Feature

Tom Waits’s hunt for a father figure

Waits became fixated on male role models after his dad walked out when he was 10 years old.

Tom Waits spent much of his life searching for a father figure, said Tim Adams in the London Observer. The singer-songwriter became fixated on male role models after his dad walked out when he was 10 years old. Waits would visit friends’ houses just to hang out with their dads. He’d ask these men grown-up questions such as, “So how long you been at Aetna, Bob?” At 12, he started carrying his grandfather’s walking stick and wearing a trilby. “There was a need for maturity and guidance from somewhere,” he says. “And I was going to have to provide it for myself—even if it meant putting on a hat and looking in the mirror and squinting a bit.”

As he found solace in music, he developed a new hero: Ray Charles. “I never got to know Ray. But I did shake his hand at an airport once, which was a profound moment for me. It wasn’t so profound for him, but it wasn’t meant to be.”

After 40 years as a performer, Waits has fans approaching him to shake his hand. “And that’s maybe profound for them, I guess,” he says. “But the odd thing about this [existence] is that you spend half your life trying to get people to listen to you and the rest trying to get them to leave you the f--- alone.”

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