits in Paris and Berlin was how many other people had travelled thousands of miles to see their hero. The bar next to the Grand Rex in Paris was like a United Nations of Waits fans after the gig and there were at least six others on the bus I was on from London going to France for the same reason as me. Raymy meets fellow Scots, folks from France, Norway and Spain on his travels. An Englishman gives Raymy his spare ticket for one of the Amsterdam shows for free after seeing him play a busker's set of Waits covers outside the theatre.
I can't think of anyone else who draws such mad devotion and I'm still not sure why it is. Obviously, the fact that Waits performs so rarely makes having the chance to see him play more alluring but ultimately I think it's probably the often oddball nature of Waits' songs that leads sane people to go to equally oddball lengths to glimpse him. Two examples. 1) My best friend James pretended to be a cripple to bag one of the few remaining tickets to see Waits in Los Angeles in 1999. 2) When the two of us saw him in Paris the following year we paid £8 each to stay in an absolute dive next to the concert venue, shared a room with PJ Harvey's roadie, and chalked up the shittiest hotel I've ever stayed at as an appropriately 'Waitsian' experience.
In his book Raymy finds himself sat next to Tom's tour manager, Stuart Ross, on the flight from Berlin to Amsterdam. Ross promises that Raymy might be able to meet his hero if he comes to the stage door after the Dutch concert. The meet'n'greet never happens. Raymy's lucky day finally arrives at Schipol airport when he does talk to Waits at the check-in gate. They have an amiable chat and Raymy suggests that should Tom return to Europe then a Scottish date would save him an awful lot of time and money. He writes, "Waits laughed, but didn't reply". I can only imagine what Raymy thought when he found out that the only UK date on Tom Waits' current tour is in Edinburgh.