By James Calemine
Over three decades, songwriter Tom Waits appeared in various Jim Jarmusch films. Most recently, Jarmusch cast Waits in his 2019 zombie movie The Dead Don’t Die. Waits also acted in Jarmusch films such as Down By Law, Mystery Train and Coffee & Cigarettes. Waits even provided the musical score for Jarmusch’s Night On Earth.
“Tom and I have a kindred aesthetic,” Jarmusch told writer Barney Hoskyns. “An interest in unambitious people, marginal people.” However, neither Waits or Jarmusch categorized the great actor Lee Marvin as a marginal figure. Tom Waits described the tongue-in-cheek secret organization “The Sons of Lee Marvin” to Rolling Stone in 1986 as “somewhere between the Elks Club and the Academy Awards.”
In 1992, Jarmusch admitted in an interview members gather to watch the actor’s films. Waits printed business cards for members in the clandestine organization.
Jarmusch once joked: “You have to have a facial structure such that you could be related to, or be a son of Lee Marvin. We have communiques and secret meetings. Other than that, I can’t talk about it.” Jarmusch told Film Comment in 1992: “It includes myself, Tom Waits, John Lurie, and Richard Bose. We’re initiating Nick Cave into it too. There are many honorary members too.
“I have a good story about it. Six months ago Tom Waits was in a bar in somewhere like Sonoma County in Northern California, and the bartender said, “You’re Tom Waits, right? A guy over there wants to talk to you.” Tom went over to this dark corner booth and the guy sitting there said, “Sit down, I want to talk to you. So Tom started getting a little aggressive: “What the fuck do you want to talk to me about? I don’t know you.” And the guy said, “what is this bullshit about the Sons of Lee Marvin?” Tom said, “Well, it’s a secret organization and I’m not supposed to talk about it.” The guy said, “I don’t like it.” Tom said, “What’s it to you?” The guy said, “I’m Lee Marvin’s son”–and he really was. He thought it was insulting, but it’s not, it’s completely out of respect for Lee Marvin.”
Their sense of humor can also be seen in the John Lurie film, Fishing with John, in which both Waits and Jarmusch appear. Their comedic chemistry returns in The Dead Don’t Die, where Waits plays Hermit Bob.
After 30 years we still have little information on The Sons of Lee Marvin. However, rumored members include Neil Young, Josh Brolin, Iggy Pop, John Boorman and Thurston Moore. Jarmusch once revealed: “If you look like you could be a son of Lee Marvin, then you are instantly thought of by the Sons of Lee Marvin to be a Son of Lee Marvin”.
Lee Marvin’s only son Christopher, a drummer, played on two songs from Waits’ 1999 album Mule Variations.
I’ve submitted my application.