Sunday, 21 September 2014

Tom Waits for No-One: 1: Kentucky Avenue: From 'Blue Valentine' (1978)

Sappy title I know but...

Tom's best 'ballads'? 
An impossible question as each is like a cross eyed lover; you adore them for their perfect imperfections, best loved ever changing, depending on your own state of dishevelment or displacement...
There's the more obvious early balladeering of the Asylum Years but his output post 'Swordfishtrombones' has been similarly affecting; Waits will always tug your heartstrings by grabbing you very gently by the throat. The increasing dissonance in his music renders the occasional moments of baleful beauty twice as nice. It's like the clouds parting on a nightmare; you surrender to a dream of a song and love it all the more for it's ephemeral effect; sure that its fleeting beauty is a prelude to darkness descending again. That's the nature of the beast in Tom; he dresses himself (and addresses us) as a hobo, an outsider; a Peeping Tom if you like. You sense him sanguinely squinting at the world from the gutter; because that's surely where the interesting folk abide; the walking wounded sidelined by sorrow, bad judgements or just plain bad luck. Tom's always on the move though, that transience is what makes him such an engaging raconteur. He populates his world with such worldy wonders that we can't look away but wouldn't want to walk those streets.

I'm posting regularly, but in no particular order, some bleeding obvious gems, other rough diamonds that might have been lost amongst the rubble.

I love 'Kentucky Avenue' like no other... so much so that I'm posting the live and recorded versions.
I always get a little moist during the penultimate verse.
The strings swell and Tom pleads:

"Take the spokes from your wheelchair
And a magpies wings
And tie 'em to your shoulders and your feet!
I'll steal a hacksaw from my dad
And cut the braces off your legs
And we'll bury them tonight in the cornfield"

I'm continually dipping into a collection of interviews: 'Innocent When You Dream' is basically Tom on Tom; with the usual tall tales and u-turns that inform any conversation with this mischievous minstrel; he flits between cantankerous, charming and irascible; wily, witty and never dull.
I'd happily have him on my desert island but I'd not be lending him my matches...

"My best friend, when I was a kid, had polio. I didn't understand what polio was. I just knew it took him longer to get to the bus stop than me. I dunno. Sometimes I think kids know more than anybody. I rode a train once to Santa Barbara with this kid and it almost seemed like he lived a life somewhere before he was born and he brought what he knew with him into this world and so... It's what you don't know that's usually more interesting. Things you wonder about, things you have yet to make up your mind about. There's more to deal with than just your fundamental street wisdom. Dreams. Nightmares."

Feel free to chip in...


  1. Good choice to start the series...

    The line about cutting off the leg braces always reminds me of the scene in Forrest Gump, when as a boy he's trying to evade some nasty bully types - That magic moment while he's lumbering along when he gradually sheds the braces and runs like the wind. Powerful and moving visuals.

    I'm not sure who was better at conjuring up cinematic images & evocative atmosphere in musical verse around this time... Tom or Bruce??? Both masters of street poetry I'd say.

    Off the cuff, trying to remember my Top Tom 10, er 13...

    1) Ruby's Arms
    2) Kentucky Ave
    3) On The Nickel
    4) Martha
    5) TT's Blues
    6) Grapefruit Moon
    7) Day After Tomorrow
    8) Shiver Me Timbers
    9) Hold On
    10)Take It With Me
    11) San Diego Serenade
    12) World Keeps Turning
    13) Down There By The Train

    1. Hey stranger. Waits is the master of street poetry; I think that the humor v heartbreak elevates him; Bruce can be one tone; doesn't really do humor.
      Nice list; I love most, although 'World Keeps Turning' and 'Down There by the Train' need to be revisited. I'm hoping to unearth some dirty diamonds as well as the usual beloved bijoux...