Wednesday, May 19, 2010
#40 Tom Waits May Be The Devil, But We Still Love Him
Tom Waits is one of those musicians who's work is instantly recognizable. Along with Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Tom has one of those voices that are totally unmistakable in that as soon as you hear the first words, you know it is him singing. In the case of Tom Waits, his voice sounds like it has been soaked in harsh whiskey for a few years and then beaten with a stick and left for dead hanging in a smoking house for another few years. That may not sound pleasant but it comes across as travelled and gives him this unique ability to convey these feelings of sorrow and remorse that no one else can quite manage to capture. While I sit here in my cabin listening to the rain fall on this foggy, Vancouver island afternoon, I have a collection of Waits' music on in the background and it fits perfectly. My vision of Tom is in a post apocalyptic world. The wars are finally over and humanity survives in isolated pockets and in one of them, high up in the mountains of the pacific north west, Tom waits sits behind a piano in a make shift saloon and he sings of the things that came before the end. His voice echoes the nostalgia of long ago and his words tell us of that love we have all lost and those memories of things that have passed us in the foggy clouds of time.
His first record captures this mood perfectly. 1973's 'Closing Time' is stripped down and soaked with emotion. The album is a man at the piano with minimal accompaniment, singing songs of loneliness and bitter sweet memories. The lyrics are proof in my opinion that Tom Waits is one of the Beat Poets born a few years too late. I have always thought his lyrics reminded me of the works of Kerouac and Burroughs. With lyrics such as in his song 'Martha' like:
"And those were the days of roses,
poetry and prose and Martha
all I had was you and all you had was me.
There was no tomorrows,
we'd packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day."
This early period Tom Waits is very proto-rock with a heavy swing towards early Jazz and Folk music from ages long before he was born. His ability to capture that style is really quite amazing especially when you consider it was the mid 70's when he started releasing music. Since those humble beginnings, he has branched out into what can only be described as a totally new genre of music. It is part rock and roll, part blues and part folk-jazz. In the years since his voice has gotten more and more ancient sounding to the point of sounding like something beyond human. It is sort of what I would expect from the lips of some kind of ancient trickster or immortal soul who wanders the lands singing the tale of humanity to passers by. Check out his vocals in the fantastic track 'Get Behind the Mule' on his 1999 album 'Mule Variatons'. I have yet to see Tom Waits perform live and I really hope I get the chance especially after the live collection he just released from his last tour entitled 'Glitter and Doom'. He is such a fantastic musician both lyrically and instrumentally and the world of rock is richer for his contribution.
Enclosed is a selection of Tom's work throughout the years to give you a bit of a glimpse into his career.