Tom Waits has now been around long enough to be considered an elder statesman and legend in rock music. His first album Closing Time was release back in 1973. This was the year that the first Bruce Springsteen and first Aerosmith albums were released. At the times, Waits was viewed as a potential next Dylan and a poet for the underbelly of life. Waits was the music industry's answer to poet Charles Bukowski.


 I have always found Waits to be an interesting character and I've always enjoyed the poetry that he so modestly calls lyrics. Last December, a collection of his lyrics was released. It is far from complete as it only includes lyrics up to the year 1982 but it is still a fine collection of verse. It features lyrics from ten albums. Each album is separate so one can easily find songs they want to read. Two of these are Early Years collections released in the early 90s. I am hoping that this is only the first collection and we are provided with volumes featuring later lyrics.


Waits was known for his husky, growl of a voice. He wrote of all night diners, low life drunks and other such characters. He spent his early years living the life he sang about. He stayed in cheap hotels and drove old jalopies. He enjoyed his booze and cigarettes. What makes him special is that he has always been able to nail the sorrow and the joy of his characters. Sometimes, his characters are bragging about a conquest or other times they are too hungover to know where they are. Waits embraced their world and made it his own.


 Numerous songs of Waits will be familiar to people because they were covered by other artists or featured in movies. The first song in this collection is Ol' 55. It is likely that more people are aware of The Eagles cover version of the song. This collection also includes Jersey Girl which was covered by Springsteen.


 His second album The Heart of A Saturday Night is one of my favorites. This includes great songs like New Coat of Paint, Diamonds on My Windshield, The Heart of a Saturday Night and Fumblin' With the Blues. The lyrics of New Coat of Paint show off the great Waitsian poetry:


 All your scribbled lovedreams, are lost or thrown away,/ Here amidst the shuffle of an overflowing day / Our love needs a transfusion so let's shoot it full of wine /Fishing for a good time starts with throwin' in your line.


 Many of Waits songs are almost classic for the titles alone: Better Off Without a Wife, The Piano Has Been Drinking, Warm Beer and Cold Women, Pasties and a G String or Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis. In Better Off Without a Wife, Waits saluted the ” bachelors and the bowery bums and those who feel that they're the ones who are better off without a wife”.  In Warm Beer and Cold Women he's drinking to forget ”the platinum blondes and tobacco brunettes.”  You can laugh out loud at his assertion in The Piano Has Been Drinking that the “owner is a mental midget with the I.Q. of a fencepost./ It's enough to make you wanna go 5 O'Clock shadow boxing around town. “


Waits tended to prefer greasy spoons and dive bars in these early days. He always managed to inject a bit of humor into the mix. He reveled in the same L.A. low life that Bukowski loved so much. Waits was never afraid to toss down a shot or fire up a couple cigarettes. He wrote a song called Saving All My Love For You about a prostitute. What makes Waits special is that he has always been able to make his characters come alive. This quality always came through in his music and it is captured well on the page. I found that it added a keen appreciation for how poetic his lyrics are.


Now, it should be pointed out that Waits always included lyrics on his album sleeves so some listeners may not feel compelled to run out and buy a book. That would be their loss though. I have most of the albums included in this volume. It is still great to be able to read the lyrics in a book. It saves me the trouble of having to pull sleeves out of a CD case. It also gives these lyrics their proper due as valid poetry.


 I think this is a collection that hardcore Waits fans will want to add to their library. I am sure those hardcore fans are also anxiously waiting for further volumes. I know a few of my favorite songs like Innocent When You Dream or Downtown Train (covered by Rod Stewart) came after the era from which this books lyrics were taken. Waits fans will find this essential. The curious might also want to give this a chance. Fans of Bukowski might enjoy this book. It is a fine collection of poetry from a warped but brilliant mind. It's one I expect to refer to over and over as the years go by.

Author's Notes/Comments: 

It always comes back to Tom Waits

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