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 cigaretteThese 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.
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..."
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