Sunday, August 19, 2012

Five Tom Waits Songs That Always Make Me Cry

Tom is one of my top three favorite musicians.  Many people don't like his gravely, just-swallowed-a-broken-beer-bottle voice and some of his music can be difficult to pin down but he's a superb songwriter and storyteller.  His lyrics are rich with descriptions of down and out people, seedy places, and the night, just to name a few of his favorite subjects.

There aren't many songs that make me cry, much less cry every time I hear them.  Below is a list of such songs:

5.  Invitation to the Blues - Small Change (1976).  This song doesn't make me cry each time but it's one of the few songs that when I hear it, I can't believe I'm alive.  It's about a man who walks into a drug store/diner while on his way out of town and falls in love with the beautiful waitress working there.  The song is an entire story capsulated in little over 5 minutes.  This isn't a sad song but it's marvelous storytelling and the narrator is a wonderfully fleshed out character who comes up with a comprehensive backstory for this woman who looks "like Rita Hayworth" as he watches her go about her job.

4.  Jersey Girl - Heartattack and Vine (1980).  I know, I know.  This song is strongly associated by Bruce Springsteen but Tom wrote and performed it first.  I like The Boss' version but it doesn't come close to this one.  Tom perfectly captures all the longing and tenderness that goes with being so much in love with someone that he can't help but shout it out to the world.

3.  Soldier's Things - Swordfishtrombones (1983).  The meaning isn't entirely clear in this song.  It's about a yard sale where a soldier's things are being sold.  Some people think the soldier is the one selling the items but I've always thought the seller was his mother or wife and the soldier is deceased.  A quiet song, very moving, with a beautiful piano accompaniment.

2.  Martha - Closing Time (1973).  Tom was in his mid-twenties when this debut album came out but Martha is one of the truest, most perfect love songs I've ever heard.  An old man, Tom Frost, calls up Martha and asks to meet her for coffee.  They haven't seen each other in 40 years and spend time getting caught up, talking about their spouses and kids, and their lives in general.  Tom and Martha were lovers all those years ago and he is still desperately in love with her.  You can practically feel the old man trembling as he sits at that tiny wooden table in some coffee shop, staring at the women who has haunted his days and nights for so long.

1.  Fish and Bird - Alice (2002).  Alice is my favorite Tom Waits album, not surprising for its Alice in Wonderland elements.  This song is a KILLER!  It's about a small seabird and a whale who fall madly in love but can't be together because of their inability to live in each other's environment.  The story is told by a sailor.  The first time I heard it, I bawled my head off and after the second time I couldn't listen to it for a long time.  This little fable of a story consistently grabs my heartstrings and practically tears them out.  Obviously, it speaks to me on a very deep level.

Whew!  *wipes eyes*  Really enjoyed writing this post.  Hope you enjoy reading it.

1 comment:

Jo Jardin said...

Ol' 55 always gets me welled up...reminds me of all the hope I had driving from Missouri to the Bay Area in 2004.

But one of yours touches me too..."Got no time for the corner boys..."