I always thought there would be a hiatus somewhere within this year of ‘blogging’ and hopefully I’ve just had it.
I could plead family/work, the million things that drag you every which way, so that your time is no longer your own. But deep down I think I’ve had a ‘paucity of ideas’; which is another way of saying that I haven’t made space for the ideas to come.
I have a queue of music now, all lined up and waiting like the coal freighters off Newcastle. So to get the ball rolling here is Tom Waits latest release, Bad As Me.
Buying a new Waits Album was a kind of homecoming for me.
Early Tom Waits, (circa Small Change, Closing Time, Heart Attack & Vine) was some of the first ‘adult’ music that I listened too. I’d probably already moved on from Pilot and Countdown and bands of that ilk, but only just. I’m thinking around then I was listening to David Bowie and Mott the Hoople and The Velvet Underground, stuff like that. Slightly left of centre but not straying too far from mainstream ‘Pop’. So the jump to Tom Waits seemed significant at the time.
I have a very clear recollection of my introduction to his music. The song was Kentucky Avenue and it was what sent me out into the the wilds of his back-catalog looking for more of the same.
The circumstances were an amateur production of Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett) by one of Townsville’s local theater groups. Now unless you’ve lived in Townsville you won’t realize how extraordinary a thing, putting on a play like that was. It was held in the old Townsville Performing Arts Centre which was a run down but still quite beautiful Colonial building on the edge of the CBD. The performance was in the smaller repertory theater upstairs which probably only held seating for a 100 patrons, so it was a packed opening night. I’ve got a strong recollection of the night which is unusual for me because my memory is usually pretty dodgy. But I do remember the lights dimming and the red velvet curtains remaining firmly drawn. Out of the muffled silence an a capella rendition of Kentucky Avenue seemed to float from around the proscenium like warm fog (I think it was the eldest of the Cooper brothers singing that number) and then the drapes rose to the sight of Estrogen struggling to remove his boots as the play proper began.
I don’t know what was the greater shock, discovering Tom Waits or discovering Samuel Beckett. But I do know that the existentialist absurdity of it all seemed like a mirror held up to the world as it looked
too at me.
A few years later I fled Townsville, shaking my fist behind me as I sped down the Bruce Highway and feeling lucky to have got out alive. I ended up in Sydney thinking I was making a new start but of course what had traveled down with me, was me and it took a few more years before I worked that out and Tom Waits, granted with 2 degrees of separation was there when I did, there for my moment of epiphany!
I’d gone to the Seymour Centre with my first girlfriend (ex) who was
part, most, all of the reason I left Townsville but who I also couldn’t let go of. She’d finished her training and moved to Sydney and I guess at the back of my mind, despite the damage I’d done, a part of me was hoping for some kind of reconciliation; I was still in love. We’d gone to the Seymour Centre Theater to see Billie Whitelaw who was performing a collection of Samuel Beckett’s monologues at the Seymour Center. Ms Whitelaw’s career is inextricably linked with Samuel Beckett; she was to all intent and purpose his muse. That night she performed four of Beckett’s one-act plays and in there was Rockabye:
It loses a lot on the small screen but on stage it was just mesmerizing.
J. lived not too far from the theater in the neighboring suburb of Chippendale. Walking her home after the show I had one of those rare moments of clarity where you realise sadly and way, way too late – that you aren’t wanted back. And who could blame her? The litany of failings I could level against myself; young, stupid, self absorbed, obsessive … would go on for far longer then your patience would bear listening to it but the truth of it is, that she deserved better from me, better than me and for me, that was a hard truth to process.
And how does all this stretch out to include Tom Waits?
Well there’s an end-game to this story, a closing act – The long walk home to Balmain with
me, wallowing in self-pity with every step through Chippendale’s rain-sodden streets.
Those bleak lines from Rockaby looping through my head:
“… Close of a day … close of a long day … “
“… Hey Charlie … you want to know the truth of it …”
“… draw down the blinds … “
“… like a banner of love …”
“… close of the day …”
“… against this wild confusion …”
everything all mixing together inside.
I seem to have wandered a distance from Tom Waits.
This weeks package north not only includes Bad As Me but also Blue Valentines as it’s that album Kentucky Avenue was released on. And despite all evidence to the contrary Bad As Me is what i had set out to write about:
Tom Waits has put out a lot of records in between Blue Valentines and his new one and I’ve listened to most of them over the years “but around the time he released Bone Machine it all got a bit too weird for me.
Which is why I love this album. To my ears he’s returned to the Tom of old; It’s not just Tom pounding on trash cans anymore. He’s dusted off his storytelling and conjured up a gaggle of morality tales to entertain and instruct.
It’s hard to pick just one song; there’s no filler on a Tom Waits Album and the songs hold each other up like a House of Cards.
But if you were force my hand I’d choose The Last Leaf On The Tree. It’s got a lovely, slow, south of the border feel to it. A touch of the Spanish Waltz but with ramshackle harmonies and world-weary lyrics.
I think it’s one of his best and here it is: