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tom
see/hear Volume 1 here… http://wp.me/p28Skk-1N 

Listen to Volume 2 here & read descriptions below… http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLpFZMU5hBh3sTCPUdQ_cG7HrxTixgCjtX

PICTURE IN A FRAME – One of my favorite vocals by anyone, ever. A traditional chord pattern with simple, direct lyrics. Could’ve been written by Willie Nelson, who covered it years later. The sax that appears mid-way lends an elegant touch. The occasional creak of piano pedals prevent it from being too smooth. Extraneous noise seemed a recurring texture of the MULE VARIATIONS sessions. The whole record has the feel of a hi-tech, digital field recording.

SUCH A SCREAM – “The plow is red, the well is full/Inside the doll house of her skull/A cheetah coat fills up with steam/She’s such a scream.” “Shovelling coal inside my dreams.” Trading the wasp wing shaker buzz, & garbage pail percussion of the studio version for tight, full-band syncopated sax-funk, this concert take goes right into James Brown at the Apollo territory. From studio album to live album, you can time-warp the entire history of the blues, from African Voodoo chant right straight through to the Checkerboard Lounge. If that ain’t enough, the lyrics cut & paste in the best Burroughs tradition. Tom would later work with the Beat master on THE BLACK RIDER stage production, which actually featured William S. on lead vocals for a tune on the soundtrack album. Singing about removing your skin, & dancing around in your bones, he actually sounded more terrifying than Waits. No mean feat.

SHINY THINGS – Another short one. One of my favorite melodic pieces, back porch banjo mirroring the exquisite vocal line. I like how each section starts immediately after the previous one, not letting the bar play out. I rarely pay attention to lyrics unless something grabs me, & this song starts so curiously. “The things a crow puts in his nest/They’re always things he finds that shine best.” I heard that, & had my ear glued to the speaker. You could go anywhere with an opening line like that. Of course, Tom the romantic declares his one true wish in the final lines, “To be king there in your eyes/To be your only shiny thing.”

BLIND LOVE – This is as close to classic country & western as Tom gets. Keith Richards wastes little time introducing himself on the electric twanger, in full FARAWAY EYES mode. His tattered vocal peeks through occasionally as well. This whole track sounds like it could’ve been a late seventies/early eighties Glimmer Twins out-take.

YESTERDAY IS HERE – Quite the beguiling set of lyrics. It’s all set to a whistle-able, Disney-in-hell melody (a hellody?). Fun fact: The title was given to Tom by the main Munster himself, actor Fred Gwynne.

I’M STILL HERE – OK, after much deliberation, I’m proclaiming this the saddest of all Tom Waits songs. Clocks in at under 2 minutes, with some subtle orchestration nicely bubbling under the piano halfway through. The tag line, that universal lament, “You haven’t looked at me that way in years…” I almost lose it on that final title phrase, where his voice pushes the higher notes. He sounds almost too heartbroken to reach them.

JESUS GONNA BE HERE SOON –  This is the centre-piece of my play list, & one of the most puzzling songs in an already mercurial catalogue. Lyrically, at first it seems an irony-free, gospel-blues in the Blind Willie Johnson vein. Upon further study though, cracks in the armour begin to appear. A weariness in which the singer must trudge on convincing himself that salvation is just around the corner, though nothing in this long,hard life has given any indication for that to be true.
I couldn’t resist sharing 3 unique versions, as this song morphed from studio to the stages of the world.
First up is the album recording, stripped down to mostly gut-string bass & vocal. Then a live take (WATCH THE VIDEO IN THIS ONE).  Tom tosses glitter in to the crowd, & does his doom dance along to a Booker T. style, Stax shuffle. The stage is covered in sawdust, so that when he stomps, a cloud arises. In 1999, this was usually the second song sung from the stage, after he entered from the rear of the venue shout/singing the kick-off number, THE BLACK RIDER, through a bullhorn. I wish I could’ve included the delirious Vancouver version here, but this is almost as good.
The final version here is also live, but the accompaniment has a new dominating guitar line, backed by a Louisiana swamp dirge.

TIME –  A rare instance where lyrics also work as on-the-page poetry. Instant classic-just add music. More than a hint of mid-sixties Dylan, what with name checks of a parade of odd characters. A weeping Napoleon, the invisible fiance, & Matilda, among others. “The wind is making speeches, & the rain sounds like a round of applause.” “Memory’s like a train, you can see it getting smaller as it pulls away/& the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget, that history puts a saint in every dream.”

GREEN GRASS – “& if the sky should fall, mark my words/We’ll catch mockingbirds.”  The melody is a subtle, minor key variation on the New Orleans funeral march, FLEE AS A BIRD/DIDN’T HE RAMBLE. That songs title is even quoted within the lyrics here, sort of like Dylan tipping his hat to the ST. JAMES INFIRMARY in BLIND WILLIE MCTELL. Fitting, as the subject matter seems to be Tom talking to a former lover visiting his grave. This live take has him reaching down to perhaps his lowest register vocal ever. Love that down-the-spiral-staircase melody. A rare (unless you like Guns N’ Roses) whistle-solo. How can you go wrong when your opening line is, “Lay your head where my heart used to be.”?

DOWN THERE BY THE TRAIN –  No sinner is beyond redemption in this solo-piano gospel. A cavalcade of history’s most reviled figures meet up for a ride into heaven. Tom testifying “I saw Judas Iscariot carrying John Wilkes Boothe.”  This song first appeared in a stellar take by Johnny Cash on his Rick Rubin produced comeback. In interview after interview, you could hear just how thrilled even a grizzled old vet like Tom was. The Man in Black sings the Black Rider. “I’ve never asked forgiveness & I’ve never said a prayer/I’ve never given of myself I’ve never truly cared/I’ve hurt the ones who loved me I’m still raising Cain/I’ve taken the low road and if you’ve done the same…”

THE PIANO HAS BEEN DRINKING  (Not Me) – I always picture this song taking place a few hours after BAD LIVER & A BROKEN HEART (see pt 1 of play list), another song from the same record. A short, but perfect evocation of that blur of a night out at the dive bar. This insane TV performance is from a parody talk show hosted by Martin Mull & Fred Willard, complete with mock interview chock-full of one-liners. Vintage 70′s in every garish way. Must be seen to be believed. “The carpet needs a haircut, & the spotlight looks like a prison break.” “You can’t find your waitress with a Geiger counter/& she hates you & your friends & you just can’t get served without her.”

IN THE COLISEUM – The only version that counts, as far as I’m concerned, is the astounding concert arrangement from the 1999 tour. The setting is ancient Rome, where women, “control their men, with razors & with wrists.” Marc Ribot laying down the most unorthodox lead guitar lines behind the vocal. The lyric, “This one’s for the balcony, & this one’s for the floor,” seems a tailor made audience pleaser. The follow-up line, “As the Senators decapitate the Presidential whore”, umm, not so much! Again, Vancouver 1999 is definitive for me, ranking as the concert I most kick myself for missing. This doesn’t hit the heights of that, but it is from the same tour.

FALL OF TROY – Assuming this was some sort of ancient history lesson, I used listen through without much thought, as it’s on the massive ORPHANS box of rarities, & that’s a lot of material to digest. Turns out, it’s at least partly about someone named Troy! Then one day, I found this great radio performance (possibly it’s only ever live airing), & I could not get the first or last lines out of my head. “It’s the same with men as with horses & dogs. Nothing wants to die.” “My legs ache, my heart is sore, the well is full of pennies.” A sudden, ominous minor key chord ends the proceedings. An American tragedy sketched out with the finest of detail. “It’s hard to say grace, & to sit in the place/Of someone missing at the table/Mom’s hair sprayed tight/& her face in her hands/Watching TV for answers to me/After all she’s only human/& she’s trying to find her own way home.”

DEAD AND LOVELY – Film noir jazz. This has one of those melodies where you can tell exactly what’s coming next, but that in no way diminishes the impact. One of his best recorded ensemble pieces, his son Casey on drums. The bridge brilliantly inverses its lyric on the reprise, with Tom first warning, “never let a fool kiss ya” , before sounding the equally wise, “never let a kiss fool ya.”

JOHNSBURG, ILLINOIS – A few things set this song apart from being just another tear-jerker. First, its brevity. At a buck & a half, it is the shortest song on my list. Second, it’s specificity. Tom’s wife Kathleen is actually from the title city. Her impact on his career , especially as a co-writer, should not be underestimated. Finally, that slightly dissonant resolution on the piano during the final phrase is unexpectedly jarring (in a good way). More from Tom. “It’s just like a feeling of a sailor somewhere in a cafe, who opens his wallet & turns to the guy next to him & shows him the picture while he’s talking about something else & says: “Oh, here. That’s her.” & then closes his wallet”

CONEY ISLAND BABY – If you want a carnival waltz that sounds like it’s being played from a scratchy 78 through a 1920′s phonograph, then look no further. “When she’s with me, I’m the richest man in the town.” A woman so perfect that, “the stars make wishes on her eyes.” That bridge is just perfect, with his voice slightly breaking at the high notes. “She’s a princess in a red dress. She’s the moon in the mist to me.”

GOD’S AWAY ON BUSINESS/MISERY IS THE RIVER OF THE WORLD – Apocalypse now, cabaret style. I see these as sister songs, from the same record. As nihilistic as it gets, but after all, “If there’s one thing you can say about mankind, it’s that there’s nothing kind about man”. ”All the good in the world you can fit inside a thimble, & still have room for you & me.” Our sages advice? “Everybody row!”

I’LL SHOOT THE MOON – Let’s cap this off with something silly. A romantic huckster’s plea. I thought this was a cover until only recently. A cross between ALL OF ME, & MINNIE THE MOOCHER.  Wonder what happens if you call that phone number?!
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the power of negative prayer album cover

cheap words like happiness

So you went to private school
Memorized the protocol
Gave some nickels to the poor
Until they tore the Berlin Wall
Then your chips were all cashed in
On the bible that you read
At the Vegas Holiday Inn
The blackjack dealer said

Cheap words like happiness
Will let you down

There was nothing left to say
In the revenge of Kalamazoo
All the alligators proved to you
That all I said was true

And that’s why I’m still the king
I bring a sense of attitude/deja vu to all I do…

Who’s gonna sing you songs
When you get the V-chip blues?
Just like Nixon at the Alamo
You’ll be forced to use

the king of unrequited love
We strolled Parisian county fairs
Without regret or care
For heaven or the stars above
It’s old but ended up in shades
Crowned me king in the parade
The king of unrequited love

In Spain box-office broke the record
In London rode double-deckers
In Maine skeet-shooted doves
I’ve dined with expatriates and rebels
Who told me of the levels
Between the gods and devils
I’m the king of unrequited love

amaretto
Back in Amarillo
I keep a picture by the seashells
Name is Amaretto
Smart enough to win the Nobel

Where to find the magic healing touch?
When you’re skipping double-dutch

Amaretto phone me when you land
Whether you’re in Belfast or Japan
Every telegram you send to me
I’ll go in the yard and plant a tree

Working in a steel mill
Memory is off from five to two
Scarfing down the diet pills
Less I have to feel the way I do

Do you believe in fairy tails?

carousels
All I got is coming apart at the seams
When I wake it’s all been a dream
All those things I just can’t explain
There’s no clouds but it’s starting to rain
There’s no sense in playing this game
When our intentions are one in the same
So sneak on in into my room
I’m gonna make your flowers bloom

I see you coming back to me
I dream you riding carousels
Around the setting sun

Now I might not be no Einstein
But I also ain’t no Frankenstein
I stayed with you while the water was drawn
Until all the bubbles in the bath were gone
I know we’re of different kinds
You like Flinstones, I take strychnine
You don’t say thanks when I splurge, or mourn while I dirge

I see you coming back to me
I dream you riding carousels
Mad of stick of cinnamon

I see you coming back to me
I dream you riding carousels
Shooting plastic waterguns

I can see the beauty in a chocolate chip
Now I wanna feel it through your fingertips
Nice to see you showing up for school
When all the boys can do is drool
I know sometimes that you double cross
Makes me mad like a rhinocerous
But I’m willing to waive the fine
Let the band play ragtime

I see you coming back to me
I dream you riding carousels
With buttons all undone

outliving james dean
I remember the day that I outlived James Dean
I still have to beat Rimbaud and John F. Kennedy
I was sad but I was glad
For good fortune that I had

I remember the day that I outlived James Dean
I smothered my diary with a quart of kerosene
I asked why and searched the sky
For an answer way up high

satellite technology
Louder you’re fading
A voice on a tin-can wire of love
I’m dedicating
A poem on the sonar waves above
Is it so bad you never want to come back to me?
I will find you through satellite technology

I know remorses
They send me bad karma in the mail
For shooting the horses
When the pony express was thrown in jail

Do you feel safe?
Did someone make your dreams so self-assured?
I’m writing you a song
I’ll send it with a singing bird

sirens & snakes
In the alley where the rats play
Came the finale of the screenplay
Behind the church yard far from his word
All the wild cards drink liquor

Senoritas look for paradise
In beat up Chevrolets with pairs of fuzzy dice
They want to drive far but they ain’t going nowhere
They won’t be astronauts, they won’t be millionaires

Still a dream is all it takes
To keep you from burning alive
But look out for sirens and the snakes

All the gang lords are loading pistols
Their poor mothers pray to Jesus made of crystal
In the alley the deal was going down
To see which smoking gun will wear the power crown

Two little school girls from the sixth grade
Went out for ice cream at Reggie’s old arcade
They had to rush home ’cause it was getting late
They took a shortcut and walked straight into hate
Now in the alley there’s a tombstone
A bed of flowers near a broken ice cream cone
The kids play hopscotch out on the broken pavement
Near the body chalk outline engravement

losing time
It’s time to break this spell and figure out why I ain’t feeling well
The psychics on the phone they can’t really tell
I dumped my gal last night I blamed it on voodoo and kryptonite
The sex it was OK, but I’m used to dynamite

I guess I can’t forget your lips wrapped tight around that cigarette
But I still got my pictures and videocassettes
It’s never quite the same, and in the end I always kindafeel ashamed
But I can taste you on my tongue every time I breathe your name

And I’m all into you
But it’s losing time

I’m stopping this charade before I get the notebook and the razor blade
‘Cause I can’t hide my misery with parties and parades
You’re silent in your charms like the statue in the Louvre that ain’t got no arms
The mistress of your era, a goddess from the stars

I take cabs to watch you dance with the money I was gonna use to move to France
I got bruises on my neck from the dog chains of romance
I’m on your trail like a private eye, buzzing round town like a Spanish fly
I’m the twin that makes you whole, your sexy Gemini

This ship is sinking fast
We’ll save the women and children last
Take a spaceship to the sun first class

mistaken for an angel
I was out of control
Like a Saint without a soul
When the Lord came to me
Expecting big apologies

But I told her there’s only one I owe
While my eyes were danced on by a crow

When the weather warning came in from the coast
The light house tower was ocean overdosed

I was blinded I was pale
Fingertips were numb from reading braille
Vicious rumors turned you into a cliche
And the piano keys all turned a shade of grey

You peddle flesh now but one day you were mistaken for an angel

The rooster’s crowing cock a doodle doo
At the house of Capulet and Montague
The graceful swan has taken quite a dive
Left you barely breathing, but alive

made of glass
I couldn’t find your eyes
Behind the painted mask
But then again that’s no surprise
You’re made of glass

You sweat the sunlight out
A real iconoclast
And filled the zealots all with doubt
You’re made of glass

I’ll dedicate a toast
Cause you’re a protoplast
And I hope the most that you’re the last
You’re made of glass
I burned a lot of pride

And smoked a lot of grass
But was it fun or suicide?
You’re made of glass

I needed you to know
That you’re the queen of crass
You’re making devils in the snow
You’re made of glass!

we are the meat
Life is what I do when I’m not dreaming
But that’s not too much time at all
I need to find a hobby rewarding and redeeming
But all the numbers have been called

We are the meat
We are the ones devoured
I’m not a coward, but I’m not too happy now

We all grew up under a legend’s shadow
Graffiti vomit art on fresco walls
History’s down on me I’m like a widow
Who never even saw the wedding hall

We are the meat
We will be trapped under jaws
We haven’t broken any laws
Or shot the sacred cow

untitled heartbreaker
It was there in plain black and white
So plain
The net worth of my name
Gossip spread by Visa

In the town of vicious lies
The town
I wrecked the evening gown
Drew a mustache on the Mona Lisa

It takes time to make things clear
Full of hope and fear
I’d like to know the way
To bury yesterday

gonna love you
Girls only like guys who treat them cruel
If you’re the exception that proves the rule
Give me a call on the telephone wire
And let me know if your love’s for hire

I’m gonna love you
Whatever it takes
I’m gonna love you
’til my loving breaks

I’m a veteran at this game
Want in for free just mention my name
I’ve lived through red scares and bulletbras
Now I’m making you my brand new cause

I got no reason to be here
You got no reason to stay
If you let me set up my drums I’ll play

I’m gonna hold you like you long to be held
Squeeze your breath away
If you let me buy your drugs I’ll pay

slipping through
Was I just another notch on your bedpost?
Flaming camels were burning in my head this morning
Tripping over the stem of my red rose
On the floor by the trash must be some sort of warning

Some people embrace misery
Some people just can’t see
When happiness is there you’ve got to grab it
Now you’re all alone but once you had it

Were we not in the same conversation?
Did I not tell you your life is yours mine is mine?
Still you think this is some sort of training
For a war where emotions are weapons in mind

Slipping through my fingers
Slipping through my heart
Slipping through the love we tore apart
Slipping through my doorway
Back to the unknown
Back to where we both were so alone
Slipping through my good side
Right into my noose
Revenge for all the pride that you seduced

Don’t see how you misread my intentions
But I guess it’s my luck that you’re too good to try
Thanks for putting me back in the garbage
Where I live just to lick up your whimsy like wine

Some people deny alchemy with ambiguity
They kiss you on the mouth and steal your breathing
Leave you asking why until you’re seething

venus demilo clocks
Little darling don’t cry
All your seasons will fly
I will declassify
All the documents you need
I will take you places
Show you funny faces
Under the steeplechases
Where the horses all run free

Venus De’Milo Clocks
In a Mona Lisa Lounge
No wonder you’re so confused
Waiting for the sky to fall down

I was so mistaken
Numbed my heart from breaking
All the money-raking
Couldn’t buy me a clue

Underneath the streetlights
I’ve been in the streetfights
Those were scary nights
But the sun is breaking through

unhooked
My best friend was a poet
Blew his brains out in Frisco
At a Bohemian nightclub
Just outside of a steel door

He wrote hymns in an ashtray
Masterpieces in matchbooks
My eyes can’t put together
All the atoms he unhooked

I’d trade it all for a back door
Don’t need my neighbors to see me
They got their nose on the window
The shape I’m in ain’t no envy

If I was somebody different
They wouldn’t give me a second look
But my skeleton’s shaky
Kinda totally unhooked

Can’t remember the last time
I dressed up for and evening
Took a girl to a moonlit park
Where her voice was the ceiling

I find the more time binds me
Into a narrow outlook
Got nothing to say to no one
Just kinda totally unhooked

the devil rules this world
I’ve got a lot of light but right now it’s a little dim
I’ve got a lot of love but you’re giving yours to him

What did he do except be cruel I wonder as I stray
It’s true the devil rules this world it’s always been that way

They put the blindfold on me and sent me down the tracks
I longed for less confusion where magic wasn’t black

Guilty just of loving you for that I paid full price
It’s true the devil rules this world, fools call it paradise

Never sat completely still with the needle in my brain
Fought for all the gravity and truth this hurt did drain

Now I’m fighting sentimental thoughts right down the garden line
It’s true the devil rules this world from hell to Eden’s vines

take my resignation
Will someone take my resignation
I’m on the way to San Antone
I’ve been outside my skin forever
Waiting for my inner voice to phone

All my regards are bound for Texas
Where something waits for me in jail
I’ll let my scars do all the talking
And hand the deputy the bail

My thumb is out there on the highway
Haven’t seen a sign for hundred miles
Will someone tell me where I’m headed
Will someone please give me a ride