Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Tom Waits' playlist of his lyrical ballads (part 2) if you like to drink whiskey and cry


Part 2 of my groundbreaking investigation/slash drunken notes on the 40-song play list of Tom Waits' "lyrical ballads" released via his official social media pages comes as Sydney's Covid-related lockdown extend into its 578237th week. And I gotta say, Hollywood has really lied to us about just how exciting an Apocalypse would be.

After all it's not just Covid and the related unleashing of polce and army on Western Sydney, home to large migrant working class communities that are both among the greatest victims of this pandemic and the ones keep society going through their essential work, yet who are blamed for supposed misbhehaviour while their bosses refuse to implement proper safety measures. 

There's no shortage of other horrors, from escalating climate change-related extreme weather to the fact the Taliban are now running both Afghanistan and Texas -- with the Australian government refusing refugees from either. 

The point is, as Tom Waits and his people no doubt know, the world needs this "A Little Rain" 40-song playlist. Now this is part 2 of my in-depth investigation into it (songs 21-40) so you should really read part 1 or you'll be very confused. 

Also, drinking while listening is not mandatory as such (I prefer to focus on community education to get alcohol-while-listening-to-Tom-Waits ballads levels up), it is recommended. If not an actual necessity to get through it all (play list and world alike).

You can get the entire playlist on multiple platforms.

21) Invitation to the Blues

She said 'How you gonna like 'em, over medium or scrambled?'
You say 'anyway's the only way', be careful not to gamble
On a guy with a suitcase and a ticket getting out of here
It's a tired bus station and an old pair of shoes
This ain't nothing but an invitation to the blues...


Well, Tom Waits has sure started the second half of this playlist strongly. From his epic 1976 Small Change album, this is his heartfelt storytelling at its best. 

It is quite a skill to make this song not creepy, seeing as it is actually about some guy going into the diner and becoming obsessed with the waitress, but it's the way Waits humanises her that makes the difference:


But you can't take your eyes off her, get another cup of java
It's just the way she pours it for you, joking with the customers
Mercy mercy, Mr. Percy, there ain't nothing back in Jersey
But a broken-down jalopy of a man I left behind
And the dream that I was chasing, and a battle with booze
And an open invitation to the blues 
But she used to have a sugar daddy and a candy-apple Caddy
And a bank account and everything, accustomed to the finer things
He probably left her for a socialite and he didn't love her 'cept at night
And then he's drunk and never even told her that her cared
So they took the registration, and the car-keys and her shoes
And left her with an invitation to the blues

It makes the song's open-ended conclusion actually affecting..


Cause there's a Continental Trailways leaving local bus tonight, good evening
You can have my seat, I'm sticking round here for a while
Get me a room at the Squire, the filling station's hiring
And I can eat here every night, what the hell have I got to lose?
Got a crazy sensation, go or stay? now I gotta choose
And I'll accept your invitation to the blues


22) Barcolle

A cloud lets go of the moon
Her ribbons are all out of tune
She is skating on the ice
In a glass in the hands of a man
That she kissed on the train...

This one isfrom his 2002 album Alice, which mostly features songs for "an avant garde opera" of the same name directed by Robert Wilson. It's centred on the obsession of Lewis Carroll for the young Alice Liddell (immortalised as Alice in Wonderland). 

That Waits manages to write beautiful songs on this unsettling and even disturbing theme says all you need to know about his quality as a songwriter, but then again my whisky glass keeps getting refilled so what would I know?


I'm lost in the blond summer grass
And the train whistle blows
And the carnival goes
'Til there's only the tickets and crows here
And the grass will all grow back

23) Lucky Day
The prettiest girl
in all the world
is in a little Spanish town
but I left her for a Bonnie lass
and I told her
I'd see her around...

This is another one based on songs Waits wrote for a play directed by Robert Wilson -- this one 1992's Black Rider. This is filled with nostalgia and longing, which is of course very rare territory for Waits. It's certainly a long way from his usual happy go lucky, cheerful persona the world has come to know and love. 


Why there's Miss Kelsey
She taught dance at our school
And old Johnny O 'Toole
I'll still beat you at pool
So don't cry for me
For I'm goin' away
And I'll be back some lucky day


24) Whistle Down the Wind

Whistle down the wind
Let your voices carry
Drown out all the rain
Light a patch of darkness
Treacherous and scary...

Tom, for fuck's sake. I've explained VERY CLEARLY how much whiskey I'm consuming right now and before that it was whisky and you throw this one at me? 

This song's tl;dr is shit's bad, it's dark, it's horrible but there's hope in friendship and love. If I'd known he was going to this shit on me I'd have not poured a double measure.


So whistle down the wind
For I have always been
Right there


25) The House Where Nobody Lives

There's a house on my block that's abandoned and cold
The folks moved out of it a long time ago...

TOM! Come on. You follow up "Whistle Down The Wind" with THIS??? This is more of that fucking "heartbreak, nostaligia but still a light that shines" stuff he loves to do as if he doesn't know the average blood alcohol level of his listeners is already far higher than medically recommended limits.

Anyway, it's about an abandoned house. Of course it is. Why is it abandoned? Waits can only speculate:


...and once it held laughter
Once it held dreams, did they throw it away, did they know what it means?
Did someone's heart break
Or did someone do somebody wrong?

Waits doesn't know, but he does know a few other things he's learned the hard way:


So if you find someone
Someone to have, someone to hold, don't trade it for silver
Oh, don't trade it for gold
'Cause I have all of life's treasures and they're fine and they're good
They remind me that houses are just made of wood
What makes a house grand, oh, it ain't the roof or the doors
If there's love in a house, it's a palace for sure...

Come on Tom, I don't need this shit right now. 


But without love
It ain't nothin' but a house, a house where nobody lives

26) That Feel 

But there's one thing you can't lose
And it's that feel
You can pawn your watch and chain
But not that feel...

Well this is just what we need isn't it. Now that I've switched to back from whiskry from whisky. We need Tom Waits teaming up with Keith Richards.

This one sounds like what you'd expect if Tom Waits teamed up to write and perform a song with Keith Richards. A staggering, bluesey duet about an indescribable feeling that follows you everywhere, that's "harder to get rid of than tattoos".

This one is fron 1992's appropriately Apocalyptic Bone Machine, with Richards previously playing guitar on a bunch of tracks on Waits' 1985 classic Rain Dogs. They teamed up again for 2011's Bad as Me (Waits most recent album! A decade ago!) for "Last Leaf", which sort of continues the theme.

Waits and Richards is a match made in a drunken Hell, and Waits commented on writing with Richards: "You'll always finish SOMETHING. You might finish the bottle, you might not finish the song." Well luckily they finished this one as it's pretty good, especially with whisky.


You can fall down in the street
You can leave it in the lurch
Well you say that it's gospel
But I know that it's only church....

27) Fish and Bird

They bought a round for the sailor
And they heard his tale
Of a world that was so far away
And a song that we'd never heard
A song of a little bird
That fell in love with a whale

Jesus fuck this is all I need at this stage. A love story between a fucking little bird and a goddamn whale. It sounds absurd, but this is Tom Waits and this is his thing, taking something seemingly absurd and turning it into a song to destroy fools who listen while drunk.

I mean get this shit:


He said, 'You cannot live in the ocean'
And she said to him
'You never can live in the sky'
But the ocean is filled with tears
And the sea turns into a mirror
There's a whale in the moon when it's clear
And a bird on the tide

 It's a fairytale without a happy ending. 


So tell me that you will wait for me
Hold me in your arms
I promise we never will part
I'll never sail back to the time
But I'll always pretend you're mine
Though I know that we both must part
You can live in my heart

I mean just fuck off. My whisky's empty again.


Please don't cry
Let me dry your eyes


28) Bottom of the World

My Daddy told me, lookin back
The best friend you'll have is a railroad track
So when I was 13 I said, I'm rollin' my own,
And I'm leaving Missouri and I'm never coming home

Yeah Ok Tom, but how is this going to work out? Do you think it will go well?  No, of course not. It's a Tom Waits song.

Of course, being a Tom Waits song there is still beauty to be found:


Well God's green hair is where I slept last
He balanced a diamond on a blade of grass
Now I woke me up with a cardinal bird
And when I wanna talk he
Hangs on every word

29) San Diego Serenade

I never saw the morning 'til I stayed up all night
I never saw the sunshine 'til you turned out the light
I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long
I never heard the melody, until I needed a song.

Tom. For god's sake. I'm in lockdown here. I'm not just drunk and a bit sad in some general sense.  I'm drunk in fucking lockdown. I got loved ones I can;t see in Queensland and Western Australia. And you offer up this? Goddamn it.


I never saw the white line, 'til I was leaving you behind
I never knew I needed you 'til I was caught up in a bind
I never spoke 'I love you' 'til I cursed you in vain,
I never felt my heartstrings until I nearly went insane


30) In The Neighbourhood

Friday's a funeral
And Saturday's a bride...

Yeah alright Tom. Give it a rest.


There's a couple Filipino girls
Gigglin' by the church
And the window is busted
And the landlord ain't home
And Butch joined the army
Yea that's where he's been
And the jackhammer's diggin'
Up the sidewalks again
In the neighborhood


31) Kentucky Avenue

Eddie Grace's buick
Got four bullet holes in the side
Charley Delisle is sittin' at the top
Of an avocado tree
Mrs Storm will stab you with a steak knife
If you step on her lawn
I got a half a pack of lucky strikes man
So come along with me

Just another Tom Waits song of the dark side of suburbia with strong lashings of surrealism and an overriding sense of bittersweet nostalgia. Bastard is just lucky he knows how to write a song.


I'll get a dollar from my mama's purse
Buy that skull and crossbones ring
And you can wear it round your neck
On an old piece of string

32) I Wish I was In New Orleans (In The Ninth Ward)

Well, I wish I was in New Orleans, I can see it in my dreams,
Arm-in-arm down Burgundy, a bottle and my friends and me

Well yeah. I've been to New Orleans, or anywhere in North America for that matter. But I get the point. This is one where Waits referrences his friend, the songwriter Chuck E Weiss who died recently, because of course he did. Everyone decent is dying these days.


Hoist up a few tall cool ones, play some pool and listen
To that tenor saxophone calling me home


33) Day After Tomorrow

I got your letter today
And I miss you all so much here
I can't wait to see you all
And I'm counting the days here

Waits' whole career is telling stories of society's underdogs and the victims, but he is rarely explicitely political. And this anti-war song about a soldier who misses home, empathises with his supposed "enemy" and has contempt for his superiors, could be set in any war in modern history.

Yet coming out on 2004's album Real Gone, just one year after the Iraq War started and two after the Afghan War got under way (how well they went!), the song is unmistakably pointed. The genius of this song -- about a soldier far from home fighitng a futile war -- is it is both eternal and still a specific protest against the wars of his time.

At the time, Waits commented that writing songs against war was "like throwing penuts at a gorrilla", and it is true no song he or anyone else could write can be stop these bloody wars for oil, profit and geopolitical domination. But we can still admire his aim, so I'll just quote every other fucking line in this song:


It is so hard and it's cold here
And I'm tired of taking orders
And I miss old Rockford town
Up by the Wisconsin border
What I miss, you won't believe
Shovelling snow and raking leaves
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow
I close my eyes every night
And I dream that I can hold you
They fill us full of lies, everyone buys
'Bout what it means to be a soldier
I still don't know how I'm supposed to feel
'Bout all the blood that's been spilled
Will God on this throne
Get me back home
On the day after tomorrow

You can't deny, the other side
Don't want to die anymore then we do
What I'm trying to say is don't they pray
To the same God that we do?
Tell me how does God choose?
Whose prayers does He refuse?
Who turns the wheel?
Who throws the dice?
On the day after tomorrow

I am not fighting for justice
I am not fighting for freedom
I am fighting for my life
And another day in the world here
I just do what I've been told
We're just the gravel on the road
And only the lucky ones come home
On the day after tomorrow

And the summer, it too will fade
And with it brings the winter's frost dear
And I know we too are made
Of all the things that we have lost here
I'll be 21 today
I been saving all my pay
And my plane will touch down
On the day after tomorrow...

34) Pony

I've seen it all boys, I've been all over
Been everywhere in the whole wide world

Oh just another melacholic Tom Waits song filled with nostalgia as the song's weary narrator wishes he 
"was home, in Evelyn's kitchen with old Gyp curled around my feet". My whiskey glass (I'm back on whiskey) needs refilling.


I hope my pony
I hope my pony
I hope my pony knows the way back home


35) A Little Rain

She was fifteen years old
And never seen the ocean
She climbed into a van
With a vagabond
And the last thing she said
was "I love you mom"

Jesus christ Tom. I only just refilled my whiskey glass. What the fuck are you doing to me? This one is aptly the title of the whole playlist.


And a little rain
Never hurt noone

36) You Can Never Hold Back Spring

You can never hold back spring
You can be sure that I will never
Stop believing...

Ah, the old Waits trick of hope amid the gloom. The old "you can't break the human spirit" shtick. It won't work on me, Tom. I'm not crying and if I am that's just a well-known side effect of whiskey consumption. 


You can never hold back spring
Even though you've lost your way
The world keeps dreaming of spring

37) Yesterday Is Here 

If you want to go
Where rainbows end
You'll have to say goodbye
All our dreams come true, baby up ahead
And it's out where your memories lie...

More bittersweet nostalgia. I'll get another drink then.


Well, today's grey skies
Tomorrow's tears
You'll have to wait til yesterday is here

38) Martha

Operator, number, please:
It's been so many years
Will she remember my old voice
While I fight the tears?

Possibly the most amazing thing about this song is it was released when Waits was just 23, on his debut album Closing Time. It's remarkably mature and finished song filled with almost unbreable pathos. Like so many Waits songs, it skirts the edges of OTT, but the quality of the writing and performance keeps it on the right side of absolutely heartbreaking.


And those were the days of roses
Poetry and prose and Martha
All I had was you and all you had was me.
There was no tomorrows
We'd packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day.
And I remember quiet evenings
Trembling close to you...


39) Lullaby

Sun is red, moon is cracked
Daddy's never coming back
Nothing's ever yours to keep

God, this bottle's almost finished.


Nothing's ever as it seems
Climb the ladder to your dreams
If I die before you wake
Don't you cry, don't you weep
Nothing's ever yours to keep
Close your eyes, go to sleep


40) A Sight For Sore Eyes

A sight for sore eyes it's a long time no see
Workin' hard hardly workin
Hey man, you know me...

 Oh it's a drunk in a bar reminiscing about the old times. I wonder how this one will go? Well...


I guess you heard about Nash he was killed in a crash
Oh that must of been two or three years ago now
Yea he spun out and he rolled he hit a telephone pole
And he died with the radio on
Oh she's married and with a kid finally split up with Syd
He's up north for a nickle's worth for armed robbery
Hey I'll play you some pin ball
Hell you ain't got a chance
Well then go on over and ask her to dance
And hey barkeeper what's keepin you keep pourin' drinks...

Yeah sure, Tom. I'll keep pouring drinks. You can really see why the bastard had to quit drinking three decades ago. Listening to this stuff makes you thirsty enough, imagine having to sing it.

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