Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan Pen Moving Tribute to Hal Willner

The music producer and SNL staffer died recently from COVID-19

Tom Waits Hal Willner Honors Wise and Reckless Tribute Letter
Hal Willner and Tom Waits

    Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan have shared a moving tribute to their longtime friend, music producer and SNL staffer Hal Willner. On April 7th, Willner died at 64 of complications caused by COVID-19.

    According to Waits, he first met Willner after a 1974 concert. “He was 18 and I was 24 ,” Waits wrote on his website, “And he looked like he was already retired.” But this isn’t a chronological telling of 46 years of friendship, nor is it concerned with Willner’s professional accomplishments — his musical production, tribute albums and concerts, or work on Saturday Night Live’s musical skits. Instead, the husband and wife tried to conjure his “wise and reckless” spirit, expressing gratitude for a man who was “more than kin and more than kind, more than friend…”

    Some of the descriptions paint a vivid image of Willner, who apparently “spoke regularly in asides and mumbling footnotes.” Often, the tribute is less literal and more like poetry, as when Waits and Brennan said Willner “reminded us of a bumblebee crawling out of a calla lily.”


    One notable passage described why Willner was so good at eclectic musical tributes. Waits and Brennan wrote,

    “Hal was the wry and soulful and mysterious historical rememberer. He specialized in staging strange musical bedfellows like Betty Carter and the Replacements or The Residents backing up Conway Twitty. Oh, the wild seeds of Impresario Hal. He was drawn equally to the danger of a fiasco and the magical power of illumination that his legendary productions held.”

    Read the full tribute over at Tom Waits website.

    Tom Waits can now be seen performing on Austin City Limits TV after that venerable institution opened its archive for free streaming in March. Last year, Phoebe Bridgers, Aimee Mann and more released a Tom Waits covers album Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits.