Tag Archives: Tom Waits

Tom Waits – KPFK – 1974

This isn’t going to be a regular feature on this blog any longer but from time to time it will pop up. Bootleg Thursday this week showcases one of my favorite artists, Tom Waits long before he ever made it big or influential at least. From an interview he did in 1974 at Los Angeles Public Radio Station KPFK, Waits performs 15+ songs & speaks to the host about his music. It is a sound to behold for sure as he speaks of his craft before he reaches the apex of his potential.

LIVE AT KPFK – 1974

Better Off Without a Woman

It’s Not Good To See You

Foggy Night

You’re Working On Your Second Album

The Ghost of Saturday Night

(Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night

That’s Such a Fine Song

Semi Suite

Let Me Ask You Something

Drunk on the Moon

I Wonder

Depot Depot

For Those Who May Have Just Joined Us

Diamonds on My Windshield

That’s Great

San Diego Serenade

What Are Your Plans Now

Rosie

For Those Of You

Fumblin’ With The Blues

Like A Little Drop Of Ink In A Glass Of Water

I consider myself a nostalgic person, but not overly so or is it overly such? Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy music from previous generations & probably even more than most of the music coming out today. I’m that way with a lot of things though, movies, baseball, radio, etc. Not everything is worse now that it was say 20 years ago, however, video games have dramatically improved, basketball & football are so much more exciting & television has climbed to heights many never thought it would with the emergence of edgy cable programming.

One of the things that I most enjoy about today is writing. Today everyone seems to be putting pen to paper or rather computer text to blogs & expressing themselves in ways the world has never seen before. 10 years ago I would never have had the opportunity to write everyday for the world to see my divergent opinions were it not for this utterly fantastic forum. Last week I decided again to break from my nostalgic rut once again & force myself to listen to something at least somewhat current. Actually it’s a couple years old, but I’d heard so much about it, but never listened to it.

From the ever reliable Wikipedia:

The National are a Brooklyn-based indie rock band formed in 1999. The band’s lyrics are written and sung by Matt Berninger in a distinctive, deep baritone. The rest of the band is composed of two pairs of brothers: Aaron and Bryce Dessner and Scott and Bryan Devendorf. Aaron plays guitar, bass and piano, Bryce plays guitar, Scott plays bass and guitar, and Bryan is the drummer. Padma Newsome, from sister band Clogs, often contributes strings, keyboards, and other arrangements and instrumental flourishes.

I decided to listen to what Paste called, “The number 1 album of 2007” & that is Boxer. I will say that at first the aforementioned deep baritone of Matt Berninger threw me off as it sounded so much like Crash Test Dummies lead singer Brad Roberts that I almost couldn’t listen to it without fully expecting “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm” to break out in the middle of “Fake Empire”, but I pushed through & found this album so amazing that much like the Tom Waits album before I kicked myself for having been so close minded as not to listen to it before.

I found it to be very much like Joy Division musically who they list as one of their main influences & lyrically like Bruce Springsteen who was another influence. After a few listens I realized that the vocal style, while something I could not listen to every day fit perfectly with this style. it is so much of a collaborative effort that the vocals do not stand out as much once you are fully integrated into the style. You may say music is always a collaborative effort & to an extent I agree, but not to this level.

In this band it takes every single member to come up with the sound they are attempting to achieve while in bands like The Smiths, Smashing Pumpkins or even Nine Inch Nails those aren’t as prevalent. Especially in the case of NIN who are really just Trent Reznor & session/touring musicians. On Boxer it’s almost like the lyrics are faded down so that the music stands out. My favorite song on the album was “Green Gloves” . it was so beautifully constructed & so pared down that you can hear the sliding down on the acoustic guitar (a sound I adore). Again, this album is a stellar album of grand achievement & I’m so glad that my year is starting off with new music that can guide me towards a more open-minded existence.

Fake Empire – The National

Green Gloves – The National

Start a War – The National

Brainy (Alt. Version) – The National

Santa Clara (Demo) – The National

The Things You Can’t Remember Tell The Things You Can’t Forget

Recently I’ve tried to reacquaint myself with a friend, but it seems like time has been ever allusive once again. I’ve just started a new job working nights basically & she works in an industry that demands a lot of time & energy. If it were a romantic thing I probably wouldn’t be as interested in making time, but good friends are hard to find so I don’t feel like I’m wasting said time. That’s the thing about everything isn’t it? Time…we all feel our time is valuable, but with different designations.

Sure my time is wasted when I have to wait 2 minutes for the next green light, but not when I choose to wait in line for an hour at a club. It’s how we use our time that determines whether or not we are wasting it. When our time is taken by unforeseen circumstances or against our will (See: D.M.V.) that’s when we complain about our time being wasted. Tom Waits wrote a beautiful opus  called “Time” on his brilliant album Rain Dogs. It speaks to the mere passage of time & how it affects life in general.

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

Essentially, what Waits is saying is that time is this villain with it’s various definitions. It’s desolate & unforgiving, but it’s there or as the sang goes “Time waits for no man” & isn’t it so true. The wheel of time rolls along throughout the ages & it consumes everything it comes into contact with. We fight time like a disease with Botox & face lifts to make us feel like we’ll live forever. We all want that little slice of immortality, but such thoughts are counterintuitive to the human experience. We are prolonging our lives simply to prolong them, but not to really contribute anything except space.

Often it takes tragedies for people to realize how precious time is, but then as quickly as it happened those thoughts are gone. I’m no hippie. This is not me on my soapbox telling you how to act or to stop everything & count the seconds of your day. My point is to make your time here matter, to choose who & what you spend your time with wisely. Those are the hardest choices to make. We are on this mortal coil for only so long & spending that time wisely is an utter necessity.

Enjoy your life, do things you love, wait for good people & shed the bad ones. Look around for just a few more minutes to experience all the things beautiful & ugly that make life what it is. See the people in your life for what they are: flawed creatures with the same problems & issues & stresses as you. Realize that we all suffer from the evils & beauty of time.

As Tom Waits said:

And it’s time time time, and it’s time time time
And it’s time time time that you love
And it’s time time time

Time – Tom Waits – Rain Dogs

I Will Always Remember To Forget About You

The first album I’ve decided to review is Tom Waits’ 2002 album Blood Money. In true Tom Waits fashion, Blood Money is filled with what can only be described as Circus music. Calliopes, Tubas & Xylophones fill this album with Zydeco style rhythms. It is an album that hearkens back to one of my favorite Waits album’s Rain Dogs. About half of the album is oddly tame with songs like “Lullaby” that while slower still coincide with the overall theme of the album (as every album must have a theme or be nothing more than a collection of songs) having given up on life.

It is this theme that makes the narrator (this is what we’ll call him for the purposes of this piece) lose his faith in God & Humanity. This is never more evident than in the song, “Everything Goes to Hell”:

Why be sweet, why be careful, why be kind?
A man has only one thing on his mind
Why ask politely, why go lightly, why say please?
They only want to get you on your knees
There’s a few things that I never could believe

A woman when she weeps
A merchant when he swears
A thief who says he’ll pay
A lawyer when he cares
A snake when he is sleeping
A drunkard when he prays
I don’t believe you go to heaven when you’re good
And everything goes to hell, anyway

The Narrator comes off as having had a hard life, one of a sailor, not known for being the richest fellows. The Narrator is very resentful of the hand he has been dealt, but deals with it the only way he knows how booze, women & fighting. He doesn’t want to be pitied, nor cared for, but reminds everyone of his plight. He is merely a forgotten man. A lost soul ready to pack it in as in the final track “A Good Man is Hard To Find”:

I always play Russian Roulette in my head
It’s seventeen black or twenty-nine red
How far from the gutter
How far fron the pew
I will always remember to forget about you

A good man is hard to find
Only strangers sleep in my bed
My favorite words are good-bye
And my favorite color is red

A long dead soldier looks out
From the frame
No one remembers his war; no one
Remembers his name

Go out to the meadow;
Scare off all the crows
It does nothing but rain here,
And nothing will grow

A good man is hard to find
Only strangers sleep in my bed
My favorite words are good-bye
And my favorite color is red

Why I didn’t discover this album sooner is beyond me. It tells a tragic story through beautiful music in a way only Tom Waits can. The voice of the great Waits only adds to the feelings of sadness & pity you feel for a character that abhors both. He shows that the Narrator’s life of poverty & shame is exasperated only by the places he visits & sees how the other half lives. He knows, though, with unwavering logic that he will never become that. It is not who he is nor someone he truly aspires to be. He mocks the women he beds in these foreign lands as he says again in “Everything Goes to Hell” :

I only want to hear you purr and to hear you moan
You have another man who brings the money home
I don’t want dishes in the sink
Don’t ask me what I feel or what I think

That is because he lost any capacity for feeling long ago. In this way he is much like Mersault in Albert Camus’ existential masterpiece “The Stranger”. He knows not when he became lost, perhaps it is his birthright, but he doesn’t dwell on it & seems to care not that the woman he is sleeping with is married or that he could even care less about her. She is merely something to do (in a matter of speaking) while docked. If you have not heard the album I would greatly suggest you do so as it is Waits’ best album since Rain Dogs & was used for the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner. Hopefully, this is the start of a great year of new music, new to me anyway & discoveries that change the way I see things. Change is not necessarily always a bad thing. Sometimes it is enlightening.


Everything Goes to Hell – Tom Waits

A Good Man is Hard To Find – Tom Waits

Top 15 Cover Songs of the Decade

It’s come to that time of the year/decade where innumerable lists will come out touting writer’s knowledge of music by saying what the best album, songs or artists of the decade/year are. Some are interesting reads, others are banal wastes of time & yet others are pretentious attempts at musical superiority while showing you have little knowledge about “real” music. It is this final category that Paste Magazine’s 30 best covers of the decade falls into.

Covers are a delicate subject with me. A cover song must be at least similar to the original. Otherwise, you’re not covering another artist’s song you’re simply saying you think they did a shitty job the first time around instead of paying homage. Jimi Hendrix did not cover Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” he dissected it & made it better. Dylan provided the blueprint for Hendrix & Jimi ran with it. Dylan himself has said as much:

It overwhelmed me, really. He had such talent, he could find things inside a song and vigorously develop them. He found things that other people wouldn’t think of finding in there. He probably improved upon it by the spaces he was using. I took license with the song from his version, actually, and continue to do it to this day…I liked Jimi Hendrix’s record of this and ever since he died I’ve been doing it that way…Strange how when I sing it, I always feel it’s a tribute to him in some kind of way.

Paste has a reputation for thinking they’re better than everyone with obscure references to obscure songs & praising them from the mountain top as being immortal & themselves as fore bearers to the band’s success. Their list is full of songs that hold little relevancy to anyone except the artists themselves.

It’s a bit disgraceful to see a list of songs with The Polyphonic Spree at #7 with Nirvana’s “Lithium” or Calexico at #8 with Stereolab’s “Peng! 33”. What? Really? Stereolab was an obscure band from the ’90’s that never found success in part because they were bad at making music. The Polyphonic Spree is a band from today that suffers from the same problem. I’m all for opening eyes with new artists. I try to introduce new artists to the masses on this blog regularly, but to indiscriminately toss out labels like “best of the decade” is hyperbolic to the core.

There are a few I agree with on the list, but none above number 9 (they are 28, 20, 18 – which may be the best on their list, 10 & 9). In large part I think Paste is, once again, showing they’re rightly regarded as a magazine strictly for the arrogant hipster, who thinks he knows more about music than you. It’s like saying Sgt. Pepper is too commercial of an album to be the best of all time or the “Godfather” is too widely known to be the best film of all time. Everyone has their opinion & rightfully so, but when an opinion is there to show you how shitty your musical tastes are then it becomes a practice in musical bullying & I think it’s an abhorrent practice.

Music is there to spark conversation, to create unity, to educate, not belittle (unless you’re talking about Gangster Rap). Every time I give an opinion on this blog (or any other place I write) I try to give it context, not to dumb down my point, but to educate in one way or another. I happen to know a lot about music, mostly because I have no life, but also because it happens to be my passion. I do not claim to be the end all be all of musical critics. I’m simply a conduit to better understanding for those that have lives or seek some better form of musical knowledge.

So here is my list of the 15 best covers of the decade with short explanations as to why I enjoy them & why they’re great in my opinion:

#15 – Love Vigilantes – Voxtrot (originally: New Order)

A classic ’80’s song that is faithful to the original without being a complete replica. While expressing the emotion that many families are feeling, it is apropos of the moment in which we live.

#14 – Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie (Originally: Cyndi Lauper)

Another ’80’s song many consider trite pop, but Gibbard turns it into something much more. An anthem of parental & societal oppression. The audience laughs but if you really listen to the lyrics you realize that it is a plea to stop worrying about social mores that tend to pigeonhole people into groups that have no true bearing on who they really are. A beautiful interpretation.

#13 – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Counting Crows (Originally: Bob Dylan)

Redone by many artists, this is faithful to the original from Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes version with The Band. Marketa Iglova & Glen Hansard do a fairly competent version on the I’m Not There Soundtrack, but it really doesn’t compare to Adam Duritz belting this classic out.

#12 – The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (Originally: Tom Waits)

Tom Waits has that writing quality that makes everyone want to redo his songs. Norah Jones is a phenomenal songwriter in her own right & has the perfect voice for this Waits composition. There’s something to be said for a steel guitar & a Tom Waits song that just reeks of awesomeness.

#11 – Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam (Originally: Nina Simone)

While the Animals may have popularized this song, it was written for Nina Simone by Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus. The song correlates with Yusuf’s own struggles after he changed his name from Cat Stevens to Yusuf Islam & his subsequent inclusion on the Terrorist watch list in the early ’00’s.

#10 – Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want – She & Him (Originally: The Smiths)

Zooey Deschanel & M. Ward covered this song for the 500 Days of Summer Soundtrack perfectly. The echo behind Deschanel’s voice creates a haunting version while staying succinctly true to the original. You can almost hear the anguish in her voice as she desperately emotes Morrissey’s plea for a change in his luck.

#9 – Glory Days – The Avett Brothers (Originally: Bruce Springsteen)

The issue I’ve always had with this song is that instead of saying fastball at the beginning he says speedball. When I hear Bruce say “He could throw that Speedball right by you.” it always makes me cringe as a baseball fan & someone who had a lot of friends who did a lot of drugs. That’s my only complaint, though, I love the song & the Avett’s doing it with a banjo, a kick drum & a tambourine is magical.

#8 – The Weight – Gaslight Anthem (Originally: The Band)

The seminal song in the Band’s career is faithfully done by the Gaslight Anthem’s lead singer Brian Fallon. There’s a lot to be said for a man & his guitar. Fallon has that kind of voice that is suited for a song such as this. It’s a story song, almost in the same vein as The Beatles “A Day in the Life”.

#7 – Sunday Morning – Beck’s Record Club (Originally: Velvet Underground & Nico)

When Beck started his Record Club project it was considered a bit of a lark (especially when I read he considered doing Digital Underground’s album Sex Packets in it’s entirety), but when you hear this song you realize otherwise. I have never been a fan of Beck’s music. I’ve interviewed him a number of times, smoked out with him & find him to be a fascinating person, but musically I’m not evolved enough to enjoy what he does, though I do recognize his talent. Be that as it may I do love this cover so much. When stripped down Beck’s voice is incredible.

#6 – Dancing in the Dark – Pete Yorn (Originally: Bruce Springsteen)

Another Springsteen song covered by a talented musician. Pete Yorn’s first album spoke to me so much that I don’t think I listened to another album for a month after it came out. Yorn with a piano slowly singing this mournful song about escaping the everyday doldrums of life. It’s something we can all relate to, especially in this context.

#5 – I Don’t Wanna Grow Up – Cold War Kids (Originally: Tom Waits)

Hearing the Cold War Kids acoustically is a sound to behold. Hearing them sing Tom Waits’ song about having to accept responsibility as an adult & wanting to stay a child forever is a moment. It’s much like when the Beach Boys released A Beach Boys’ Party where they covered a few Beatles songs among others & made it a sing along. This recording, while much less hokey, has that feel to it.

#4 – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (Originally: Bob Dylan)

While not completely factual this song still does speak to the injustice that was still going on in 1960’s America. Lead Singer, Peter Hayes, expresses the difficulty in remembering all the lyrics before he starts actually singing noting it is a Bob Dylan song. He doesn’t sing it with tonal precision which makes it even that much better. What he does give it is slightly more melody than Dylan (as many often have). The harmonica in the Bridge is not overstated or too intense to overpower the audience.

#3 – My Oklahoma Home – Bruce Springsteen (Originally: Pete Seeger)

When Bruuuuuuce decided to make a tribute album with all Pete Seeger songs I never thought it would work. I love just about everything Springsteen touches, but even this seemed like a stretch to me. I was wrong. The true merit of an artist is the ability to reinvent oneself & make it work. Dylan did it, the Beatles did it & Springsteen did as well. This song about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl holds as much connotation in today’s current economic climate as it did 80 years ago. No one today speaks of the hardships of the blue collar society like Bruce & before him there was no one better than Pete Seeger & Woody Guthrie.

#2 – The Drugs Don’t Work – Ben Harper (Originally: The Verve)

Ben Harper has a way of making songs better as with this Verve song about as Richard Ashcroft put it:

There’s a new track I’ve just written […] It goes ‘the drugs don’t work, they just make me worse, and I know I’ll see your face again’. That’s how I’m feeling at the moment. They make me worse, man. But I still take ’em. Out of boredom and frustration you turn to something else to escape.

Harper brings a subtle vulnerability to this track as if he were actually speaking this to a loved one. The Verve version was a little more gruff, but beautiful nonetheless. Richard Ashcroft is a highly underrated lyricist & never was that made more evident than in this version.

#1 – Long, Long, Long – Jim James (Originally: The Beatles)

Earlier this year Jim James of My Morning Jacket, quietly released a 6 song EP under the moniker Yim Yames covering some of his favorite George Harrison songs. It went mostly unnoticed by critics as it was released primarily online, but it was perhaps the best thing recorded all year. This is one of my favorite Beatle songs from the White Album & James captures the essence of the track with the echoed brilliance of the vocals. If ever a cover song moved me I can not remember when one did it like this one. It is not merely faithful to the original, but luminous in it’s own right.

Music News 07-08-09

A lot of things going on this week. For some reason Beck is on his game lately doing things that no other artist consider doing, but maybe he’s just smarter than everyone else.

  • Beck started a new section to go along with his Record Club. It’s called Irrelevant Topics & he basically interviews other artists about whatever he feels like talking about. This week it’s Tom Waits & it’s a fascinating read if you’ve got the time.
  • Trent Reznor changed his mind & decided to play more shows in the U.S., but only small venues. Like the Wiltern. Should be awesome.
  • The NY Times reported yesterday that Internet Radio & Record Labels have come to an agreement in regards to royalties. Which, to me, is bullshit. I’m sorry, but radio stations don’t pay anything to artists or labels. They pay maybe a few cents per song  to ASCAP/BMI but this is what Internet/Satellite stations now have to pay.

Many of the streaming music sites had argued that all sites should pay a percentage of revenue rather than a per-song fee. They added that satellite radio stations pay a cut of their revenue, while broadcast stations pay nothing to artists and labels. Under the new agreement, though, almost all Internet radio stations will pay the new, lower fee for each song, because that will be more than 25 percent of revenue.

Hope Sandoval – Blanchard

  • Great new video from Blitzen Trapper. “Black River Killer” – Just as good a song as “Furr” but an even better video.
  • 31 million people watched the Michael Jackson on T.V. yesterday, plus millions more online (myself included) according to the Huffington Post. 28 million watched the American Idol finale & 38 million watched President Obama’s inauguration.

Top 250 Albums of All-Time 250-245

#250 The Dirty South – Drive-By Truckers

Drive-By Truckers are one of those bands you just can’t get out of your head & this album is the best example of their significance. Lead singer Patterson Hood’s voice in “Goddamn Lonely Love” exemplifies more than just about any other song the anguish one feels when losing someone they love. The Dirty South is a great album with a sound that is redefining the resurgent alt-country movement today.

Drive-By TruckersGoddamn Lonely Love

#249 – Frank’s Wild Years – Tom Waits

Tom Waits takes on so many different styles on Frank’s Wild Years that you’d almost think it was a compilation album. From the falsetto samba of “Temptation” to the Sinatraesque big band “Straight to the Top (Vegas)” to what would later become the theme to the gritty HBO drama “The Wire“, “Way Down in a Hole” Waits keeps you on your toes. Never one to be complacent, he does not fit any musical genre, perhaps by design.

Tom WaitsStraight to the Top (Vegas)

Tom Waits – Way Down in the Hole

#248 – Diamonds on the Inside – Ben Harper

Diamonds on the Inside shows off both the versatility of Ben Harper’s vocals & delves into questions of morality as his most gospel offering yet. Harper is truly dynamic in his rendering of “Amen Omen” with a steady crescendo towards the chorus that explodes with cymbals, piano & the heavy strum of an acoustic guitar while Harper remains calm if not pleading in his vocals.

Ben HarperAmen Omen

Ben Harper – When It’s Good

#247 – …And Out Come the Wolves – Rancid

In true punk rock fashion Tim Armstrong’s vocals are nearly unintelligible, but could you imagine any other voice singing “Ruby Soho“? The classic hooks made …And Out Come the Wolves a staple in any punk fan’s arsenal when going to see a show at Koo’s Cafe or Chain Reaction or at the now defunct Foothill where I saw Rancid play a surprise free show right after this album came out in 1995. This album was the 90s version of London Calling with raw energy that has yet to be duplicated by them since.

RancidRuby Soho

Rancid – Olympia Wa.

#246 – Duran Duran – Duran Duran

Commonly known as “The Wedding Album” this marked the return of Duran Duran after a string of disappointing albums and being written off as a 80s teeny-bopper band. With the underwater feeling that “Come Undone” emits & Simon Le Bon asking you,”Who do you need? Who do you love, when you come undone?” this album proved the critics wrong & kept Duran Duran touring throughout the 90s & made this album an instant classic.

Duran DuranCome Undone

#245 – Otis Redding in Person at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go – Otis Redding

From the beginning of the trumpets of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” to the that final thud of “Respect” you simply can’t stop listening. You can feel the soul in Otis’ voice. You can practically see the sweat dripping off him as he covers James Brown’sPapa’s Got a Brand New Bag” but the true jewels of this album are “Pain in My Heart” & his granting a fan’s screaming request for “These Arms of Mine” which he sings with absolute perfection.

Otis ReddingPain in My Heart

Otis Redding – These Arms of Mine