March 21st. Tom Waits Day, as it happens to be for me – my ever mis-sung lyric, now it’s raining* in a miserable March twenny-first – when a young man’s fancy turns to Hong Kong drizzle (on Cuban heels); to farm cat roadkill in the spring; eggs chasing bacon round the frying pan; and dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes… when this late-starter’s thoughts turn to his music.
Early start, I was driving north with the Eagles on the old CD player, driving music for traffic going nowhere. At the unmoving slip for the big road on comes ‘Ol’ 55’. The Tom Waits Years false-started with a line that was nothing to be proud of: housemate and artist Katie introduced me to a trio of vinyl – the Franks pieces – which I damned with a single listen as sounding ‘like folk music’ – spoke volumes only of me at that time. With Katie next on Lantau Island; our listening choices, limited and recycled, were a concentration that by necessity backdropped an intense and enclaved way of life: The Asylum Years chose to be my default soundtrack.
“All songs should have weather in them. Name of towns and streets, and they should have a couple of sailors. I think these are just song prerequisites.” Tom Waits**
The girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear. One for every year he’s away, she said.
When you can be any place and be anything when you’re there – but never are either – there’s Tom will step right up. Earned stripes at the piano; ballads like long-owned clothes; shirts with horses on the front; travelling by ports, bus stations, by night. Time waits, time flies, for bar flies, hitting their stride late night, closing time: the Blacksmiths in old Kowloon. Broken wind chimes.
She said she’d stick around, til the bandages came off.
Chinatown fair to Illinois. Watching Rumble Fish, The Fisher King, wondering how they got him to stick around, to stay put, to be on cue. Back from Hong Kong and looking to Tom’s places; McHenry, Johnsburg, Illinois. (I lend an ear to Green On Red, to Scapegoats.) I read a Morrissey quote about (his own) getting out of the wrong lift, or the lift at the wrong floor – was reasonably destined to have tattoos and hordes of differently-mothered babies. I walk into elevators at hordes of temporary jobs and fantasise that I’ll emerge – well. I know I’m as daft as Confederate flags in the sheds of Wakefield yards. I’d never yet been to the States. The reality is I’m looking for a different Hong Kong drizzle; another foreign affair.
She’ll fit right into my scheme.
Making a life and a home with my B., comes the loveliest of tales:
In a land there’s a town
and in that town there’s a house
and in that house there’s a woman
and in that woman there’s a heart I love
I’m gonna take it with me when I go.
With a picture in a frame as the vision and the view for the art that is to become, and is becoming still my job of work after all – my Picture Window.
The cars and trucks start moving; my old truck too. As I pull away slowly, coffee can rattles on the dashboard, next the still unposted and overdue card with horses on the front for Katie, that says Hi.
Lyrics by Tom Waits, respectfully from:
‘Town With No Cheer’, Swordfishtrombones, 1983
‘Ninth and Hennepin’, Rain Dogs, 1985
‘Please Wake Me Up’, Franks Wild Years, 1987
‘Take It With Me’, Mule Variations, 1999
**Quote grabbed from http://sabotagetimes.com/music/twenty-five-brilliant-tom-waits-quotes