I was watching the first season of Peaky Blinders over the weekend with my Dad and at the end of the fifth episode, a powerful scene was punctuated by a very familiar song that I could actually sing along to and my Dad wasn’t aware of it (or didn’t remember it) and he asked me, “What song is this?”
I said, with great certainty, “It’s Tom Waits. I’m sure of it.”
At the end of the episode, I checked online and I was right. It was Time by Tom Waits. And I don’t remember where I first heard that song but I knew I heard it before. I checked my Dad’s Tom Waits CDs and couldn’t find Time in his records (Dad has Asylum Years and Heart Attack and Vine) so I didn’t hear it from there. I didn’t have it my iTunes or in my CD collections so I’m wondering where I first heard that song.
I quickly bought the song off of iTunes (both original version and the live version) and started buying more songs of Tom Waits and rediscovered how much I love his music.
I knew of Tom Waits’ music before I even knew about him as a singer. I loved his songs sung by other people and it was only later on that I discovered he had written them. I think the most striking songs of his were ‘Ol 55 (which I heard first covered by Sarah McLachlan) and then Downtown Train (which I heard first covered by Everything But the Girl).
Then my Dad introduced me to Asylum Years and Heart Attack and Vine and I was perplexed. I loved it but I was also scared of it. As a kid, I didn’t know that music could be so raw and guttural like his voice was in those records and I wasn’t yet that cued in to music; I was just interested in how songs were sung and how they made me feel.
But as I got older, my appreciation for music got deeper and I started to like more and more songs from Tom Waits. Eventually, when Scarlett Johansson put out an entire album covering the songs of Tom Waits (and one original song written by her), I thought it was such a triumph, especially because the album wasn’t meant to be a showcase of her singing. The album, in my understanding, was to showcase the songs — Tom Waits music as interpreted by her and David Andrew Sitek, the album’s producer.
That’s when I discovered such treasures like Anywhere I Lay My Head, Falling Down, and I Don’t Want to Grow Up, which I bought off of iTunes when I bought Time.
Tom Waits’ music has been with me for the past two days now. I’m listening to Scarlett Johansson’s album (which I have on CD format) and the songs I’ve just bought off of iTunes. I’m old enough now and mature enough to understand Tom Waits’ music and the genius and the poetry of his work. It’s also working thematically with how I feel right now.
I’m not someone who quickly embraces pop music, and if I do, I bench it pretty early. I seem to gravitate towards songs that can hurt or that can get into your skin. I am attracted to songs that, when you sing them, my soul feels release. Pop music, sometimes, doesn’t dig deep enough for me and the music is nice to listen to it, but it doesn’t invade and violate my personal space; not like the music and lyrics of Kate Bush, David Bowie, Bjork, Fiona Apple, Tanita Tikaram, Charlotte Martin, and yes, even Tom Waits. These are singers and song writers whose songs I go back to again and again.
I need to sing the words from the heart and allow their intricate melodies and arrangements envelope me and embrace me.
I’m glad to have rediscovered Tom Waits. Because, at this point in my life I’m falling down. I’m falling down.