Kathleen Brennan

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Kathleen Brennan
Kathleen Patricia Brennan

1955 (age 67–68)
Notable workFranks Wild Years
The Black Rider
Blood Money
(m. 1980)

Kathleen Patricia Brennan (born 1955) is an American musician, songwriter, record producer, and artist. She is known for her work as a co-writer, producer, and influence on the work of her husband Tom Waits.


Brennan was born in Cork, Ireland and grew up in Johnsburg, Illinois in the US, after her family moved there when she was young.[1] Brennan and Waits first met in 1978 when Waits made his acting debut in Paradise Alley while Brennan was a scriptwriter,[2] and then again during production of the Francis Ford Coppola film One from the Heart.[3] At the time, Brennan worked at the American Zoetrope studio as a script analyst, while Waits composed the score for One from the Heart.[4] According to Waits, they met on New Year's Eve.[5]

Waits dedicated his 1980 song Jersey Girl to Brennan,[6] and they were married later that year[2] in the Always Forever Wedding Chapel.[7] After they married, Brennan encouraged Waits to become his own producer.[8]

Brennan is generally regarded as the catalyst for Waits' shift towards more experimental sound[9][10] beginning with the 1983 album Swordfishtrombones,[2][11][12] which Waits produced on dare from Brennan.[7] Her first co-writing credit appears on Rain Dogs in 1985 for "Hang Down Your Head", and by 1992 she was his main producer and constant song-writing partner; her record collection introduced him to the music of Captain Beefheart.[13] Her work includes co-writing and collaboration on the albums Franks Wild Years (1987),[14][15] Alice (2002), and Blood Money (2002), as well as the musicals The Black Rider (1989) and Woyzeck (2000).[16][17]

Waits has described Brennan as "a remarkable collaborator... She's bold, inventive and fearless. That's who you wanna go in the woods with, right? Somebody who finishes your sentences for you."[18] Waits has also said: "She doesn't like the limelight, but she's an incandescent presence on all songs we work on together."[19] In 2008, Waits described their collaboration as "one person holds the nail and the other one swings the hammer".[20] In 2020, Brennan described Waits' songs as either "grim reapers" or "grand weepers".[21]

Honors and awards[edit]

In 2015, Brennan and Waits were honored as part of the This Is Dedicated: Music's Greatest Marriages show by Jarrod Spector and Kelli Barrett.[22]

In 2016, Brennan was honored, along with Waits and John Prine, at The Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence Awards from PEN New England.[23][24] The event was hosted by the JFK Library; during the event Colum McCann honored the creative partnership of Brennan and Waits, stating, "The world as we have it is their lucky anthem. They fling it open with their lives and a few strings and a voice that was somehow scratched by heaven.".[25]

Personal life[edit]

Brennan and Waits live in northern California with their three children.[26]


  1. ^ Patrick Humphries (December 17, 2009). The Many Lives of Tom Waits. Omnibus Press. p. 199. ISBN 9780857121257.
  2. ^ a b c O'Hagan, Interview by Sean (October 28, 2006). "Off beat". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved August 11, 2017.
  3. ^ Maher, Paul (November 1, 2011). Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters. Aurum. ISBN 978-1-84513-827-1.
  4. ^ Montandon, Mac, ed. (2007). Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits, The Collected Interviews. Orion. p. 257. ISBN 978-0752881263. Retrieved December 4, 2022. Waits and Brennan met in 1980. He was in a small office at Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope studios, working on the score for One from the Heart. She was a script editor at Zoetrope. He was listening to Captain Beefheart, Howlin' Wolf, and Ethiopian music. She encouraged him to take more risks in his writing—to, Waits says, "distort the world." After they were married, Waits made Swordfishtrombones.
  5. ^ Montandon, Mac, ed. (2007). Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits, The Collected Interviews. Orion. p. 341. ISBN 978-0752881263. He insists that she's the truly creative force in the relationship, the feral influence who challenges his "pragmatic" limitations and stirs intrigue into all their music. ("She has dreams like Hieronymus Bosch . . . She'll start talking in tongues and I'll take it all down.") He says, "she speaks to my subtext, not my context." He claims she has expanded his vision so enormously as an artist that he can hardly bear to listen to any of the music he wrote before they met.
  6. ^ Margotin, Philippe; Guesdon, Jean-Michel (October 6, 2020). Bruce Springsteen: All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track. Octopus. ISBN 978-1-78472-725-3.
  7. ^ a b Montandon, Mac, ed. (2007). Innocent When You Dream: Tom Waits, The Collected Interviews. Orion. ISBN 978-0752881263.
  8. ^ "MUSIC; A Poet of Outcasts Who's Come Inside: MUSIC". New York Times (Online), New York: New York Times Company. May 5, 2002 – via ProQuest.
  9. ^ Taylor, Tom (February 14, 2022). "How Tom Waits' wife revolutionised his musical style". Far Out. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  10. ^ Waldburger, Marc (July 28, 2008). "The Quietus Looks Back At Tom Waits' illustrious career". The Quietus. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  11. ^ Robert Christgau (July 9, 2002). "Robert Christgau: Effective but Defective: Tom Waits". robertchristgau.com. Retrieved March 28, 2013.
  12. ^ Armstrong, Kurt (January 1, 2011). Why Love Will Always Be a Poor Investment: Marriage and Consumer Culture. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 978-1-62189-233-5.
  13. ^ Sylvie Simmons (September 2004). "The Mojo Interview: Tom Waits Speaks". Mojo Magazine.
  14. ^ "Frank's Wild Years - Chicago Creative Team". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  15. ^ Hochman, Steve (October 8, 1987). "Frank's Wild Years". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  16. ^ Major, Michael (October 4, 2022). "Tom Waits Releases 'Alice' & 'Blood Money' Re-Issues This Friday". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  17. ^ Yates, Maggie (April 24, 2015). "Review: WOYZECK Burns with Tragic Inevitability". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  18. ^ Tom Waits Library – Biography – Quotes Archived August 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Rip Rense (January 1999). "A Q&A About Mule Variations". www.msopr.com. Mitch Schneider Organisation.
  20. ^ Brackett, Donald (September 30, 2008). Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter. ABC-CLIO. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-275-99899-8.
  21. ^ Waterman, Cole (November 17, 2020). "Between the Grooves: Tom Waits - 'Bone Machine'". PopMatters; Evanston – via ProQuest.
  22. ^ Cohen, Alix (October 22, 2015). "Review: Married Broadway Stars Jarrod Spector & Kelli Barrett Rock the Roof Off Feinstein's/54 Below with Celebration of MUSIC's GREATEST MARRIAGES". BroadwayWorld. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  23. ^ "Tom Waits, Wife Kathleen Brennan and John Prine to Be Honored With Songwriting Award". Billboard. Associated Press. September 19, 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  24. ^ Marcelo, Philip (September 20, 2016). "Tom Waits, John Prine, Kathleen Brennan Receive Songwriting Awards". KQED. Associated Press. Retrieved December 4, 2022.
  25. ^ Shanahan, Mark (September 19, 2016). "John Prine, Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan honored for songwriting at star-studded event at JFK library - The Boston Globe". BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved November 28, 2022.
  26. ^ "Tom Waits". nndb.com. 2012. Retrieved March 28, 2013.