Tom Waits: ‘A Day in Vienna,’ terrific, little-known late 70s TV documentary
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Tom Waits

In 1978 or 1979 (we’ll get to that in a minute), Tom Waits was touring Europe. He had a concert in Vienna the day after a show in Amsterdam. He showed up in Vienna and was greeted by two young men named Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher, employees of ORF (Österreichischer Rundfunk, i.e. Austrian television) with the proposal of shooting an interview while he was in town. Waits countered with a better idea.

As Barney Hoskyns tells it in Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits:

Waits and band flew to Holland for a short European tour that took in Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Vienna, London, Dublin, Brussels, and Paris. … In Vienna on 19 April, Waits was filmed by Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher for a short documentary that incorporated live performances of “Sweet Little Bullet,” “Christmas Card,” and a loose-limbed take on “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” “He came in from Amsterdam saying he hadn’t slept all night, but he agreed on the spot to let us film him,” says Rossacher. “He said he didn’t want to do a proper interview but instead he wanted to tell stories.”

The film’s credit at the very end itself says quite clearly that it dates from 1978, but everyone else seems to think it was really 1979. For one thing, the video ends with a rendition of “On the Nickel,” which first appeared on 1980’s Heartattack and Vine.
Tom Waits
The concert in the footage was at the Konzerthaus, specifically the Mozartsaal, which seats 704. The European tour was in support of 1978’s Blue Valentine, and in the footage Waits plays “A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun” and “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” off of that album. We get three songs from Waits’ 1976 album Small Change (“Jitterbug Boy,” “Pasties and a G-String (At the Two O’Clock Club),” and “I Can’t Wait to Get Off Work (And See My Baby on Montgomery Avenue)”). Waits’ rendition of “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” folds in a few bars of “Goin’ Out of My Head” when he gets to the Little Anthony and the Imperials line and ends with “Silent Night”—this was his usual practice in the late 1970s.

At the end of the video Waits does a slow dance with what Hoskyns calls “a Thai prostitute” in a joint called the Moulin Rouge on Walfischgasse in the city’s 1st district. The Moulin Rouge is still there, but that area is completely different today. Walfischgasse intersects with Kärntner Strasse, which is kind of like Times Square/42nd Street in more ways than one. In the 1970s it was a red-light district, but today it is one of the most commercialized avenues in Vienna. I love the footage in the middle where Waits tells the story of the saxophonist who can’t manage the bridge to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”—few things are more “Vienna” than a little table crowded with beer glasses and stately little cups of coffee.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Tom Waits on Australian TV, 1979-81: The great pretender
Tom Waits resurrects Captain Beefheart with the help of Keith Richards

Posted by Martin Schneider



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