Here’s a conversation I had with myself this morning:
Me: More fog. Of course. Why wouldn’t there be more fog?
Me: Why did you ever think you’d be able to see the sky at any point between now and next spring, anyway?
Me: Fair point. Hey, now that it’s fall, you know what we should do?
Me: You bet I do.
Me and Me: LISTEN TO TOM WAITS!
Last fall, I wrote a piece for KDHX about my favorite fall album. I talked about it with my editor about a week before I left St. Louis. As a favor to me, he was letting me continue to write for the station even though I was moving away, and as a thank you to him, I bought us coffee and we sat outside (because few cities are as nice as St. Louis is in the fall) and drank it.
He mentioned that he’d be asking writers for submissions on the theme, and although I didn’t yet know the album I’d pick – I’m always torn between my actual favorites and something new that I’m getting into – I had a suspicion that I’d land on Tom Waits (my editor picked Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks,” in case you were wondering, which is the only decent Van Morrison album in existence and yes that includes “Tupelo Honey”).
While my love for Tom Waits is not limited to a season, I find that I love him most during the fall, and that perhaps this is because fall is the season I love most, and because of this, I listen to enhance the season rather than escape from it. Or maybe I just really dig him, I dunno. Probably it’s that last one.
Although it’s not hard for me to articulate why I love Tom Waits, it is hard to convince other people to do so. Because the thing is, everyone who does love him loves him a lot. There don’t seem to be a lot of casual Tom Waits fans, just as there don’t seem to be any casual Tom Waits non-fans, either. In the Waitsian universe, one is either awed by this crazy train conductor/circus master who seems driven to create weird, unique, deranged, beautiful, interesting art no matter who’s paying to listen, or one is not really all that impressed, and possibly one (ahem, Mike) also thinks he sounds like Cookie Monster. And for some of the catalogue, I can understand the association.
I am obviously the former one, because with the exception of “Bone Machine” (which scares the shit out of me), I am continuously awed, fall after fall, by this guy who is so in love with sound and so compelled to do whatever he can with it, with gospel and folk ballads and jazz bands and train whistles and trashcans and screams. Oh god, the screams. I feel so lucky that I happened upon “Small Change” in a Tower Records in 2003 while at the same time somehow cheated because I didn’t find it sooner, and I feel like I should assure you that I don’t smoke pot so I am feeling and saying all of this completely sober.
I’m not lying when I say that my life has been made better because Tom Waits appeared in it, and that looking forward to him in the fall feels as warm and delightful as looking forward to hoodies, apples, and dark beers.
So if you pull up to me in traffic and think I look a bit…transported, I guess, with a funny face and shiny eyes and possibly I also appear to be singing straight from the epiglottis, don’t worry. It’s just me and Tom Waits. Having some fall.
But from the album version:
“Well, God bless your crooked little heart,
St. Louis got the best of me.
I miss your broken-china voice,
How I wish you were still here with me.
Well, you build it up, you wreck it down.
You burn your mansion to the ground.
When there’s nothing left to keep you here
When you’re falling behind in this big blue world
Oh you go to
Hold on, hold on,
You got to hold on,
Take my hand, I’m standing right here,
You got to hold on…”