Bride of Raindog: My love affair with Tom Waits
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February 23, 1998- I find out that Amber R’s mother dated the guy for three years. Having never heard of him, I do a little research and find out that we own no fewer than seven Tom Waits albums.
Too bad we no longer have a working turntable.
May 27, 1998- Dorian puts in Beautiful Maladies while we’re driving to a concert in L.A. He plays “Black Ryder” and “Underground” to piss off Amber, who sometimes wishes Tom Waits was her father.
the Bone Machine stage
June 3, 1999- I lose my copy of Bone Machine during a drunken night of karaoke at a friend’s apartment. I accuse Anna, an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, of theft.
I’m still convinced she has the CD stowed away and plays it on the sly.
September 30, 1999- I watch Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time, and Tom’s stirring performance as Renfield compensates even for Keanu Reeves.
the Mule Variations stage
July 20, 2000- Julian and I spot Tom’s doppelganger at Open Mic Nite behind Local Hero. The guy even has the widow’s peak. He pauses in his acoustic performance to take requests, and a homeless man in the back shouts, “Do you know anything by Tom Waits??”
The Other Tom pauses. “Er…uh…I did write this one thing that’s kind of in his style...”
Julian whispers to me, “How could it not be?”
October 22, 2000- Some guy online reads my AOL profile, which makes heavy mention of Tom. The guy IMs me to say, “Did you know Tom was a volunteer librarian at his kids’ elementary school? For a quarter they had no librarian, so he stepped up.”
the Closing Time stage
January 20, 2001- A classmate spots Tom at a flea market with his family. He’s seen kneeling next to a fussy toddler, saying, “The problem is that you’re two, and that’s awful. But in a couple weeks you’ll be three, and everything will be ok.”
the Blue Valentines stage
March 2, 2001- I realize that Laura in my Art Studio class has the lyrics to “The One That Got Away” written on her Converse.
March 2, 2002- Fatima, my Gorgeous Brazilian Friend, confesses: “Tom Waits is what made me want to come to the U.S. Through him I fell in love with the underbelly of Americana…”
April 23, 2002- My roommate, inexplicably obsessed with Stephen King’s It, tells me of her plans to have the phrase, “The magic exists” tattooed somewhere on her body. I suggest she have it written in Latin, so fewer people will realize what it means. I mention she might want to place it on her backside so that only a select few would ever see such a god-awful mistake.
She considers. “Maybe I should just have the initials ‘S.K.’ put on…”
I scoff. I lecture. I consider how much better ‘T.W.’ would look tattooed on my ass.
the Rain Dogs stage
May 31, 2002- Fatima and I skip out on class for coffee, and to hear our fellow students chat about who’s doing what to whom and in what dorm. Fatima produces her portable CD player, and I listen to Tom’s weathered vocals duet with an old drifter’s recording of “Jesus Blood Never Failed Me…”
It’s odd having a spiritual moment in the middle of Starbucks.
August 2, 2002- I spend $50 on film and $20 on gas while trying to perfect my photo project, a visual tribute to “Hold On," the ultimate ballad of road trips and lost loves. Photographer-friend Jamie acknowledges the import of what we’re doing, but resents that my car has no air conditioning.
the Heart Attack and Vine stage
August 24, 2002- An ex-boyfriend asks for a ‘best of’ Tom mix. I burn him eight CD’s and never hear from him again.
September 4, 2002- I discover that Tom did an album with Crystal Gale in the seventies. Entranced, I don’t leave the house for two days.
November 30, 2002- In my Theatre Lab class I memorize the lyrics to “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” for performance as a monologue. I really hit the line, “Charlie, I think of you/ Every time I pass a filling station…”
Afterward, I conclude that my colleagues aren’t ready for that kind of depth.
December 11, 2002- For an assessed performance, I interpret “Tango Til They’re Sore” for stage production. It just screams “drunken ex-starlet in an empty nightclub” to me.
The heads of the department don’t necessarily agree, and reviews are mixed.
the Small Change stage
November 12, 2003- Asked to contribute a good maritime piece in my ‘Water Imagery in Archaic Greek Poetry’ class, I bring printouts of “The Ocean Doesn’t Want Me Today.” Professor A – a wise Greek scholar who holds the Agropoulos Chair in Hellenic studies, and who has received both a Guggenheim and a Fulbright fellowship - closes his eyes and says, “Beautiful, beautiful.”
My classmates criticize me for not affecting a raspy voice during my reading.
December 28, 2003- Antonia, a close trusted personal friend, shows her ugly side by moving in on my man of the hour. That night I dream that I’m sitting next to Tom Waits at the Toronto Film Festival, and Antonia tries to lure him away by offering to buy him a drink. (Luckily Tom’s been dry for over twenty years. Stupid, ignorant girl.)
January 12, 2004 – Not talking to Antonia is hard. For friend and neighbor Julie, dating a guy long-distance is hard.
We over-indulge in sympathy margaritas, Julie and I. Julie makes her first drunken phone call. I send out an e-mail I can never take back.
As we’re sprawled on my bathroom floor I decide to tap into that bottomless well of Tom wisdom.
“Well, I lost my equilibrium and my car keys and my pride,” I recite.
Julie sits up and blinks. “What?” she asks me.
Yesterday- After careful, repeat listenings to both “Jesus Gonna Be Here” and “Come On Up to the House,” I decide that Tom Waits is my religion. Any wedding, baptism, or funeral ceremonies in my life will happen at an abandoned Texaco station somewhere up north. I will take communion at the counter of many a roadside, 24-hour coffee shop.
That’s how Tom would want it, I think.
Saundra Sorenson maintains that “Blue Valentines” is the greatest love song ever written.