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Why Do People Like Tom Waits?

Tom Waits leans on a car

Photo by Jesse Dylan

Tom Waits doesn't give two fucks what you think. Armed with a voice that swings between Peter Gabriel and Nick Nolte, a reckless abandon that rivals James Brown, and lyrics that belie a familiarity with, and irreverence toward the darker walks of life, Tom Waits is the guy that sold the bad kid cigarettes in high school, and rode motorcycles, and set fires, and danced with the devil in his eyes.

Tom Waits blows a horn

Photo by Anton Corbijn

It’s the songs, single note stabs on out of tune pianos, a shaky and warbling melody on a pawn shop marimba, and the muffled clang of the conundrum sounding like the jail doors closing.

The lyrics are piles of imagery thrown in a bucket, marinated and hung out to dry on an old clothesline. They are broken thoughts and words that aren’t supposed to go together. You get the feeling that this Bowery bard writes the tunes so he doesn’t have to sell his blood by the pint to the Red Cross. His off the cuff ramblings are gold nuggets gleaming in the sun.


On Songwriting:

You know, songs are out there all the time. Some of them only live two weeks. They’re like houseflies. So if you don’t get them, that’s it. I got all these old songs. So it’s good to have new songs to sing. And the new ones, you send them out there and you say, “Go my beauties, go! Bring Dad home some money! Come back with money!”

Just ’cause you’re not fishin’ doesn’t mean there aren’t fish out there. You can go out there when you want, when you’re ready to do it . . . We’ve got a piano called a Fisher. And that’s what we use to catch the big ones.

[If a song] really wants to be written down, it’ll stick in my head. If it wasn’t interesting enough for me to remember it, well, it can just move along and go get in someone else’s song. Some songs don’t want to be recorded. You can’t wrestle with them or you’ll only scare them off more. Trying to capture them is trying to trap birds. Some songs come easy like digging potatoes out of the ground or like gum found under an old table. Some songs are only good to cut up as bait and use to catch other songs.

And the lyrics...

Tom Waits on a tree

“Singapore” from Rain Dogs

We sail tonight for Singapore
We're all as mad as hatters here
I've fallen for a tawny moor
took off to the Land of Nod
Drank with all the Chinamen
Walked the sewers of Paris
I danced along a colored wind
Dangled from a rope of sand
You must say goodbye to me

"Jockey Full of Bourbon" From Rain Dogs

Edna Million in a drop dead suit
Dutch Pink on a downtown train
Two dollar pistol but the gun won't shoot
I'm in the corner on the pouring rain
16 men on a dead man’s chest
And I've been drinking from a broken cup
2 pairs of pants and a mohair vest
I'm full of bourbon, I can't stand up

And the videos...

Hell broke luce baby, all hell broke luce.

Boom went his head away
And boom went Valerie
What the hell was it that the president said?
Give him a beautiful parade instead
Left, right, left

Tom Fuckin Waits.

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