Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tom Waits For No One...

...and I'm getting older. Time to start admitting it.

Tom Waits has a new 3 cd set out called 'Orphans'. It's a wonderful collection of rarities, covers, rerecordings, and new songs. And he's even out and about promoting it. The past two evenings he's appeared on Letterman and then the Daily Show. Jon Stewart didn't interview as much as fawn. Waits took it in stride. He seems unflappable.
"There ain't no devil, there's just god when he's drunk."

Waits is an American singer songwriter who's voice was described by one critic as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourban, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months and then taken outside and run over with a car." His music is a unique blend of jazz and blues that's evolved into an almost industrial sound of late.

I first heard Tom Waits when I was in high school. I was in the basement of a friend of mine who's older brother dee-jayed for the university radio station. He used to get a stack of free vinyl every week from the labels. Mostly it was new bands looking to get discovered, but one was Waits 'Blue Valentine'. A single spin and I was hooked.

Especially the song 'Romeo Is Bleeding'.
"And Romeo says hey man gimme a cigarette
And they all reach for their pack
And Frankie lights it for him and pats him on the back
And throws a bottle at a milk truck
As it breaks he grabs his nuts
And they all know they could've been just like Romeo
If they only had the guts..."
These weren't just songs. They were stories and pictures set to music. You don't just listen to his tunes, you experience them...feel them...see them. Waits has a marvelous way with words.

I soaked up his next several albums.....actually traveled to watch Coppola's film 'One From The Heart' to hear Waits' soundtrack with Crystal Gayle.... got off on his acting roles like Benny in Coppola's 'Rumble Fish' and Zack in Jim Jarmusch's 'Down By Law'...I grew to love this artist with the gravelly voice.
"And I hope that I don't fall in love with you"
In 1987 I was living in Toronto and caught the Waits concert at Massey Hall on his 'Big Time' tour. It was a beautiful thing...a brilliant juxtaposition of energetic percussion-based Stomp-like new songs and the slow sad ballads he was already famous for. But my fav moment was when the band left the stage and Waits plunked down behind the piano for three solo unplugged tunes. When he murmured through 'I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You', I felt tears running down my face.

That still seems like yesterday, yet was a lifetime ago. And the remarkable thing about Waits is that he's always seemed 'older'. Even when he started out, his appearance and voice and demeanor paired with the ache and melancholy of his lyrics depicted a well-traveled man looking back on a long, eventful life. But he was just living it. And singing about it.

Waits has continued to put out great music for the last fifteen years or so. Experimenting with his style and but always true to himself, he's remained a 'go to' artist for me. Great writing music.

'Downtown Train' is a classic.

"I don't care who I have to step on on my way down"
Last night on the Daily Show he performed 'Day After Tomorrow', a song about a soldier writing a letter home. And though I've never thought of Waits as a political artist, it posed some interesting questions:
"You can't deny
The other side
Don't want to die
Any more than we do
What I'm trying to say,
Is don't they pray
To the same God that we do?
Tell me, how does God choose?
Whose prayers does he refuse?
Who turns the wheel?
And who throws the dice
On the day after tomorrow?"

And I felt another tear trickle down. Thanks Tom. I may be getting older, but I'm better and wiser for your words and music.

SONG&ARTIST? - "Men, they build towers to their passing...
Yes, to their fame everlasting
Here he comes chopping and reaping,
Hear him laugh at their cheating
And time waits for no man, and it won't wait for me
Yes, time waits for no one, and it won't wait for me..."

For the record: Thanks to Callaghan for inspiring


StewartandColbert in'08! said...

Stewart and Colbert in 2008!

DMc said...

Awesome! Comment spam!

I'm doing a drive by of the Itunes store on the Waits thing and just....weakening. My CD store that gets me the good deals hasn't gotten the Waits yet. Daddy want. Daddy Want bad.

What's the packaging like? Good book?

I'm getting antsy...

Caroline said...

Definitely a great and original voice, both in sound and in lyrics. Thanks for the recommendation. I'll put it on the list.

wcdixon said...

The book looks great...if I had a cool pad it would look swell on the coffee table. Little concerned about the binding quality though as it 'creaks' each time I open it.

Inside is basically lyrics to the fifty or so songs and a small collection of cool photographs. With the discs getting their own sleeve at the back. Those sleeves are the coolest because they are like reprints from what appears to be some old Farmers Almanac and are filled with little known facts and trivia circa a hundred years ago (famous men's dying words, etc.)

And then there's the music. $40.00 well spent I'm gonna say.

Callaghan said...

He's one of the greatest. On a level with McCartney, Lennon, Dylan, Cash, Springsteen, Mick and Keef.

My personal favourites: Frank's Wild Years and Bone Machine. And you always love your first....Small Change.

Saw him in '96 at Hummingbird Centre on the Mule Variations tour, then again this past August in Detroit. People often ask me which concert is my favourite of all time. Out of the hundreds and hundreds (thousands?) of shows I've seen, Tom Waits in 1996 is at the very top of the list.

Don't know if I have the will power to wait until Xmas for Orphans.

Great post, WC.

Callaghan said...

Oops, almost forgot....

Time Waits for No One....the Stones.

Callaghan said...

At the risk of completely hijacking this comments section, one more thing:

Dixon, check out this link:

It's a girl named Liz Durrett doing a cover of Tom Waits' November. She's outstanding. Vic Chesnutt's niece, from Athens, Georgia. Highly recommended.

wcdixon said...

Callaghan dives in head first...Liz Durnette...very nice.

LoveStrong said...

I LOVE chatting about music! I must admit, I am not fully familiar with all of Waits' work. I know a few of his songs (Downtown Train is definitely one of them), and I will certainly investigate further.

Thanks, W!

DMc said...

Oh My God, Dixon, you might have just converted someone to Tom Waits.

That's a mitzvah that gets you time off from hell for good behavior for sure.

Now where the hell did I put that jockey full of bourbon?

wcdixon said...

The Temple of Dix!

That's not all I'm converting them to... ;)

Caroline said...

Oooh, what else are they converting to, then? Inquiring minds ...

Riddley Walker said...

There's a BBC DVD of song performances by various artists across the years from a music show over here called "The Old Grey Whistle Test" on which Tom Waits is doing Tom Traubert's Blues.

Heart-stopping stuff it is too.

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Romeo is Bleeding is a classic I LOVE that song, in fact I love that whole album. Blue Valentine is great! Red Shoes, wow! Yeah, I've been hooked on Waits since the 80's - man, we're getting old. Thanks for the post, I'll check out the album.