"I hate him", "Jesus, that's dark" or "What the hell is that?". Generally most of the responses I get towards playing Tom Waits. But I can't help but love what the guy does. He is just unlike anything that came before (or indeed after) and that is the true beauty of it. Artists as diverse as Bette Midler to Primus appreciate this. His songs are known by millions and a majority of them are better known through other artists. How I discovered him, could almost be a Tom Waits song in itself.
I worked nights in a retail unit in the early noughties and myself and a co worker had snuck out the back of the warehouse to have a cheeky cigarette at about four in the morning. The co worker in question was definitely an individual with diminished mental capacity and nowadays, sadly, can be seen in a semi permanent state of unemployed intoxication about the town.
He always brought his radio in to play old cassettes of odd sounds and songs from the radio that recorded in the wee hours. As we sat on the old loading ramp, my ears were drawn to the lyrics, delivered by a raspy, ancient sounding drawl:
"He had a bullet proof smile
He had money to burn
She thought she had the moon
In her pocket
But now she's dead
She's so dead
Forever dead and lovely now"
"Who's that?!" I inquired. "Tom Waits." And I was sold. I went home and stayed awake, knowing my local music shop was open at ten. I went in and bought "Real Gone". It was the only CD they had, which incidentally had "Dead & Lovely" on it as it had been just released. I wore that CD out, It was on repeat for weeks. Every song was better than the one before. Naturally, I went through the back catalogue which as anyone who knows Tom Waits more recent stuff, was a shock to venture further past "SwordFishTrombones" but no less brilliant. Even crazier to know he was responsible for writing "Tom Traubert's Blues", "Jersey Girl" and "Downtown Train" to name a few. Most reassuring, is that you never feel ALONE with Tom Waits. If you feel down, depressed - you always felt, at some point - he was there in that position too. In his own way, he makes loneliness beautiful. Not that all the songs are depressing. There are some absolute bangers in there coupled with countless monologues! He is the reason for my noir inspired journeys through my own musical journey, at times
I am pretty sure Tom Waits' songs have saved many lives and changed even more...
Happy birthday, Tom. And thanks for the music. Never stop.