Monday, September 30, 2002


Tom Waits. This is a bit of an unfocused memory, really - it's about depression, and the way some things just speak to it. I guess I was aware of Tom Waits before I ever heard him sing; he's that kind of musician. I do remember hearing an excerpt from Swordfishtrombones when it first came out, which would have been 1983, and doing what I guess most people do on first hearing that voice: wondering whether it was being played at the wrong speed. But something stuck with me. And then over the years, I would hear an occasional song which intrigued me, or which stood out lyrically or musically, or often, both; and as often as not, it would turn out to be a Tom Waits song: Nanci Griffith's 'San Diego Serenade'; Mary Chapin Carpenter's 'Downtown Train'; Rod Stewart's odd version of 'Tom Traubert's Blues'; Shawn Colvin's 'Heart of Saturday Night'; and then there was Holly Cole's album of gorgeous jazz versions. And so, I loved these dark, brooding songs of love and loss long before I ever heard the originals.

So I bought some Tom Waits, and I played them until I knew them, and then I played them some more - I defy anyone not to be heartbroken by 'Martha', or 'Ruby's Arms' or simply overpowered by 'Kentucky Avenue'. I played this music at odd times - when I felt like it, I supposed; and then one day realised that it was a simple and effective indicator of whether I was feeling depressed - I would reach for my copy of 'Asylum Years' without thinking. Which leaves me with a dilemma - I love these songs, and what they say, but they reinforce my depressions. I don't play them as much, these days - but when I do, I choose to because I'm feeling good, and able to cope with them. And nothing can or will change my opinion of him as an artist - he's a unique and powerful voice, and an original songwriter. He's also an acquired taste, but one worth the effort.

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