“Some guys got it down … secret heroes…Tom Waits… I listen more to that kind of stuff than whatever is popular at the moment, they’re not. Just witch-doctoring up the planet, they don’t set up barriers…”
- Bob Dylan interviewed by Cameron Crowe for the Biograph boxset, 1985.
Tom Waits and wondered what being a 'secret hero' might mean.
Waits become more of a shapeshifter, more of a restless explorer with this album. He got more adventurous with the instruments he used; the arrangements of his songs; the stories he told. He could still conjure a heart-breaking piano ballad like Soldier’s Things, when inspired. But there are also songs like Shore Leave which uses avant-garde instruments and traditional African and Balinese percussion to forge an eerily beautiful tale of a sailor wandering the streets of Hong Kong missing his wife.
Jim Jarmusch who has paid tribute to Kaurismaki directly in his wonderful film Night on Earth (soundtrack by Tom Waits) His influence can also be felt in the work of Wes Anderson and Richard Ayoade amongst others.
A good place to start, if new to his work, is Le Havre his most recent film. The film is the tale of a young African illegal immigrant who hides out in the French port town of Le Havre after escaping Police. The film weaves threads of prisoner-on-the-run-thriller with wry social commentary all shot-through with Kaurismaki's extraordinarily deadpan wit and minimalist style.
William T Volmann was someone else that I thought of when thinking about the idea of a‘Secret hero’ He doesn’t fit so nicely into place next to Waits as Kaurismaki does. I'd be hard pressed to really liken anybody to him.
He’s explored the lives of freight-train hopping hobos, meditated on poverty, drug use and prostitution and published a seven volume essay on violence, (usefully collected into a single volume.)
But like Waits and Kaurismaki he is a 'secret hero' to more popular writers like David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen.