There are few sounds more wonderful and soothing than the rusty timbre of Tom Waits’ voice. From fishing in Jamaica with John Lurie to wandering around Vienna, I’d watch the musician and poet of lovelorn and tattered vaudevillian jazz do just about anything. But when it comes to his best on-screen moments, it’s not just Coffee and Cigarettes and Short Cuts I’m fascinated by, but his talk show appearances from the late 1970s.
Back in a better world than this, in 1977 Waits went on the TV sitcom Fernwood Tonight (or Fernwood 2 Night)—a parody show created by Norman Lear set in the fictional town of Fernwood, Ohio. Playing a Johnny Carson-esque figure, Martin Mull played Barth Gimble, with Fred Willard as his cohort Jerry Hubbard. And although most of the guests that appeared on the show were fictional, Waits and his bumbling-grumbling-slightly-greasy-but-still-utterly-charming-self came on to perform “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” Afterward, the three have a chat, in which Waits utters the classic, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy,”—and it’s all a delight to watch. Take a look below.