I am writing this review of Tom Waits on Tom Waits in the middle of a seedy, weedy garden with a cheap assed Casio Keyboard, a guitar with broken strings, sitting in a lawn chair that has seen better days and was trailer park chic when it was new. I am wearing a beat to shit, worn out, never-did-fit pair of black slacks tailored by the Salvation Army Band; Sans-A-Belt’s best polyester. A Permanent Wrinkle Shirt with string tie — knot the size of a pistachio — an old black blazer and wearing a “stomped on by everybody that I ever pissed off in a shady bar” stingy brim Stetson hat. My kicks are Stacey’s. Cheap sun glasses. I haven’t washed my hair in a week in preparation. There is scotch whisky in the coffee cup.The review will last as long as the battery in the laptop. You have to set the mood when you talk about Tom Waits and this book. When it comes to Tom Waits, you either get it, or you don’t. There is no in-between.
The Daily Telegraph calls him: “the greatest entertainer on Planet Earth.” He’s labeled himself “a rumor in his own time.” He’s been called a street poet, but get’s mad if you call him a poet. He describes his lyrics as an improvisational adventure or an “inebriational” travelogue. At his darkest he becomes a seedy slathering of organic word ooze that nails your attention span to the wall and keeps it there. He’s the perfect sound track for a film noir. Maybe a black and white porn film shot on 8mm. He’s a professional enigma.
The uninitiated and the hip are never sure whether they are being engaged by a brave and daring artist or if they are witnessing the biggest con job in rock history. With a voice like a bulldozer that needs a ring job, articulated by a drunk on the moon derelict who mutters and slurs his way through a “stream of semiconsciousness,” rich in metaphor, spiced with irony, and stirred with a spoon made of sarcasm. It’s a voice that makes Louis Armstrong sound like Pavarotti. It’s a voice marinated in whiskey and cigarettes and strained through the American night. It’s a voice that has lipstick on it’s collar and blood stains on it’s knees. It’s a voice that uses parking meters as walking sticks and does the inebriated stroll. It’s a voice that caught a ride hitchhiking with Jack and Neal telling stories about some whorehouse in Seattle.
His lyrics are hipster-hobo, with self proclaimed influences from James Brown, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Charles Bukowski, Mark Twain. Allen Ginsberg, Howlin’ Wolf and the tin pan alley song writers. He was clearly listening to some carny hucksters, some pool shooting shimmy-shysters, and cats yowling in dark alleys. Tom Waits was born in Pomona, Calif. in 1949. December 7th. Pearl Harbor day. He says he was born at a very young age. He had a pretty normal childhood… or he was a pretty normal child hood, depending on the interviewer. He says he worked delivering pizzas, as a doorman at a strip club, and as a theater ticket taker, but he also says he was a labor organizer in a maternity ward. He rotated tires on miscarriages.