Life Advice: Tom Waits on His Biggest Influence, Dream Dinner Party, and His Legacy

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Iconic singer-songwriter-actor Tom Waits, now co-starring in the zombie flick The Dead Don’t Die, talks about kids who won’t listen, being a good liar, and that time the Dalai Lama ran off with his wife—all in the latest Life Advice column.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Milk, milk, lemonade. Around the corner, fudge is made.

OK. Who were your heroes growing up?

Rod Serling; David Janssen, from The Fugitive; Cantinflas—he was a Mexican comedian. Boris Karloff, Marty Robbins, Lenny Bruce, Ken Nordine.

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That’s a pretty diverse group. What do you think they have in common?

Who knows? My dad left our family when I was about 11, so a lot of the men in my life that I looked up to were father figures.

How should a person handle getting older?

You don’t have to handle getting older. Getting older handles you. It starts pushing you down into the ground, so you have to kind of turn yourself like a drill—to pull yourself out of the hole. Getting older, it’s not for sissies.

How should a man handle criticism?

Say, “I know you are, but what am I? I know you are, but what am I?”

What role should vanity play in a man’s life?

You find a mirror that you look good in.

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What living person do you most admire?

The Dalai Lama. I met him in New York City many years ago. I played a benefit and I got to meet His Holiness backstage. I guess I would be considered His Weirdness. His Weirdness met His Holiness. He took a look at me and started laughing. Then I introduced him to my wife, and he took her by the hand and walked off into the crowd and was gone for an hour and a half. I have no idea what happened between them, but…it was just an amusing moment.

You’ve been with your wife, Kathleen Brennan, for decades now. What’s the secret to a long and happy relationship?

Fall in love and stay in love. Handle the curves. It’s all about the long game, you know?

Who has been the single biggest influence on your life?

My wife. Her wisdom, her humor, and just hanging in there with me.

Is it ever OK for a person to lie?

It’s part of the creative process. You have to learn how to lie, and to lie well, in order not to be detected.

What is the best cure for heartache?

Here’s a sentence that will help: “Tony, be a darling, won’t you, and fix me a martini with a twist.” Got it?

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Thelonious Monk. Jack Benny. Rin Tin Tin, for the scraps. Chef Boyardee. Skip James. Fellini. Yoko Ono, Nina Simone, Grace Jones, and Anthony Quinn. And Walter Huston. That’s a good group. You better have plenty of gin and vermouth.

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What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

Hang in there. Your skin will clear up, and one of these days, you’re gonna be a dude. And watch more Twilight Zones.

What’s the most challenging part about being a father?

Your kids don’t really listen to a word you say, but they pay a great deal of attention to how you are living your life. And if there’s a discrepancy between what you’re telling them and how you’re living your own life, you lose your audience.

How do you want to be remembered when you’re gone?

It would be kind of puffed-up to be thinking only about how I want to be remembered by the public. I’m more concerned with how I would want to be remembered by my family—with affection, you know?

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