Friday, March 27, 2009

The Majestic Lyricism of Tom Waits: Real Gone

Tom Waits; a man a myth, a living legend, a poet, an artist, an oddball, an actor, a composer, a storyteller, a lyricist, a hero, a performer. Mr. Waits has composed many an album dating back to 1973's Closing Time on Asylum Records. (Discography) In my humble opinion Tom Waits songwriting has matured IMMENSELY since his debut! Granted there are plenty of folks out there who adore Waits slow melancholy ballads of old, to each their own. It is impressive in its own right and I DO respect it. I just personally don't find it particularly interesting to listen to. That's just me though.

I find Waits albums of late FAR more fulfilling, interesting and listenable, i.e. Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, Bone Machine, Mule Variations, and of course Real Gone. Each of these majestic works has a raunchy grit that you couldn't remove with a ten gallon drum of industrial grade bleach. The magnificent simplicity and edgyness of songs like; 16 Shells from a Thirty-Ought-Six, Tango Till They're Sore, Big Black Mariah, Gun Street Girl, Hang on St. Christopher, Jesus Gonna Be Here, Goin' Out West, Filipino Box Spring Hog, God's Away on Business, Hoist That Rag and Make It Rain all get under your skin and make you itch uncontrollably for more.

To me there is just something about hearing/creating such a simple/minimal composition and having it be so very powerful yet complex. For example, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and Bo Didley could all play/write/perform fantastic compositions using a very minimal amount of variety in structure but it just sounded right and still does today.

We now come to the majestic masterpiece album released in the year 2004, Real Gone. As I have clearly mentioned above, I am not a fan of Tom Waits melancholy compositions of old, but greatly prefer the raw, gritty, primitive pieces of the mid 90's to the present. I think that there is just so much more passion, raw emotion and a somewhat animalistic feel that is so simple and captivating.

One interesting fact about this particular album is that it is the first one where Waits does not play piano on it. He does however experiment in the art of beatboxing, looping, sampling and turntables. Waits has his typical all-star cast of players with him including Les Claypool and Brain of Primus, Marc Ribot, Larry Taylor of Canned Heat and his multi-talented son Casey on the turntables, drums and percussion.


  • Brain – percussion, claps
  • Les Claypool – bass
  • Harry Cody – guitar, banjo
  • Mark Howard – bells, claps
  • Marc Ribot – guitar, banjo, cigar box banjo
  • Larry Taylor – bass, guitar
  • Casey Waits – drums, turntables, percussion, claps
  • Tom Waits – vocals, guitar, chamberlain, percussion, shakers
  • Trisha Wilson – claps

The Music

On to the lyrics....

Here are my hand picked favorite lyrics/phrases from the album Real Gone. Hope you feel inspired and enjoy each and every one of them.

Top of the Hill:

  • The birds keep singing baby after you're dead.
  • Why don't you come up here and see me sometime.
  • Have all the lights burned out in heaven again.
  • I'll never roll the number 7 again.
  • I'm made of bread and on a ocean of wine.
  • Hear all the birdies on the phone just fine.
  • We're gettin' married in the pouring rain.
  • What's your throttle made of? Is it money or bone?
  • Opium, fireworks, vodka and meat, scoot over and save me a seat.
  • Why doncha gimme 'nother sip o' your cup? Turn a Rolls - Royce into a chicken coup.

Hoist That Rag:

  • God used me as hammer boys, To beat his weary drum today.
  • The smell of blood, The drone of flies. You know what to do if the baby cries.
  • Well we'll stick our fingers in the ground, heave and turn the world around.
  • Smoke is blacking out the sun, tonight I pray and clean my gun.
  • The cracked bell rings as the ghost bird sings and the gods go beggin here.
  • So just open fire as you hit the shore. All is fair in love and war.

Sins of my Father:

  • Night is falling like a bloody axe.
  • Will the pawn shop sell me back what I sold.
  • I'm gonna take the sins of my father. I'm gonna take the sins of my mother. I"m gonna take the sins of my brother. Down to the pond.
  • Carving out a future with a gun and an axe.
  • I'm way beyond the gavel and the laws of man.
  • Smack dab in the middle of a dirty lie.
  • Justice wears suspenders and a powdered wig.
  • Does the light of god blind you or lead the way home for you?
  • All my belongings in a flour sack. Will the place I come from take me back?
  • Jesus of Nazareth told Mike of the weeds.
  • Everything I done is between God and me.
  • Only he will judge how my time was spent.
  • 29 days of sinning and 40 to repent.
  • Wicked are the branches on the tree of mankind.

Shake It:

  • I never been no good at staying out of jail.
  • You know I feel like a preacher waving a gun around.
  • Outside, it's damp, put a towel on that lamp.

Don't Go Into That Barn:

  • Don't go into that barn, yeah.
  • Black cellophane sky at midnight.
  • Big blue moon with three gold rings.
  • That's where I heard my name in a scream coming from the woods, out there.
  • I let my dog run off the chain, I locked my door real good with a chair.
  • Cause he's high on potato and tulip wine, Fermented in the muddy rain of course.
  • An old black tree, scratching up the sky, with bony claw like fingers.
  • And the sun sank down into the much of a deep dead sky.
  • They found the fallen down timbers of a spooky old barn.
  • Out there like a slave ship, upside down.
  • Wrecked beneath the waves of a rain, when the river is low.
  • They find old bones and when they plow they always dig up chains.
  • Did you bury your fire?
Yes sir
Did you cover your tracks?
Yes sir
Did you bring your knife?
Yes sir
Did they see your face?
No sir
Did the Moon see you?
No sir
Did you go cross the river?
Yes sir
Did you fix your rake?
Yes sir
Did you stay down wind?
Yes sir
Did you hide your gun?
Yes sir
Did you smuggle your rum?
Yes sir
How did I know, How did I know, How did I know

How's It Gonna End?:

  • She wrote good bye in the dust on the hood.
  • They found a a map of Missouri lipstick on the glass, they must of left in the middle of the night.
  • And I want to know the same thing everyone wants to know, how it going to end?
  • A tree born crooked will never grow straight, she sunk like a hammer in to the lake.
  • Promises are never meant to keep.
  • The moon climbed up an empty sky.
  • There's a killer and he's coming through the rye. But maybe he's the Father of that lost little girl, it's hard to tell in this light.
  • Wishing for it only makes it bleed.
  • It's last call somewhere in the world.
  • Life is sweet at the edge of a razor.
  • And down in the front row of an old picture show, the old man is asleep as the credits start to roll.

Metropolitan Glide:

  • 29 gypsies in a Cadillac stoned.
  • Turn off the ringer on your cellular phone.
  • You kill me with your machine gun laugh.
  • Put on your stockings and your powder and blush. Keep it all on the hush, hush, hush.

Dead & Lovely:

  • He had a bulletproof smile.
  • She thought she had the moon in her pocket.
  • I've always been told to remember this... "Don't let a fool kiss you, never marry for love."
  • He was hard to impress, he knew everyone's secrets.
  • He wore her on his arm, just like jewelry.
  • He's not the kind of wheel you fall asleep at.
  • What's more romantic than dying in the moonlight?


  • And the branches spread like scary fingers reaching.
  • I was soakin' wet and wild eyed.
  • She had a tattoo gun made out of a cassette motor and a guitar string.
  • I'd like to hammer this ring into a bullet and I wish I had some whiskey and a gun my dear.

Trampled Rose:

  • Sky's the autumn grey of a lonely wren.
  • What I done to me, I done to you.
  • What happened to the trampled rose?
  • I know that rose like I know my name.

Green Grass:

  • Lay your head where my heart used to be.
  • Remember when you loved me?
  • Think of me as a train goes by.
  • Can't tell the birds from the blossoms.
  • And if the sky falls, mark my words, we'll catch mocking birds.

Baby Gonna Leave Me:

  • My baby ripped my heart out with every turn of the moon.
  • Somebody told me, "There's never been a rose without a thorn."
  • And if I was a bed I'd be an unmade bed.

Make it Rain:

  • She took all my money and my best friend.
  • I have no pride I have no shame. You gotta make it rain.
  • I'm just another sad guest on this dark earth.
  • I want to believe in the mercy of the world again.
  • I need the whip of thunder and the winds dark moan.
  • I'm not Able, I'm just Cain. Open up the heavens, Make it rain.
  • They sharpen their knives on my mistakes.
  • What she done, you can't give it a name.
  • Without her love, without your kiss. Hell can't burn me more than this.
  • It's the same old world but nothing looks the same.

Day After Tomorrow:

  • I still believe that there's gold at the end of the world.
  • What I'm trying to say, is don't they pray to the same God that we do? Tell me, how does God choose? Whose prayers does he refuse?

A Great Review:

From Coke Machine Glow

No comments:

Post a Comment