Tom Waits on Anton Corbijn


Aidin Vaziri | They make for an unlikely pair: the scrappy, slightly unhinged Northern California singer-songwriter Tom Waits and the quiet, contemplative Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn. But over the past four decades, their lives and careers have become inseparable. The hefty new book “Waits/Corbijn: ’77-’11,” celebrates the partnership with the iconic portraits they have produced together – high in contrast, saturation and kicks. Also included in the tome is a selection of Waits’ artwork – collages, pictures and poems that share the same off-center quality as his music. The musician talked to us about his foray onto coffee tables.

Q: In the introduction to the book, you say you “won’t go jumping off rocks wearing only a Dracula cape for just anyone.” Was there ever a time you didn’t feel completely comfortable in front of Corbijn’s camera?

 A: You mean, where it felt ridiculous? I don’t know. When you meet somebody you have a rapport with, you’re going to trust they’re not going to make you look like a dork. He’s the kind of person you want on your spacecraft if it was malfunctioning. He’s good with instruction manuals. I feel safer having an engineer along – then I can feel free to run around the park with my head off.

Q: He has been your photographer for more than 35 years. Did you ever want to experiment?

A: The thing is, with pictures or music it’s either completely impossible or it’s easy. There’s no in-between. I got tired of having to go somewhere and meet a guy who’s 18 because then he just photographs how uncomfortable you are. Anton I’ve known for 40 years, before I even got married.

Q: Is there a photograph in the book that sums you up?

A: Not one. It’s different aspects of yourself. But I do like the one where I’m midair looking like a monkey. Stuff like that won’t come out right if it’s in the wrong hands.

Q: You have such an intimate relationship with him. Do you feel betrayed when he goes off to work with U2 or Metallica?

A: No, no. I mean, he’s not mine. He doesn’t belong to me. He’s an independent contractor.

Q: How does it feel to see yourself change over the years?

A: You mean to grow old? I don’t know. I think, God, I had more hair then or what happened to that car? Or, oh yeah, we lived over a Chinese restaurant. It is like a family album, only there is no family. Sometimes you just wonder why you’re going out to these desolate places, standing there in a suit.

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