Tom Waits on David Letterman, Dec. 21, 1983

Tom Waits – Letterman 12-21-83 (via Open Culture)

Waits has made something of a tradition of visiting Letterman’s show, or maybe Letterman has made a tradition of inviting him. Music journalists often slap the word “reclusive” in front of his name, but Waits does make his media appearances, the best of which he makes on Letterman’s show. You’ll find many such segments on Youtube, including ones from 1983,19861987198820022004, and this year. In 1986, Letterman introduced Waits as “probably the only guest we’ve had on this program who was born in the back of a taxi,” which I assume still holds true. Just above, we’ve embedded his 1983 Christmastime sit-down, which Waits’ fans seem to regard with special fondness, and in which Letterman first learns this choice fact. Beyond that, Waits sings two songs and discusses his various unorthodox residences (motel, trailer, car), the use of brake drums as percussive drums on his then-latest album, and how he intervened when a schoolboy was suspended for bringing one of Waits’ records to show-and-tell. In Waits, we have the prime living exemplar of a certain particularly American style of performing and songwriting, and in Letterman, we have the prime living exemplar of a certain particularly American style of simultaneously silly and self-aware humor. What luck for the country that these two can get together as often as they do.