The film begins at a derelict gas station. A paper sign, peeling from the wall, warns in German that open flames and smoking are dangerous and strictly forbidden. In walks Tom Waits, smoking a cigarette.
“This reminds me of a place I used to work in National City, California, called Spotco Self Service,” Waits says as he leans against a pump. “I worked for a gentleman named Charles Spotco. I was always late for work. I used to stay out at night. I’d come dragging to work, used to get there about ten-thirty in the morning. He’d chew me out and scream at me for being late. He always said I’d never amount to nothing. I never thought I’d be standing in a gas station in Vienna Austria. If I’d of told him that one day, Spotco, I’ll be leaning on a gas pump at a gas station in Vienna Austria, he would have said you gotta be out of your mind.”
The scene is from Tom Waits: A Day in Vienna, a half-hour Austrian TV film shot on April 19, 1979, and shown above in its entirety. Filmmakers Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher approached Waits when he arrived in Vienna on a short European tour, according to Barney Hoskyns in Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits. “He came in from Amsterdam saying he hadn’t slept all night, but he agreed on the spot to let us film him,” Rossacher told Hoskyns. “He didn’t want to do a proper interview but instead he wanted to tell stories.”
Dolezal and Rossacher drove Waits to the old gas station and later to a Greek cafe, where he told a comic story about a saxophone player. At the Konzerthaus that night they filmed Waits and his band performing “Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” Backstage before the encore, Waits is shown pacing back and forth, singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Afterward, in a lounge, he sits down at a piano and plays a few bars of “I Can’t Wait to Get Off Work” before dancing with a bar girl and retiring for the night.