Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tom Waits Hall of Famer

Some of my favorite artists often get lost in the library because their names start at the end of the alphabet and I don’t browse far enough to find them. Something similar is happening on my DVR: music programs get archived and gather digital dust. That’s why the other day I was wondering why I had saved the induction ceremony for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Class of 2012. (It was not for Alice Cooper). Then I came across Tom Waits and a video bio in which a interviewer asks: “How does a guy with a voice like yours decide to be a singer…and succeed?” Cigarette in hand, Tom replies:
“Well it was a choice between entertainment or a career in air conditiong and refrigeration.”

Ever since my friend Tom introduced me to Waits back in the seventies, I have been a fan of his ability as a wordsmith as he rapped, skatted, and poetry slammed his way through some pathbreaking songs and developed his persona as a beat poet, jazz singer and creature of the night that made more from movie roles and sound track credits than album sales.

As a singer, he makes Mr. Dylan sound mellifluous but as a song writer and music maker, he is a true Hall of Famer. And a lot of his contemporaries would toast his induction with thanks for giving them hit songs like “Old 55” (Eagles, Ian Matthews), "Downtown Train" (Rod Stewart), "Blind Love" (Bob Seger) and "Heart of Saturday Night" (Dion).

The video led me back to the vinyl and I was rewarded by his early work. Closing Time seemed to confirm my First Album is The Best Album Theory. But Heart Attack and Vine gave Mr. Springsteen one of his anthems with “Jersey Girl.” Tucked on that side is an amazing organ solo on a cut called “In Shades” and the song “Downtown” offers this quintessential Waits turn of phrase: Drinking Chivas Regal in a four-dollar room, just another dead soldier in a powder blue night.
Here is one more good one from “New Coat of Paint:”
Our love needs a transfusion
So let’s shoot it full of wine
Fishin for a good time starts with throwin in your line.

His send-up of television ads, radio come-ons and the commercial society on “Step Right Up” from Small Change is as laugh out loud funny as it was when he recorded it in 1976.
For the lyrics, he invited you to “send a photo of yourself, two creepie charlies and a self-addresed, stamped envelope to the Tropicana Motor Hotel, Hollywood, California.” Ironically, Waits won a $2.5 million settlement from Frit-o-Lay for using “Step Right Up” as the concept for a radio jingle.

Waits’ signature humor came through in his acceptance speech. “They say that I have no hits and I’m difficult to work with and they say that like it’s a bad thing.” (Cut to a shot of presenter Neil Young laughing.)

He asked if he could get a key chain version of his trophy, “So I could keep it with me just in case I hear someone say, ‘Pete take the cuffs off, I think he’s a Hall of Famer.’”

He touched a chord with his peers in the audience when he noted, “Songs are really just very interesting things to be doing with the air.” And finally, “We all love music, but we really want music to love us.”

1 comment:

  1. Great post. He's a unique lyricist and poet. Still love his stuff, all these years later.