Quintessential Tom Waits

Like some sort of  unintentional core sample, this song gracefully arcs across Tom Waits’ Asylum, Island and Anti years, distilling what’s notable about each of these periods. Think of it as his Greatest Hits encapsulated in a single monologue . . .


We put up our tent on a dark

green knoll, outside of town by

the train tracks and a seagull dump

Topping the bill was Horse Face Ethel

and her ‘Marvellous Pigs In Satin’

We pounded our stakes in the ground

All powder brown

And the branches spread like scary

fingers reaching

We were in a pasture outside Kankakee

And One Eyed Myra, the queen of

the galley who trained the

ostrich and the camels

She looked at me squinty with her

one good eye in a Roy Orbison

T-shirt as she bottle fed

an orangutan named Tripod

And then there was

Yodeling Elaine the

queen of the air who wore a

dollar sign medallion and she

had a tiny bubble of spittle

around her nostril and a

little rusty tear, for she had

lassoed and lost another tipsy sailor

And over in

the burnt yellow tent

by the frozen tractor, the

music was like electric sugar

And Zuzu Bolin played

‘Stavin’ Chain’ and Mighty

Tiny on the saw and he

threw his head back with a

mouth full of gold teeth

And they played ‘Lopsided heart’

And ‘Moon over Dog Street’

And by the time they played ‘Moanin Low’

I was soakin’ wet and wild eyed

And Doctor Bliss slipped me a

preparation and I fell asleep with

‘Livery Stable Blues’ in my ear

And me and Molley Hoey drank

Pruno and Koolaid and she had a

tattoo gun made out of a cassette

motor and a guitar string and

she soaked a hanky in 3 Roses

and rubbed it on the spot

and drew a rickety heart and

a bent arrow and it hurt like hell

And Funeral Wells spun Poodle Murphy on the target

as he threw his hardware,

Only once in Sheboygan did he miss

at a matinee on Diamond Pier and

she’d never let him forget it

They were doing two shows and she

had a high fever and he took

off a piece of her ear and

Tip Little told her she should

leave the bum

but Poodle said, “He fetched me

last time I run.”

But I’d like to hammer this ring into a bullet

And I wish I had some whiskey and a gun

my dear

And I wish I had some whiskey and a gun

my dear

–Tom Waits