Friday, January 18, 2008

A mystical sea creature you never knew about.


For someone who is, for all intents and purposes, unemployed, a blog is a wonderful idea. It's a great way to spend emotional energy that gets pent up from lack of repetition. Well, that's not me anymore.

But, I am not going to quit. No no. I will do my best to maintain the already low standards I set way back when a day couldn't start before noon.

I am once again gainfully employed at a retail auto parts store. I get up before the sun rises and as I drive home on the hard and plaqued arteries of Southern New Jersey, I am again without natural light. This morning, I found myself in my car du jour, a Mazda Miata with no radio, fanning through the cover flow of my iPod. I stopped on a record that I'd discovered for myself a few years ago, and ranted and raved about until all those around me were sick of hearing the name, Swordfishtrombones. Of course, Tom Waits is not lost on the hipster generation. His ability to write a record that could slap pop in the face a full twenty years before pop was a dirty word speaks a volume about the man who wrote it.

The way I was thinking about it today, precoffee, felt just about right. Tom Waits writes music for Americans. Dylan wrote for the Liberals, Springsteen wrote for the Conservatives, and Tom Waits writes for the mechanics and the fishermen, and the middle class men who leave their blue collar jobs to go home and read a chapter or two from Chrome Yellow, watch Un chien Andalou and go to sleep.

The opening track Underground, which is featured in the movie Robots, is a terse percussive song that is shouted at you rather than sung, an effect that only Waits can pull off, and still sound like he loves you. The song isn't just written, it's crafted. It sets a mood and tells a story that would sound cliche and overworked in any other wrapper.

The pinacle song for me on this record is 16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six. It very quickly conjures up images of a transient hobo with a gun, and sounds like it very well could have been performed on instruments found in a frieght car and performed by a group of rag-tag, down-on-their-luck ne're-do-wells who would think nothing of killing you in your sleep to steal your boots so they can boil them into soup.

The Neigborhood, track seven, is a loping eulogy for downtown America. It transports you to the places and things you knew as a child, and reminds you of how the America we once knew, with it's fond and care free memories, is gone and probably won't be coming back.

The ninth track of the record, Frank's Wild Years tell the story that we dread to empathize with, but openly sympathize with. Who hasn't thought of burning down the house you and your boring wife share to start a fresh life in Northern California? And Waits' musical style, a mix of industrial staccato blended with rhythm and blues and a taste of the avante garde, is a perfect match for his authentically American lyrics.

The title track is brings you into a dingy lounge where a washed out slodier suffering from post traumatic stress disorder drinks away his nightmare of a life. Lyrically, this song draws a vivd picture of a person who has had his fill of fitting in. And in Waits' credit, not a single stuffy literary music snob would properly know how to pronounce the word Brougham, let alone recognize one when it rolls past them.

The rest of the album is rhythmic and very approachable to even the most casual listener and nuanced enough to be enjoyable even now about twenty-five years after it's release.

And not for nothing, and not that I trust Spin as a reputable source for music information, but they did name it the second best record of all time, in 1989.

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