Rather have a bottle in front of me

Tom Waits is featured on this week’s American Routes public radio music show (archived herereal audio link). There’s a great interchange where you can’t tell if Waits is totally screwing around with the host, or just being himself. Here’s the clip (10 second ogg):

Q: I don’t want to misquote you, but I think I saw you once said something like “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”
A: Oh right right right…
Q: Very succinct and poetic line.

A: Mmm… Um, I read that on a bathroom wall.
Q: Oh — did you really?
A: Uh huh. Yeah.
Q: But it strikes me it’s also somebody that sang that at that time that maybe — drinking was probably pretty important to you at that point?
A: Oh, well, I haven’t had a drink in like fourteen years.
Q: But… I… when you said that, my guess would be that you probably were, unless you were totally playing a character…
A: Oh, yeah, I was drinking in those days, yeah, sure.
Q: Yeah, yeah.

Apparently, the “lobotomy” quote, often attributed to Tom Waits, is actually written by Atlanta physician Randy Hanzlick. But it’s entirely plausible it got to Tom Waits via a bathroom somewhere. I’d believe it.

Update: a commentor points out that Hanzlick himself actually got the quote from graffiti on a bathroom wall. The plot thickens.


  1. Matthew Good Jan 28

    Actually, on that linked page it says that Dr. Hanzlick himself got the quote from a bathroom wall.

  2. Matthew Good Jan 28

    Also, I should say thanks for the heads-up on the Waits interview. Perfect timing too, as I read this about 2 minutes before American Routes came on my local NPR station.

  3. Anonymous Jan 28

    I’m pretty sure that Groucho Marx was the one who came up with the quote, although I can’t give you a reference right now…

  4. micah Jan 28

    thanks for pointing this out, I would have never noticed it otherwise. I’m a big Tom Waits fan! I happen to remember the “I’d rather have the bottle in front of me…” as a song I heard on Dr. Demento, “just different ways to kill the pain the same…” it started something like, “Jimmy and I were brothers, but we went down different paths, Jimmy always listened to my mother,
    And me, I never like to take a bath….I might be drunk, but at least I’m not insane!”

  5. gold mine Oct 24

    the “bottle in front of me” quote is most often attributed to Dorothy Parker (Wiki “Algonquin Round Table”). I’m seeing lots of mis-attributions on the web, and its interesting how recent people think this quote is . . .

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