In the Pirate Corn*

Back when I was in high school and just starting college, I loved R.E.M.

When I would talk music with new friends, pretty much every time I brought up my fondness for R.E.M., someone would say, "What about U2? Don't you love U2?" I liked a couple songs by U2, but I never liked the group enough to actually pick up one of their CD's. Maybe if I'd actually listened to a CD--and not just the songs that played on the radio or MTV--I would have liked them. I mean, if I based my liking R.E.M. solely on what was played by them on the radio or MTV, I doubt I ever would have bought one of their albums either.

In grad school, whenever there were a few of us talking music, someone would bring up Tom Waits. It was like some kind of given, that if you wrote fiction or poetry and/or studied literature, you had to like Tom Waits.

I'm pretty sure, though, that I've never heard a Tom Waits song. And he's one of those artists whose catalogue of music intimidates me--because I have no idea where to start listening. And so, I never have.

Tonight, while doing that kind of pre-bedtime Internet browsing I tend to do sometimes, I came across this little poem by Simone Muench, which appears in an old issue of Words on Walls. I imagine the author has the South in mind, but the poem makes me think about my Midwest, and it makes me think rather fondly of it, makes me glad I'm around here. It makes me, too, want to know where to start when it comes to listening to Tom Waits. Anybody have any ideas?

Tom Waits, I Hate You--

the way your voice snags
my skin when I’m waltzing
through a coffee shop, for the thousand
crows caught in your throat,
how it rains
every time I play “Tom Traubert’s Blues.”
I hate you for every Valentine you never sent.
Call me indigo, azure, cerulean; call me
every shade of blue for being born
two decades after you.

I hate you for every cornfield, filling
station, phone booth I’ve passed with my feet
on the dash, listening to you pluck
nightingales from a piano; writhing
as if it were my ribcage being played
beneath a moon that is no grapefruit,
but the bottom of a shot glass.

For every bad relationship, every dead pet,
and every car I’ve wrecked
into light posts trying to tune you out;
for all the lost radios, Walkmans
tossed over bridges--still the sound of you
rising from water like a prayer at midday,
or the ragged song of cicadas
tugging frogs out of watery homes.

For every lounge lizard, raindog, barfly
I've met; for every vinyl booth I’ve been pushed
into by a boy with a bad haircut;
for every man I’ve fucked
according to the angle of his chin
or the color of his coat.
Tom Waits, I hate you.

Well, the night is too dark
for dreaming; the barman bellows out
last call; and you’ve turned me into a gun-
street girl with a pistol and a grudge
and an alligator belt, a pocket
full of love letters
that have never been sent.

Collected in The Air Lost in Breathing

*The random blog-post title comes from the name of a friend of mine's blog. His blog is still empty, but he may be putting up some poems soon, and if he ever does, you should go and check him out. I'll keep you updated.


Donna said...

Chuck (a sometime fiction writer) is quite the Tom Waits fan. The new double album, _Orphans_ is quite good. And I remember being quite taken with _Mule Variations_, which I believe we listened to on trips between Milwaukee and Indiana. It has a great, ominous (and humorous, cause it's Tom Waits) spoken word sort of piece: "What's He Building?"

So don't be afraid, Chad. If I can dip into Tom Waits, you can, too.

Donna said...

How many times can a person use "quite" in one comment? Sheesh.

Avery said...

I often find myself doing that while teaching: I'll be talking along and suddenly it'll occur to me ... hmmm ... I must have used that word at least five times already.

Words like "articulate" or "facilitate" or "juxtapose"

How dumb is that?

If only my students would notice things like that, then perhaps their writing would begin to improve.

For the record: I used "that" five times in this comment, including just now.

Donna said...

Oh, I don't know. Using "juxtapose" a lot seems better (more substantive, I guess) than using "quite" a lot. But thanks for the commiseration! (And thanks, too, for the note on Avery in the last comment thread.)

Chad Simpson said...

Oh, Donna & Steph--That's quite all right.

Sorry. Bad joke. I owe each of you a quarter.

Joshua Vinzant said...


Begin with Tom Waits: The Early Years. Captures his early tunes in stripped-down guts. From there...I stumble around blindly in his collections...there's the almost-hits like Heart attack and Vine, and etc.

Good luck. The last time anyone I know saw him live he was in Chicago stomping in a pile of dirt singing through a bullhorn.

Good luck. Let me know what you find.

Thanks for the link. I'll try to get the "Max" blog with some content shortly.

Andrew Simone said...

Start with The Heart of Saturday Night and don't let anybody tell you differently.