The Legends of Laurel Canyon
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die
It’s So Hard To Tell Who’s Going To Love You The Best
Transfiguration of Vincent
Christmas in the Heart
Glitter and Doom Live
Let It Roll: The Best of George Harrison
Secret, Profane & Sugarcane
Playing for Change
Like drinking absinthe, or eating bull testicles, Tom Waits is an acquired taste. Most people would just as soon leave it alone, thank you very much. If your musical taste favors the performing seals that appear regularly on American Idol, then you certainly will not understand the appeal of Tom Waits.
By the standards of that program, Waits would not even warrant an audition. In that universe, he’d be more likely to sweep out the hall and wipe down the seats than to sing before Paula, Simon and whoever. Despite this anomaly, Tom Waits has enjoyed a career that now spans over thirty years, with a loyal following and a persona that is often parodied in television commercials (he sued Frito Lay, Audi and Levis for infringing on his musical rights). His new live album, “Glitter and Doom Live,” does a great job of conveying the oddly attractive and uniquely commercial appeal of what constitutes a ‘Waitsian’ song style.
Waits achieved notoriety on the national scene when he released his debut disk (“Closing Time”) in 1973. From the outset, his character was of a down-on-his-luck loser destined to lick the boot heels of low society. His gravelly voice spoke of 5 A.M. mornings in broke-down diners, with enough change for coffee to ease his pounding head after drinking one too many $1.25 bottles of Night Train while rolling bones in an alley with a one-armed dwarf and a sixty-year old stripper named Horse Face Ethel. Still in all, he seemed to be basically cheerful about his lot in life. Back then, Waits was whistling past the graveyard, so to speak. Over time, this persona changed and grew both deeper and darker, perhaps due to the profound influence of his wife Kathleen Brennan, who became his regular writing partner some time in the 1980’s. With each subsequent album, Waits grew more and more fatalistic, until the fate of humankind resembled a profound cosmic joke.
Now, some people are fatalistic, while others are not. Death obsesses some, while others never dare to give it a thought. I’d imagine that most American Idol fans fall into the latter category. Nevertheless, in the end it hardly matters how you choose to think or what you choose to believe – the same fate awaits you either way (in this life, anyway). On “Glitter and Doom Live,” Waits come off as a sage from Hades, here to pass on his knowledge of what awaits us. He’s still basically cheerful, but with an inhuman perspective, like Satan’s personal circus carney sent to Earth to lure us in. On
Dirt In the Ground,” he seduces us by singing “Your spirit don’t leave knowing your name or your face, and the wind through your bones is all that remains. We’re all gonna be just dirt in the ground.” What’s even more odd and compelling than these dark lyrics is to hear an audience applauding enthusiastically as he growls this chorus out. Happy Stuff. If you appreciate any of this at all, then the bonus disk may especially intrigue you, consisting of 35 minutes of Tom Waits narrating his perspective from the stage, sort of like a stand up comic routine by Nietzsche.
If you are not fatalistic, then I suppose the whole thing will sound like some wheezy old guy with a strep throat rattling bones and banging on cans while making idle threats. However, if you are fatalistic (as I am), this music conjures images of the grim reaper with scythe in hand, flying in a holding pattern over your bedroom late at night. Depending on your perspective, you may thoroughly hate “Glitter and Doom Live,” or you may be simultaneously amused and horrified. Perhaps you’ll find yourself whistling past the graveyard, identifying with the corpses of now forgotten lives. Have a nice day!