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There are many things to like about Tom Waits’s “Downtown Train,” but I keep thinking of the lines “You wave your hand and they scatter like crows/They have nothing that will ever capture your heart.” Because, indeed, if you go downtown in any major American city — or any city anywhere, come to think of it — you’ll spot those girls. The ones with the claws that want to latch onto something lucrative and sensational.

And I don’t mean to be unkind in saying so, but you know the type. The ones who think that someone else can come along and solve all their problems with enough cash or a flashy automobile or admission to the right scenes. “Be careful of them in the dark” because in the dark you can’t see their eyes looking for the next sucker coming down the street. They can’t capture your heart because they haven’t any of their own. Just hands that clutch and hips that curve just so. “They try so hard to break out of their little worlds,” and you’re another rung on that ladder.

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I grew up in a rural community and live now in a community that is only slightly less so. A major if often unremarked staple of the landscape are the lovely buildings — barns, workshops and diners but mostly houses — that have been surrendered to nature. Birds now dart in and our of the broken upstairs windows, trees have started lazing up along the back walls and the roof itself has given way to unintended skylights. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m not doing a “best songs of the decade” post because, well, there’s still another year left whether anyone admits it or not. No jumping the gun here, no sir. Read the rest of this entry »

Tom Waits

Tom Waits is an amazing encyclopedia of weird Americana. Sheer unparalleled creepiness dribbles from nearly everything he records. And it’s all strangely familiar. Read the rest of this entry »

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Born in a glum Cleveland neighborhood, childhood pianist Jay Hawkins nurtured dreams of becoming an opera singer. But by 1956 Hawkins had set a course toward outlandish frenzy, taking up the blues and eventually adopting for himself a wild manner of dress and stagecraft that would lead one critic to name him the “black Vincent Price.” The Screamin’ moniker just came naturally. Read the rest of this entry »

This is a brief hit-and-run set from Tom Waits’s full-on, quasi-Beat, barroom, rumblin’, grumblin’, growlin’, backdoor prowlin’ peak. Recorded live on NYC’s WNEW back in December of 1976, it somehow sounds wintry, all clad in overcoats and flannel. And nearby certainly was a toppled bottle of scotch.

This bootleg best served with a foot of snow, a flickering streetlight at midnight, and a temperment buffeted by nostalgia and one too many. All my most moving Tom-related revelations have come to me in a train snaking under a full moon or on the wrong street at the wrong time. That’s magic.

Track Listing:

  1. Emotional Weather Report
  2. Eggs and Sausage (In a Cadillac with Susan Michelson)
  3. San Diego Serenade [Cut short by technical error]
  4. Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)
  5. The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)
  6. New Coat of Paint
  7. I Can’t Wait to Get Off Work
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