Monday, May 09, 2005

There's a place on my arm where I've written her name next to mine

"I wrote the song 'Kissing Things' thinking that I would try to get Tom Waits to sing it. Instead I got Sarah Cracknell to sing it, who has more or less the exact opposite voice of Tom Waits. She sounds like a choirboy, whereas Tom Waits sounds like he eats choirboys."

(A quote from Stephin, from an article on

As much as I adore Sarah Cracknell, her almost-cheerful delivery of "Kissing Things" doesn't quite paint a convincing picture of a chain-smoking barfly. Tom Waits, indeed, was born to play such a role. He's a beatnik wannabe born twenty years too late, bellowing songs about alcoholics, criminals, and heartbreak with his distinctively raspy voice. His songs overflow with vivid imagery: snapshots of endearing low-lifes in his early-to-mid work, Bosch-esque apocalyptic landscapes later in his career. Merritt's protagonists have a definite kinship with many of the personalities in Waits's songs - losers, lushes, and the lovelorn. Waits's characters might go to the same bars that Merritt's characters do, but Waits's guys probably beat up Merritt's guys in the back alley.

In a review of Waits's album Mule Variations for Chickfactor, Merritt writes:

Tom Waits as usual sounds like an erudite wino, who finds it so easy to write classic songs that he rarely bothers to do so, pounding on trash cans and singing/shouting short stories like Raymond Carver with repeated choruses. Heard one album, you've heard 'em all, but they're all good. [...] Also he remains one of the best lyricists in this increasingly difficult language...

Waits's musical career takes more directions than I can properly cover with only two songs, so I've picked a narrow focus this week: the piano ballad. This is a genre with which Merritt is quite comfortable - take "Busby Berkeley Dreams," "He Didn't," and "Is This What They Used to Call Love?" for example. One of the tracks this week is appropriate for Mother's Day; the other is not.


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