Grizzled weirdo Tom Waits is currently embroiled in a legal battle with French circus performer Bartabas The Furious. That kind of sounds like a joke, but it’s true — The Guardian reports that the dispute is over the rights to 16 Tom Waits songs used in Bartabas’ “equestrian operatic ballet” On Achève Bien les Anges, which roughly translates to “They Shoot Angels, Don’t They?” Waits claims that the 16 songs comprise “the narrative heart and soul” of the show and that Bartabas impersonates him onstage, and he and his songwriting partner (and wife) Kathleen Brennan are asking for €500,000 in compensation.
Last month, after Waits attempted to have the production shut down in France, a French court ruled in Bartabas’ favor. The French performer claims that he approached Waits’ agent to get permission to use the songs and that a fee of €400,000 has already been paid. “It is clear that I would not have created this show in the same way if he had said he did not agree with the use of his songs,” Bartabas says.
But now, Waits has filed a second claim in civil court, which could delay Bartabas’ plans to bring the production to the UK. “These songs were not found like driftwood on the beach: they came from good families,” Waits writes in his complaint. “I turn down all commercial product endorsement offers and rarely collaborate or lend my name or work to other endeavours. It is my choice to get paid or not to get paid. And that value has been taken and exploited for the profit and promotion of Bartabas’s career and for his religious and political ideology, which neither the songs nor I chose to express. In short, it violates the integrity of my work.”
A final decision on the matter will be reached next year.