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The three moments you need to know about in the Beck-Tom Waits conversation [UPDATE]

July 9, 2009 | 11:30 am


What do you get when two incredibly creative musical minds sit down to simply talk with no agenda and nothing to hawk? Two guys mostly talking about where they grew up, the lost works of Euripides, and performing live without proper amplification.

Silver Lake's own Beck Hansen has just launched a series on his website "featuring conversations between musicians, artists, writers, etc. on various subjects, without promotional pretext or editorial direction."

Beck's fatal move was choosing Tom Waits as his first guest. Not because Waits isn't much of a conversationalist  --  just the opposite. Once you document a free spirit like Waits riffing without a net, how is Beck going to top that?

In Part 1 of their conversation together, Hansen and Waits provide so many good moments that you're doing yourself a disservice by not reading the whole thing. Beck swears in the conversation that people today are obsessed with "Best Of" lists, and we're not going to argue.

After the jump are the three best moments of their exchange.


No. 3. When Waits reminisced about growing up in L.A., Richard Nixon, and the wiener mobile. Because it's Tom Waits, a dwarf makes a cameo in the tale:

BH: Yeah I think so. Hey, I wanted to ask you about being from Los Angeles. You grew up there...

TW: Yeah, Whittier, La Habra, Downey, that whole area. Yeah, Los Lobos, they're from Whittier. So is Nixon. I remember Nixon's market. He had his own family market.

BH: He was? For some reason I thought he was from the Midwest.

TW: No, California, and we used to get a visit every year from the Oscar Meyer wiener mobile, which was an enormous vehicle shaped like a hot dog. The driver was a Dwarf, and the wiener mobile would broadcast music while he sang the song "I wish I was an Oscar Meyer wiener." He drew quite a crowd. Pretty exciting for a shopping center.

No. 2.  When Beck poetically describes the mythical nature of the City of Angels:

BH: I think of the city as a sort of mirage. If you look at pictures of the city a hundred years ago it's just a bunch of weeds and desert dust. Its not really supposed to be here. I was always fascinated by the city it was meant to be. I guess it was a place created by developers. It's not really like a city where some people roam around and then they find a good piece of land, and then they test it out for a while and make sure there is water so they don't die, and then they decide to make a city. I started looking at some pictures ... Beverly Hills was originally supposed to be called Morocco Junction. I started thinking, if they'd gone with that name we'd be in a whole other situation. I was wondering if there were any things that you remember? It seems like it's shed its skin so many times.

No. 1. The best moment was when Waits dissed Frank Sinatra only to be followed by Beck (inadvertently?) dissing X and Randy Newman:

TW: "LA, You're a Lady." It was one of those lame, awful ... Maybe it's the rhyme or the rhythm of the name Los Angeles.

BH: Yeah I don't think anyone has written a definitive LA song.

TW: Maybe it's the rhyme or the rhythm of the name Los Angeles.

BH: Yeah, I don't think you can...

TW: But Chicago or St Louis, such cool sounding names. New Orleans. So many songs about New Orleans.

Can't wait for Part 2.

-- Tony Pierce

Photo of Beck, top,  in August 2008 by
Benjamin Reed / Los Angeles Times. Photo of Tom Waits in February 1989 by Los Angeles Times

*UPDATE: An earlier edition of this post misspelled Beck's last name as Hanson. It is Hansen. Thank you Brad for calling the error to our attention.