Tom Waits: Ironic social commentary?

I love Tom Waits. I have 10 CDs or so. I’ll eventually have them all.

As much as I enjoy his music, I can’t help thinking that much of the time he’s laughing at his listeners.


Saw him live in a small venue in the 70’s.

His humor was incredible.

I was laughing with him!

I have a CD with a 35 minute track of him talking and telling jokes. I know I’d enjoy it.

Yes, he is laughing at his listeners, and quite often pulling your leg. But it’s all in good fun. He laughs equally hard at himself (especially after he sobered up). So much of his work is just exactly about the absurdist theater that we think is human life on this planet. In Tomworld, everybody’s a character, in every sense of that word.

{Emphasis added}

Kind of what I suspect, including the bolded.

Thanks for responding.

“The piano’s been drinking.”

I love Tom Waits but I don’t know what you mean. Can you give examples? I can’t think of why anyone would do that. Are you sure that it’s not just him doing great clever work and doing the best he can? I’m mostly a fan of his 70s and 80s work.

I’ll have to think about it, drad dog. I listen and enjoy his stuff. But, I listen to “What’s he building in there?” or, “filipino box spring hog” and wonder what he was thinking. Good stuff, but still. With “What’s he’s building in there” you wonder if you shouldn’t be smirking about some sort of beat poet wannabe. “Kommienezuspadt”?

Like I say, I enjoy it all. But, I often wonder what the artist thinks I should think of it. (If, of course, one enjoys it, what else is there?)

But, when you listen to Springsteen or Mahler you think you understand what you are listening to, but not with Waits. Of course, that’s part of the fun. Is there more to it?

My interpretation is that he is a very funny clever artist who is making the most intriguing, challenging stuff he can, using a kind of beat/noir/barroom angle. So to me that shows a respect for the audience intelligence I guess. I never got the idea that he was speaking down though. And he is known as a songwriters songwriter. So if he was laughing it would be at a lot of talented fellow geniuses.

If you like ballads and piano songs you’re going to really love the 70s stuff. There’s a lot of heart on the sleeve there even with the wit. To be honest I don’t listen much to the 90s and later. Check out Burma Shave on the Foreign Affairs LP.

Well, Tinker Grey, I don’t know if you’ve picked up on my handle yet, but consider Mahler’s scherzos: isn’t he laughing at the world (and/or maybe crying too)? But the adagios show his heart.

You’ve obviously got Mule Variations; step away from “Filipino Box Spring Hog” and “What’s he Building?” for a while, and devote some time to “Hold On;” “Get Behind the Mule;” “Georgia Lee” - and then listen really hard with your heart wide open to “Take it With Me”. Meditate for a while on that, and THEN hit yourself with “Come On Up To The House” (can you tell that Mule Variations is my favorite Waits album?).

Oh, sure, there’s the Tom Fool; but there’s also Honest Tom - perhaps the last great Romantic. I don’t know how deep you are into Mahler - but I see a lot of the one in the other. Mahler’s Vienna, Tom’s America - both have festering sores underneath a gilded cover - but both have grandeur and pathos as well. If I really wanted to cry my eyes out, I’d do Mahler’s Ninth with a chaser of “Time.”

My two cents, and the last bent butt from a package of Kents.

If you have half an hour to kill, here he is on Fishing With John:


Fair enough. Perhaps, we the audience are part of the tribe and we are laughing with the chief about outsiders? (I’m probably over thinking this.)

I think Foreign Affairs is one I don’t have yet. I do have Closing Time and enjoy it. It’s one of my favorites.

Well, isn’t that serendipitous? I don’t know Mahler at all, to be honest. I was quizzing a friend at work about sopranos and he linked me to two different ones singing Mahler’s “Sehr Behalich”. So his name was near the top of the queue in my brain.

I would say that if I had to pick just one Wait’s album, “Mule Variations” would be it.

Just to be clear, I was never suggesting that Wait’s is single faceted. I think your description here is quite apt and well said. (As noted above, I’m a novice with Mahler. It sounds as if I should invest some more time in him.)

Thank you for your insights.

Thank you. Queued up.

I quite enjoy the movie Seven Psychopaths. Waits has a story line in it.

Sorry I left; had to go to bed. Takin’ an off-ramp from the Waits highway for a Coke at Mahler’s Truckstop, the piece your friend told you about is “Wir geniessen die himmlischen Freude” (very roughly, “The Joy of Heavenly Life”). This song forms the fourth movement of Gustav Mahler’s 4th Symphony (“Sehr behaglich” is Mahler’s instruction about how the soprano should sing the song: “very comfortably-cosily”: Mahler is well-known for his constant and obsessive written instructions to all the orchestral players - he’s the ultimate musical micro-manager. He was a famous conductor in his day - in fact, the most famous in Europe and America in his day - and he apparently wanted to conduct his own symphonies even after his death!)

The song is a modified version of one of several he wrote in his younger days based on a collection of poems called Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Youth’s Magic Horn”). Mahler wrote mostly symphonies and song cycles, so if you listen to “Das Himmlischen Leben” (actually, the entire symphony is one that Mahlerites routinely recommend for newbies) and want to follow up, I’d recommend the “Ruckert Lieder,” followed by his song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde, “The Song of the Earth” (Save “Kindertotenlieder” for much, much later).

Have you figured out that Gustav Mahler is my favorite classical artist yet? I know this post seems a little obsessive, and it is. I don’t want to scare you off, but I so rarely get the luck to hopefully mentor a young Mahlerian that I took advantage; I’d hate to see you go wrong.

Now, get back on the highway and keep enjoying Tom! I don’t know which albums you have, but the core of a good Waits collection would be Closing Time; Small Change; the “Eighties Trilogy” (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank’s Wild Years); Bone Machine (which I haven’t heard), Mule Variations, probably Alice (which I haven’t heard), and Bad as Me. Other fans will probably chime in; let the mayhem begin!

C’mon now - who doesn’t laugh at Tom Waits fans*? :stuck_out_tongue:

  • Said the Tom Waits fan ;).

I usually introduce newbs to TW with the video for “Hell Broke Luce.” If they’re still functioning, I lend them Rain Dogs.

Yeah, I’d call that the “barbarian” approach! :smiley:

Yeah, I love that video.

There’s Tom Waits doc on BBC 4(?) tonight in the UK.
I think he’s like a great short story writer and some of them are funny and some oddball but always compassionate.
Christmas Card from a Hooker, Rain Dogs, Kentucky Avenue etc etc.
Saw him twice in London in the 90’s - amazing.