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 the stuff of legend.
Waits is 29 years old in the clip and he gives a somewhat off-beat comic masterclass when being interviewed by Lane, it’s a wonderful glimpse into the kind of character that makes 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.
It’s fair to see this chain-smoking, gravel-voiced and purposefully confusing singer didn’t land all that well with Australian audiences. The Don Lane show was hosted by Lane, an American nightclub promoter who became a big personality on Oz television. The show was a blend of comedy, interviews, and musical performances. Running from 1975-1983, the show hosted Elton John, David Bowie, and Stevie Wonder.
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.