Peg Leg ~ Wilhelm: from The Black Rider

TOM WAITS will be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, or so it was announced earlier this week. So that’s sent me digging for something purely idiosyncratic Waits — and that exercise nudged me here.

I had forgotten how moody, off-kilter and compelling this production was. I ended up seeing The Black Rider, twice when it was here downtown at the Music Center. The piece is a collaboration: Tom Waits, Robert Wilson with the ghost of William Burroughs hovering close by — even in the singers’ cadences and intonation.

This is a German production, but there is a fair amount of English throughout this video sketchbook. The actor playing “Peg Leg” is good, but I remember the performer here in L.A. as being incantatory. Just the way he moved on his peg leg — his limp didn’t make him appear at a disadvantage at all, rather it was powerful.

Based on a German folktale, the piece blends myth and lore with threads of fact (allusions to Burroughs’ infamous accidental shooting of his wife during a William Tell-like stunt.) The music is pure, classic Waits, clanging, bawdy and spanning several eras while crossing genres. It’s thoroughly haunting.
What also sticks with me about those evenings was the audience. When the season ticket holders fled the orchestra seats, a pack of erstwhile punks (and post punks) filled the empty seats ~ a little more posh than a mosh pit, I’d say. But theater too nonetheless.


Still waiting for this to be released as a cast album, right now there’s just Waits’ rendition of the song cycle on a CD. Not bad, of course, but even with his inventiveness and ability to stretch, you don’t get the stunning cacophony of voices.
So in honor of Mr. Waits’ nod, let’s hear him at his most elastic…

4 thoughts on “Peg Leg ~ Wilhelm: from The Black Rider

  1. fantastic! both the induction (strange word that) …at last, and these clips. Would love to see Ute Lemper in this production. What with Tory cuts on all fronts here in UK, Weill meets Waits et al feels right for the times. Thanks for this

    • Thanks! I wish more people had gotten to see this. The first time I saw it, about one-third through, I knew I wanted to see it again. This video doesn’t do it justice, but it gives enough of a tantalizing taste of the dreamy/off-kilter experience. It really was fantastic. And the actor playing Peg Leg (in the red) was mesmerizing. *And* I was just having an email exchange with a friend about Waits and the genre-hopping and also mentioned Weill (and Brecht) which made me think of that wonderful Hal Wilner compilation, “Lost in the Stars” (which Waits is on) that is a tribute to Weill and Brecht. If you don’t have it you should! (and yes, Ute Lemper! Yes.)

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