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Tom Waits for No One

[whitespace] An open letter to Tom Waits wraps up the year in Talking Pix

By David Templeton


Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This week, he catches up on some long-overdue correspondence in preparation of the upcoming new year and the 52 weeks of transcendental moviegoing that will be known as 1998.

Dear Tom Waits,

Well, it's been an another provocative year for the tiny journalistic entity known as "Talking Pictures"--47 movies with 59 people, and no more than a handful of life-threatening situations--yet I still haven't been able to persuade you, Tom Waits, arguably one of the most interesting people walking the planet, to agree to go to the movies.

Maybe you don't go to the movies. Perhaps the very efficient publicity people at your label haven't been forwarding my requests, such as this, one of the first, dated August of 1993: "Dear Mr. Waits. Here's another suggestion. What about the reissue of Snow White? It's dark and full of twisted psychological imagery; your songs are dark and full of twisted psychological imagery. I'm sure it'll give us plenty to talk about over a hot latte or a cold beer. Looking forward to your response."

That first time, if I remember correctly, they said you were in Germany, "rewriting Alice in Wonderland." I can respect that. And though I don't know what you were up to on subsequent occasions--that being the only time I received any formal response to my invitations--I'm far from bitter. I understand. Being one of music's great innovators--an eccentric genius on the level of Mozart, Fats Waller, and Frank Zappa--takes a tremendous amount of energy and time. For the record, President Clinton, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Duchess of York, and that guy who walks around dressed like Jesus have all declined my offer as well.

But in spite of having gone through another Tom Waits-less year, it must be said that for sheer moviegoing adventure, 1997 has been pretty much unparalleled in the short, five-year history of taking people to movies for fun and profit.

Let's see. There was that yelling match in September between the married political comedians Will and Debby Durst, after seeing the film Con Air. Following the film, we went to a bar with music so loud we had to holler to be heard, and since the Dursts were basically disagreeing (he thought the movie was "sick and depraved," she "kind of liked it"), people nearby thought they were witnessing a scene of potential domestic violence. Everything ended up cozy, though, as the conversation led to a sweet reminiscence of a romantic evening spent sneaking into movie theaters. That was memorable post-film conversation for sure.

As was my chat with Larry King, following a viewing of Woody Allen's romantic musical Everyone Says I Love You. To my surprise, I ended up essentially receiving Mr. King's confession for all past wrongs committed while in the throes of unrequited passion. He's thrown a suitcase or two, he admitted. He ended up singing "I'm Through with Love" as a demonstration of his youthful desire to be Vic Damone. And speaking of singing, the year's high point had to have been meeting folksinger Joan Baez to see the inspirational World War II drama Paradise Road, after which we ended up singing "Amazing Grace" while sharing a poppyseed cake in a coffee shop. She'd never known you could sing that song's lyrics to the tune of the "Theme from Gilligan's Island."

Then there was the boisterous conversation on such subjects as fistfights and vasectomies that took place in a San Francisco gay bar after seeing Kurt Russell's Breakdown with the bombastic Von Hoffman Brothers--authors of The Big Damn Book of Sheer Manliness--and a weird underground meeting (literally) with professional snake-keeper Ken Howell, in the dark labyrinthine passages beneath San Francisco's Academy of Sciences. Our discussion of the B-movie Anaconda was ultimately cut short by the arrival of a shipment of frozen mice.

And I'll never forget two recent outings: a lunchtime conversation on the topic of the terrorist film The Jackal took on a fresh edge when my guest--Hot Zone author Richard Preston--produced a weapon of mass destruction in the form of an anthrax dispenser designed to decimate whole armies, and set it on the table of the Ritz hotel's restaurant as a kind of centerpiece.

That's not the life-threatening experience I referred to earlier. That came while watching the delightful family drama Soul Food, during which my companion--Sheri Reynolds, author The Rapture of Canaan--and I were rudely evacuated from the theater when an angry, gun-waving madman stood up to protest the presence of crying children in the front row. We ended up talking about family bonding, saintly grandmothers, and our tentative grasp on sanity in modern-day America.

So you can see it's been a busy year for me as well, full of occurrences both unexpected and brimming with things to ponder. And now, as the old year gives way to a brand new version of itself, the best we can hope for is more of the same. Should you have a spare few hours in 1998, feel free to call me up.

The offer stands until such time as it doesn't.

Best Regards,
David Templeton

P.S. If you know anyone else interesting, please send them my way.

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Web exclusive to the December 24-31, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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