Anton Corbijn & Tom Waits

Packshot on 20/02/2013

I’ve always loved Tom Waits.
Well. Not always. I found him impenetrable for a long while.
But I got into his music after one of song, You’re Innocent When You Dream, featured at the end of Smoke, a film I watched late one night as a teenager.
As I delved into his music, I began to discover the quirky photographs of him by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn. For me, they’ve become almost as integral to the experience of Tom Waits as the music itself. His photographs reflect Waits’ music very well. It’s a little odd to think about, but amid many music journalists’ continual fawning over him, few of them seem to stop to ask the question: who is Tom Waits?
The short answer is that he’s a poser. An actor. In his songs, he continually takes on different characters. Always gritty, always outlandish. But never truly himself.
Corbijn’s portraits are great at conveying this. Rather than offering insight into Waits’ music, they contribute to the oddness and the mystery. Only rarely does Corbijn depict Waits holding an instrument, or in a recording environment. And even in these environments, the portraits are still posed. Much better to have him lying on a tree branch, in front of a shed, or riding a motorbike. Always looking shabby and gruff. These photographs are distillations of many things that contributed to making American culture great: Tin Pan Alley, film noir, Kerouac.
So when it was announced recently that a book of Corbijn’s portraits of Waits would be released, it seized my attention. It’s going to be a limited edition book. Which is a shame, because the images deserve to be much more well-known than that. They’re certainly a must for music photographers.
After photographing Waits for so long, Corbijn ended up working with a number of top musicians, from David Bowie to Joy Division, before directing music videos for… oh, everybody.

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