Another day, another saga of tramping and riding trains by Tom Waits. I’m pretty sure Waits isn’t actually old enough to remember the days when you could crisscross the country on a pony, adopting a new name in every town. But it is, in it’s own way, a very appealing fantasy, especially now that most of our waking moments are documented for eternity.
Do you sometimes find yourself wishing your life was more like a Tom Waits song? I do. My life needs more sad romance and trains. I would hop on a train when my romances got too sad and start over a few towns down the line.Tom Waits exists as the antidote to the vanguard of successful sexy people who mock your failures and exploit your inadequacies. In Tom Waits’ world, you’re not just a trashy drunk old woman down at the bar; you’re a sad luck dame, and you have a story to tell. In Tom Waits’ world, ugly old used up things have more value. Because ugly things have better stories than clean new shiny ones. Yeah, all that’s missing from my life is a Victrola, a kerosene lamp, and a mattress stuffed with horsehair.
“Choke those little bad days down to nothing. They’re your days, choke ’em.”
I want to live in Tom Waits’ infernal cabaret. I imagine it’s littered with empty gin bottles and old refrigerators. Populated by hard luck dames and men in porkpie hats. Sounds like a Jim Jarmusch movie – oh, wait, it is. Tom Waits is quite the movie star, in the classic sense. He isn’t glamorous or marquee handsome, but he’s got the allure of a larger than life personality. His rusty voice and bedraggled-dandy style are a well-honed persona. He is, in his own quirky way, one of the most thoroughly theatrical entertainers we’ve got going. Whoever he plays in movies, whether God or the Devil or just a low down gambler on the run, is always Tom Waits playing Tom Waits, and always stems from the Tom Waits he plays on his records. It’s all one long performance of one very unique vision.
“Hey little bird fly away home, your house is on fire, your children are alone”
Jim Jarmusch fans out there? You know what I’m talking about. Jarmusch and Tom Waits are such kindred spirits, they should make movies together all the time. Tom Waits should be the guy in all the Jim Jarmusch movies. They both have an affinity for Americana, the real Americana, the Americana of broken down cars on the front lawn, the land of weed-choked sidewalks and trainyards, one-barstool honky-tonks, old motel rooms with mysterious stains on the carpet, and the men who feel at home in those places. Down By Law is the most perfect example of that vision, full of vistas of the New Orleans tourists don’t get to see, and the bayou beyond. So what it was filmed in 1986. It could be anytime; those shotgun shacks don’t change much. I don’t think I’ve ever not liked a Jim Jarmusch movie, but this is the best one without question. It’s also the best Tom Waits screen performance without question, being that his entire persona seem to incorporate what this movie is trying to say. Or the other way around. This movie is the movie of all the Tom Waits songs and the movie of everything we think Tom Waits is. And also, where else are you gonna see him sing the ice cream song?
Welcome to the Tom Waits carnival! If there’s one thing he’s famous for, it’s weirdness for the sake of being weird. Which, if it is your thing, can be endlessly entertaining. But Tom Waits didn’t gain his status and longevity by being an oddball. Oddballs come and go. It’s substance dressed up as a carnival barker. Would we be listening to a creepy man in a bathtub if there wasn’t the soul of a torch singer underneath those shades? No, of course not, we’d just stare for a minute and then wander off. This song, I think, is a hidden treasure just waiting for a time to shine. It’s a song that is clearly ready to be interpreted by reams of great singers, if only they knew about it. Like somebody with a great big voice who doesn’t sound like a toad gargling battery acid. Wouldn’t that be novel? Since Bob Dylan’s entire songbook has been ravaged and plundered down to the bone, maybe it’s time to leave him alone for a while and make Tom Waits the official go-to songwriter for singers looking to earn Brownie points for their good taste and interpretive abilities.
I want to live in Tom’s neighborhood! I have a feeling I’d be right at home. Because Tom Waits is like an imaginary family member to me. Like a really, really batty uncle. And to think that I used to not like him. You can’t blame me too much, though. He is kind of an acquired taste. His voice sounds like, well, sand and glue, only more so, while his lyrics and image require a level of perverse sophistication to be fully appreciated. Kind of like a fine absinthe, I’d imagine. Or a good crunchy fried locust, to name something I actually like. Anyhow, Tom Waits is high on my list of people I would in all seriousness like to invite to my next party. Him and and Amanda Fucking Palmer and maybe Bill Murray, because they seem like they’re the type to actually show up to a random stranger’s party, get stinking drunk and tell tall tales all night long.
I don’t know if Franks Wild Years was supposed to be a concept album, but I always thought that it was. It’s so very narrative, it would make a great movie. Imagine, a Tom Waits movie musical. Think, A Star Is Born with hobos. It’ll be the greatest. Of course, Franks Wild Years kind of already has a movie, Big Time, which stands as one of the weirdest concert movies ever made, if that’s even what it is. Nor is there any shortage of Tom Waits in the movies. He’s been in dozens of films, usually playing someone very similar to himself, or how we imagine himself to be based on his songs. He’s played God, and he’s played the devil (in Wristcutters: A Love Story, and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, respectively.) Most recently I saw him in Seven Psychopaths, playing a Tom Waits-ish old man with a bunny. I understand that a little bit of that particular persona goes a long way, and it’s generally better to keep such undiluted weirdness around the edges in minor roles. Still, I’d like to see Tom Waits starring in a big movie musical. Floria Sigismondi could direct it, using only vintage equipment from the 1930’s. Yeah, Tilda Swinton will be in it as the rich widow who gets swindled.