There are two kinds of people in my world:

Those who think Tom Waits is some sort of musical demigod and those who erronesouly think he’s black.

This is not to imply they (or I) might be racist, just uninformed, or unacquired.

Maybe they are afraid of his voice?

He does sound a little like Louis Armstrong’s nightmarish great grandfather might’ve sounded after a lifetime of pounding coffin nails and guzzling sour mash.

Waits is one of those polarizing figures.

To critics and most die-hard music fans, he’s consistently considered one of the best musicians alive.

To most of their friends, he’s an abomination and should be turned off.

I have never understood this but in a world where pop culture equals high culture for masses of people, this is easy to understand.

Recently I had the rare privilege of seeing Mr. Waits in Columbus Ohio.

It’s not enough to simply say it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.

The tour was titled GLITTER AND DOOM and throughout the show it was intimated as to why.

It was appropriately held at the ornate Ohio Theatre.

With a capacity of almost 3,000 people, it sold out in four minutes–as did the rest of his shows in the US and Europe.

Waits is an underground phenomenon. He himself has never had a hit single yet he has a loyal following that travel great distances to see him. While waiting in line to get drinks and a concert tee, people were throwing out city names like Boston, Montreal and DC.

Steve Buscemi was reportedly in the eight row wearing a baseball cap, laying low.

Waits is a musician’s musician. Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles and (gulp) Rod Stewart, among others, have recorded his songs and brought them radio hits. Since he started recording in 1973, he’s had almost 1000 songs of his covered.

He’s an artist who has repeatedly chosen his own path, never allowing his music to be used for commercial purposes, even when he was offered substantial amounts of money to do so.

He not only survived the 80s unscathed but reinvented himself within the decade that brought most groups and musicians from the 70s their worst albums.

To begin to understand how Waits arrived to be to where he is today, you’d have to go back to 1980 when he met his wife and now collaborator Kathleen Brennan at Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope studios while writing the soundtrack for the film “One From The Heart”.

They fell instantly in love.

He stopped smoking and drinking.

They wrote beautiful music together.

They got married.

She got pregnant.

(Not necessarily in that cleanly of an order.)

With the time he saved not trying outdrink the beat generation, he started listening to his wife’s record collection, which included the zany and heavily influential Captain Beefheart.

He scoured antique music stores for new instruments with which to make new sounds.

When he wasn’t satisfied, he went out to the garage and shed to find them or make them himself.

In 1983 he released the seminal Swordfishtrombones, which would would be a major shift in his music for the rest of his career.

In his Columbus concert, the farthest he went back was to this album (and none of his five previous albums).

If he had never met Kathleen, he might still be growling about how “The Piano Has Been Drinking“, not him.

He’d have a small Bukowskian following that would overplay him in bars that open at 6 am.

He might not actually be alive right now, or he’d be a bankrupt has-been.

She changed his life and music for the better.

Kathleen Brennan is credited with co-writing most of the songs since Swordfishtrombones.

She remains completely out of the public eye somewhere north of San Francisco, mothering the family and helping to orchestrate the chaos and nurture the genius that is Tom.

Waits’s current song base can be categorized under three different (basic) types of songs.

In the first three songs of the evening, he managed to cover all three.

1. Phantasmagorical experiments, including but not limited to: spoken word poetry, children’s songs/stories-turned-macabre-fables, vocal ventures that utilize his voice in grotesque and boundary-pushing ways that aficionados call genius and to which mothers recoil, aghast in horror as their innocent children wilt and shudder.

(After countless attempts at embedding a video right HERE, I’ve been fruitless and thus can only post a link to a video that actually took place at the show.)

He opened the concert with the above medley, the initial part being a song called “Lucinda”. The studio version of this song has no instrumental background but simply a looped recording of his voice slipshod beatboxing while he croons lyrics like these:

Now her hair was as black as a bucket of tar

Skin was as white as a cuttlefish bone

I left Texas to follow Lucinda

Now I’ll never see heaven or home”

This melded fluidly with “Ain’t Goin’ Down to the Well”, his second type of song which is…

2. A greasy blues number played with the oddest of instruments, many of which sound like they are made from sharpened bones, lacquered garbage can lids and rusty garden tools . The lyrics tend to conjure up fractured caricatures of one-eyed kin, dwarves, dirty deeds in Chinese alleyways, vaudevillian street preachers, or any kind of carnavalia you can imagine. The stories almost always straddle the line between reality and surreality.

Song two of the night was “Way Down in a Hole“, which for those you have never heard of him was the song which opened HBO’s first series of “The Wire” (and has been a cover version in each subsequent season). It adheres strictly under the number two category while also falling under a subcategory–what could be called the “surreligious” kind–invariably invoking Jesus in one way or another. In this case, he preaches about not being tempted by Satan and needing Jesus to help keep Satan way down in a hole.

I’ve never asked him personally nor have I stumbled across him expressing the meaning behind these, but I’m fairly certain these are satires, either empty of sincerity and religiously askew.

That or they are sincerely written from the standpoint of his imagination of a religious extremist.

Finally, song three of the evening was a…

3. Heart-pureeing ballads.

“Falling Down”, a semi-rare song that can only be found on Waits’s only official live album “Big Time”. The odd part about this track is that it was the only studio track on the entire live album. That is to say, the only studio track on his only official live album was performed live.

The song opens with an excellent image: I’ve come five hundred miles just to see a halo.

Scarlett Johanssen covered this song on her album (of Tom Waits cover songs) Anywhere I Lay My Head, probably because the lyric that follows the above one is “Come from St. Petersburg/Scarlett and Me.”

(BTW, this album of hers is horrendous. It’s a good thing she acts.)

The best example of his heart-pureeers was the final song of the first encore. “A House Where Nobody Lives.”

It tells of of a house that a family moved away from.

Weeds grew unkempt, dust layered.

It was a house where nobody lives.

But the last part of the song really rips down the fence.

So if you find someone

Someone to have, someone to hold

Don’t trade it for silver

Don’t trade it for gold

I hav´got all of life’s treasures

And they are fine and they are good

They remind me that houses

Are just made of wood

What makes a house grand

Ain’t the roof or the doors

If there’s love in a house

It’s a palace for sure

Without love…

It ain’t nothin but a house

A house where nobody lives

Without love it ain’t nothin

But a house, a house where

A house where nobody lives

His ballads turn the trite and clichéd into something renewed and pure.

Elsewhere in his lyrics, he spins literary tales of the forgotten, the lurid and the otherworldly.

He’s one of the few musicians alive today that could pass as a geniune poet.

As he continued performing, it became apparent that Mr. Waits is also as much a performance artist as he is a singer.

He stood center stage conducting his mad orchestra in so many bent and unorthodox ways.

He stomped rhythmically on the stage and whiteness–a white powder–rose around him.

The heavy gold and chimney crimson stage lights changed with the snap of his fingers.

He preached about Jesus while fluttering his hands.

He sang standing like a scarecrow, Christ-crossed, bent-legged and howling.

He assumed the pirate, repeately commanding, “Everybody Row!” to Misery’s the River of the World.

The crowd clapped with a crisp synchronicity I’ve never heard before, as if we were all in a trance led by a ringleader hypnotist.

So why the title GLITTER and DOOM? I don’t, and can’t, know, but here’s a possible theory:

The DOOM part of the show was the inclusion of songs like the aforementioned and others with titles like Eyeball kid, Make it rain, Jesus gonna be here soon, 16 shells from a thirty-ought six, Cemetery polka, God’s away on business, Hoist that rag, Dirt in the ground, Way down in the hole, Sins of my father, Trampled rose.

These songs herald the end.

They beckon it forth like Bush telling the terrorists to “Bring it on”.

Which, for these times, seem more than fitting.

The GLITTER was–and I’m guessing here–the ephemera of the material, of life.

When I think of glitter I think of something very shiny shining brightly.

It sparkles and lures you toward it.

It is almost always less substantial than what it seems.

It is all forms of advertising.

All forms of house music.

Drugs.

Reality TV.

Youth.

Fast food.

The internet.

Headline news.

Mass-produced retail.

Disco balls.

The climax of the concert was when Mr. Waits turned his back on the audience, the lights went dim and he put on a special porkpie hat speckled with little shards of faux diamonds.

The hat doubled as a disco ball.

The spotlight focused on his hat as he turned around slowly.

Immediately the the entire theater transformed into an evanescent glittery ballroom.

You could sense everyone collectively smiling at the marvel of this simple trick.

The concert was more artistic, more genius, more magical than any rock show I’ve ever seen.

He concluded his second encore with Time, a sparse hushed ballad that held Waits solo in the spotlight and the crowd still for a couple more minutes before we stood up and applauded raucously while looking around at each other and nodding our heads, raising our eyebrows and grinning.

We then poured out into the glowing street…

…not realizing how much of this concert we would never forget.

**************************************************

Kip Tobin and Ryan Day spent 1.5 years writing a script entitled “Waiting for Tom”, a full length feature film indie-comedy buddy road-movie mock-biopic regarding the man and the myth of Tom Waits. The research involved in writing it lends Kip the sensation that he knows a lot about the man and myth. That and he’s a huge fan.

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KIP TOBIN's real name is Stephen Christopher Tobin, but no one really calls him that, not even his mom. His favorite letter is "i", which is also one his least favorite words; his favorite words tend to include euphonious consonants like Ls and Rs and Ss, such as surly luscious allure. He relocated to middle America last year. He writes fiction and nonfiction but will not tweet. He's currently working on his doctorate in Latin American Literatures and Cultures, studying the intersection of the body, vision and media in contemporary Hispanic Science Fiction . If asked, he will tell you that S. Gautauma pretty much summed 'er all up when he said: All things are transient. Work out your own salvation. He's constantly in that latter process, all the while trying to become as present and aware as he possibly can in this world of simulacra and simulations. You can leave a message on the board here and he will try to get to back with you. His alter ego sometimes posts music mixes on Tip Robin's Mega Maxi Music Mix Mash (tiprobin.blogspot.com), which is unsearchable on the internet and something of a micro, gotta-be-in-the-know phenomenon. He's no longer a part of the social networking revolution. The revolution, it seems, will not be televised but rather streamed, and he hopes he's not watching it. He wishes everyone good luck whenever he can. Good luck.

5 responses to “Glitter and Doom: Tom Waits for Nobody”

  1. Kip Tobin says:

    27 Comments »
    Comment by Ben Loory |Edit This
    2008-08-23 09:29:43

    I remember the first time i saw Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law… the camera on the car, wandering through New Orleans, with Waits’ “Jockey Full of Bourbon” on the soundtrack… one of the greatest moments of my life… I sang that song in my head for weeks… I even stopped listening to Ratt after that!

    And you know, there was a time when Rod Stewart was rock and roll. The real thing– with Jeff Beck and The Faces– he was like Keith Richards… till he wasn’t.

    It’s The Eagles that get the “gulp!”
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Jim |Edit This
    2008-08-24 15:04:03

    “Every Picture Tells a Story” was Rod’s highlight, I think.

    And you needed an excuse to stop listening to Ratt? Ok, I admit I had a few of their songs on mix tape in the mid-80s.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore Zion |Edit This
    2008-08-23 13:03:46

    i. am. so. jealous.

    this was an excellent post. thank you for making me feel like i got to be there a little.

    also, have you seen the video for scarlett johanssen’s cover of anywhere i lay my head? it’s so self-indulgent. “i’m so pretty and sometimes i have to smile when i don’t feel like it! boo hoo!”

    actually, it made me kind of like her. i love bitches.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Kaytie M. Lee |Edit This
    2008-08-24 14:50:57

    Bitches are interesting, that’s true.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jim |Edit This
    2008-08-24 15:08:20

    Scarlett also appears in the video for Dylan’s “When The Deal Goes Down”. I half expect her to be in a Leonard Cohen video, and then Leon Redbone, and then Dr. John, then….maybe she already has.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by MLP |Edit This
    2008-08-23 15:48:20

    A concert review with biography and social analysis AND paid tribute to the transformational powers of the love of a good woman. Nice.

    The only TW song I can get into is Drunk on the Moon. I accept this reflects poorly on me.

    Lots of glitter and not much doom to you Kip Tobin. Someone needs to make your movie.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae |Edit This
    2008-08-23 17:25:18

    Good to see you, Kip! Fantastic review – I can feel the glitter from Waits’ hat. You always manage to turn prose into poetry.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by jmblaine |Edit This
    2008-08-24 09:42:03

    Hey man I like Tom Waits OK, have to be in that certain mood but the review was excellent. A good write-up makes me want to have the experience, makes me want to seek out some old TW and give it a listen again.

    Glitter and Doom?
    That, I love. Just like Beauty and Chaos.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell |Edit This
    2008-08-24 10:40:37

    Great review!

    As someone who has always been intrigued, but never fond the time to hunker down with Tom Waits – what would you recommend I start with?
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by Rick |Edit This
    2008-09-24 09:51:20

    Try “Mule Variations”. Beautiful sounding record, some very moving songs, and the weirdness factor dialed down a bit, a well rounded Waitsian adventure. Have fun….
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by kip |Edit This
    2008-08-24 11:49:19

    Ben – Jockey full of bourbon was my favorite Waits track for a while. “Edna Million and a drop dead suit” and a killer melody. As was Rain Dogs my favorite album. Also I agree with the Dude (who abides), “Awww man, I hate the fucking Eagles!”.

    Lenore – I really wanted to like Scarlett’s album, she just can’t and doesn’t sing on it. Before it came out I thought she might be the one to push Tom Waits from the underground into the mainstream. Then I listened to it twice with the second listen actually pushing me into disdain mode. Even Bowie–who sings on a track–couldn’t help this album.

    Kimberly – I was going to make a mix of the best Waits songs and post it but simply didn’t have time. This post and the finnicky WordPress consumed 35 rewrites and I was really flustered by the end of it. I would recommend the aformentioned Rain dogs as it has a bit of all three types of songs on there and is–in my opinion–a perfect album. If you don’t instantly love it, listen to it at least five times before giving up on it. If you don’t like by then, there’s a good chance you’ll never be a fan and, well, that’s okay. As for straight singer-songerwriter stuff without too much variation, go with his pre-Swordfishtrombones albums like Closing Time or the jazzier Heart of Saturday Night. Great timeless songs on them as well, just not as experimental.

    Erika, Megan and 1159: thanks for the props. I felt like this post was a little all over the board rather than making it just a concert review. I guess my bias shone through. It’s been a while since I posted so my focus feels blurry and any chrome I may have feels rusted.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jennifer Duffield White |Edit This
    2008-08-24 12:36:12

    I like Tom Waits, but after reading this, I can see I need to expand my collection.
    On a random note, I have a friend who, during a rough patch last winter, insisted on starting out every early morning (i.e. dark) run with “I hope hope that I don’t fall in love with you” on her ipod. It eased her into the morning, into moving again.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kaytie M. Lee |Edit This
    2008-08-24 14:51:52

    Tom Waits is the kind of musician that you have to keep going back to as you get older to see how new perspective changes the way you view his art. That’s what I like about him.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Jim |Edit This
    2008-08-24 15:20:30

    Fantastic review, Kip. What an experience, told by a true fan. I think you feel about Tom the way I do about Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello.

    Thanks for the insights.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rachel Pollon |Edit This
    2008-08-24 17:16:23

    I actually really like the Scarlett Johanson record. I think it’s very cool, and dark, and lovely.

    A few weeks ago heard “Step Right Up” and it really made me smile. I’m not sure if that’s pre or post Swordfishtrombones but I’ve always respected TW from afar and now feel I should make the time to get to know him.

    Nice to read and feel your passion. I would love to see him live. He seems like the kind of artist you don’t have to be super familiar with to enjoy.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Megan DiLullo |Edit This
    2008-08-24 20:11:14

    I LOVE Tom Waits.

    Seriously, LOVE him. My mother always had him spinning on the record player. Some of my earliest memories have a soundtrack by him. Often when I hear him I smell home made bread (funny how your mind does that).

    This was so great, I felt like I got to be there. What a privilege. Thanks for the great post, luck dog.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kip Tobin |Edit This
    2008-08-24 21:57:53

    Kaytie – I completely agree. His music has profoundly affected me through the years, in many different ways. As I’ve changed so too has my reaction to his music. Any artist that can do that is rare.

    Jim – Costello and Dylan are both heavy hitters. As are Neil Young and Van Morrison to some extent as well. The very first Waits album, “Closing Time” sounds a lot like Dylan and should be in your collection if it already isn’t.

    Rachel – I’m glad to find someone who likes it. I’ve always thought that people who cover songs should interpret them their own way and there is no doubt she’s not merely trying to imitate Waits. I don’t disagree that it’s dark but it also sounds really flat for me, the way she sings. It’s monotone pitch that rarely varies. Of course, I’m probably more biased than you and at the least I’m glad she’s a fan too. I just wish it impressed me like PJ Harvey covering “Highway 61 Revisted” on Rid of Me.

    Megan – Glad you liked and doubly glad to find a fellow admirer. My friend Dorothy really likes him too and we went to see this show together and at the end of it she said she’ll never miss him again, that it was the best show she’s ever seen. It was my third time and while the others were excellent, this was a master truly soaring at the peak of his powers.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ageunt |Edit This
    2008-08-24 22:42:26

    Your fantacism always makes me listen again to his records which is a curious pleasure which I probably never would have afforded myself otherwise.

    This is also classic tight-as-a-vice Tobin prose:

    “…sharpened bones, lacquered garbage can lids and rusty garden tools”

    But… he’s not black?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by matt |Edit This
    2008-08-26 18:49:12

    i took a night train from madrid to a coruna a couple of years ago and i couldn’t fall asleep and so i figured i’d listen to some music that i’d never listened to before. i had a copy of swordfishtrombones and of another album by tw as well, which i think was called “bone machine,” so i tossed them on the ole discman and listened to them repeatedly. they didn’t help me fall asleep, that’s for damn sure. i don’t think i came to like those discs, but they both made me want to listen to more tw because it’s just so distinct. the problem is i don’t know if i’ll ever again happen into the right mood to listen to tw. i haven’t listened to either of those albums since then. i would definitely like to see him in concert though as that would surely be unforgettable; i’m sure i’ll never forget that train ride.

    your post has certainly made me want to give those discs another shot. or maybe start with some earlier albums which are a little more straightforward. start with the boons farm before you move in with the jungle juice and the absinthe.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by L.D. Freitas |Edit This
    2008-08-28 14:18:16

    Good article. I would say, though, that regardless of whether or not Tom would’ve married Kathleen Brennan, he would have gone on to change the way he wrote and played music, and still been as successful as he’s been. Remember, he was hired to work on “One from the Heart” before he became romantically involved with her, and all one has to do is listen to that album to realize he was starting to branch out a bit. If he’d have won the Oscar that year (he was nominated for original soundtrack in 1982) he might have gotten more into writing for film. To be honest, he really started to work and record that album after he got married, and both came up with the idea to use Crystal Gayle, which was a wise choice, because those duets are great jazz and blues vocals, up there with Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin! A dream concert duet: Waits and Gayle on stage doing those tunes!
    Regarding his post-”Swordfish” music: some of it I cannot listen to, as I find it too experimental, not for my ears. I know that to be true of some of my friends too. Waits did play music from his first five albums during this tour, most notably in Dublin where he played quiet a few, including the Heart of Saturday Night. I saw him in St. Louis, where like in Columbus, he only went as far back as 1983. I would have liked to have heard him do ‘Christmas Card from A Hooker In Minneapolis,’ ‘Invitation To The Blues,’ or ‘Heartattack and Vine,’ but ‘Lie to Me’ and ‘Make It Rain’ were some of the songs on that setlist that could have been on any of those first five albums. So it seems funny that at some tour stops he played some of his music from his early jazzbo/hipster career, while at other concerts, he didn’t.
    I’m showing my age here. Ask anyone over, say, 50 or so, and they will probably say they like or have music of Tom Waits from the 70’s and early 80’s. They might say “Mule Variations” is his best album since “Swordfishtrombones.” So it doesn’t surprise me when teens at the school where I work, or 20 and 30 as well as 40-somethings say they love “Raindogs” best. Personally I like “Nighthawks at The Diner” best, “One from the Heart,” and then “Foreign Affairs.”
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by bren |Edit This
    2008-09-24 04:29:27

    What about Orpahns, and Alice, absolutely brilliant.
    Reply to this comment
    Comment by L.D. Freitas |Edit This
    2008-09-24 08:50:10

    I like the tune ‘Alice’ and ‘Table Top Joe,’ and they’re tunes that have the jazz style of his early work. Some tunes on Orphans I like too. Don’t get me wrong, from “Rain Dogs” ‘Hang Down Your Head’ and ‘Gun Steet Girl’ are great tunes that reflect Tom’s ability to write rock & roll and guitar/R&B-based blues.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Paul |Edit This
    2008-09-24 10:56:20

    Yes, Steve Buscemi was in the eighth row at the Columbus show. I was in the seat next to him. He wore a baseball cap for most of the show, but took it off during the encores. I’m sure he enjoyed the show as much as I did. We were both laughing during Cemetary Polka. Tom is still The Man.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Rich |Edit This
    2008-09-24 13:14:45

    Thanks for a great review! After listening to the Atlanta show for the upteenth time (thanks npr!), and with fond memories of this Columbus show, the equally amazing show in Birmingham, and the last night in Dublin (seriously, I had planned long before the tour was announced to arrive in Dublin on Aug. 1st – pure luck!), I have started to form a much bigger picture of what happened at these shows. They were marvelous, they don’t leave your mind and they keep evolving into something bigger and bigger. I have concluded that Tom Waits is either a prophetic genius or he is just a lucky sideshow huckster.

    The framework of the shows was constructed with Tom’s sarcastic evangelical satire. He alludes to trouble on the horizon, but don’t worry, he assures us that “Jesus Gonna Be Here” to save the day, and soon. Within the structure, we are indeed peppered with sideshow grotesques and the haunting illusion of a snake-oil huckster. He performs with expertise and power and we sense he is up to something slightly sinister at times and our paranoia instinctively begins to grow. (insert ‘What’s He Building in There?) And just when you are starting to get scared shitless, he softens the imagery with “heart-pureeing ballads” – love the phrase…it is perfect! Simply stated, each show was a masterpiece.

    The shows were pure magic. At the Columbus show, I was struck by the profoundness of Tom Waits’ art form. During ‘Lost in the Harbor’ I was moved by his brilliance and shed a tear. This is no small matter. I am not overly prone to crying. I have only become overcome by such a sense of grandeur two other times in my life: Chartres Cathedral is such a deeply spiritual place that I wept uncontrollably while walking inside; and one of Kandinky’s ‘Musical Compositions’ is so perfect it is sublime (hangs in the Fogg at Harvard)…it brings tears to my eyes.

    So, here is what I am thinking. A nice job has been done explaining the ‘Gloom’ part of the tour. If I may suggest, I think his choice of majestic art-deco theaters as venues for most of the US shows was, at least, part of the ‘Glitter’. They are palaces with opulent interiors that are purely decorative and which perfectly mirrored the country’s mood at the end of the exciting decade they were born in. Here is a list of the theaters I am speaking of on this tour and the dates they were opened:

    Orpheum Theater, Phoenix built in 1929
    Plaza Theater, El Paso built in 1930
    Brady Theater, Tulsa built in 1914, renovated 1930
    Fox Theater, St. Louis built in 1929
    Ohio Theater, Columbus built in 1928
    Saenger Theater, Mobile built in 1927
    Alabama Theater, Birmingham built in 1927
    Fox Theater, Atlanta built in the late 1920’s

    I don’t think it can be mere coincidence that the birth of the chosen venues marked the end of an era of extravagances and vice immediately followed by one of the darkest periods in US history, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl Period. I marvel at the fact that we, as audience members, were whisked into the past to gain perspective on our present day and a glimpse into our possible future with Tom kicking up his own dust storm as perhaps a warning.

    Is it total coincidence that Tom Waits brought us ‘Glitter & Doom’ (in that order) just before our economy began to truly slide into darkness again. Isn’t our current administration the absolute embodiment of the snake-oil peddlers and carnival hucksters of the 1930’s?

    Quoting from the ‘General History’ page of the Atlanta Fox Theater’s website, “The interior was a masterpiece of trompe l’oeil; false beams, false balconies, false tents, ornate grillwork hiding air conditioning and heating ducts. Virtually every practical feature was disguised with artistic fantasy.” Doesn’t that do an equally good job of describing the shows in this tour? And…unfortunately, doesn’t it also do an equally good job of describing our current administration? It would all be simply too disturbing, if Tom hadn’t offered us up some wisdom. Those ‘heart-pureeing ballads’ that he interjects and ends his sets with offer up some hope and inspiration. Gentle reminders of what it means to be human. What matters most even in the darkest of times,

    “So if you find someone

    Someone to have, someone to hold

    Don’t trade it for silver

    Don’t trade it for gold

    I hav´got all of life’s treasures

    And they are fine and they are good

    They remind me that houses

    Are just made of wood

    What makes a house grand

    Ain’t the roof or the doors

    If there’s love in a house

    It’s a palace for sure

    Without love…

    It ain’t nothin but a house

    A house where nobody lives

    Without love it ain’t nothin

    But a house, a house where

    A house where nobody lives”

    So…Tom Waits…true prophetic genius or sideshow huckster? Maybe a little of both? I don’t know. I will let each of you decide for yourself.
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Daniel Brown |Edit This
    2008-09-27 11:58:06

    But I’d rather see Tom in a barn and the people who’d care to sit, can bring their own folding chairs. I personally feel embarrassed to be sitting while this man is preaching. If it’s not embarrassment, it’s certainly against nature to sit in the presence of such exhortation. Sitting just feels all wrong, unless of course, you are tired. Is that what it is? You’re tired?
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by L.D. Freitas |Edit This
    2008-10-01 10:01:22

    I have another song of Waits in which his lyrics seem prophetic: “Wages of Love.”
    Crystal Gayle’s part: ‘It’s graft and collusion, all the intrusion
    Proceeding foreclosures, there’s overexposure.”
    The connection to the mortgage meltdown and Bush’s regime, and breaking the Fisa laws.

    Tom’s part: ‘Down at the Crossroads, the question if posed
    The Bridge is washed out, and the highway is closed.’
    Kinda reminds me of Palin!

    By the way, I’ve heard the NPR Atlanta concert, and saw some of the Dublin videos on YouTube. Is it just me, or did Wait’s voice start to run out of gas as the tour went on?
    He seemed to sound a lot better, with more range in his voice, in St. Louis, and that was rather early in the tour. This tour was really long, just about as long as some of his tours some twenty or thirty years ago. It’s got to take a toll on his 58 year-old voice, which wasn’t the greatest to begin with, and trying to sound like Howlin’ Wolf and Louis Armstrong on so many of his tunes is catching up to him. I read several blogs where people expressed that his voice sounded better when he was at the piano doing ballads, or when he sang “Day After Tomorrow.”
    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Steven |Edit This
    2008-10-06 23:38:52

    Interesting anti-Christian theory, Mr. Tobin. I’ve always thought, however, that only an honest man could be as soulful as Mr. Tom Waits. His gospel sounds pretty genuine to me.
    But then again, I’m not the music critic.

  2. Matt says:

    How in the hell have I never seen this essay before?

    I was lucky enough to see Waits at one of a handful of shows he did to promote Mule Variations. Fucken’ a, man. Fucken’ a.

  3. tip robin says:

    Matt,

    Yeah, well, I’ve got some dingers in the trunk, so to speak. This is one of them. My only personal criticism of it (this essay) is that it tries to do too much: review Waits’s concert, his career and give something of a respective on his life while at the same time being something of an introduction to his music for any newcomers. (To a lesser extent, it is one of the problems with the screenplay.) Trying to do too many things at once can be a little aimless.

    Anyway, I’ve seen him thrice, and the first time the Mule Variations concert in Chicago in ’99. Great show. Been a pretty hardcore fan for about 15 years. Truly one of the greatest musicians alive in my opinion.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Fucken ‘b.

    Kip

  4. […] Smith at the grocery store. *Rich Ferguson goes on the road, chugs Nyquil, rocks. *Kip Tobin divides the world into two kind of people, relative to Tom Waits.  *Hear us roar.  *Jim Simpson remembers the concerts of days yore.  *Justin Benton […]

  5. bruce says:

    I first saw Tom in 1975-76 in Harvard Square at a little place called Passim’s. It still exists. Tom was warming up Ellen Mcilwaine, who I had accidentally heard on the juke box during an all night pinball playing session. I remembered her being pretty good so I bought a ticket. I didn’t know anything about this Waits guy, he just happened to be the warm up on the bill.

    I went with a gal I ended up marrying. Tom was still drinking at the time and Passim’s being a coffee shop, didn’t serve any alcohol. Tom came out wearing an old corduroy jacket and while playing the piano beers would magically materialize from within his jacket. There must have been 7 or 8 empties by the time he finished. He absolutely destroyed the small audience that may have numbered 50 people. Red Sovine’s “Big Joe and the Phantom 309” tore the house down.

    When Tom finished, before Ellen Mc took the stage, he ended up sitting on a piano stool behind me and my date. I had a chance to talk with him a bit and invited him to a party that my date and I were going to attend. “Ah I think I’ll just hang around here and play a little piano” was his reply. Later, on my way to the party, my date and I were held up at gun point. 35 dollars bought two lives.

    I’m guessing not many people have seen Tom Waits and the business end of a junkies gun in the same night. And while the Ohio Theater wasn’t nearly as intimate as Passim’s it certainly was a great show.

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