When it comes to living artists’ opinions, things don’t get much more significant than Tom Waits, especially when the topic is Bob Dylan. Waits doesn’t voice his opinion in public all too often, but on the seldom occasion that he does, you stop everything you’re doing and listen.
The gravelly-voiced troubadour, like Dylan, is an expert in crafting stories that tell the truth about the real America. They both know how to masterfully scratch underneath the surface to find the hauntingly beauty inside the gritty grey streets in every town that conjoin to make up their native land.
“Songs really are like a form of time travel because they really have moved forward in a bubble,” Waits once said about what he yearns for from the art form. “Everyone who’s connected with it, the studio’s gone, the musicians are gone, and the only thing that’s left is this recording which was only about a three-minute period maybe 70 years ago.”
A few years back, Waits compiled a list that cultivates his 20 most cherished albums of all time, a collection of records that he has carried around with him since his early days working in music, and Dylan is a name that pops up. Surprisingly though, it’s The Basement Tapes, which Dylan created during his fallen years when he disappeared off the face of the earth after a mysterious motorcycle crash that led to a hiatus. Many conspiracy theorists have disputed whether the accident even occurred over the years that followed, some claiming that the freewheelin’ troubadour just outlandishly created the ruse in order to rid him of his work commitments.
The Band came to visit him at his Woodstock Home during 1967, a time when he was out of sight from the public eye for the first time in years. Together, they recorded over 100 tracks which eventually became The Basement Tapes. The project kickstarted a new chapter in Dylan’s career as he left his folk leanings behind at the door and integrated rock into his sound. While the recordings were never officially released until 1975, they circulated among his fans in bootleg form for years before that.
“Suffice it to say Dylan is a planet to be explored,” Waits once said of Dylan. “For a songwriter, Dylan is as essential as a hammer and nails and a saw are to a carpenter… His journey as a songwriter is the stuff of myth because he lives within the ether of the songs.”
Not one shy away from his unadulterated admiration for Dylan; Waits once described him as a “master” when paying tribute after the singer-songwriter was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He said, “It’s a great day for Literature and for Bob when a Master of its original form is celebrated. Before epic tales and poems were ever written down, they migrated on the winds of the human voice and no voice is greater than Dylan’s.”
Raw and recorded when the singer-songwriter found himself in a creative flux, The Bootleg Tapes aren’t widely recognised as being the finest work of Dylan’s career. However, looking back upon the album years later, it signals one of the most crucial turning points in his career, and as a fellow maverick, it makes sense why Waits holds such an affinity to this collection.