Last night at the Waldorf Astoria one of my musical heroes Tom Waits was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by one of my other musical heroes Neil Young. As the years have gone by and Waits has hammered out groundbreaking after groundbreaking album his seemingly underground role in modern popular music I believe will prove to be a foundation for the best of this form for years to come.
Waits was his usual strange and interesting self as he fired off a number of his incredible aphorisms during his acceptance speech. His story telling ability is as strong as his song performance skills and that’s a hell of a statement. If you’ve had the good fortune to see him live you’ll know of what I speak. There is no one else living that I’d rather sit by the proverbial campfire and listen to while they shared their soul and brain. The man is impossibly interesting.
Here is an example of some of the best as provided by The Village Voice:
“Thank you, this [trophy] is very heavy. I just want to know if there’s a keychain version of this. Just so I can hear, ‘Pete, take the cuffs off, he’s a Hall of Famer.'”
“Sounds are really just an interesting thing to be doing with the air.”
“We all love music, but what we all really want is music to love us.”
“Any day on this side of the dirt is a great day”
“They say that I have no hits, that I’m difficult to work with. They say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“The only thing I can compare this to, was when I was given the key to the city of El Paso.”
“Thank you very much, this has been very encouraging.”
A man could live a pretty good life just heeding and appreciating those words.
His performance was totally Tom as he decided to fore-go the usual mega musician arrangements by Paul Schaeffer’s house band. Instead he used his own band and performed four giants from his substantial catalog. Hold your breath for a second, exhale and then read the set list. I’ve included various live performances of each song as a taste of what to expect when the ceremony is broadcast on TV:
“Make It Rain” from Real Gone:
“Rain Dogs” from Rain Dogs:
“The House Where Nobody Lives” from Mule Variations:
“Get Behind the Mule*” from Mule Variations:
*Performed with Neil Young
I threw down with my top ten albums of all time list a while back and Tom’s Mule Variations fell in at number five. I got no regrets with that evaluation in regards to a big ol’ revelation of a life text that is that record. I, for one, was ecstatic to see two songs from that masterpiece.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame seems to be a contradiction of itself, an institution for a music fueled in the fires of deinstitutionalization but I have to admit that some extremely special moments have been manifested from this concept including Bruce Springsteen’s induction of Bob Dylan among many others.
This is counterpointed by some egregious errors in who has failed to be nominated and my number one on that list is Lonnie Donegan, the king of Skiffle. The Beatles picked up guitars and started a band directly because of this man’s influence on British popular music. But this discussion is for another place and another time because, for my heart and mind, last night belonged to Tom Waits.
“What makes a house grand it ain’t the roof or the doors. If there is love in a house it’s a palace for sure. Without love it’s nothing but a house where nobody lives.”
I believe in that right down to my bones and when Tom Waits hits you deep you know he does too.