Monday, 22 September 2014

Tom Waits for No-One: 2: Time: From 'Rain Dogs' (1985)

Wait's married screen writer Kathleen Brennan in 1980 and her theatrical influence became apparent in his writing, initially with 1983's 'Swordfishtrombones'. He followed that in 1985 with 'Rain Dogs'. It was originally going to be called ‘Beautiful Train Wrecks’ or ‘Evening Train Wrecks’. Wait's sense of mischief remained keen; a smirk beneath kind, squinting eyes. Always a compassionate chronicler of his stray dogs, his cantankerousness now seemed heightened; a Prospero, the playful puppeteer, detached enough to hack through a string or two just to see what happens. 'Rain Dogs' is certainly populated by victims, survivors; surely injured, grotesque and grateful, all desperate to tell their tales of survival; perhaps for the exchange of a story; a shared cigarette or the offer of some small change as the sun settles on their journeys.
Although the musicality of 'Time' itself is quite conventional it was around this time that Tom was trying to write less on the piano and involve more unconventional orchestrations; using disparate instruments such as the marimba, banjo, double bass and... bones:

"Your hands are like dogs, going to the same places they've been. You have to be careful when playing is no longer in the mind but in the fingers, going to happy places. You have to break them of their habits or you don't explore; you only play what is confident and pleasing. I'm learning to break those habits by playing instruments I know absolutely nothing about, like a bassoon or a water phone"

'Time' is the sound of fractured folk holding their breath, cast adrift, treading water; trying to stay afloat amidst the flotsam, a plethora of past imperfect lyricism, an overabundance of beauteous vignette that reeks of love, loss and longing. Oh, and the tune's not bad either... In this wonderfully doleful song Tom's eye settles on a particular transience; rain on a rusty metal roof, tapping out the passing moments of a bewildered rogue's gallery; yearning, displaced and lonely. There is a grit to the romance that renders their rain soaked streets authentic. And there's hope around the soggy edges in the yearning yelp: “It’s time, time, time that you loved/It’s time, time, time.”
I always get chicken skin during this evocative verse:

And they all pretend they're Orphans
And their memory's like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you can't remember
Tell the things you can't forget that
History puts a saint in every dream
Well she said she'd stick around
Until the bandages came off
But these mamas boys just don't know when to quit
And Matilda asks the sailors are those dreams
Or are those prayers
So just close your eyes, son
And this won't hurt a bit


  1. I appreciate the subtlety of this attempt to mess with my sense of the chronology of my life but I think you'll find Swordfishtrombones took until 1983 to emerge from the post marriage Waits.
    What a great song, though, and a great album. Rain Dogs and Swordfish... wrestle with each other for the title of my favourite Waits album.

  2. Noted and edited. Thanks Seamus; I need to reply to your other posts...

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