Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tom Waits inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Recognition may not equal greatness, but it sure as hell helps. On March 14, Alice Cooper, Neil Diamond, Dr. John, Darlene Love and Tom Waits were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. If it's one thing I learned from The Drew Carey Show, it's that Cleveland rocks. Anyway, while "Sweet Caroline," has always held a special place in my heart, the only person I was excited about was Waits. Excitement doesn't really do it justice though. Tom Waits is my fourth favorite musician of all time. And while that may not sound like much, he isn't any higher because I don't feel like I earned the right to call him one of my top three.

He is such the man.

Let me first put a disclaimer in, I don't care if you like Tom Waits. In fact, I hate people who say they like Waits, because they like him for all the wrong reasons. You may have a Kerouac book on your shelf and Rain Dogs on vinyl, but if you don't truly appreciate the music than you suck. Liking Waits equals more than having something for small talk at your local coffee shop in order to impress the new barista. It's hard to get into Waits too, his style is so esoteric that it's difficult for some people to get him. He's all stages of rock and roll put through a Jack LaLanne juicer. Sometimes he is equal parts blues, industrial, vaudeville and any other kind of mayhem he can throw into one song. Other times he is a ballad singing raconteur, singing for all the poor souls lost in this great American experiment. He's in a league all his own.

Nick Cave happens to be in that league too.

My own personal Waits introduction came in 2006. For my high school we had magazine sales. An indentured servitude where we had to sell a certain amount of publication subscriptions. My mom use to renew her People Magazine subscription whenever the time came around. I had my choice of whatever magazine I wanted. Problem was that none of the magazines interested me in the slightest. As a last resort I picked Rolling Stone. It seemed like the best deal in the whole order booklet. And in my high school naivety, I thought it was cool. I realized eventually that the girl who brings the new issue of Rolling Stone to English class is probably not the coolest girl.

Now if that girl brought Spin to class, it would be a different story.

In 2006 I saw reviews for Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards. The review caught my eye, for some reason. The way they explained Waits style grabbed my attention. I couldn't get the promise of a voice "soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car" out of my mind. So I dragged my brother to the mall to find Orphans at FYE. Soon after, I acquired further Tom Waits and fell in love with the weird bastard. I was self conscious about my fan-hood though. I had no problem playing the CDs to people and perplexing anyone that stopped by the produce room in Acme, hearing Waits come out of the radio as I made fruit bowls. No I was worried about real Waits fans knowing how new I was to his genius. Orphans, while good, was basically a greatest hits edition of songs that weren't hits. I needed more.

Great album nonetheless.

It's great seeing Waits, someone that has always seemed fringe no matter how successfully he is, get acknowledgment from the Hall of Fame. I was still a little depressed reading the Hall of Fame briefs in the newspapers though. Waits would get nothing more than a sentence, while Neil Diamond had paragraphs dedicated to him. I was on vacation so I read a different paper each day, none of them talked about Waits past a mention. I doubt he minds. Whether the world appreciated him or not is irrelevant. Even if nobody listened to his music he would still probably make it. That's how cool he is.

A song of his was even used as a theme song on The Wire. How awesome is that?

It's not just his schizophrenic melodies or his detailed lyrics that make him cool. It's him on any talk show couch he's ever been on. It's the concerts that he does. He's even an established actor. Making movies and music like it's no big deal. He's worked with directors Jim Jarmusch, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola and Terry Gilliam in roles ranging from small cameos to principle players. He even played the devil himself in Gilliam's last film, Imagunarium of Doctor Parnassus. I personally enjoyed his role in "Wristcutters: A Love Story" as a camp leader in a purgatory that's reserved for suicides. It's a movie as weird and charming as he is, so you can see the fun he has throughout it.

It's like Everything is Illuminated mixed with Dead Like Me.

Am I a snob with my Waits love? Maybe. And I doubt Waits himself would like my snobbery. I just wish that people knew him more than writing songs that would later be sung by other artists (Bruce Springsteen with Jersey Girl and Rod Stewart with Downtown Train. Waits songs are also covered by Queens of the Stone Age, The Ramones and even Scarlett Johansson). He's a weird character but he's also a brilliant musician and a poet. He is the current avatar for music creativity and he doesn't have a care in the world. And it is this musical maverick that I respect so much that I can't even call him one of my favorite artist. My whimpy appreciation cannot do him justice.

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