The Tom Waits Listening Club - Mule Variations polls on post 582

Mr Horse, do you know what the origin story behind the cover photo is? It’s a fascinating image!

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In the Neighbourhood. Love the… grandeur of it. Something about the pacing or the instrumentation makes me think about those deep south funeral processions; wonder if that’s intentional? Bet it is.

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Shore Leave is such a great recording, really sympathetically colours the lyrics, that sinister horn is so good! It’s sultry and you can feel the steam and get a sense of whatever no doubt fine establishments Tom has found himself washed up in

I like these lines a lot

and I wondered how the same moon outside
Over this chinatown fair
Could look down on illinois
And find you there…

I spent a fair bit of time shivering on a bench today killing time waiting, Swordfishtrombones sounded great on a sunny January day, I love how clear it is, clear as the trees stripped and sharp against blue sky, that’s what slapped me around the ears, you can hear everything, pick out every instrument, every ping and clang.

I think the closer is one of Waits’ loveliest moments, it’s so wistful and hints at mystery too, makes me feel like it’s always holding something back


Fell a bit behind but caught up now to this week’s, some thoughts on previous:

Blue Valentine- Ditch the strings for more of an electric guitar bluesy sound. Wait’s voice soars here, probably his best flowing album to date. The story in a Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis up there with his most heartbreaking.

Heartattack and Vine- One of my favorites of his, gutbucket blues! Nice organ twinkles throughout. Love Jersey Girl. The beginning of On the Nickel “stick and stones will break my bones”, “if you don’t get my letter then you’ll know I’m in jail”. So guttural gets me every time. One of his most underrated tracks imo.

One From The Heart- Had never heard of this one. Gave up after three songs, we will forget it existed.

Looking forward to Swordfish…

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The biography doesn’t say much about it - just that it’s by artist Michael A Russ whom Waits admired and asked to give him a new image that would set his new stuff apart from the rugged drunk of old. The weird colouring is due to it being a tin type photograph. The big fella is Lee Kolima and the smaller one is Angelo Rossitto. Russ was associate director of the In the Neighbourhood video where they attempted to bring the cover to life.


I’ve not read the book but Michael A Russ talks about the artwork and shoot in the Swordfishtrombones 33 1/3 book, some scans of it here

There’s some other pictures from the shoot here

I love the cover, I think the colours are perfect. One for the slow to realise thread I guess but I always thought that was Dennis Hopper next to Tom.

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Is it any good that book? I like BH generally when I’ve come across him before (podcasts, bits of writing etc).

It’s a weird one as the foreword outlines just how much Waits/Brennan don’t want the book to exist and the lengths they go to in order to protect their privacy, ostracising anyone who talks to biographers etc. And basically concludes that they deserve their privacy and maybe the book shouldn’t have been written…

But is is really good - I disagree with Hoskins a lot when he’s talking about the music but the actual biography is really well put together.

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Thanks yeah, I must read it, I had no idea Waits was so mega private.

Got a bit behind so played some catch up today and listened to the last couple of albums.

One from the Heart

…anyway…on to the next album.


The first “true” modern Tom Waits album (as others have pointed out further up the thread). I loved some of the early bar crooner style tracks but this is where Tom finds his voice and his uniqueness and truely nails it. Some highlights for me include:

“Shore Leave” – This song is great and I really like how this song just seems to slink out of existence during the outro.

I love the sweeping majesty of “In the Neighbourhood”.

“Swordfishtrombone” – The, what I think is a, marimba is great on this track as it plays those staccato notes over the more free bass line. I do love it when Tom goes with minimal instrumentation and there is space between the sounds being used for each track.

I am pleased there is still room for a sadness soaked song like “Soldier’s Things”

I also really like the use of the short tracks here, just little glimpses into soundscapes like on “trouble’s Braids”.

Could do without “Dave the Butcher” though and my aversion to 12 bar blues songs means I have a tendency to want to skip “Gin Soaked Boy”.

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Love Swordfishtrombones, but already getting excited about Rain Dogs… Expect detailed gushing.

Some unasked-for autobiographical reminisces!

When I was in my first year at university, in 1996, I was best mates with Paul. Paul and I bonded over music, we had a lot of the same music taste in common and we even did a university radio show together (with 0 listeners but never mind).

We both loved the same kind of thing except he had this weird penchant for a guy who sang like he was gargling gravel and accompanying himself by beating a rusted fairground ride with a metal pole. I hated this nonsense and told him so.

I remember very vivdly sitting on the floor in one of our rooms, sketching out that week’s track listing for the show and him playing me a gravel-gargling track and zealously explaining that it was great because the gargler could have made the decision to carry on making safe mainstream songs but he hadn’t! He’d made the conscious decision to make these weird experimental plagues to my ears instead.

I told Paul that I wished he’d chosen differently and stuck to making actual music (thus turning into my own Dad at the age of 18).

The scales fell from my ears one day when he played me ‘Swordfishtrombones’ (the song). That did it for me. Yes, it was weird instrumentally (doesn’t seem TOO odd now but we were on a fairly strict guitar-bass-drums diet at the time) and, yes, his vocal stylings were… unusual. But there was pathos and drama and longing and the thing had an actual tune. I loved it! I was hooked and I love that song in particular for being my conversion moment ever since.


Well I guess uh it’s more of a conversation piece like anything else. It’s either a uh… a uh musical instrument that smells bad or it’s a fish that makes a lot of noise

It’s a really great record is what it is. I like the seventies records and there’s a whole bunch of songs I love but would I care all that much about them if Tom’s second act wasn’t so stunning, if 10 years deep into his career he hadn’t so wholeheartedly embraced a world of new influences and boldly set about reinventing himself. I doubt it, Swordfishtrombones sets the pattern for all the great stuff to follow.

Despite the range of different styles and mood within it’s a remarkably focused, tight album. 15 tracks over 40mins, sequenced in a way that keeps you on your toes but doesn’t jar and it sounds crystal clear. All those instruments (totally forgot about the bagpipes that open Town With No Cheer) and it never turns into soup, it’s beautifully realised.

Of the brawlers Underground is a hell of a statement, a dry stomp, Tom’s harshest bark to date and those lovely wonky squiggles of guitar, has a vaguely cartoonish feel, not po faced, I imagine skeletons using their ribs as marimba’s. 16 Shells is one of my favourites, it’s rhythm is wonderful, clang, not really sure exactly what is going on, ping, but I get a sense of ill deeds afoot as Tom has by his art trapped something in his guitar and is doing his best to piss it off, maybe a play on old blues legends or a metaphor for harnessing some sort of creative spirit or just a bunch of stuff that sounded fine hollered

Of the bawlers Johnsburg, Illinois is truly touching and seemingly very heartfelt. Interesting how it’s so slight with some slight discordant notes creeping in, a contrast to the ballads on Heattattack which are mainly twice, three times as long and smothered by strings. Soldiers Things is similarly unadorned and better for it. Rainbirds is absolutely beautiful.

Now the bastards. God bless Dave The Butcher, I had a little walk round today, in the neighbourhood ofc, with this on. When I think about such things I like the thought of Rainbirds being played at my funeral but maybe Dave The Butcher would be better. It’s great for the albums character. If Last of The Summer Wine was more arthouse and set in Sicily Just Another Sucker On The Vine would have made a perfect theme, I think it’s really sweet. The title track has something about it that makes me think of Jockey Full of Bourbon, they both have an irresistible momentum and some very satisfying rhymes, every line in Swordfishtrombones is great. Franks Wild Years is a splash of acid, fun.

If I’m being really picky Down x3 and especially the fairly well worn blues of Gin Soaked Boy do little for me but in the scheme of things these are nitpicks, it’s still a 5.


My entry point for Tom was the Island Years compilation - Beautiful Maladies. I went in literally blind (or deaf, maybe?) in that I’d heard his name uttered with reverence but had little idea what he sounded like. Before streaming, dropping £10 on a compilation from FOPP seemed the best way to investigate.

It took a while, but casting my mind back to my weed-addled 21-year-old self I seem to remember Shore Leave is where it clicked. The guitar solo was just close enough to the sounds I recognised to serve as an anchor point, marimba (I think) isn’t nearly as alien sounding as some of his percussion sounded and the spoken word verses were enough to trigger an emotional engagement. It probably remains in my top 10 Waits tracks a whole 18 (ugh) years later.

There is very little value to this reminiscence, but it seemed the right thread to drop it in.


It’s strange the way music lodges itself in memory, when something hits really hard and clicks I find the moment really memorable. Again, it was 18 (ugh) years ago, but I’m almost certain that these were the lines that got me. I can’t hear them without being instantly back in the large-but-dingy room in my student flat above the Midnight Store on Whitchurch Rd.


More reminiscences pls, from as many folks as possible. I positively insist.


Oddly, I also spent a lot of time listening to Swordfishtrombones in a little flat on Whitchurch Road (though mine was opposite the Discount Supermarket) - that’s how I discovered that this record pairs excellently with unusual dark beers. I was reading a lot of detective fiction at the time, which means I tend to think of SFT as being like a whodunit, but a really oblique one. It’s marvellously full of threat and shadows, and the real subject of it always feels slightly out of reach.


Think it’s worth posting some Partch for this week so here is Barstow, in a way that would surely have appealed to Tom the text is made up of inscriptions made by hitchhikers at the side of the highway that Partch came by and compiled as he himself hitched across Califronia and Arizona taking photo’s of the desert, this was the first he found in Barstow, California, February '41

It’s January 26. I’m freezing. Ed Fitzgerald. Age 19. Five feet, ten inches. Black hair, brown eyes. Going home to Boston, Massachusetts. It’s 4:00, and I’m hungry and broke. I wish I was dead. But today I am a man.

Recording features the surrogate kithara

the chromelodeon

the diamond marimba

…and boo

I really enjoyed this


Loved this - I’d never listened to Partch before aside from a record recommended in the Hoskins book, which was largely a play on record.

I’d quite like a surrogate kithara.

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