Someone said recently that I create people — real, living characters. That’s very flattering to me, because I love reading good characters. Some songwriters manage to create characters, and those are rare indeed.
People have asked me a lot of questions about my writing. Why the pseudonym? Where do I write? Do I ever write in the nude? Where do the ideas come from? But the best question that I received recently was:
What do you listen to when you write, Helena?
Yes, I have a myriad of musical muses, but when it’s sad stories or heartbreaking tales, invariably, I come back to Tom Waits.
Perhaps because I have no history or sentimentality about him. My father didn’t listen to Tom Waits, my sister didn’t turn me on to him — I discovered him on my own. Someone gave me a cassette of Blue Valentines when I was about nineteen, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
I admit, it took me a while to reconcile the smokey barroom jazz of Blue Valentines or Small Change with the noisy burlesque of Swordfishtrombones or Rain Dogs. If there’s anything constant about Tom Waits it’s that he’s always changing, experimenting, evolving. The man will try anything, use anything as an instrument (even a typewriter!) and uses his voice as a character all its own.
There is no one like Tom Waits.
Yes, you say, but you could say that about anyone.
No, darlings, I’m sorry, but no. We’re not all beautiful and unique snowflakes. No offence, but there’s a dozen of you, and at least one or two of me out there if you look hard enough — but there is only one Tom Waits. I assure you that you’ve never heard anything like him.
Now, the disclaimer. This is not pop music. This is for people who love music — not just people who need to have some kind of sonic wallpaper — those quiet-aphobes, those noise-aholics — but people who chew at music like it’s a bone, cracking it open and sucking out the marrow. Don’t get me wrong — I, too, sometimes just want to put on something I can ignore — but some music demands your attention. Tom Waits is going to tell you stories — stories about drunks and hookers, and true love, and broken hearts and homes, and even a tale about a bored middle aged man who decides to burn his life down to the ground and sit back and enjoy the view. He’s going to purr, he’s going to growl, he’s going to scream. He’s going to make you laugh, he’s going to make you cry. He’s going to make you believe in god, only to realize that he and the devil are the same person — but the devil’s only god when he’s drunk.
As this is a primer, I’m going to show you a few of the different voices of Tom Waits. I’m not going to go all crazy and pull out obscure tunes. So if you’re familiar with the man’s music, just sit back and enjoy what are probably some of your favourites already. If you’re new to Tom Waits, prepare to be mystified. I’d say “they don’t make music like this anymore” but the fact is, nobody ever did. Only Tom.
I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You
I Wish I Was In New Orleans
Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis
Heartattack and Vine (amazing live performance)
A Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun (his stories are priceless)
16 Shells From a Thirty-Ought Six
Frank’s Wild Years (great story!)
Jockey Full of Bourbon
A Little Drop of Poison
The Earth Died Screaming
Get Behind The Mule (I want this on the soundtrack for the Bayou stories)
God’s Away on Business
And, as a bonus…. one of the coolest things ever — from the movie: Coffee & Cigarettes.