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fromheadtoheart flag US - California - Full Moon 234 - 09/28/15

From head to heart
Tom Waits' Rain Dogs

Following our retroscope series going on for several years, here we go again. Yes, for one more year! Here's Speakers' corner's cousin; From head to heart. Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves'n'vaults of pop'n'rock. Blowing our ears and our head, punching our chest and shaking our heart, or simply tapping our shoulder. Making us go sentimental, but not slaphappy. This moonth we present a 30-year-old platter by a then 40-year-old (now a 65-year-old) entertainer. The biggest brawler, bawler, and bastard of them all. A bellower, a roarer, a screamer, a screecher, a shouter, a yeller, and a loud-moth, but also a whisperer, a speaker, a talker, a verbaliser, an utterer. A joker and a comedian, but also a serious artist - and truly, a hard act to follow.

coverpic Tom Waits
Rain Dogs
Island Records

Autumn 1985. Quite rainy as I remember. Rain Dogs was a most fitting soundtrack in this respect, accompanied by another oldie, even then, Robert Wyatt's Old Rottenhat, along with newer artists of the day - some of them long gone and forgotten by now.

I guess I found out Tom Waits might be something for me after seeing the video of "In The Neighbourhood" off Swordfishtrombones the autumn 1983. The album as such wasn't bad at all. I'm not usually too wild about blues, but Tom was one of those who managed to twist and blend it with other genres into something of his own. When Rain Dogs was released two years later, I was ready. It's a veritable cornucopia of great songs and a couple of instrumentals. 19 tracks in all; can you imagine? We are served vaudeville songs with a friendly nod towards Kurt Weill ("Singapore" and "Cemetery Polka"), rough'n'raw blues with a friendly nod towards Captain Beefheart ("Big Black Mariah", "Walking Spanish" and in particular "Union Square"), rough blues-ballad ("Blind Love"), swamp-blues ("Gun Street Girl"), up-tempo pop-ballad ("Hang Down Your Head" and "Midnight Train"), slow-tempo ballad ("Time"), blues ballad ("Diamonds And Gold"), New Orleans-alike funeral brass ("Anywhere I Lie My Head"), warped late night drunken bar-song ("Tango Till They're Sore"), howlingly hilarious and humorous instrumental avant-jazz for one whole minute ("Midtown"), instrumental jazz-oddity for 10 seconds more ("Bride Of Rain Dog"), spoken words over contemporary experimental stuff ("9th & Hennepin"), some impossible to characterize, some closer to pop and rock, but not quite the straight way. That goes for each and every song of the album. They're produced the Tom Waits way. Apart from the coarse voice of our man the album is distinguished by Tom's characteristic bluesy guitar sound whether played by himself or some guest. The warm wooden sound of the marimba graces several of the songs and gives some of the tracks a damp, nightly, exotic feature. Here's also accordion, trombone and double bass to name some of the not so usual instruments used to great effect.

Two of the best songs from the album were part of the soundtrack of the great Jim Jarmusch film Down By Law the following year starring Roberto Benigni, John Lurie and ... Tom Waits. I can't listen to "Jockey Full Of Burbon" strolling along without getting black and white pictures in my head of run-down houses and a cemetery in one of the less than prosperous suburbs of New Orleans from the opening scene of the film. Tom plays a disillusioned radio DJ that quarrels with his girlfriend. Or more correctly, she quarrels while he does nothing, and throws all his belongings out of the window. He doesn't protest until she finds his cool pointed shoes. Eventually out they go anyway. In the next scene Zack aka. Tom sits in the gutter an polishes his shoes with a shirt or something that has been thrown out surrounded by more or less broken records and more clothes. Then he raises and walk away without bringing anything with him except those cool shoes. Soon after he is arrested after being set up with a body in the trunk of the car he is supposed to drive from one end of the town to the other. It reminds of the persons being described in the lyrics of Rain Dogs, and the majority of other Tom Waits' songs for that matter. Mostly disillusioned and at the bottom of the social ladder. Some with a big heart, some without. The album was written in New York and deals with the fate of individuals in that city, but for me it seems fit for rough areas of New Orleans and Louisiana as well, where the unreliable narrator of "Tango Till They're Sore wants to go:

Well ya play that Tarantella
All the hounds they start to roar
The boys all go to hell
And then the Cubans hit the floor
They drive along the pipeline
They tango till they're sore
They take apart their nightmares
And they leave them by the door.

Let me fall out the window
With confetti in my hair
Deal out jacks or better
On a blanket by the stairs
I'll tell you all my secrets
But I lie about my past
Send me off to bed forever more.

Make sure they play my theme song
I guess daisies will have to do
Just get me to New Orleans
And paint shadows on the pews
Turn the spit on that pig
Kick the drum, let me down
Put my clarinet beneath your bed
Till I get back in town.

Let me fall out the window
With confetti in my hair
Deal out jacks or better
On a blanket by the stairs
I'll tell you all my secrets
But I lie about my past
So send me off to bed forever more.

Just make sure she's all in calico
And the color of a doll
Wave the flag on Cadillac day
And a skillet on the wall
Cut me a switch or hold your breath
Till the sun goes down
Write my name on the hood
Send me off to another town.

Then just let me fall out the window
With confetti in my hair
Deal out jacks or better
On a blanket by the stairs
I'll tell you all my secrets
But I lie about my past
So send me off to bed forever more.

Let me fall out the window
With confetti in my hair
Deal out jacks or better
On a blanket by the stairs
I'll tell you all my secrets
But I lie about my past
Will you send me off to bed forever more.

And no, it's not a young Tom depicted on the front cover of the album. The picture was taken by a Swedish photographer at a café in the red light district of Hamburg in the late 1960s. We also have to mention that Keef Richards guested on three of the songs and that Rod Stewart had a massive hit with a cover version of "Downtown Train" in 1990.

Rain Dogs might not have been the greatest album success of Tom Waits worldwide. However it has been his biggest chart success in Sweden and Norway, so far. Maybe it in some strange way it appeals more to Scandinavians than worldwide? Tom has released several great albums since 1985. For me, no one works quite as good as Rain Dogs. It's a fantastic album with some fantastic songs by a unique artist.

Copyright © 2015 JP e-mail address

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