Watch this classic Tom Waits interview and performance on Australian TV from 1979
We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to bring you perhaps one of the most iconic TV interviews of all time featuring Don Lane and Tom Waits.
When Tom Waits was welcomed back on to the Australian television programme The Don Lane Show in 1981, Lane said: “The last time  Tom Waits appeared with us, his unusual style and sense of humour lit up our switchboard for about an hour after the show. And not all with compliments, either…” He’s not wrong. The singer’s interview on the show is now the stuff of rock and roll legend.
Waits is 29-years-old in the clip and he gives a somewhat off-beat comic masterclass when being interviewed by Lane. It acts as a wonderful glimpse into the kind of character that during his career has made him a crooning American idol to so many people.
After the interview, he goes on to perform his newly-penned track ‘On The Nickel’ which he wrote as part of the soundtrack to the 1980 film of the same name and included on Waits’ album Heartattack and Vine, just to compound the point.
It’s easy to see how this chain-smoking, gravel-voiced and purposefully confounding singer didn’t land all that well with Australian audiences. The Don Lane show was hosted by Lane, an American nightclub promoter who mysteriously became a big personality on Oz television. The show was a magazine blend of comedy, interviews, and musical performances that had audiences glued to their television sets. Running from 1975-1983, the show hosted notable musical acts such as Elton John, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder.
None though were as disengaged with their audience as Tom Waits was. The seemingly inebriated Waits is beyond incoherent at times, with his moments of clarity providing himself just enough space to fight back through a smirk or an unheard joke. It was an unbelievable clash of cultures.
Rumour has it that Waits’ body language was so disorientating that apparently it was borrowed by Heath Ledger when he was constructing his show-stopping character The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight.
So it’s not hard to see why audiences were taken aback by Waits’ demeanour on the family favourite show. But Waits did return and seemingly found some praise for his ragged troubadour image. Something the authentic poet-cum-singing-ruffian probably found quite perplexing.
When he came back to the show in ’81, he was warmly welcomed by Don as the quote from the introduction started we shall finish, “… But his concerts filled up. His albums continued to sell with great success, and he’s gone from strength to strength. However, his unpredictability has remained unchanged. And how he’ll be with us tonight, who knows? I don’t know about you, but I’m really glad to see him again. Cause I think he’s a heck of a talent. Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Waits! “
Watch Tom Waits’ interview and performance on The Don Lane Show from 1979, below.