Tom Waits – “Bad as Me”
“Saturdaynightitis…it’s what happens to your arm when you hang it around a chair all night at the movies or in some bar, trying to make points with a pretty girl.” Tom Waits is the rambling bard we all toast to when it’s closing time at a backwater trucker haunt — even if there’s not a soul in sight. He’s every bit the auteur that Burroughs, Thompson or Dylan ever aspired to. Someone who’s aware of his unique American condition, wrestling with it one whiskey at a time. It’s been quite some time, 2004’s highly acclaimed Real Gone, since him and wife Kathleen Brennan have assembled original material. He, along with some guys named Keith Richards and David Hidalgo, recorded the 13 barroom stompers in a “reasonably short period of time” earlier this year. Remarkable that such brevity can capture an eternity of hard-fought half-truths.
“Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them. Sometimes you end up with nothing but a mouthful of feathers.” Fortunately for us, this clandestine cat gently pins the essence of each punch-drunk ballad inside his bourbon soaked pincers with alarming ease. Frenetic horns and say-it-don’t-spray-it caterwaul thrust you into the Great Northern Migration on “Chicago” circa 1900 — it feels like dodging Model Ts’ and beef barons, barely able to keep up with the changing times. Like previous Waits albums, the only thing resembling a traditional drum set is the industrial backbeat on “Raised Right Men”; subtly punctuated by what sounds like a dying tugboat horn.
“I’ve learned how to be different musical characters without feeling like I’m eclipsing myself. On the contrary, you’ll discover a whole family living inside yourself.” For instance, he surreptitiously channels Billie Holiday on the sleepy blues number “Talking at the Same Time” which is replete with down-on-your-luck couplets like “Everybody knows umbrellas/Cost more than the rain”. His tried and true rambler theme is front and center on “Face to the Highway”; a maudlin triumph that is as ice cold as anything off Small Change or The Heart of Saturday Night.
“If there’s one thing you can say about mankind, there’s nothing kind about man.” This mantra holds especially true on “Hell Broke Luce”, a broken soldier’s anthem lamenting “I had a good home but I left/ I had a good home but I left/right/left” amidst an ominous Muslim call-to-prayer loop and and thunderous subterranean acoustic machinery. Of course he decides to end on a semi-sweet note with the Venetian lullaby — accordion and mandolin included — “New Year’s Eve” where we finally get to hear a long-awaited recitation of Robert Burns “should Old acquaintance be forgot”.
All famous quotes aside, the old man might be the only inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to only have one gold album to his name (2006’s compilation Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards). But of course during his induction speech earlier this year he couldn’t help but drop another platinum kernel of wisdom: “They say I have no hits and I’m difficult to work with, and they say that like it’s a bad thing. The only worse thing than being in the Hall of Fame is not being in the Hall of Fame.”
Listen to Bad as Me in its entirety here.