Monday, February 19, 2007

Rod Stewart butchers Tom Waits via You Tube

I guess technology is a double-edged sword, as I doubt without You Tube* there would be any way Rod Stewart's particularly shocking rendition of the Tom Waits classic "Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)" would have any chance of being more than a hopefully rapidly fading memory to those unfortunate enough to witness Stewart's massacre back when it was released in '89.

Stewart is better known for taking Wait's great tale of despairing heartache, Downtown Train, and turning it into an overproduced piece of forgettable pop — quite an achievement given the quality of the material he had to destroy.

But this, well this is so much worse.

I had heard rumours he had covered Tom Traubert's Blues. My hopes were not high, but they were still shattered by the horror of it all.

This is an atrocity. Rod Stewart should be hauled to The Hague for his crimes against humanity. Needless to say, I flagged it as inappropriate.

(If Youtube have removed the clip, you can hear the audio-only version.)

I mean what hell does Rod Stewart think he is doing? I think he may have, just maybe, missed the point of the song. It is a lot of things, but smooth, overproduced and lifeless aren't among them. Why is he wearing a fucking dinner jacket? The song is about being drunk and disheveled, not going to a god damn concert recital!

This, while singing lines about being "No prima donna/ The perfume was on a/Shirt that was stained with blood and whiskey"! The only thing his shirt looks like it is ever likely to be stained with is cranberry sauce and chardonay.

And the horror of that perm has to be seen to be believed, topped off as it is with a gold earing and highly disturbing facial hair. Seriously, it looks like he fell into someone's pubic hair with glue on his face.

When you look like that, no amount of earnest staring into the camera, and clutching of the heart, is going to convince anyone you are or can relate to the first person character whose life consists of a "battered old suitcase/in a hotel someplace".

Especially not when when you replace Waits admittedly unmatchable gravely deep-throated voice with a high pitched squeal. It sounds like musak being tortured.

It does, however, have the fascination of a bloody car pile-up in peak hour.

Luckily, You Tube serves both the forces of good as well as evil.

To see how it is *supposed* to be done, see this sublime performance by Waits in 1977.

"Wasted and wounded, it aint what the moon did, I got what I paid for now".

Waits provides a genuinely moving and very beautiful version. If only because you believe he could very well be telling this story from personal experience.

Watching this, you would not be surprised to find out that, just before Waits entered the room and made his way to the piano, his manager was desperately searching the streets looking for him. And, upon finding him slumped on some random park bench, shook him furiously while shouting "Tom! Tom!!! Come on, your late for your show again!!!!"

Then, having shoved black coffee down his throat, pushed him out onto the stage, crossing his fingers and hoping for the best. And Waits, making it to the piano without falling over, produces something as stunning and near-perfect as this rendition of that classic song.

* The video has now mercifully been removed by Youtube - quite possible as a direct result of Carlo Sands' intervention.

However, there is a clip posted to You Tube of Stewart performing the song live on Top of the Pops in 1992 that is almost as bad. At least he isn't wearing the dinner jacket, though he does have the facial hair.

And you can still hear the horror of the studio version here. The person who posted the song was thoughtful enough to provide a slideshow of Rod in action to give at least a visual taste for what has rightly been buried.



  1. I know from experiences as a child that tom had the world in his dictionary, but would have chuckled at Rod Stewarts version, have allowed it, and then sued him whenhe tried to sell it as a commercial. Rod is really actually talented,but always a bit too desperate to be valid.

  2. Well kelly, if that really is your name — and how the hell would I know — your apologetics for Mr Rod Stewart do nothing to change the fundamentals of the situation.

    You are argument is 1) Tom Waits wouldn't object, just chuckle to himself. 2) Mr Stewart is "really actually talented".

    On point one. It is not the place of Tom Waits to pass judgement on other musicians. He is just a singer-song writer, it is for others to judge. More than that, Comrade Waits is a *gentleman*.

    The rest of us need have no compunction, however, in speaking the truth.

    On point two.

    Mr Rod "pubic hair on his face" Stewart took one of the greatest songs ever written by one of the greatest performers known to that elusive genre called "popular music" and destroyed it.

    Mr Stewart's performance was, by any decent measure, a crime against humanity. If we lived in anything approaching a decent sort of society, a public trail and execution would be the best he could pray for.

    But we don't live in such a society, which is the whole god damned point. An atrocity like this is committed and people just shrug their shoulders.

    You say Mr Stewart is actually quite talented. This is only true if we lower our standards to marginally higher than the sewer.

    At his best, when he really really tries, Mr Stewart is mediocre.

    There are 100,000 pub singers better than him and a million no less talented. And that is just in the greater Sydney metropolitan area.

    Mr Stewart more notably took Downtown Train and turned into it into an overproduced pop song and took it to the top of the charts.

    By its own standards, it was actually quite good. Certainly nothing like the train wreck re: Tom Traubert's Blues.

    Unfortunately, these standards are not really very high.

    We live in a world where genuine talent is tolerated at best and mediocrity is hailed and reward.

    It isn't hard to see why. If you have culture dominated by powerful corporate interests whose only interest is the greatest profit margins, then this is inevitable.

    Because the easiest thing to sell in the greatest numbers is the "cultural produce" that the greatest number dislike the least.

    Not what they like the most, which will inevitable begin to fragment into personal tastes and vary from person to person. Which is much, much harder for the mass production required to turn a profit in late monopoly capitalism.

    Hence Rod Stewart is a chart topping super-star and Tom Waits exists, kinda tolerated, on the margins.

    But even the meagre evidence I produced in this one post is enough to answer the question definitively as to who is the greater artist.

    The key problem is — everyone wants to make excuses for this situation.

    For god's sake stop apologising for this intolerable state of affairs and go burn down the homes of a handfull of record company executives!

    Do something useful for humanity.

  3. Drinking will affect your spelling.

    Instead of calling for a "public trial" for Mr Rod Stweart, I inadvertently called for a "public trail" for the performer.

    For the record, I don't think that would be a good idea at all.

  4. Mr Sands,i salute you,spoken like a true gentleman.

  5. I stumbled onto this site (unfortunately, not in a drunken sense, as I've been thirsty since reading your alcoholic bio) after reading someone post that Stewart had some bad things to say about Waits. Hard to imagine, as the Tom Waits site had posted Stewart was considering a whole CD of Waits' songs (you can feel the shudders from Tom's fan site). Knowing Scarlett Johanssen can do a better cover than you can't be good for the resume'.

    Anyway.....enjoyed this review no matter how I got here (google or otherwise). One thing about his talking about other singers (who have covered him). He did say he doesn't like (label-mates at the time) the Eagles, saying they sound country, but they "don't have any shit on their boots". Never dull reading a Waits quote. About Michael Jackson and commercials, he once said he didn't have a problem with it, but if he wants to work for Pepsi, why doesn't he just put the uniform on?

    Anyway.....good to see someone understands what it means to sing from the soul and to tell a believable story from an author who may just have lived it.

  6. Dear waitsfan (if that really is you name and I don't intend to call you a liar),

    The point is not *how* you stumbled but *that* you stumbled. That is what counts.

    You are right, there is never a dull moment where Waits quotes are concerned.

    I have added a postscrip to the post as it appears the Stewart video has *been removed by the user* from You Tube. I take personal credit for this victory - with a nagging doubt as to whether it might not have been better tactics for it to remain up forever as an example of what horrors can be produced by this insane system.

    yours in alcohol abuse,
    Carlo Sands (deceased)

  7. Isn't is possible to like both? I'm a huge Rod Stewart fan, and I love his version (particularly the "unplugged" version which is a lot less produced), but I love Tom Waits as well. He is a brilliant songwriter and a wonderful character - but I can only take so much of that voice. He also tries so hard to be eccentric and non-commercial that you almost get the impression (and from your comments as well) that the only way for him to succeed would be to fail. It's that genuine suffering in his songs that seems to matter to you - forget artistic interpretation.

    In the same vein - Springsteen's "Jersey Girl" is another one of my favorites. Wait's contains no more passion, but it does grate on my eardrums a bit.

    Sorry that Rod seems high pitched in comparison, and that this seems to devalue his worth as an artist in your view. To take a phrase from your comment, you might want to check out "Never a Dull Moment", one of Rod's early albums. I don't like the "anything for a buck" releases he has made in recent years, but to dismiss him the way you do is pretty ridiculous.

  8. Sigh. OK. There is actually a lot to unpack there. I will simply say I have nothign inherent agaisnt Stewart; I have no problem, inherently, with anyone covering Waits and the reasn I didnlt rant agaisnt Springsteen's version of Jersey Girl is because he did not monumentally FUCK IT UP like Stewart did with Tom Traubert's Blues and finally, the argument about liking Waits because he fails to be popular is not only a distraction from the key point, it is also false.

    I am about to put up a new post that goes into a lot more detail of all that, including, especially, *why* I think Stewart's version of Tom Traubert's Blues -- that provoked my rant nearly five years ago now -- fails so terribly.

  9. "It's that genuine suffering in his songs that seems to matter to you - forget artistic interpretation." I think that is the single stupidiest and most offensive part of your comment.

    I was not aware that Waits was suffering. Perhaps you have some new information on his life that no one else does. He is not rich, like Stewart is, but he hardly seems to be suffering.

    Unless anything short of a relentless search for more money you couldnlt possibly spend, more models, more big homes in multiple places counts as suffering. And Waits, who lives in rural California in his own place with his wife and collaborator and their kids, just does NOT REALISE WHAT HELL HE IS IN!!!!

    He needs 25 divorces to models and teal 49 mansions or whatever the fuck Stewart has accumulated by now to be happy - his own, comfortable place with his family is just such a tortured existence.

    Now,.. it is true. Around the time of Tom Traubert's Blues he was having a bit of a hard time because the lifestyle grinds you down, travelling around, constant gigs, bad food and too much booze. None of which is unique to Waits.

    What Waits *does* and Stewart *fails in that performance to do*, is *exactly* give an artistic interpretation that *actually works*. As I said int he post, *you believe Waits*. Stewart does not make us believe in this song about misery, loniliness and heartache.

    The idea that Waits is *trying hard* to be non commercial and eccentric turns reality on its head. All he is doing is not trying to do the opposite -- not force himself into something he isn;t but pursue his art as he wanted to. It is sad that anything that seems outside the dominant is just "eccentric".

  10. A second post on this question

  11. Mac, you're a wanker. Go investigate the bottom of a bucket. A full one.

  12. As soon as I heard that what Rod Stewart said about Waits, any respect I ever had for the thick twat disappeared forever. He basically said that Waits was a great lyricist but that he (Stewart) brought out the melodies in the songs he covered. So, not only is he unable to appreciate subtlety in music, he's also disrespectful and rude.