Tom Waits is an eclectic musician, actor, poet, and all around badass. He's been putting out albums since around 1970, including, but not limited to:

(The above is preserved for its wonderful E1 historical signifigance, whatever that means. Most of the write-ups below are far far more informative.)

Concerning how he got his unique soul-scratching voice, he said the following in an interview on NPR's Fresh Air:

"It's quite simple really. You see, I drink my own urine."

The maestro was born on December 7, 1949 in Pomona, California. As near as I can tell things ain't much been the same since. He's saved the lives of a million drunks, losers and beats from just North of the freeway to just East of Saturday Night. His blood runs thin with moonshine and thick with nostalgia. There will never be another Tom Waits...and if there was Ol' Tom would just smile, spit and hand out a whuppin.

To the best of my knowledge... his discography is as follows (in acutely appendacital scatterological transographic order):

He's also appeared in the following films, usually as some variation of that beat-up old dog that somebody fed nails and bullets and you best not fuck with...

  1. In the Boom Boom Room
  2. Mystery Men
  3. Guy Maddin: Waiting for Twilight
  4. Short Cuts
  5. Coffee and Cigarettes III
  6. Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman In Carver Country (short title)
  7. Bram Stoker's Dracula
  8. "Fishing with John" (1991 TV Series)
  9. At Play in the Fields of the Lord
  10. The Fisher King
  11. Queens Logic
  12. The Two Jakes
  13. Mystery Train
  14. Bearskin: An Urban Fairytale
  15. Cold Feet
  16. Big Time
  17. Candy Mountain
  18. Ironweed
  19. Down by Law
  20. The Cotton Club
  21. The Outsiders
  22. Rumble Fish
  23. Poetry in Motion
  24. Wolfen
  25. Paradise Alley
  26. voice work for Shrek 2

Apart from the biography/filmography/discography, which have already been done, we should note his sound.

Someone once told me that Tom Waits was once shot in the throat as a bystander in a bar fight gone bad. This may well be utter myth. He said in an interview that he got his from trying to have a voice like his uncle, who had had botched throat surgery. Either one may serve as a fitting explanation if anyone ever asked. Most people can't do impressions unless they have a particularly inspired cold.

Waits has hugely wide-ranging influences. He also uses a range of instruments that reminds me of the experimental improv sessions in MPZ, only more listenable. He employs everything from marimba to bar piano to beat-up boxsprings, trombones, talking drums, stolen dreams, Burroughs' voice and the mysterious bone machine.

You know the phrase "you the man"? Tom Waits reclaims the term The Man for his own sweet rough clinkety-clankety inscrutable self.

Tom Waits wanders a strange path between all musical genres: blues, Jazz, rock, Vaudeville, burlesque and, um, well, his own thing.

The path leads over steaming sewer grates, through underground cities, to religious confections with a bite. It moves through dust and dirt and pokes its grubby finger into the flared nostril of redemption.

He's been around a long time, but moves in and out of the public eye like a spangle of dark spots ringed with gold when you turn your head too quickly and haven't been breathing quite right.

About fame, Waits has said:

"I've always been afraid I was going to tap the world on the shoulder for 20 years and when it finally turned around, I was going to forget what I had to say."

Played with Tom Waits today. I'd follow his voice anywhere. A voice like that never says anything that doesn't matter. He's Brave Johnny, come back legless from the war. A blossoming alcoholic with a limbless itch where his legs used to be. And now he's going to tell you where all the mines are.

Break me, Tom Waits. Bind me with ropes of notes to the rack of your words. I want to feel like a child at the funeral of a Beloved family pet. I want you to tell me how you learned every awful Truth you know. Map the Mines of Heartbreak. Tell me all about it...

* * * * *


* * * * *

The Part You Throw Away

Sometimes life is like accidently throwing your weed into the garbage on trash day. It's not that you're too proud to dig through the trash, it's that you've robbed yourself of the opportunity to retrieve what you didn't mean to throw away in the first place. The truck has come and gone. It rumbled in at six a.m. and woke you. But you only rolled over.

So your weed winks out of existence. In much the same way people do. Sometimes the shiny wears off people. Sometimes, they only shine with their true light in the rearview mirror. This is one of the ways the Universe lets you know when you've fucked up. It's your cue to learn something.


The worst thing about that feeling is that it gets to be a familiar one.

"Will you loose the flowers
hold onto the vase.
Will you wipe all those teardrops
away from your face
I can't help thinking
as I close the door
I have done all of this
many times before."

You throw away something you didn't mean to out of carelessness. You do it so often that it becomes an elegant Dance of Disappointment. A sort of Grace that comes with repetition, overwhelms you. You needn't think about the movements anymore, you simply dance The Funeral Waltz when the right music begins. You know all the steps to The Last Dance, and are never without a partner.

"The bone must go
The wish can stay.
The kiss don't know
What the lips will say.
Forget I've hurt you.
Put stones in your bed
and remember to never
mind instead."

* * * * *

Everything Goes To Hell

"Why be sweet, why be careful, why be kind?
A man has only one thing on his mind
Why ask politely, why go lightly, why say please?
They only want to get you on your knees"

It's easier to kick a praying man, because he's on his knees already. Being prone to Hope and Faith In Your Fellow Man can have similar results to being a white fox born with a red bullseye birthmark. On the whole, it's not survivable, unless you're exceptionally clever and strong. The Exception to the Rule survives. But in most people, possessing a perennial hopeful outlook regarding Human Nature, should actually qualify them for disability. Given the evidence of the everyday.

"There are a few things I never could believe
A woman when she weeps
A merchant when he swears
A thief who says he'll pay
A lawyer when he cares
A snake when he is sleeping
A drunkard when he prays
I don't believe you go to heaven when you're good
Everything goes to hell, anyway"

Faith In Your Fellow Man, can be no different from wearing a cosmic 'KICK ME!' sign on your back. You can always trust Tom Waits to drag, The Sad Fact Of The Matter, out into the open.

If you don't go to Heaven when you're good, then why be good? No good deed goes unpunished. Is any Faith In Your Fellow Man that actually survives, even worth having?


* * * * *

God's Away On Business

"Goddamn there's always such a big temptation
To be good, To be good
There's always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby"

The temptation to be good, is it something in everyone that The World snuffs out over time? Has the good in Human Nature been executed by those we put in charge when God went away on business?

"Who are the ones that we kept in charge?
Killers, theives, and lawyers
God's Away, God's Away
God's Away on Business"

And. If there is good inherent in everyone then the nature of human atrocity is an irrefutable tragedy, many times magnified. Because we have a capacity for goodness that no one is ever rewarded for using. Therefore:

"I'd sell your heart to the junkman baby
For a buck"

* * * * *


A Dirt Nap Lullaby. Or so it seems on the surface. Plodding guitar, keening loops of strings. Sung over the swooning notes of a lullaby:

"Sun is red; moon is cracked.
Daddy's never coming back.
Nothing's ever yours to keep.
Close your eyes, go to sleep.

These lines are taken from the beginning of the song, and for the sentiment to be so rending, so immediately is a wonderful thing. The music and the lyrics are at a perfect odds.

In the second verse a Veiled Hopefulness is implied,

"Nothing's ever as it seems.
Climb the ladder to your dreams."

If 'nothing's ever as it seems' then, that may even include the ugliness that seems inherent to The World. At heart, it may be a lullaby to the Unquenchable Hope that is the source of all human Misery. But - Tom Waits, singing in a voice that learned everything the hard way, still gives you permition to dream.

* * * * *

A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Let me begin by describing the Quality of music visual:

Tom Waits sings alone on a cabaret stage, red curtains spilling down behind him. He wears a black tophat, shiny shoes, white gloves, and carries a walking stick. The walking stick is magic. Whenever he taps the rim of a glass with it, the glass fills with the best whiskey.

"How far from the gutter; how far from the pew.
I'll always remember to forget about you.

How far are we from God and all His good intentions?

"A long dead soldier looks out from the frame
no one remembers his war; no one
remembers his name
Go out to the meadow; scare off all the crows
It does nothing but rain here, and nothing will grow"

No one remembers what he fought for either. Because no one actually remembers what it was like when human beings actually valued things worth fighting for. Today, most people value money, and the right to access all the ways to make more of it. So - We send the poor to fight the Rich Man's War. Humanity has had a gradual evolution in what we consider worth dying for. And it appears to have come down to enlarging the wallet of those three individuals, over there.

And you can scare off all the crows, but that doesn't change the fact that the seeds don't grow. The problem is not that the crows eat the crop. The problem is that the very soil of human nature is poisoned by greed. We've elected our own destruction. Given them our money and the blood of our children. It's all Blood Money now. No amount of rain washes it clean. Humanity isn't worth fighting for. Good is much harder to come by than Evil.

"A good man is hard to find.
Only strangers sleep in my bed.
My favorite words are good-bye.
And my favorite color is red."

A truly Lasting Peace requires no survivors. But here we all are, anyway. So - The point has never been Peace.


While I think his music is usually good and occasionally great, I think the most interesting thing about Tom Waits as a person is the fact that he is trying to be cool. Between the sharkskin suits and the gravelly voice, he it seems like he wants to appear to appear that way (or at least well dressed.) While a lot of people are probably going to say "That's not that odd," consider that the majority of his audience (the indie rock fanbase) is based around authenticity, or at least the idea of it.

Stephen Malkmus and co. never really tried to be "true" slackers by being rough and rarely gigging; they just were and did. And Sebadoh didn't sing about being girlfriend-less losers who smoked tons of weed to be cool (talking about smoking weed is arguably cool but then again, Lou Barlow was never bragging about how dank his nug was); they really were chick-less potheads. But Tom Waits, like (The Boss, another musician who is not "indie" per se but is revered by the Pitchfork Media all the same), seemingly actively tries to create a persona and writes songs that are supposed to create a certain feeling. I think most people would agree that, say, Daniel Johnston writes songs to express his undoubtedly strong opinions and feelings. While Waits' music undeniably involves catharsis, it is in a structured, deliberate way.

But is this really a bad thing? While initially it seems that way, I think many people forget that music is essentially entertainment; Chuck Klosterman has noted that the job of a rock star is being cool. And if that's true, Waits is doing a hell of a job being both entertaining and at least somewhat authentic. Maybe he didn't get his gravelly voice by drinking his own urine but he seems like the kind of guy who knows a lot about train hopping.

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