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.