This Waitsmas Finale is dedicated to Ralph Carney. Rest in peace buddy—wherever you are, I hope you’re playing a saxophone and bass clarinet at the same time, you incredible badass.
Can you hear the blind street urchins banging their garbage cans? The rabbit bones clattering through our drain pipes? The conjoined twins looming portraits of the damned on Broadway? Do you know what it all means folks? That’s right: Waitsmas day is upon us! We’ve finally reached the apex of the one true holiday season, and are celebrating in style by inviting recurring castaway/life and death of the party Andy McAlpine to gush our way through the second half of the Tom Waits oeuvre, from the dramatis personae of Franks Wild Years to the raucous collage of Bad As Me.
After the Kathleen Brennan-inspired madness of Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs established a new direction for Tom Waits, he embarked on some of the freest experimentation of his career, embracing industrial primitivism on the apocalyptic Bone Machine and a Burroughsian carnival on The Black Rider. It was a period where he took his newfound freedom into strange new places, creating strange works that would never be repeated again before. And then, with the impeccable Mule Variations, the Tom Waits sound was fully canonized, setting off his path into respected elder statesman. But while many icons go stale at that point, Tom continued to make incredible albums, and while his pace has slowed down the quality of it has been as high as ever.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying that this is one of our most enthusiastic episodes since Sleater-Kinney, a beer-fueled mirth-fest that’s as raucous and celebratory as Waitsmas day should be. It’s all about finding joy in the darkness, and we can’t think of a better way to cap off a year like this than by inviting you to join us here, in this cave, around this weird-smelling yet intoxicating fire we call Tom Waits. Pay no mind to the screaming. Also: Andrew dispels the myth of Coney Island, Andy gives the traditional Waitsmas presents, and Max dies at the end.
Merry Waitsmas drunks and drunkettes! Yes, tis the season when all islanders forsake God and turn their eyes to the gutter in worship of the one true king: Tom Waits. This week we’re flying guestless so we can get down and dirty with the first half of his career, watching as a Brill Building jazzbo blooms into some sort of horrifying junkyard scarecrow preacher man. If you’ve ever wondered what it sounds like when an iconoclast is still trying to find their voice, the line of albums from Closing Time to Rain Dogs is a good place to start. But it’s also filled with some of the most genuinely beautiful work of his career, packed with bawling ballads and jazzy improv that would fall to the wayside later in his career. So join us as we inaugurate the actual most wonderful time of the year, and maybe—just maybe—learn a little bit about ourselves. Also: Andrew seeks help for his Much Music fever dream, the Melvoin Alert returns, and we all hear the story of how baby Max met the reason for the season.
Can’t wait for Waitsmas? Neither can we, so we’re opening one of our presents early, only to discover that Grandma screwed up again and got us the wrong thing—a Tom Waits cover album, courtesy of Scarlett Johansson and Dave Sitek. Back in 2008, they came together to give us “Anywhere I Lay My Head,” the most baffling crossover vanity project of that innocent time before an evil land developer from an 80’s movie literally took the white house. But while “Actress Scarlett Johansson and TV on the Radio Member Dave Sitek Make an Album of Tom Waits Covers with Special Guest David Bowie” seems like a particularly hipster mad-lib from the outside, the result is actually surprisingly pleasant, and even—dare we say—a little dull.
Rather than taking the obvious route of Downtown Trains and Uptown Buses, “Anywhere I Lay My Head” is a collection of some real latter day deep cuts, the kind of playlist that belies a genuine fandom. And Sitek’s production is definitely a fresh take, turning each track into a sort of technicolor Julee Cruise dreamscape. But is that enough to make this a project worth revisiting? Also: The Beach vs. The Island, Subway gift card dilemmas, and several burps that Andrew really should’ve edited out.