Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Heartattack and Vine"

There are only a few voices that can be considered to be really unique. That's unique: u·nique (adj.) (1) Being the only one of its kind. (2) Without an equal or equivalent; unparalleled. And perhaps the most idiosyncratic (that's idiosyncratic: idi·o·syn·cratic (adj.) peculiar to the individual.) voice out there must be Tom Waits'.
Most of the time it's not so much a voice as a gargling, scraping, sandpapered howl. It sounds like a 4 a.m. bottle of Mad Dog 20/20, the 400th cigarette of the day, Rod Stewart's worst nightmare and the gurgle of sewers all rolled into one. If Charles Bukowski wrote the book on the underbelly of the American Dream, then Tom Waits was meant to read it.
Just sample some of the lyrics: "See that little Jersey girl in the see-through top/With the pedal-pushers sucking on a soda pop/Well I bet she's still a virgin/But it's only twenty-five 'til nine." Or: "Better off in Iowa against your scrambled eggs/Than crawling down Cahuenga on a broken pair of legs/You'll find your ignorance is blissful/Every goddamn time." And the king-daddy line of all: "Don't you know there ain't no devil/There's just God when he's drunk." Priceless.... it's like watching the staging shots in an urban police drama but not catching the main storyline: the camera pans swiftly over a tramp here, a domestic argument there, a break-in at the end of an alley and a knifing in a dark doorway.
The tune is every bit as off-the-wall as the lyric: a narcoleptic strolling blues that operates like a broken-down old merry-go-round, coming around again just in time to catch the next set of jaundiced observations. You can almost imagine this song being performed on stage by a pick-up band of tramps and hobos - rarely has a song inhabited a world as completely as this one does.

1 comment:

Minerva said...