Sunday, April 25, 2010

I have a thing for Tom Waits

It is Poetry Month - as I have reminded you countless times in this last while. I am sure you are now tired about hearing from me about Pablo Neruda, so I am going to change directions and cover both evocative poetry and tremendous music in one fell swoop.  I refer to the poetic lyricist, vocalist and fantastic musician Tom Waits.

Tom Waits is a Californian singer-songwriter best known for his experimental music that incorporates rock and blues with pre-rock and folk. Though not exactly a well known icon, he still has a cult following. Two of his works--Bone Machine and Mule Variations received Grammy Awards in 1992 and 1999 respectively. He has been a performing musician since the early 70s and has ventured not infrequently into acting for TV and Stage. He also is known for his compositions written for various productions in the television and movie industry. He has put out 21 albums since 1973.

There is something about his bourbon soaked, gravel lined voice that just pulls at my heart strings - or maybe it is his poetic lyrics. From his Wiki:
Waits has a distinctive voice, described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car."

Lately I have developed a real thing for his music. At the moment my favourite is Jersey Girl, made popular by The Boss - Bruce Springsteen. I have my iPhone set to wake me to the sound of this song. It slowly pulls in out of my slumber and delivers a warm fuzzy before reality rudely intrudes. His wife of many years was born in Jersey and he wrote it for her. Have a listen, between his voice and the words he pulls emotion from the heart for sure. Everybody needs to be with their Jersey Girl (or Boy)...

Cause tonight I'm going to be with you ... with your baby on a Saturday night

Jersey Girl by Tom Waits

Got no time for the corner boys,
Down in the street makin' all that noise,
Don't want no whores on eighth avenue,
Cause tonight i'm gonna be with you.

'cause tonight i'm gonna take that ride,
Across the river to the jersey side,
Take my baby to the carnival,
And i'll take you all on the rides.

Down the shore everything's alright,
You're with your baby on a saturday night,
Don't you know that all my dreams come true,
When i'm walkin' down the street with you,
Sing sha la la la la la sha la la la.

You know she thrills me with all her charms,
When i'm wrapped up in my baby's arms,
My little angel gives me everything,
I know someday that she'll wear my ring.

So don't bother me cause i got no time,
I'm on my way to see that girl of mine,
Nothin' else matters in this whole wide world,
When you're in love with a jersey girl,
Sing sha la la la la la la.

And i call your name, i can't sleep at night,
Sha la la la la la la.

Tom has a wide body of work which includes some great lyric poetry. Another in this category is 9th and Hennepin. From the Wiki entry on Rain Dogs, the album which contains this piece:
Rain Dogs includes a spoken word piece entitled "9th and Hennepin," concerning the inhabitants of 9th Street and Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In interview Waits described the inspiration for its lyrics, admitting that while the street itself is in Minneapolis, most of the imagery is from New York.  In that interview he recalled the memory he drew upon to write 9th and Hennepin.
It's just that I was on 9th and Hennepin years ago in the middle of a pimp war, and 9th and Hennepin always stuck in my mind.   There's trouble at 9th and Hennepin." To this day I'm sure there continues to be trouble at 9th and Hennepin. At this donut shop. They were playing "Our Day Will Come" by Dinah Washington when these three 12-year-old pimps came in in chinchilla coats armed with knives and, uh, forks and spoons and ladles and they started throwing them out in the streets. Which was answered by live ammunition over their heads into our booth. And I knew "Our Day Was Here." I remember the names of all the donuts: cherry twist, lime rickey. But mostly I was thinking of the guy going back to Philadelphia from Manhattan on the Metroliner with The New York Times, looking out the window in New York as he pulls out of the station, imagining all the terrible things he doesn't have to be a part of.

Ninth and Hennepin by Tom Waits

Well it's Ninth and Hennepin

All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes

And the moon's teeth marks are on the sky

Like a tarp thrown all over this

And the broken umbrellas like dead birds

And the steam comes out of the grill

Like the whole goddamn town's ready to blow...

And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos

And everyone is behaving like dogs

And the horses are coming down Violin Road

And Dutch is dead on his feet

And all the rooms they smell like diesel

And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here

And I'm lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway

And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat...

And no one brings anything small into a bar around here

They all started out with bad directions

And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear

One for every year he's away, she said

Such a crumbling beauty, ah

There's nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won't fix

She has that razor sadness that only gets worse

With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet

til you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin

And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen...

And I've seen it all, I've seen it all

Through the yellow windows of the evening train...

Go to Song Facts to see what others have read into these lyrics.

This last selection is a delightful and humorous piece of lyric poetry

The Piano has been Drinking by Tom Waits

The piano has been drinking
My necktie's asleep
The combo went back to New York, and left me all alone
The jukebox has to take a leak
Have you noticed that the carpet needs a haircut?
And the spotlight looks just like a prison break
And the telephone's out of cigarettes
As usual the balcony's on the make
And the piano has been drinking, heavily
The piano has been drinking
And he's on the hard stuff tonight

The piano has been drinking
And you can't find your waitress
Even with the Geiger counter
And I guarantee you that she will hate you
From the bottom of her glass
And all of your friends remind you
That you just can't get served without her
The piano has been drinking

The piano has been drinking
And the lightman's blind in one eye
And he can't see out of the other
And the piano-tuner's got a hearing aid
And he showed up with his mother
And the piano has been drinking
Without fear of contradiction I say
The piano has been drinking

Our Father who art in ?
Hallowed by thy glass
Thy kindom come, thy will be done
On Earth as it is in the lounges
Give us this day our daily splash
Forgive us our hangovers
As we forgive all those who continue to hangover against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver from evil and someone you must all ride home

Because the piano has been drinking
And he's your friend not mine
Because the piano has been drinking
And he's not my responsibility

The bouncer is this Sumo wrestler
Kinda cream puff casper milk toast
And the owner is just a mental midget
With the I.Q. of a fencepost
I'm going down, hang onto me, I'm going down
Watch me skate across an acre of linoleum
I know I can do it, I'm in total control
And the piano has been drinking
And he's embarassing me
The piano has been drinking, he raided his mini bar

The piano has been drinking
And the bar stools are all on fire
And all the newspapers were just fooling
And the ash-trays have retired
And I've got a feeling that the piano has been drinking
It's just a hunch
The piano has been drinking and he's going to lose his lunch
And the piano has been drinking
Not me, not me, The piano has been drinking not me

On my Christmas List:
I have on my Wish List his 54-song three-disc box set of rarities, unreleased tracks, and brand-new compositions called Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards.  It was released in November 2006. The three discs are subdivided relating to their content: "Brawlers" features Waits's more upbeat rock and blues songs; "Bawlers," his ballads and love songs; and "Bastards", songs that fit in neither category, including a number of spoken-word tracks.

The album is notable for containing a number of covers of songs by other artists, including The Ramones ("The Return of Jackie and Judy" and "Danny Says"), Daniel Johnston ("King Kong"), Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht ("What Keeps Mankind Alive"), and Leadbelly ("Ain't Goin' Down to the Well" and "Goodnight Irene"), as well as renditions of works by poets and authors admired by Waits, such as Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac and a previously released duet with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse entitled "Dog Door".

From the Wiki covering the Orphans Album:
It ranked #2 on Metacritic's Top 30 albums of 2006,[7] just behind Savane by Ali Farka Toure, and was nominated for the 2006 Shortlist Music Prize and the 2007 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.
The album was certified Gold by the RIAA for shipping over 500,000 copies in the United States and sold over one million copies worldwide making it his best selling album to date.[8]

If you are a Tom Waits fan (or just want to see and hear more) go to JP's blog The Selvedge Yard and his post "The Piano's Been Drinking |  Tom Waits, Your Inner Drunk" 
This post features all sorts of Tom Waits pictures and some interesting comments left by fans.

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