by Gianpaolo Arena

TOM WAITS “RAIN DOGS”, 1985 Island Records

Photo: Anders Petersen “Lily and Rose”, 1969

Rain Dogs was released between the two masterpiece albums Swordfishtrombones(1983) and Franks Wild Years (1987) in which syncopated rhythms, dissonances, lame lyrics and crackling sounds meet tutelary deities like Kathleen Brennan (Tom Waits’ wife) and the seminal influence of musicians such as Harry Partch, Kurt Weill, Nino Rota and Captain Beefheart. Rain Dogs is placed on the groove of classic American tradition. From sore and oblique blues to Springsteen like echoes revisited through Tom’s pitch and tar voice, the record saw famous guest appearances such as Keith Richards, Marc Ribot, Chris Spedding and Robert Quine. Songs included in the album:SingaporeClap HandsCemetery PolkaJockey Full of Bourbon (the irresistible rumba that also accompanies one of the most memorable scenes of Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law, starring Tom Waits with John Lurie and Roberto Benigni), Tango Till They’re Sore,Diamonds and GoldDowntown Train. Tom Waits’ words introduce well the cover image: “There is no devil, just God when he’s drunk”. Legend has it that Petersen went to Hamburg searching for a beer when he came across with Lehmitz Café, a bar in the border of the city’s red light district (“die sündige Meile” - the sinful mile) whose patrons were alcoholics, workers, sailors, outcasts, prostitutes, pimps, transvestites, lovers, homosexuals, drug addicts. On the way back from the toilet he found the members of this bizarre and unruly gang. Rebellious, yet innocent, they toyed with his camera pulling back and fro among each other. The result was 88 images in black and white that later turned into a book which became the true object of worship and manifesto of photography of the ‘70s; and of great impact for future generations. With a diary approach, participatory and intimate, without pity and without judgment, Petersen tells this little world where rebellion and unconventionality were hard and painful, although not without tenderness since they were acts of freedom and joy. So indecently alluring.

«After a while, I did not know what I was doing in Café Lehmitz and that is when I felt at home».

Anders Petersen

«A Rain Dog is after a rain in New York all the dogs that got caught in the rain, somehow the water washed away their whole trail and they can’t get back home so about 4 in the morning you see all these stranded dogs on the street and they’re looking around like — won’t you help me get back home, sir, please — excuse me sir — can you help me find my way back home — all makes and models, the short ones, the black ones, the tall ones, the expensive ones, the long ones, the disturbed ones, they all want to get home. It’s like falling asleep somewhere and you thought you knew where you were and when you woke up — it’s like Mission Impossible — they changed the furniture and the walls and windows and the sky turned a different colour and you can never get back and most of the stories in this record have to do with people in New York who are experiencing a considerable amount of pain and discomfort».

[Source: “Rain Dogs Island Promo Tape” (taped comments on songs as sent to radio stations). Tom Waits - Date: late 1985]


Interview with Anders Petersen, exhibition at Galerie VU, 2013

© WAITS/CORBIJN ‘77-‘11 is the celebration of an artistic collaboration that reaches back more than 35 years, to those first black-and-white photographs of Tom Waits taken by a young and virtually unknown Anton Corbijn in Holland in 1977.

© All copyright remains with the photographer and property


Undercover is a special issue dedicated to photographers and musical covers.