Monday, 22 October 2012

The Time I Met Tom Waits.




OK, I haven't actually met Tom Waits but I'm hoping the title grabs your attention so you read the rest of this.

I was first introduced to Tom Waits's music in what must have been the perfect scenario.  A friend and I were visiting the US for the first time and we were in Boston but wanted to make our way across country to Huntington Beach, California were my friend had a relative he wanted to visit.

We enquired about a drive-away car, wherein a car that needs delivering to a customer is driven  by someone with adequate credentials and in need of a car on a short term basis.  
We were given 10 days to deliver our vehicle to Los Angeles docks where we would leave it to continue it's journey to it's new owner in Hawaii.

I was hoping for some enormous muscle car but instead we got a little Suzuki Samurai 4x4, not exactly the American Dream car but at least we got good fuel mileage.

My friend had a compilation tape of blues music (it was 1990, we still used tapes back then) which we listened to as we drove across the country.  there were two tracks that really got my attention, Singapore and Big Black Mariah by a guy called Tom Waits who I had never heard of before.

It sounded like some sort of mutant blues/country/jazz music and his voice was like he was gargling with gravel down the bottom of a well.
The lyrics were seedy but poetic and I would give my right arm to be able to write words as evocative and colourful as he can.

We listened to that tape as we drove through the Blue Ridge Mountains, through torrential rainstorms on the Kansas plains and past weird, moonlit rock formations in Arizona that made it look like we were on another planet.

It was perfect road trip music and for a couple of Brit lads on their big American adventure it was like an introduction to the side of America that doesn't get advertised.

I've listened to a lot of Tom Waits over the years since then, much of it brilliant, some of it weird and some of it annoying.  He is one of the most unique musical voices around as has been going for years.  America should treat him like a National Treasure.

But I never met him. Sorry.

19 comments:

Yandie, Goddess of Pickles. said...

Beautiful. That must have been amazing.

Padded Cell Princess said...

You've seen more of America than I have! I don't know who Tom Waits is and I'm still not sure that I want to hear his music from the description. Anything that can have a hint of country to it repels me more than tattoos on my face.

P.S. I am finally back from being sick and I have been saying that I caught it from you...so thanks a lot!

YeamieWaffles said...

It's great to hear that Tom Waits has had such a positive influence in your life Tony. I don't think I've ever heard of him before but he sounds like my kind of thing and I'm going to make it my mission to check him out as soon as possible. Great post buddy, it's a shame that you haven't met him though, hopefully you do some way, some day.

Rob Z Tobor said...

I have been listening to Tom Waits for years and have most (maybe all) of the albums, a fair number of them as LP's.

I first heard of him sat on an Oil Platform in the north sea. It was the voice that first made me think who the hell is this.

Janie Junebug said...

I haven't met him either, and I've never heard of him. Shame on me for not knowing our national treasure.

Love,
Janie

Tony Van Helsing said...

Yandie: It was the time of my life.
I remember being excited about driving across the Mojave desert then being bored at how big and featureless it was.

Princess@: I'm not selling his music very well, am I. Sorry about the germs.

Matthew: I recommend the album Rain Dogs as an introduction. I'm glad I haven't met him, I never know what to say to famous people.

Rob: An oil rig in the North Sea, Good effort but mine is still cooler.

Janie: I can't believe how many Americans haven't heard of him. He's a film actor as well.

Pat Hatt said...

Well I'm Canadian so don't know that national treasure haha, will have to give him a go and see his flow. And at least you got good gas mileage.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'd forgotten all about him until this post. Unless he's plays on my kids' favorite pop station, I'm going to easy forget about him. ;)

Margaret said...

I've never met him anyway. He does have an evocative sound.

Workingdan said...

I am disappointed that you never met Tom Watts! Even I, the laziest person on earth, got out to meet him. Okay, so maybe I never met him...but I had you jealous for a sec didn't I? No?

I hear driving across the country is quite boring but you made it sound so fun. Maybe it's because there were no kids. The thought of packing up my family in the car and driving for days sounds like a nightmare!

Tony Van Helsing said...

Pat: You being a poet should love his lyrics: "Small town Napoleon's shattered his knees
But he stays in the saddle for Rose
And all his disciples they shave in the gutter
And they gather what's left of his clothes".

Stina: Don't forget him!

Margaret: I knew a woman of culture like yourself would know of him.

Workingdan: Driving across the Mojave desert was pretty mind numbing. It's just sand with some hills on the horizon.

Jimmy Fungus said...

Back in the glory days of the David Letterman Show (well it was called "Late Night With David Letterman" back then), Tom Waits was a frequent guest. I was too immature to appreciate him back then, but now that I am an aging and bitter failure, I have learned to appreciate his art. Uhh.. I don't know if that came out the way I wanted it to...

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Well, I am embarrassed to admit that whenever I hear Tom Waits, "Missing You" starts playing in my head, which is John Waite. Be assured that I have tried to get it fixed, but I keep being told that replacement parts for my model are no longer stocked. Should I try to looking on eBay?

altadenahiker said...

Well, I met Tom Waits. Not "met" met, but ran into him once. In what we in the states call a convenience store; it was off the Sunset Strip, late night or early morning. Tom walked in with a friend and looked over the refrigerated units and said, "I don't know whether to buy an orange soda or a premium beer."

Brigitta Huegel said...

Dear Tony,
no - you shouldn't: give your right arm. Your stories are good as they are.
And think that I nearly missed them? Know why? Because these days I only look at Berlinletters.blogspot.com - there I have my followers on the blog-list - and see at a glance when there is something new. On wiityandpretty I am only every four weeks. So please DO come over!

Tony Van Helsing said...

Jimmy: It came out ok, don't worry. Coincidentally, I was watching The Book of Eli last night and Tom Waits plays the store keeper.

Jerry: Sounds like you'd be better off buying straight from the distributor.

Hiker: That is a brilliant story, I'll be passing that one on next time I'm down the pub.

Brigitta: I'll nip over.

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Vapid Vixen said...

"it was like an introduction to the side of America that doesn't get advertised."

I love that line. A perfect description of a road trip across this country. :)

Al Penwasser said...

Sounds like a lot of fun. As far as the Suzuki Samurai, look on the bright side. I'm guessing you had cassette tapes. At least they weren't 8-track tapes.