"Tom Waits" lives in a comfortable prison in a city where it always rains. He has windows of armored glass. His food is passed in through a slot. "He" has had no physical contact with another human being for twenty years.

"Tom Waits" is a franchise. The last album of his that he was involved with was Small Change. Not coincidentally, everything he did back then was crap. At one point the label realized that he had a marketable image, but not a speck of talent. So they hired a team of eleven silent technicians to make records and release them under Tom Waits' name. This is why "his" style changed on or about Swordfishtrombones, when he became great: It wasn't actually him any more. It was a team of technicians in lab coats. The man who actually sang "Union Square" and "Temptation" doesn't even exist: It's all done with a sophisticated vocoder. All of the instruments are simulated. "Marc Ribot" does not exist. He never existed. That character was created by marketing people in an epic latté-fuelled brainstorming session. Every "musician" who "plays with 'Tom Waits' " is a fictional character.

The technicians are small men with horn-rimmed glasses, white short-sleeved dress shirts, ties, and flat-tops. They all look like NASA engineers from 1967 and they all drive Buicks. It's a misguided attempt at "cultural authenticity".

"Tom Waits" himself is usually under heavy sedation, but in his lucid moments he finds himself trapped in an endless hall of mirrors. They gave him a portrait of the fictional "Kathleen Brennan", his supposed wife; he often spends hours locked in his bathroom, talking to it. He believes that it answers him. He has begun to doubt his own existence. He has committed suicide four times over the years, but each time he dies they warm up a clone and it takes "his" place. Each clone has found a way to die. The first used broken glass: There is now no glass in his prison. The second drowned itself: There is now no water but in a dispenser like the ones in hamster cages. And so on, and so on. Each clone believes it is the "real" Tom Waits. Each clone is observed through armored mirrors by calm, thoughtful technicians. They allow him to read "his" fan mail. When each clone in turn begins to spend all its lucid moments talking to "Eileen", the technicians know that its time is near.

Write to him. He'll read your letter. He has nothing but time.

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