The Bar is High and Always Open For Tom Waits’ Closing Time

When I first heard Tom Waits I was like WTF?!  How is someone with a voice so gruff getting paid to sing?  Similar reaction I had to my first hearing Leonard Cohen.  I was young… clearly I was stupid, and boy, baby I have come a long way.  I am loath to admit it, but I was quite a musical prude in my much younger days.  If I knew then… blah, blah, blah…

Tom Waits – Closing Time

Some of my most treasured albums are this one, The Heart of Saturday Night and Small Change, especially because “Tom Traubert’s Blues [Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen]” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written… Man it slays me.  Dessert Island track for sure.

With Waits it starts with the songwriting and storytelling.  The man creates canvases filled with amazing colors and sounds and shadows.  He takes you into worlds you would otherwise never know… but soon you realize that you do know them, perhaps not in the specifics but most definitely in the intimate, emotional details.

You also realize the depth of expression in his voice.  No one sings like him, and no one can.  It is what makes Tom Waits, Tom Waits… Who the hell wants to live in a world where everyone sings in the same octave and about the same exact things?

Once I got over my judgemental ignorance, Tom Waits became one of my favorite artists, and in fact, he is the only celebrity I have gotten speechless around.  I saw him at the Newark airport years and years ago, and could not muster the words to go talk to him.  My mouth literally fell open and just stayed there.  I have never gotten that way around anyone… and that includes Tom Hanks, Don Henley and some of my other faves… Okay, I have never met Bruce, so we’ll see how that goes.

This is his debut album and was released in 1973.  It is considered a “cult favorite,” since it has never sold more than half a million copies.  Hard to believe.  I will admit that I first heard The Eagles version of “Ol’ 55” and assumed it was their song for a long while… You know I love the Eagles, so lay off, but I much prefer Waits’ soulful and richer version.

This album is a great mix of rock, folk and smoky jazz… and also a little piano bar to boot.  Waits made his name at The Troubadour, one of my favorite venues in LA.  It’s where he was discovered by manager Herb Cohen in 1971 and David Geffen in 1972, with the latter signing him to Asylum Records.

Aside from the aforementioned “Ol’ 55” this album has some of Tom’s best songs, like “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”, “Martha”, “Ice Cream Man”“Grapefruit Moon” and the title song “Closing Time”.

The whole thing is a gem and it still shocks me that I did not more immediately embrace it.  Ah well, you live and you learn and there still may drinks to be had before closing time.  Cheers.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Bar is High and Always Open For Tom Waits’ Closing Time

  1. Pat O'Connor

    I used to run the ticketing department at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Tom Waits was in a production of Demon Wine by Thomas Babe. Great cast -Carol Kane, Phillip Baker Hall, Bill Pullman and others. Anyway, one day he came to the box office to work out ticket issues he was unhappy about. . His assistant was with him to do the talking. He kept up a running commentary of facial expressions, grunts and cackles which ran the gamut of indignation at the beginning of the conversation to happy satisfaction at the end of my exercise in excellent customer service. One of my top three customer service encounters. The other two were Helen Mirren and Dana Delany. They had no need for assistants. They simply smiled and exercised a simgen of the charm they had at their disposal. I they could have got me to cut off my arm.

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