What I said back then:
This is a bit of an unfocused memory, really – it’s about depression, and the way some things just speak to it. I guess I was aware of Tom Waits before I ever heard him sing; he’s that kind of musician. I do remember hearing an excerpt from Swordfishtrombones when it first came out, which would have been 1983, and doing what I guess most people do on first hearing that voice: wondering whether it was being played at the wrong speed. But something stuck with me. And then over the years, I would hear an occasional song which intrigued me, or which stood out lyrically or musically, or often, both; and as often as not, it would turn out to be a Tom Waits song: Nanci Griffith’s ‘San Diego Serenade’; Mary Chapin Carpenter’s ‘Downtown Train’; Rod Stewart’s odd version of ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’; Shawn Colvin’s ‘Heart of Saturday Night’; and then there was Holly Cole’s album of gorgeous jazz versions. And so, I loved these dark, brooding songs of love and loss long before I ever heard the originals.
So I bought some Tom Waits, and I played them until I knew them, and then I played them some more – I defy anyone not to be heartbroken by ‘Martha’, or ‘Ruby’s Arms’ or simply overpowered by ‘Kentucky Avenue’. I played this music at odd times – when I felt like it, I supposed; and then one day realised that it was a simple and effective indicator of whether I was feeling depressed – I would reach for my copy of ‘Asylum Years’ without thinking. Which leaves me with a dilemma – I love these songs, and what they say, but they reinforce my depressions. I don’t play them as much, these days – but when I do, I choose to because I’m feeling good, and able to cope with them. And nothing can or will change my opinion of him as an artist – he’s a unique and powerful voice, and an original songwriter. He’s also an acquired taste, but one worth the effort.
What I think now:
Well, I know I’m in a different place now to ten years ago. I don’t think that Tom Waits affects me the way he used to, and since this isn’t an autobiography, I’m not going to go into minute detail about why that might be, and what has changed specifically. I still have good days and bad days, of course, but I don’t think a tendency to listen to ‘Rain Dogs’ is a good indicator now – it’s just where I was then, and it was a different landscape to where I am now in many ways.
Interestingly, one of the few concrete things I did back then which seemed to help with the depression was to stop having caffeine. That was over ten years ago, to my astonishment. I’m sure the odd bit slips through, and I have on occasion accidentally ingested some, and boy do I know about it when I do…
And ‘Kentucky Avenue’ still has an effect on me; I just think it’s a different effect now.
Now that I can follow people like this on Facebook or Twitter, I’m more aware of what’s going on, and tend not to miss new releases and so on. This is a good thing, although it’s still a pleasant surprise to be ambushed by a new Tom Waits song in a local record store.
I’ve got to say, he’s probably even more of an acquired taste now than he was back then.
Still worth the effort.