born in pomona and raised in the back rooms and honky tonks and gutters of your weird nightmares, tom waits is the anti-john mayer the anti-seal the anti-coldplay which is why God above created a record label better than the ones who once hired and then ignored this beautiful freak and named that label anti.
his music is like jazz through a broken stereo, his voice is like a cab drivers after a long day and a longer night, his words are like a street urchants whose been touched by an angel and doesnt know how right on he is and youre not so sure you should let it sink in but you should cuz its unpolished unbelievable and uncompromised.
he can sing through a microphone or megaphone and its all the same, powerful. he can whisper or scream but its the same as the buddah raising up that lotus flower: as soon as he does it you get it. you understand. youve reached nirvana.
if burroughs could carry a tune, if bukowski was drunker, if the ramones had a vocabulary, if johnny rotten daydreamed and chilled for a spell.
he plays his harmonica he plays his accordian, he beats on pots and pans, he plays his guitar strung with barbed wire. he wears an old mans hat and old mans pants and old mans suit he doesnt comb his hair he doesnt smoke as much and when he whistles it sounds like a yesterdayland.
he can sing deep and oldschool like satchmo he can falsetto that shit and make you smile. you can look at some of the words on paper and say so but when he belts it out you say whoa. ive never seen an audience savor every single word of even the breaths a performer took inbetween words than at a tom waits show for the exception of one bruce springsteen show in nineteen eighty four and that was during the first cover that the boss ever recorded, jersey girl, written by todays birthday boy.
you may not have any of his records but youve heard his songs and youve seen him act. and if you havent im going to tell you to go watch down by law and pick up either rain dogs or swordfishtrombones. and if you think you can handle it, dip into the black rider or bone machine. or if you wanna play it safe, i suuuupose you can get his solid greatest hits but be careful since every song on there is perfect and wonderful and its just gonna make you get his entire discography of nineteen original albums.
and i didnt sutter when i said original. he has no peers.
no, not even dylan, and if you think that makes me an antisemite youd be wrong again since mr zimmerman is a bornagain christian so ha.
the body of work that mr tom waits has brought to the tapestry of rock is an amazing one in its diversity, imagination, and uniqueness but what i consider his greatest triumph is his creative output began to really peak in his mid thirties and only blossomed as he got older.
typically as singer/songwriters get older their creativity dwindles particularily once they hit 35, the only exception to this rule, so far, has been the aforementioned mr dylan, neil young, and perhaps tom petty but even thats a stretch.
in 1983 when waits was 34 he broke away from his down-n-out loserboy shuffles of his earlier work and delved into the darkness of swordfishtrombones which made way for the breaktrough suprise semi-hit rain dogs and intensely weird yet tender frank’s wild years.
the early nineties saw waits knock out two more resoundingly superb albums, the black rider and bone machine the latter won him his first Grammy for best alternative album. not bad for a fourtysomething in a category of pimply faced wannabes half his age.
but dont get hung up with numbers. tom waits isnt about today. he isnt about tomorrow. and he damn well aint about the future. timeless is the word but that makes him seem over the hill. if you saw waits perform his latest single “make it rain” on the late show with david letterman you saw a guy rock the mic with a power and conviction that a fleet of foo fighters have yet to muster. and bro did it with a fedora and scuffed shoes.
real gone, his latest record that make it rain comes from, is just as solid as any of his collections. and for those of you who liked the song-story of frank from swordfishtrombones or the instant classic whats he building in there, will love circus which is just as vivid and bizarre.
as ive said before the greatest show i ever saw was elvis costello at the beverly back in the eighties and he had tom waits as his mc for half the show. and if youd ask elvis why he only let waits run the festivities of requests and spinning wheels hed probably tell you that he didnt want the show to be stolen by the gravely voiced carnival barker with the five dollar suit.
happy birthday to the man who is one of the glaring ommissions from the rock n roll hall of fame.