Whatever Happened To Tom Waits?

Tom Waits

When I was 12 I was mostly listening to Barry Manilow and Bette Midler, while my brother, who was a year older was listening to Visage,The Eurythmics, Talk Talk, Prince, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Kate Bush, XTC and very briefly, Tom Waits. I could understand most of his choices and could happily listen to them all but Tom Waits? I think my brother bought the single that came out in ’83 called ‘In The Neighbourhood.’ I remember thinking who is this crazed tramp with a voice like a dying chainsaw and music that was frankly terrifying to me at the time. I remember being afraid, very afraid.

Of course, things have changed. I’m not so easily frightened for a start and it’s funny that the things that scared us when we were younger, grow tame in the cold light of maturity. The allure of my brothers favourite bands began to wane by the late eighties, and Tom’s music never seemed to raise its salivating jaws again, until now. Instead of a gravelly voiced Mr Hyde, I now hear a honey voiced Dr. Jekyll.

I don’t know what made me suddenly tune into him but over three decades later, I am finally appreciating his music. This big bad wolf turned into a Labrador puppy before my very eyes. I didn’t realise how good he was and maybe I wasn’t ready for him before. He’s an acquired taste, a bit like Barry Manilow really, a cross between root beer, wasabi, yeast extract spread and stout. He’s not for the faint hearted, lukewarm he isn’t. I just listened to his entire back catalogue this bleak January and enjoyed every minute. He’s got me through the worst (hopefully) of this winter and debilitation through common cold and flu viruses and the isolation that can bring. Even his jazz bits I like because there’s enough blues to drown any jazz that gets any ideas above its station. He’s been accused of being a folk artist too but not a stereotypical one. His music seems to be a mish-mash of a lot of music styles, leaving out all the ones I don’t like. It’s difficult to describe as I’m still sort of getting my head around his music, after hearing sixteen of his albums in two weeks but there’s a lot of blues in there. He’s been going for so long now and always been under my radar. Where has he been all my life? Where have I been? Maybe some primaeval self defence mechanism kept me away from him all these years after the stir he gave me. Ah, well, I’m found him now, or rather rediscovered him and that’s all that matters.

Born in ’49 to schoolteacher parents, who separated in Tom’s childhood, he graduated from college proficient in piano and guitar, and worked as a doorman and a Coast Guard for a time. He was sleeping in his car when his first album came out in 1973 entitled ‘Closing Time’. It has an innocence about it, sounds a bit Country & Western (for him)! His earlier albums are more conventional and his voice is not so rusty. I heard it was cigarettes and drink that did the damage.

I really like the ‘Swordfishtrombones’ album and his live album ‘NightHawks At The Diner’ and ‘Real Gone.’ I like them all.

He’s released sixteen studio albums to date, his most recent being ‘Bad As Me’ released in 2011. He has, within the last couple of years, lost a court battle against the successful French musical theatre and circus production, ‘On Acheve Bien les Anges’, who he claims have used his songs without permission.

Not only is he a prolific singer songwriter and musician, he is also an actor and has appeared in many movies. He has also recently been offered a role in a series called ‘Citizen’ on HULU network but it appears to have shelved.

He’s still around and appears to be going from strength to strength and doesn’t intend to slow down anytime soon. Meanwhile, I feel like I’ve just discovered a treasure chest, a musical salve in these short, dark days, a banquet of nuts that will keep this squirrel happy until early spring…and hopefully beyond.

The Scarcity Principle and ‘The Greatest Showman’

This month I’m mostly going to the cinema.

I’m not a film buff. It’s not my idea of an ideal night out. I don’t have the attention span. I can’t sit still for two hours. Actually, I can, but that’s the problem, extreme self consciousness will make me sit completely still for two hours and therein lies the problem. It’s physically and emotionally taxing to sit completely still for two hours. Also, to compound things, I never understand the plot (unless it’s fantasy, sci-fi, or rom com).

This month, I’m mostly going the cinema for two reasons, it’s cheap seat night on Monday in January and I’ve had the flu for almost three weeks, since Christmas, three relapses all in all, and there’s nothing like a moderate dose of the flu to make you feel depressed and claustrophobic. I started to feel better one day, had a bit more energy, ran around like an idiot, playing catch up on laundry and chores, returned to my cardio exercises and completely burned myself out. I returned into the welcoming arms of the flu and then, just this week, when I thought I was out of the woods, got a brand new cold on top of it all. Colds are easy though, can handle colds.

All my friends think I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth and I sort of have. By the middle of this bleak cold January, no surprises there(when is January in Britain ever warm and balmy)? I badly needed some fun, but stationary fun, where I could just sit, weakened, through viruses, in a mostly empty, but warm, dark cinema, passively watching, through the mild delirium of a benign and almost friendly cold.

I just had to get out of myself. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t a hotbed of contagion by then, but we’re always playing Virus Russian Roulette in the winter. Fortunately, people like to ‘spread out’ seat wise, in cinemas. It’s not like the old days, when I was a kid, when we were packed in like sardines, soft drink cans rolling down the aisles and cigarette smoke fogging the screen and filling our lungs. Hey, perhaps that’s why I’m so weakened in the lung area.

I went to the cinema last week to see ‘The Greatest Showman‘ starring Hugh Jackman but it was sold out! No more seats left. I’m not sure if this has happened to other people but I’ve never experienced it before. Went to a second option, a Plan B, which happened to be The Commuter. An action/thriller/mystery/crime, which is not good for my attention span, and certainly not good for plot line understanding. ‘What just happened?’ I asked when the movie ended (I actually did say that) and ‘Where were all the gnomes?’ (I didn’t say that. Thought it though)

‘The Greatest Showman’ being sold out was a bit like the psychological situation of seeing a tin of soup in a supermarket and there’s only one left but there are several other kinds of another soup and you think, ‘What’s so special about that one?’

Maybe it’s popular because it’s good, tasty, delicious. Not so keen on popular people, but popular soup…now that’s a different matter.

What have I learned? Well, I’ve learned a new appreciation of cinema. It’s quite exciting I suppose, sitting in the dark for two hours. So I sat there with my carton of popcorn and watched the movie. Screen 4, or wherever it was. The Commuter had a decent turnout (probably down to the cheap seats on a Monday in January) but I couldn’t stop thinking about the scarcity principle. What was so good about ‘The Greatest Showman’ that it was sold out? That’s the theatre I needed to be in but as Groucho Marx said, ‘I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.’ I wasn’t accepted as a member of Screen 2, where ‘The Greatest Showman’ was playing.

It must be good.


Quote Of The Week

‘The elevator man smiled kindly at me and silently pressed the PH button after turning a key. He looked like a battered wife, dejected and sad, as though he coudn’t fight any longer and had just made peace wth his unhappiness.’

The Devil Wears PradaLauren Weisberger

Quote Of The Week

‘When we’re kind to one person, it might actually be affecting around 16 people. Our behaviour had a three-stage knock-on, or ‘ripple’ effect, so when we help one person, that person then helps other people, who in turn helps others. The 3-Degree Ripple Rule.’

Dr. David Hamilton sourced from ‘Kindness, the little thing that matters most.’  by Jaime Thurston.