Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tom Waits Tuesday: 'The smell of blood, the drone of flies...'

And the gods go begging here...

Well my plan to post a song from a musical act drawn alliteratively from a each day of the week continues apace, having now managed to do it two days running. Today it is the turn of The Great Man, with a blistering track from his 2004 album Real Gone, which always seems a bit underrated. I have a huge soft spot for it, though, not just for its consistent quality but the fact that, having become a committed Waits convert a year earlier, it was his first album I bought as a new release.

The album came out as the "War on Terror" turned to bloody disaster. A year into the US's Iraq debacle, the album found Waits angry -- and featured several tracks there were more explicitly political than the veteran documentor of America's underbelly had ever been.

"Writing songs about the war is like throwing peanuts at a gorilla," Waits said of the album's political content at the time. "But then I think, look how important soul music was during the civil rights movement.

"Sometimes I feel we are way outnumbered and the dark side has one more spear. But folks in the arts — it's their job to put a human face on the war."

That's what Waits does in "Hoist That Rag" — a blood-stained ragged song, underpinned by Marc Ribot's almost savagely spiked guitar, that takes aim at the horrors of war and the ugly nationalism that justifies it. It was truly a song for its time, and sadly for ours too.

Hoist That Rag

Well I learned the trade
From Piggy Knowles
Sing Sing Tommy Shay Boys
God used me as hammer boys
To beat his weary drum today

Hoist that rag...

The sun is up the world is flat
Damn good address for a rat
The smell of blood
The drone of flies
You know what to do if
The baby cries

Hoist that rag...

Well we stick our fingers in the ground, 
heave and turn the world around
Smoke is blacking out the sun
At night I pray and clean my gun
The cracked bell rings as the ghost bird sings
and the gods go begging here
So just open fire as you hit the shore
All is fair in love and war

Hoist that rag...

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