So yeah, Tom Waits.
He was in Jacksonville the night of June 30th. Tickets were expensive as sin, but having seen the show, I would have happily paid twice the amount. For those of you who don’t know, I think Tom Waits is the greatest living songwriter and easily one of the most influential artists in American music history. He has been producing music since the early 70’s (I’m pretty sure his first album came out the same year as Cold Spring Harbour.) With that being said, I’m amazed at the number of people who either have never heard of him or wonder; “that black guy?”
What I looked forward to the most about the Tom Waits show was the same thing I usually dread from other revered musicians. That is, their ability to take one of their popular songs and make it work in front of a live audience. If Eric Clapton plays Layla, he’d damned well better play it just like I heard it on the radio. Tom Waits, on the other hand, has had no top-40 hits, and has thusly avoided pigeonholing himself into some depressingly shitty playlist that we all expect from him. His music can be frantically different between albums, from poppy to melodic to as cross-cutting as a table saw.
He told us the night of the show “We’ll play all your favorites,” which was a nice way of saying “Go fuck yourselves, we set the list.” When the house lights went down, we could see a few shadowy figures walk onto the stage. The crowd went nucking futs. A few seconds later, another figure crossed, this one limping slowly across the stage. The audience became chaotic, deafening. If Tom Waits had ever needed to enforce his position as musical ring-leader, that was the crowd for it.
I can’t even begin to describe the stage show, and it’s one of the few times in my life where I can honestly say – you had to be there. In short, it was the fantastic, shifting and tilting experience it should have been.
“I’ve never been to Jacksonville before,” he said once. “That’s because Florida is for old people…. That’s really more of a statement against myself than you.” Later, during Tom Wait’s solo set at the piano, some jerkoff shouted “I want to have your baby!” . “Nowadays that’s possible!” Waits snapped back “Talk to my manager… But my sperm, it’s expensive. I’m like a fuckin’ racehorse.”
Heard enough? I’m sure you have. I haven’t made a lifetime to-do list yet, but when I do, I am going to write “See Tom Waits in concert” at the very top and then fucking cross it out.