(Credits: Far Out / Apple Music / Jim Jarmusch)
“If you don’t know Tom Waits’ work, you’re missing a lot,” the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch said in 1996. “I don’t know how to describe Tom Waits because to me, he’s like some strange, very rare mushroom or something, growing out in the forest, and there’s no other species like him. You know, he is a kind of poet, troubadour musician, and there’s almost something like carny about him too.”
Indeed, Waits is a peculiarity hitherto unknown to the world. He sings of towns underground; he loves Ray Charles; he’s an actor, a comic, and a mystery. He has always gone his own way, never had a single hit, but knows enough about the mainstream to ensure that he’s a cult sensation with enough kudos to secure his name upon a star.
And yet, he’s open to advice, too. So, his filmmaking buddy posed him a sort of riddle surrounding artistic tenets, as Waits recalled: “Jim Jarmusch once told me Fast, Cheap, and Good… pick two”. In other words, in the world of modern pop culture with its rapid content turnover, if you can only be two of those facets, then what would you choose so that you’re not battling three fronts that you cannot win?
Waits explains: “If it’s fast and cheap, it won’t be good. If it’s cheap and good, it won’t be fast. If it’s fast and good, it won’t be cheap. Fast, cheap and good… pick words to live by.” While Waits never offered which two he had selected, perhaps he’s proof that if you’re weird, you can avoid choosing any and live by your own two tenets. However, from the astounding quality of his back catalogue, he certainly hasn’t compromised on being gloriously cheap.
Aside from the fact this titbit gets you wondering which two you’d opt for, it also stands as a wonderful insight into the sort of conversations that the two have. In the past, the pair have even had scuffles over artistic differences. In a candid recollection with Uncut magazine, Jarmusch shed light on one such disagreement. “He wanted me to cut it differently,” the director explained, during their time making ‘I Don’t Wanna Grow Up’ from Waits’ 1992 Bone Machine record.
“I said, ‘It’s like a film I’m making, Tom,’ and he said, ‘No, it’s a commercial for this song. If people are watching TV, I don’t want them changing channels’.” Waits was hungering for “crazy images” to keep his fans transfixed, but Jarmusch wouldn’t budge, so things got physical. “We had a big fight in which I dropped him in an enclosed parking lot behind a metal door in LA in the middle of the night,” Jarmusch continued. “He was pounding on the door. I vividly remember the insult, which no one has ever said to me again…”
However, he happily concludes: “It was a fight between friends”, no doubt one of many drunken iterations between the two beloved artists.