This is the first official Tom Waits release. There’s a couple “Early Years” collections which are really fascinating for how much he doesn’t sound like the 21st century Tom Waits, but these at least show glimpses of the man to come. There are some songs on here that I knew of from different artists, and had no idea TW had written them (Tim Buckley covered “Martha” the same year this came out (that’s pretty amazing), The Eagles covered “Ol’ 55” on their album the following year. However, Van Halen’s “Ice Cream Man” is not a cover of Tom’s song). The funny thing about the record is how much he sounds like a late 70s lounge singer. How can an album as stripped down as this sound of an era? I don’t know, but it does. It’s also nice to know that his opening song “Ol’ 55” has had such a long life.
My wife does not like Tom Waits, but I think I could sneak this album past her. You can tell that it’s Tom (before years of abuse to his vocal chords). His voice is in fine non-gravelly form, just a little bass heavy. And he is crooning to us. He even has one of his sweet songs (“Midnight Lullaby”). It’s hard (but not impossible) to imagine that this man would have turned into the man from Bone Machine.
As I was saying about the mid 70’s, the style of songs here could easily have been played on the same radio station as Springsteen (this album came out the same year as Greetings from Asbury Park–and Springsteen made famous “Jersey Girl” one of Tom’s early songs). Indeed, many of these songs were covered by other artists. The funny thing to me about the album is that although Tom is the pianist, I feel like the album is more focused on the trumpet (that muted trumpet seems to be everywhere (giving the album more of a jazzy feel than a rock feel). And yet, despite this overall jazziness, “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You” and “Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)” is a pretty straight-ahead folk song. There’s also the beautiful ballad “Martha” played only on piano–such a gorgeous melody. Perhaps the least exciting song is the instrumental ballad “Closing Time.” It’s a simple piano melody with more trumpet. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not that inspirational.
I find that as I get older I like this album more (which is somewhat ironic since he recorded it when he was 24). It’s tempting to say that the album–with its many styles–is unfocused, but Waits’ albums all seem to follow in this multiple-styles vein. He’s not afraid to try something new (see his entire output since 1983). But this one is a surprisingly straightforward album. I can’t wait to see if Sarah likes it.
[READ: September 21, 2011] “Town of Cats”
Murakami is (in my limited experience) a master of the surreal. And yet for his more recent short stories, he seems to be switching into more of a story within a story conceit. And that’s fine too, because the stories and the stories within the stories are clever and creative and still a bit surreal.
This story starts out a little awkwardly: at Koenji Station, Tengo boards a train with absolutely no destination in mind. He can get off anywhere that he wants, he decides. He imagines going to the beach and enjoying a nice day. But then he realizes that all along he has ben heading in one specific direction: to visit his father in a nursing home. This is especially surprising for Tengo as he has not visited his father in over two years (and Tengo is his only relative).
As Tengo thinks back to his childhood, it is full of nothing but anger. Anger that his father took him on his work (collecting fees for Japanese TV) every Sunday and that Tengo never had any chance for fun. In fairness to Tengo’s father, Tengo’s mother died when Tengo was just a baby and his father had to take care of him as best as he could. But there was no love, no warmth, no emotion. And the more he thought about his father he realizes that that’s what his father was like–no intellectual curiosity of any kind. Just work work work.
And yet Tengo can’t shake a memory from when he was only a year and a half or so of his mother standing near hs crib with a man who wasn’t his father kissing her naked breasts. This memory has always been with him and he can’t help but wonder if his father really isn’t his father at all. (more…)