For the final installment of my celebration of Tom’s incredible talent, I have chosen the song that makes me smile, shudder, feel sad and happy all at the same time. It’s the epitome of urban blues, jazz, beat poetry, paying homage to film noir, road movies, and still managing to stay so cool it melts your socks.
The first time I got to see Tom live was in London, November 1987. He was touring Franks Wild Years, but threw in a lot of Rain Dogs as well. For the most part, the audience were pretty subdued and static, seated, politely clapping at all the right times. I was so excited I couldn’t contain the groove, and when he started playing the rhumba version ‘Straight to the Top’ a couple of songs into the show, I jumped up and start dancing, shouting “Play it Tom, play it!” – that was a good gig.
Tom, I fucking love you; thank you for making such wonderful music, and for entertaining me for so many years, and thank you for being such an influence on my own creative spirit.
Well small change got rained on with his own .38 and nobody flinched down by the arcade and the marquise weren’t weeping they went stark ravin’ mad and the cabbies were the only ones that really had it made cause his cold trousers were twisted and the sirens high and shrill and crumpled in his fist was a five dollar bill and the naked mannikins with their cheshire grins and the raconteurs and roustabouts said buddy come on in cause the dreams ain’t broken down here now… they’re walkin’ with a limp now that
small change got rained on with his own .38 and nobody flinched down by the arcade and the burglar alarm’s been disconnected and the newsmen start to rattle and the cops are tellin’ jokes about some whore house in Seattle and the fire hydrants plead the 5th Amendment and the furniture’s bargains galore but the blood is by the juke box on an old linoleum floor and it’s a hot rain on 42nd Street and now the umbrellas ain’t got a chance and the newsboy’s a lunatic with stains on his pants cause…
small change got rained on with his own .38 and no one’s gone over to close his eyes and there’s a racing form in his pocket circled Blue Boots in the 3rd and the cashier at the clothing store he didn’t say a word as the siren tears the night in half and someone lost his wallet well it’s surveillance of assailants if that’s whachawannacallit but the whores still smear on and they all look like but their mouths cut just like razor blades and their eyes are like stilettos and her radiator’s steaming and her teeth are in a wreck now she won’t let you kiss her but what the hell did you expect and the gypsies are tragic and if you wanna to buy perfume, well they’ll bark you down like carneys…sell you Christmas cards in June but…
small change got rained on with his own .38 and his headstone’s a gumball machine no more chewing gum or baseball cards or overcoats or dreams and someone is hosing down the sidewalk and he’s only in his teens
small change got rained on with his own .38 and a fist full of dollars can’t change that and someone copped his watch fob and someone got his ring and the newsboy got his pork pie Stetson hat and the tuberculosis old men at the Nelson wheeze and cough and someone will head South until this whole thing cools off cause small change got rained on with his own .38 small change got rained on with his own .38
I couldn’t find a decent live performance of this track, but it is one of my favourites and one of Tom’s classics. I guess I like it because it emphasises the complete avant garde, dada-esque, surealist beauty of his work. The words, whilst lyrical and sensible, offer an edge of insanity that is obviously comical, but also disturbing – and the piano playing itself is wonderfully broken.
I have heard people talking about Tom’s live performances, saying that he is a natural and spontaneous artist; he is not. He is a brilliant showman and performer; every thing he does (aside from the odd adlib) is rehearsed and perfected, and designed to look unplanned. He is vaudevillian to the core of his being.
The Piano has been Drinking (not me)
The piano has been drinking my neck tie is asleep and the combo went back to New York the jukebox has to take a leak and the carpet needs a haircut and the spotlight looks like a prison break cause the telephone is out of cigarettes and the balcony is on the make and the piano has been drinking
the piano has been drinking and the menus are all freezing and the lightman’s blind in one eye and he can’t see out of the other and the piano tuner’s got a hearing aid and showed up with his mother and the piano has been drinking
the piano has been drinking cause the bouncer is a Sumo wrestler cream-puff casper milk toast and the owner is a mental midget with the I.Q. of a fencepost cause the piano has been drinking
the piano has been drinking and you can’t find your waitress with a Geiger counter and she hates you and your friends and you just can’t get served without her and the box-office is drooling and the bar stools are on fire and the newspapers were fooling and the ashtrays have retired and the piano has been drinking
the piano has been drinking the piano has been drinking not me, not me, not me, not me, not me
A vast proportion of Tom’s work is focused on the people and places in our societies that we often forget or chose to ignore. Even though Tom’s work may have a beautiful sense of irony and elements of sarcasm, the words he writes never fail to strike home the fact that while we live our comfortable lives, there are others who are not always so lucky for what ever reason.
Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis
Hey Charlie I’m pregnant and living on 9th Street right above a dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue and I stopped takin dope and I quit drinkin whiskey and my old man plays the trombone and works out at the track
he says that he loves me even though it’s not his baby he says that he’ll raise him up like he would his own son and he gave me a ring that was worn by his mother and he takes me out dancin every Saturday night
and hey Charlie I think about you everytime I pass a fillin station on account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair and I still have that record of Little Anthony and the Imperials but someone stole my record player now how do you like that?
hey Charlie I almost went crazy after Mario got busted
I went back to Omaha to live with my folks but everyone I used to know was either dead or in prison so I came back to Minneapolis this time I think I’m gonna stay
hey Charlie I think I’m happy for the first time since my accident and I wish I had all the money we used to spend on dope I’d buy me a used car lot and I wouldn’t sell any of em I’d just drive a different car every day dependin on how I feel
hey Charlie for chrissakes if you want to know the truth of it I don’t have a husband he don’t play the trombone I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer and Charlie hey I’ll be eligible for parole come Valentine’s day
There’s a house on my block that’s abandoned and cold Folks moved out of it a long time ago and they took all their things and they never came back Looks like it’s haunted with the windows all cracked and everyone calls it the house, the house where nobody lives.
Once it held laughter Once it held dreams Did they throw it away Did they know what it means Did someone’s heart break or did someone do somebody wrong?
Well the paint was all cracked It was peeled off of the wood Papers were stacked on the porch where I stood and the weeds had grown up just as high as the door There were birds in the chimney and an old chest of drawers Looks like no one will ever come back to the House where nobody lives
Once it held laughter Once it held dreams Did they throw it away Did they know what it means Did someone’s heart break or did someone do somebody wrong?
So if you find someone someone to have, someone to hold Don’t trade it for silver Don’t trade it for gold I have all of life’s treasures and they are fine and they are good They remind me that houses Are just made of wood What makes a house grand Ain’t the roof or the doors If there’s love in a house It’s a palace for sure Without love It ain’t nothin but a house A house where nobody lives
Without love it ain’t nothin But a house, A house where Nobody lives.
The album “Heartattack & Vine” has always been one of my favourites, and to me the whole thing is a work of poetry; from the slow groove of the opening title track to the heart-wrenching sadness of the final ballad, it is a masterpiece.
But when I first heard the album I was just getting into blues, and there is one song that stands out the most for me as an anthem for all the raw street imagery of urban-blues. It is like a cross between Charles Bukowski and Elmore Leonard, with a small trippy slice of William Burroughs thrown in.
I spent all my money in a Mexican whorehouse baby cross the street from a Catholic church and I wiped off my revolver and I buttoned up my burgundy shirt
I shot the morning in the back with my red wings on told the sun he better go back down and if I can find a book of matches I’m goin to burn this hotel down
you got to tell me brave captain why are the wicked so strong how do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves his porch light on
well I dropped thirty grand on the nugget slots I had to sell my ass on Fremont Street and the drummer said theres sanctuary over at the bagdad room
oh and now thats one for the money two for the show three to get ready and go man go I said tell me mister Siegel how do I get out of here
Willard’s knocked out on a bottle of heat drivin dangerous curves across the dirty sheets he said man you ought to see her when her parents are gone man you ought to hear her when the sirens on
I said tell me brave captain why are the wicked so strong how do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves the porch light on
don’t you know that ain’t no broken bottle that I picked up in my headlights on the other side of the Nevada line where they live hard die young and have a good lookin corpse every time
well you know the pit boss said: I should keep movin this is where you go when you die so I shot a black beauty and I kissed her right between the eyes
oh well Willard’s knocked out on a bottle of heat drivin dangerous curves across the dirty sheets he said when the bitch is wound up and her parents are gone man you ought to hear her with the siren on
I said tell me brave captain why are the wicked so strong how do the angels get to sleep when the devil leaves his porch light on
I spent all my money now in a Mexican whorehouse cross the street from a Catholic church and then I wiped off my revolver and I buttoned up my burgundy shirt
I shot the morning in the back with my red wings on I told the sun he’d better go back down and if I can find a book of matches I’m goin to burn this hotel down
well it’s one for the money two for the show I said three to get ready and go man go I said tell me mister Siegel how do I get out of here
When my wife and I got married, I borrowed these words from Tom to let everyone know just how much I love her. Thanks Tom.
A Little Trip To Heaven
Little trip to Heaven on the wings of your love Banana moon is shining in the sky Feel like I’m in Heaven when you’re with me Know that I’m in heaven when you smile Though we’re stuck here on the ground
I got something that I’ve found and it’s you
And I don’t have to take no trip to outer space All I have to do is look at your face And before I know it, I’m in orbit around you Thanking my lucky stars that I’ve found you When I see your constellation Honey, you’re my inspiration and it’s you
You’re my North star when I’m lost and feeling blue The sun is breaking through the clouds Don’t you, don’t you know it’s true? Honey, all the other stars seem dim around you Thanking my lucky stars that I’ve found you When I see your smiling face, honey I know nothing ever going to take your place and it’s you
And it’s you, and it’s you And it’s you, and it’s you, and it’s you And it’s you, and it’s you
Tom Waits has probably been one of the most influential artists of my life; and when I say artist, I mean in the whole sense of the word. He is a musician, performer, poet, and a complete work of art as a person. So, this week I celebrate his impact on my life with some of my favourite pieces.
Today is “Step Right Up”; I first heard this song (on the album “Small Change”, which we will revisit this later week) in 1986, and it sealed my admiration of him as a poet. This is a great live performance from 1977, the lyrics are below, and I hope you enjoy it.
Step Right Up
Step right up, step right up, step right up, Everyone’s a winner, bargains galore That’s right, you too can be the proud owner Of the quality goes in before the name goes on One-tenth of a dollar, one-tenth of a dollar, we got service after sales You need perfume? We got perfume, how ‘bout an engagement ring? Something for the little lady, something for the little lady, Something for the little lady, hmm Three for a dollar We got a year-end clearance, we got a white sale And a smoke-damaged furniture, you can drive it away today Act now, act now, and receive as our gift, our gift to you They come in all colours, one size fits all No muss, no fuss, no spills, you’re tired of kitchen drudgery Everything must go, going out of business, going out of business Going out of business sale Fifty percent off original retail price, skip the middle man Don’t settle for less How do we do it? how do we do it? Volume, volume, turn up the volume Now you’ve heard it advertised, don’t hesitate Don’t be caught with your drawers down, Don’t be caught with your drawers down You can step right up, step right up
That’s right, it filets, it chops, it dices, slices, Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn And it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school It gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots, It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens And it finds that slipper that’s been at large under the chaise lounge for several weeks And it plays a mean Rhythm Master, It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar And it’s only a dollar, step right up, it’s only a dollar, step right up
‘Cause it forges your signature If not completely satisfied, mail back unused portion of product For complete refund of price of purchase Step right up Please allow thirty days for delivery, don’t be fooled by cheap imitations You can live in it, live in it, laugh in it, love in it Swim in it, sleep in it, Live in it, swim in it, laugh in it, love in it Removes embarrassing stains from contour sheets, that’s right And it entertains visiting relatives, it turns a sandwich into a banquet Tired of being the life of the party? Change your shorts, change your life, change your life Change into a nine-year-old Hindu boy, get rid of your wife, And it walks your dog, and it doubles on sax Doubles on sax, you can jump back Jack, see you later alligator See you later alligator And it steals your car It gets rid of your gambling debts, it quits smoking It’s a friend, and it’s a companion, And it’s the only product you will ever need Follow these easy assembly instructions it never needs ironing Well it takes weights off hips, bust, thighs, chin, midriff, Gives you dandruff, and it finds you a job, it is a job And it strips the phone company free take ten for five exchange, And it gives you denture breath And you know it’s a friend, and it’s a companion And it gets rid of your traveler’s checks It’s new, it’s improved, it’s old-fashioned Well it takes care of business, never needs winding, Never needs winding, never needs winding Gets rid of blackheads, the heartbreak of psoriasis, Christ, you don’t know the meaning of heartbreak, buddy,
C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon ‘Cause it’s effective, it’s defective, it creates household odors, It disinfects, it sanitizes for your protection It gives you an erection, it wins the election Why put up with painful corns any longer? It’s a redeemable coupon, no obligation, no salesman will visit your home We got a jackpot, jackpot, jackpot, prizes, prizes, prizes, all work guaranteed How do we do it, how do we do it, how do we do it, how do we do it We need your business, we’re going out of business We’ll give you the business Get on the business end of our going-out-of-business sale Receive our free brochure, free brochure Read the easy-to-follow assembly instructions, batteries not included Send before midnight tomorrow, terms available, Step right up, step right up, step right up
You got it buddy: the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away Step right up, you can step right up, you can step right up C’mon step right up Get away from me kid, you bother me… Step right up, step right up, step right up, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon Step right up, you can step right up, c’mon and step right up, C’mon and step right up