Congratulations to you, Mr. Waits, on your recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It feels strange to call you Mr. – such a prominent presence you have in our carefully cultivated day to day reality – we sometimes forget that we’re actually not the mutually-held dear friends we imagine we could be.
We first met you via the soundtrack to the movie Basquiat. Your voice, of course – it was your voice that caught our attention and crawled under our skin and wedged itself into the crinkly recesses of our brains. Who IS that, we had to know. We were just a couple of college punks at the time. We had no idea how our entire musical library was to evolve, how the very act of listening to music was about to become more visceral and investigative. I bought Andrew a copy of Small Change for Christmas some time around 2002, I’d guess, and I distinctly remember going to the music store, thrown off balance by the number of albums I had to choose from. Which? It was already a risky idea for a gift – we liked the one song we knew, but was it just the novelty that drew our attention, or something deeper? I chose Small Change for its inclusion of Tom Traubert’s Blues – that it also had a stripper on the album cover only made it better. You had us by the second track. That album plays now with the same sentimental, lovestruck haze and exhilaration that usually accompanies the soundtrack of a new relationship.
When we had our first child, we beamed with pride when our midwife declared ours the most eclectic selection of birthing music yet, weighted heavily with the dozen or so albums we had of yours. It was amusing that our daughter chose Tool’s Reflection as the song to be born to, but she quickly claimed Coney Island Baby as her own. Its four-syllable compatibility with Is-a-dor-a was fortuitous – I think she was at least 4 years old before she realized the song was not written specifically for her. The song remains, now joined by others of yours, on the mix of songs that send her off to sleep each night. The same is true for our 2 yr old son, who’s only just transitioned from the (Miami) sound machine white noise to a mix of hand-picked music.
Though you did not see us, we were there amid the crowd in Chicago, and we made the road trip to see you in Columbus, the stop furthest north on your Glitter and Doom tour. We’ll go further if we have to for any upcoming tours, but we vow to get a better hotel. That Columbus outfit we chose was a bullshit hole-in-the-wall straight out of one of your songs. I’d bet Andrew could pinpoint which – he’s great like that. Me – I tend to reference your songs in a more visual way, pulling apart the layers of paint and dust and velvet and rusty hinges and tin cans kicked down the street and breathing and that rooster. God, we love that rooster, have our own now, who you’re welcome to record if you get in a bind ever.
Over the years, I’ve tried to figure out what it is that makes your music so powerful for me. It might be that we are of the same tribe. At least this is what I imagine from the mental composite I’ve drawn up from the clues laid out before me. At the very least, we speak your language. The need to point out the piercingly beautiful bloom of lichen growing on the cement cover of the septic tank. Or how the slapping of the faded flag against the pole creates a staccato rhythm that can’t be ignored. I’m no musician; my work is visual, but I take notice of how you effortlessly make beautiful the everyday, the underdog, the discarded, which is what I aim to do myself. I’ve seen your photographs of oil stains; I’ve read that you cultivate treasures from ‘junk.’ Were we neighbors, I don’t doubt we’d run into one another while scavenging, that you’d have to arm-wrestle me for a beat-up, rusty something-or-other on the curb. Really, you could just play your “I’m Tom Waits” card and I’d drop whatever it was, fawning all over the place.
Speaking of fawning all over the place, please excuse all that. And do deliver whatever portion of this fawning is due Kathleen. You should know that we’ve taken your suggestions to widen our musical horizons and invited Howlin’ Wolf into the mix. Also Lead Belly. We’re on a far-reaching musical trajectory now, the starting point of which we can specifically pinpoint to your music. How do we begin to say thank you for that without sounding like a bunch of saps? Beats me.
So congratulations on your rightful induction into the Hall of Fame. For what it’s worth, you’ve been in ours since 2005.