Bringing Home the Freshest Kill

Posts in the Tom Waits category

Suggested listening right now. In the downtempo, low-key autumn mode.

With some spastic flourishes.

The Monkees


  • Uranium,” Thinking Fellers Union Local 282
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By Ricky Sprague

Note: Because of a technological error, this post did not appear back in December 2010 when it was originally composed. It is presented here today because it is simply too good, too insightful, to not post.

Since this is MC’s website, and MC is a music man, I have decided to embarrass myself with ruminations on this year’s “rock and roll hall of fame” inductees. I offer these ruminations as someone with very little musical skill (I can play “When the Saints go Marching in” on a harmonica, and I wrote a song called “Smallinator (The Love Theme from “Sperm! The Motion Picture”) which was nominated for an award at a film festival, and I also wrote a blues-tinged song called “Yeast Infection Woman” which has only been performed in public twice that I know of) and very little knowledge of music history or the mechanics of music. So take these thoughts for what they are worth.

First, the list of this year’s inductees:

Alice Cooper Band

Neil Diamond

Dr. John

Darlene Love

Tom Waits

Jac Holzman

Art Rupe

Leon Russell

Now, my impressions:

Alice Cooper Band: When I was a small child, KISS commanded most of my hard rock/horror/theatrical/baroque attention, so I had little time for Mr. Cooper. That is to my detriment. I have vague memories of hearing the song “School’s Out” and thinking, “Why is he so excited that school’s out?”

But now I am a much older person and I know. He was excited because school was out for-EVER! Moreover, it’s been “blown to pieces.” Try to imagine if he recorded that song today. He’d be put on a watch list for making a terrorist threat. The first kid that bullied another one would blame this song and he’d be vilified.  He’d have to change the lyrics, just as the Black Eyed Peas changed “Let’s Get Retarded in Here” to “Let’s Get it Started in Here,” or whatever the hell they changed their song to.

But that’s not even my favorite of Mr. Cooper’s songs. That distinction belongs to the sublime anthem “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” Just look at these amazing lyrics:

 I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing

Till they got a hold of me

I opened doors for little old ladies

I helped the blind to see

I got no friends ’cause they read the papers

They can’t be seen with me

And I’m gettin’ real shot down

And I’m feelin’ mean

Beautiful and hilarious. That “I’ve got no friends ‘cause they read the papers” is as genuinely witty and insightful a line as anyone ever recorded. Stevie Smith could almost have written that line. Oh, and also, there’s this:

 When everybody rose the Reverend Smithy

He recognized me and punched me in the nose

He is so sick, so obscene, that he drives the “reverend” to punch him in the nose. My kind of guy. Ricky definitely approves of Mr. Cooper’s induction into the rock and roll hall of fame.

Alice Cooper comic book

Neil Diamond: Ugh.

In 1982 there was an unfortunate film entitled “E.T.,” which inexplicably captured the attention of a nation desperate to recover from the trauma of the failed attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, or something, I don’t know. I was just a kid, not even ten when I sat through the film and even though I was a burgeoning anti-authoritarian I was still rooting for the government agents to take E.T.’s ass to Area 51 and carve him the hell up. For me, the phrase “Phone home” was the same as “go to hell.” Ugly little cretin and a maudlin, creepy, syrupy film. Anyone who would be “moved” by such a film did not understand real emotion.

ET heart light

Neil Diamond was so moved by the film he wrote a maudlin, creepy, syrupy song about it. The song was called “Heartlight,” and it corrupted October and November 1982. It was all over the place; inescapable.  How could the same year that gave us Bertie Higgins’s “Key Largo” and Ronnie Milsap’s “Any Day Now” have gone so wrong?

Not only did E.T. not pay Mr. Diamond to waste his time creating this treacle, according to wikipedia, Mr. Diamond actually had to pay E.T. $25,000 for the privilege of using “ideas from the film.”

 “Turn on your heartlight

in the middle of a young boy’s dream

Don’t wake me up too soon…”

That is creepy. And not in a fun, Chris Rea “Fool if You Think it’s Over” or Steely Dan “Hey Nineteen” kind of way, but in a Hoarders-there’s-somebody-living-in-the-basement-that-we-didn’t-know-about kind of way.

My point is, every time I hear a Neil Diamond song, I think of that loathsome “Heartlight,” and it’s “home is the most excellent place of all” Hallmark card sentimentality.

In fairness, however, the song did give me the opportunity to use my substitute-the-word-“fart”-for-“heart”-in-pop-songs-and-it’s-always-funny theory. It worked, too. “Turn on your fart light.” That’s funny. (Other songs with which I did this around that time were Dionne Warick’s “Heartbreaker” [“Fartstinker”], and Don Johnson’s “Heart Beat” [“Fart Stink”].)

Turn off your heartlight now, rock and roll hall of fame.

Dr. John: The only Dr. John song I really know is “Right Place, Wrong Time.” That is an awesome song. But.

He also did the theme song for the television show “Blossom,” with Mayim Byalik. It was called “My Opinionation.”

What is an “Opinionation”? And, more importantly, how much money did Dr. John receive for his services in the creation of this “Abomination” I mean “Opinionation”?

I seem to recall thinking at the time that the actress Jenna Von Oÿ was attractive, but that might have had something to do with the oomlauts. I always wanted to sleep with a woman who had oomlauts.

Blossom opening oomlauts

Dr. John also, according to wikipedia, recorded a jingle (a “Dr. Johngle”?) for Popeye’s Chicken. This raises an interesting question. Given the fact that so many musicians today seem to be writing music with commercial jingles, ring tones, and television and movie soundtracks in mind (is there any television show today that doesn’t close with a three minute montage set to some meaningful pop song?), what does that do to the art of music-making itself? The aforementioned Black Eyed Peas are not exactly blazing any trails artistically, but commercially they are. The line between art and commerce is being blurred more every day.

Soon, the rock and roll hall of fame will include Moby. And Coldplay. N*Sync. Limp Bizkit. And Black Eyed Peas. The cast of “Glee” will be inducted. And why not? They’re doing a lot to increase the sales of music in a world that is increasingly fractured and specialized. People are fast-forwarding through the commercials – these musicians have to come up with some way to make their money.

And anyway, what is the rock and roll hall of fame if not advertising?

Darlene Love: I did not know her name. I’d heard the song “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” of course, but until five minutes ago I couldn’t have told you the name of the woman who sang it.  She has had a hell of a career and deserves her slot, though. Shame on me for not knowing more about her. Somehow, I will have to recover from this.

Tom Waits: When I was in high school, Nick at Nite began running episodes of Fernwood 2Night, the greatest television show of all time. I had actually watched it a few times when I was a baby, although I couldn’t really remember it (my memories of the terrifying “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” the show from which it was spun off, were too overpowering). But I watched it every night on Nick at Nite. I set the VCR to record the show when I might miss it (remember VCRs?). Mr. Waits appeared on one episode of “Fernwood 2Night,” and two episodes of “America 2Night” (Barth et al got syndicated nationally) and yes he made a big impression on me, but it wasn’t until I heard Rod Stewart’s version of “Downtown Train” that I realized the guy must be a genius.

Tom Waits Fernwood 2night

This was the first Rod Stewart song since “Tonight I’m Yours” that I actually liked. I liked it a lot (and I think the only reason I really liked “Tonight I’m Yours” was because of the video).

So I started buying up all the cassette tapes I could find (remember cassette tapes?). First was “Frank’s Wild Years,” then “The Anthology of Tom Waits,”’ then finally “Rain Dogs” (I’d have bought “Rain Dogs” first, because of “Downtown Train,” but this was back before Best Buy or the internet, when a young boy living in a small town in the midwest had to actually drive to the big city to find anything that wasn’t Neil Diamond.) I remember driving back from Bloomington Indiana with my friend Brian and putting my newly-purchased “Small Change” in the tape deck and listening to “Step Right Up” eight times, until the tape deck tried to eat it (remember having to rewind your cassette tapes to listen to a song again?).

I gave a speech about him in my speech class. I examined one of his songs for a poetry class (“Ninth and Hennepin”). Through high school and most of college, if you’d asked me – and not a lot of people ever did – I’d have told you that Mr. Waits was my favorite musician. Even more than Steely Dan, who had actually written a song about me. (Not really, but I can pretend.)

Mr. Waits was the reason I finally broke down and bought a CD player – “Closing Time” wasn’t available on cassette at that time. Actually, my girlfriend at the time bought me the CD, and when she gave it to me she had cut Mr. Waits’s picture from the outer cardboard packaging in which the CD had been packed (remember the outlandish packaging CDs used to come in?) and glued it to the paper in which she’d wrapped it and she wrote underneath his picture, “Tom and I, we both love you.” It was sweet and creepy which was why she and I got along so well.

Anyway, I still admire Mr. Waits. I still buy everything he releases and I’m generally happy I did. I’m always glad to see him in movies like “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus,” and “Mystery Men,” and “Ironweed.” He’s a natural actor because he plays characters in his songs. In one of his Audio Files columns, MC wrote that he didn’t care for Mr. Waits when he was getting too theatrical, or something, I’m too lazy to look it up but that’s not entirely fair, since Waits has always, from “Closing Time” onward, been playing characters and been theatrical.

Moreover, and I only learned this recently, Mr. Waits appeared in one of the first “music videos,” entitled “Tom Waits for No One.”

Tom Waits animated with dancing girl

Jack Holzman: The founder of Elektra Records. Deserves it just for that. But look at his attitude about the internet and music:

“I was having lunch with a very dear friend of mine [in the record business] sometime around 2000,” Holzman said during an interview this week with CNET. “We met right around the time when Napster came together, and I said ‘There are opportunities and there are potholes. How are you preparing for a digital future?’ He said to me, ‘Jac, I just want it to go away.’ Well, you can’t continue that conversation.”

At a time when most record executives and musicians and claiming that the internet is “killing” music, he is seeing opportunities. And:

Holzman agrees with some of the arguments made by Lawrence Lessig, the academic who has called for making copyright and trademark laws less restrictive.

 “I think Lessig has some good ideas,” Holzman said. “We have to be free enough with our music to permit people to adapt it for their own purposes and to create new works out of the building blocks of our music. I know that will drive most of my fellow record company people up the wall.”

So way to go rock and roll hall of fame on this one.

Art Rupe: Founded Specialty Records and bought out Little Richard from Peacock Records. Since Little Richard basically invented Rock and Roll music in his recordings for Specialty (“Lucille,” “Good Golly Miss Molly”), how is it that he’s only being inducted now?

Boo to the rock and roll hall of fame for that.

Leon Russell: This is why the rock and roll hall of fame exists. I’d heard of Leon Russell, and heard some of his songs here and there, but it wasn’t until it was announced that he was being inducted into the hall that I actually looked him up and started listening to his stuff seriously.

Whenever I discover a (new to me) artist in this way, I try to console myself by thinking something like “I wouldn’t have appreciated them before, and I would have dismissed them.” Again, as with Darlene Love, shame on me.

Kudos to the hall of fame. As a marketing device, it’s supremely effective. But I wonder how many other worthies are being left out? I’m sure that those of you who are more music savvy than I have plenty of examples.

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