Dreams Taken Through a Straw

Tom Waits

Tom Waits in Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

From Elizabeth Gilbert’s June 2002 GQ profile of Tom Waits:

‘Children make up the best songs, anyway,’ he says. ‘Better than grown-ups. Kids are always working on songs and throwing them away, like little origami things or paper airplanes. They don’t care if they lose it; they’ll just make another one.’ This openness is what every artist needs. Be ready to receive the inspiration when it comes; be ready to let it go when it vanishes. He believes that if a song ‘really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song.’ ‘Some songs,’ he has learned, ‘don’t want to be recorded.’ You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll only scare them off more. Trying to capture them sometimes ‘is trying to trap birds.’ Fortunately, he says, other songs come easy, like ‘digging potatoes out of the ground.’ Others are sticky and weird, like ‘gum found under an old table.’ Clumsy and uncooperative songs may only be useful ‘to cut up as bait and use ’em to catch other songs.’ Of course, the best songs of all are those that enter you ‘like dreams taken through a straw.’ In those moments, all you can be, Waits says, is grateful.

(Article via Austin Kleon.)

Further listening: Radiolab’s “Help!”

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