Wednesday, 15 March 2017


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I have just been watching a BBC documentary about the American actor, composer, singer and artist, Tom Waits. Although Waits and I are of a similar age and generation, he and his music have completely passed me by.
All of the contributors were men, except Lucinda Williams: real men. Men like Guy Garvey of Elbow and Terry Gilliam and Iain Rankin. He has a voice like it was soaked in a vat of Bourbon, apparently. 

This is the lyric to Drunk on the Moon: 

 Tight-slacked clad girls on the graveyard shift

 'Neath the cement stroll

 Catch the midnight drift

 Cigar chewing Charlie

 In that newspaper nest

 grifting hot horse tips

 On who's running the best 


 And I'm blinded by the neon

 Don't try and change my tune

 'Cause I thought I heard a saxophone

 I'm drunk on the moon

 And the moon's a silver slipper

 It's pouring champagne stars

 Broadway's like a serpent

 Pulling shiny top-down cars

 Laramer is teeming

 With that undulating beat

 And some Bonneville is screaming

 It's way wilder down the street



 Hearts flutter and race

 The moon's on the wane

 Tarts mutter their dream hopes

 The night will ordain

 Come schemers and dancers

 Cherry delight

 As a Cleveland-bound Greyhound

 And it cuts through the night

 And I've hawked all my yesterdays

 Don't try and change my tune

 'Cause I thought I heard a saxophone

 I'm drunk on the moon 

I selected that at random but whatever, it is meaningless to me. I have never lived in that uniquely American world of excess and booze and lighting another cigarette just as you stamp the other one out; of dossing in a shabby room above a Las Vegas brothel and sleeping in your clothes; of starting your day at 4.00am.

But clearly the real men are quite taken with it all.

He is an artist and what can often seem contrived to ordinary people like me, is in fact a very original and affecting act. The real Tom Waits is presumably a perfectly ordinary person who takes his daughter to school, pays his electricity bill on time and does a mean Chilli Con Carne. God, I hope so ‘cos this wasted American hobo persona would drive me to distraction in about six minutes if I was anywhere within twenty-miles of him.

It’s a funny thing art and artists; people, particularly in the media seem willing to extend great goodwill and licence to these hard-living thespian artistes. I don’t know if you have ever read any of the dark stuff on Robert Zimmerman when he is not playing the part of Bob Dylan but some of it is very dark indeed. But we forgive because he is such a terrific artist, indeed an icon.

Maybe J M W Turner had his dark side, well he did if the recent film about him is true but again it doesn’t do to draw attention to his cruelties.

I think perhaps that all of these guys, Waits, Turner, Dylan, win our respect at least because they didn’t achieve what they had without remarkable diligence, hard work and talent. Yes, some luck, some outright stealing of other’s ideas and being in the right place at the right time but we find ways of coming to terms with all that . . . and we certainly are in no position to judge . . . and take what they give us and cherish it.

It is interesting to see what his own inspirations are/were: Tout Mask Replica is number 3 in his all-time top twenty, which is I don’t know, doubtful; Beefheart wasn’t popular in 70’s America. He has Exile on Main Street as his No.4; very strange, it’s hard to see what the influences are.

There seemed to be a slight suggestion in the documentary that he now has regrets about wrapping his genuine song-writing talents around this late-night semi-alcoholic loner caricature he has become [or created]. Can’t find anything anywhere about a drug habit and there was nothing mentioned in the television piece; cynical me thinks booze and brothels are much more acceptable to the real men in his audience.



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