Monday, March 22, 2021

My Brushes with Fame Take One: Tom Waits

First off I haven’t been posting now for a couple years and still intend to get all my songs up and online here and etc and so forth but let’s try my moving forward with this idea.  My Brushes with Fame!

Take one: Tom Waits


I’m a huge fan. He is one my few real songwriting  heroes.  My second concert experience ever was Tom Waits in the spring of 1979 Mandel Hall at The University of Chicago.  Amazing show! Quite theatric. 

I started playing his songs as well as I could shortly after that, the first one I learned was “Better Off Without a Wife” from Nighthawks at the Diner, the first of his records I bought at Second Hand Tunes in Hyde Park. 

I usually tell a truncated version of this when I introduce my song “In Regard of flight”,  but I posted it the other day on a Tom Waits fan group and it was quite enjoyed so I thought I’d share it here as well. 

The tale:

In 1986, I was flying back to Chicago late one night, and got on the EL at O’Hare to head home.  I had just begun writing songs at that point.

On the train were three people.  An African-American woman with two Shopping bags whom I assumed had just gotten off work at O’Hare.  The others were Tom

Waits and a male fellow traveler.

He was in town doing Franks Wild Year at Steppenwolf and apparently lived near Irving Park Road. 

I sat in the seat in front on Tom as he read Rolling Stone and ate popcorn.  I told him I loved Rain Dogs and that his was the second rock concert I’d ever been to in 1979 at Mandel Hall at my College the University of Chicago (my first was a few months earlier - Elvis Costello and the Attractions Armed Forces Tour at The Aragon Ballroom - The Rubinoos opened)

I started asking him questions.  He asked me if this was some kind of interview, and I said no but that I had just started writing songs, and was a big fan and was interested in his thoughts.  Then he started to talk with me, I guess realizing that I didn’t want something from him and that I was just annoying. 

He asked me what I wrote about and I answered “I write expositions on various things” which he thought was interesting.  I also told him I was a a doctor in training as well. 

He told me what he was listening to at the time which included Guadalcanal Diary as I recall.  And he said two wise things.  

First, that everything you give to music, music gives back.  Now 35 years , two bands, and having made three albums later I know that to be true. 

Second, that you should write about what you know. Advice so good I haven’t always followed it

He got off at Irving Park Road with his friend

I’ll never forget that night.  And I think my songs, especially my lyric writing, is often very influenced by Tom.


If anybody knows Tom feel free to pass the story along.  I can’t imagine he’d remember except it would surprise me if he never forgets anything ever. 


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Song #102. What We Are

From "Is Donald Trump the Modern Nero?"
What We Are      

Now that your world has gone turned inside out

And everything you hold true is plagued with doubt,

If there’s still a place where life’s wrestled free from fear,

And there’s a God who loves us,

It ain’t here.

Look, you and I both know that mistakes were made

As the philosopher said even Emperors will,

But it was telling the Emperor what kings just don’t want to hear

That got the philosopher killed.

When speaking lies is safer than speaking true,

Listen friend. There’s something you can do

Take your broken wooden heart

And carve yourself a gypsy violin.

Make it laugh just like a mother’s crying.

Listen while it whispers “The world isn’t dying”

And “Tomorrow‘s really not that far”.


Tomorrow’s what we are.

Get in my car.  I’ll drive us down to Ancient Rome,

54 AD.  Emperor Nero ‘s at home.

At night in his garden, Christian torches* aglow

He entertained the masses with a fiddle and a bow.

And like the late Spade Cooley, he kicked his wife to death.

He killed his brother and his mother, too.  It’s true.

And before Rome knew what hit her, fires would grow.

Tell me, does this sound like anyone you already know?

Somewhere hope can’t hurt you, it only makes you strong.

Somewhere no one claims a thing’s right that’s just plain wrong.

Somewhere men know we must walk awhile in another man’s shoes,

And that a lie is a lie, and not “fake news”.

The stones on your chest ain’t really new.

These fallen seas around can rise for me and for you.

Take your broken wooden heart

And carve yourself a gypsy violin.

Make it laugh just like a mother’s crying.

Listen while it whispers “The world isn’t dying”

And “Tomorrow‘s really not that far”.


Tomorrow’s what we are.
- February 2017

*What’s a ‘Christian Torch’, I hear you ask?  First, take a Christian.  Tie him to the top of a long pole.  Then douse him with pitch, and set him on fire.  An unusual light."

Notes on the song made 6/8/2017:  Somehow, present-day evil men often lead to us to comparisions to other men...Nero, Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Joe McCarthy, Napoleon. Attilla The Hun, Vlad The Impaler, Pol Pot, Trump.  The list is dismally dismayingly endless.  The persistence if this kind of malevolence married to power challenges notions that hope, while arguably audacious,  is actually just perseverating pipedream at best, and incoherent delusional madness  at worst.   Yet, as with was so brilliantly handled in O'Neal's The Iceman Cometh, hope is a kind of "you can't live with it and you can't live without it" sort of thing, with a special emphasis on the word "and".  Hope is the essential paradox of life.  Gypsies know about paradox, as well as evil, music and death. So, I guess I would leave you with the recommendation to give hope's fiddler a dram.

A recording on reverbnation

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Song #89. A Tout Jamais (Pour Eva)

A Tout Jamais (Pour Eva)

Is this for Eva,
This world that is all that it is?
Whatever it is, or was, the world never bothered with me.
And our mad conjurer Wittgenstein strolls out onto the sea,
With a small map of Europe tucked under his arm
Which he unfolds to be
Vast and unwanted new territory.
If you really can’t say,  try saying nothing*
For Eva

Again I have chosen to say nothing
For Eva

And for Eva,
I shall hide on my side of all our unknowns.
I am adrift.  I’m subdititious**. I have lost my home.
So I’ll winter in the branches of an old dead tree.
From these woods open my arms and try cling to the breeze
Blowing through all those moments which could never be requited
For Eva

Sometimes some things cannot be
For Eva

And Eva
When you unsubmerge you’ll no doubt be found
‘Neath that hat. The black-hearted poppy periscopes over its crown.
At the horizon, hope’s vanishing point,
In a green Flanders’ field,
I sit nearby where the world came to die.  The poppies here are real
And I break bread with the crosses and stones
Which stand row upon row upon row as no doubt they know
Every one that once was, was once the case.
Every one that once was, was once the case.
For every one the world lost here the world made its case
In a novena for all those the world misunderstood, or chose not to know,
And all the others the world has merely forgotten

The ninth day’s prayers are always held safe
For Eva

- For Eva Ave, November 2008

*My paraphrase of "Wovon man nicht sprechenkann, darüber muß man schweigen" ("Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent"), the final line in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

** Subdititious is an old word, often excluded from the dictionary, perhaps even your dictionary.  In case you are wondering I am using the second definition, that is, a surreptitious substitution.

subdititious 1. Placed underneath; used as a suppository. 2. Surreptitiously or fraudulently substituted, suppositious. Put secretly in the place of something else; foisted in

These comments were made on January 7th and 8th, 2017.

I’m not sure about this song really.  The title is a French pun; “Forever and ever for Eva”. Why a French pun, and not German or Flemish one? Answer:  my severe limitations in those languages, and that those countries are renowned for their genuinely poor sense of humor.

I’m not sure how Wittgenstein and WWI got into this one, not to mention Alfred Korzybski, and Gregory Bateson, but somehow they did. Alan Bennett is there too.  And Brel, of course. 
I blame Bennett primarily, and his play “The History Boys”, for the recrudescence of my interest in Wittgenstein.

Tell the truth, I am vastly ignorant about philosophy, and its major ideas, and its method.  When I have tried to talk about philosophy with more learned men than myself, my short comings are readily apparent.  Most of what I do know about philosophy comes from a “Beyond The Fringe” sketch.  There is an even funnier version of this one featuring with John Cleese.  Or perhaps you prefer The Bruces?

However, in fact, Wittgenstein and WWI seem to have direct connections somewhere in my mind as regards some of own basic tenets. First, that in general we do not know what the hell we are talking about, do we (?), at least with any precision, and really shouldn’t we all just shut up (Wittgenstein)?  Second, we like to get around this basic problem by rallying to consensus around very compelling but nonetheless really very bad ideas (WWI).

I do have a basic philosophy in fact.   I wrote about it here. 

“There was one thing the last decade [the 2000’s] taught me. I think it is a variation on the ideas of Karl Popper and Wittgenstein, but it may be a poor meritage made out of their sounder ideas. I am not sure. It remains that there is only one certain fact that all human beings from the beginning of times through our last decade and for humanity's remaining years will have in common. That fact is that some portion of what any individual knows to be absolutely true is not true. Its corollary is that most of the sorrow in the world that man creates for himself and for others stems largely from the heterogeneity of views regarding that fact.”

“So who the hell is Eva?”, I hear you screaming.  Eva Ave is a breathtakingly extraordinary person and artist I had the good fortune to know for a short time while I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I happened to be there in order to be tortured by the local university.

I dug Eva’s hat and she dug mine.  I believe we may have even exchanged hats briefly.

There are many things I could tell you about Eva.  Amsterdam, Portugal, St. Petersburg (FLA)…all places she has hailed from.  She’d a bad habit of not wearing proper shoes, or any shoes at all really. As a result, she nearly lost her leg to a snake bite in Spain, among other misadventures - a metaphor perhaps for her once sleeping regularly with a lawyer. 

I do hope to record a better version of this song for my 2017 release. Here’s an older DEMO version.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Song #101, A Short One On Life

A Short One On Life      
–for KR, Tom Skinner, Skyline Radio, and Tulsa

She walked in.
She looked around.
She picked me out and she spun me ‘round
And said, “Kiss me now boy, but don’t ever
     take your eyes off me.”

To this day, I ain’t sure if this story’s even true.
Tell me, does this kind of shit ever happen to you?
‘Cause it ain’t never happened to me before
     in my whole goddamn life 

And maybe, well maybe, she was just real drunk.
I couldn’t tell you.
Me? I’d rather take what comes
Then try to tell a river which way to run.
‘Cause there is only one fact
     that I’ve hewn hard from my long life,
And that’s that life, well it ain’t that long.

If she had a nickel,
Or so I was told,
For every one night wonder with a heart of gold
And a name for his cock that no thinking person
     would ever even name a dog,

Then she might have had time for nicer finer things.
She might’ve even stayed home past age 13,
When with her father’s long coat and his cigarettes,
     she hopped a freight train for Tennessee

And maybe, just maybe, she’s just crazy.
And sometimes, she’s just hurt.
But who needs a stranger’s tears.
A stranger’s more use for vodka and beers.
And you will never make me believe that it’s a sin
     to want a warmer place to sleep,
Even if just like life, he ain’t that long.

Well, there's some folks got names for women like her,
And she knows the places those kind of folks can go.
The small minded kind who like to pass judgement,
Well they can all just kiss her ass, then kiss the ass
     of the woman who should have been president.

There ought to be a law against stupid.

We stayed a couple
For a couple go ‘rounds,
As if two losts could ever make a found.
We were off and on and in and out for two years
     that I will never see again.

Well, I could complain out loud how my life unwound,
But that’s just the way that some lives are bound,
And although you know you can’t step
     into the same river twice,
Don’t mean you’re ever gonna quit tryin’.

And maybe, well maybe, life’s meant to be crazy,
Sad and strange,
Messed up and poorly planned,
And the only one you’re ever gonna have.
But sometimes, well sometimes, I get a little lucky,
     and something comes along,
Like a short song about life, how life ain’t that long

Like a short one on life, how life ain’t that long
- July 2016

These comments were made on1/7/17. 
     In comments I made a couple years ago on another of my songs ( "Can't See Me In This Light"), I drew the conclusion that "requited love is of less and less utility to me or to anyone else".  I would note here that the unrequited kind however remains very frequently felt, and is oft quite necessary. 

"See it as an inoculation, rather. Briefly painful, but providing immunity for however long it takes. Given the occasional booster, another face, another reminder of the pain, it can last you... half a lifetime."
- from Alan Bennett's The History Boys

Still, I think there is a good deal of truth in this "short one on life". The events and descriptions made reference to in this song DID all happened to women I have known, although not all to the same woman. And some of these things did happen to me as well.

What they hell do I know? I miss Tom, and KR, and Tulsa whenever I am away. And Skyline Radio is a great song.
And life is way too fucking short.

Eventually this song will be on my new album, probably later this year. Tentative title at this point is "Life' Ain't That Long". Or maybe "Common Sense Is For Pussies."

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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Song #90. Can’t See Me in This Light

for RL

All needs be
Seen by me
Is lit by the light
Burning steady in your eyes

Ruby glowing coal
Bank the timbers of your soul
The strange strong light
Burning steady in your eyes

Shine on me
Let your light shine down on me
It don't matter you can't see me in this light
But let your light shine down

If there’s a point
To have a heart
It’s so I'll know
Just what it means to lose it

And man it's gone
I'll never find it in a night gone blind
From the white pure gleaming
Burning steady in your eyes

Shine on me
Let your light shine down on me
It don't matter you can't see me in this light
But let your light shine down

All love is
Is a door ajar
You're drawn through
After light falling from a star

Build me a cage
Out of your arms
I will be a perfect effigy
Burning steady in your eyes

Shine on me
Let your light shine down on me
It don't matter you can't see me in this light
But let your light shine down

-December 2008

Notes written on 3/30/12. I think this is a very strong pop love song.  A dear friend has made it very clear that I need to read then reread Chekov’s 'Uncle Vanya’.  so I have started. On the other hand, when a profoundly naive man finds himself lost in the wilderness, thinking that he will starve to death from a lack of affection (or do I mean attention),  a young woman’s mere kindnesses can easily misconstrued.  This is even more true when that young woman is beautiful, and an artist, and insists on sharing with you her fantasies of being raped by older men. I wish you could gather the points accrued for being a gentleman, and redeem them later for something useful. 

But these smallish pathetic sins are probably very common, at least as common as the natural lack of common sense.  Apparently although I cannot and will not be loved, at least I can still suffer injury at love’s hand.  For me, it’s the closest thing to knowing I am still alive. And I do manage to transmute these woman into muses, and they do help get some songs written.  It leads to me to the conclusion that at my age, requited love is of less and less utility to me or to anyone else.  But then life is no more fair than a person is likely to get what he truly deserves.   There is an MP3 of the song here. 

Song #91. ‘77 /17

"[You] creep me was thirty years ago ...get over it" – Nancy H

'77 /17
It was fucking easy being green
And there, proudly on the movie screen
The rock and roll transvestite queen
Midnight lips
My first kiss
Susan Saradon’s lovely tits
John and Paul, Glen, Sid and Steve
Our brand new Elvis stops the TV
Harry Reems gets out of jail
William Jefferson Clinton still don’t inhale
But she let me put my fingers there
Then she slipped off her underwear
'77 /17
A couple hundred nights and
Christ, I really loved you Nancy

Was like a blur
The Pistols flipped off the whole fucking world
Steamed up car windows radio nights
Policemen and their long flash lights
Bee Gees under winter stars
Not all the way, but really far
I swore to her that my love was true
And God knows I longed to show her, too.

I walked hours to her house through streets of snow
Still, Nancy'd never tell me though
But if she had I would have died
What a fucking perfect way to go
'77 /17

Many many many many many nights and
Christ,  I really loved you Nancy


When eighteen hit
College-bound and dumb as shit

The music died at Winterland the fourteenth day
I prayed she wanted me to stay. But she wouldn’t say
God she really made me sad

But it looked to her like I got mad
So one day I just wouldn’t talk to her
And to this day, she ain't never said a word
Sid and his Nancy were a year away
But me, I think I really died that day
I want to go back and learn
How not to love someone in turn
Who lets you kiss 'em at a show
Where every punk that you know knows
'77 /17

Jesus Fucking Christ, I really loved you Nancy
Mary Holy Mother of Christ, I really loved you Nancy
-December 2008

Notes made on 3/29/12.  In the fall of 1977 I began my last year in high school.  It was also the year of the Sex Pistols and punk and new wave, none of which I got at the time.  That summer, I remember watching a story entitled “New Elizabethans” on Punk on Lloyd Dobyn’s hip TV news magazine “Weekend”, which substituted for SNL once a month.  I remember thinking that it was all a bit scary.  Weekend’s misleading premise was that punk  wasn’t so much about the music as it was about violence, and that the bands, despite their protestations, really saw punk as a ticket to get rich.  Elvis Presley died that summer too. 

Lloyd and the boys....

The “New Elvis” Elvis Costello stopped the 1977 Christmas episode on Saturday Night Live, the episode the Pistols were supposed to play on, but could not as they could not get US Visas due to their criminal records.  I drove my mother’s silver gremlin in those days, and in the fall 1977 the car radio played fantastic make-out music…Billy Joel’s The Stranger was out.  Saturday Night Fever was released.

Nancy was my first girlfriend.  She was an aspiring painter.  She worked on tech in the school shows, and I performed in those shows, which is how we met.  She was cool, and cool to me.  She was just about the first girl I ever got the nerve up to ask out.  Our first date was that fall.  I was invited to tag along with a group of her friends who were going to see the new wild film event in town, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, at the Theater for The Living Arts in Philadelphia which in the 1970’s was an art film/grind house, before becoming a concert venue called The Filmore at the TLA.    Interesting coincidence.  The Sex Pistols last show was at the Filmore in SF…

Dammit Janet....

I never did see the film that night, after the singing red lips, as Nancy and I made out the entire movie.  This was the first time anything that great had ever ever happened to me.  I was elated.  Through that fall and winter we went to many many movies with her over the next few months, and never really saw those either.  Man I was head over heels in love, but Nancy was more reticent, although she apparently enjoyed necking.  I wanted her to declare her undying love for me as I had for her (repeatedly), but for reasons which eluded me, but which still confirmed my worse feelings about myself, she would not use the L word.  Not once. So one day in Spring, profoundly hurt from unrequited love/requited lust,  I just stopped talking to her.  And she apparently seemed fine with this as far as I could tell, although later I did hear that she was hurt that I stopped talking to her.  Like me I know she is married and has near adult kids.  I have tried to reconnect with her, but she’ll have none of it.  Smart woman, certainly smarter than I’ll ever be.  I still don’t understand women to this day and probably never will.  As I have often said, “Por Que No Me Amas!!!!”.   Here is a video of a performance at the gallery.  There is an MP3 of the song here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Song #92. Versteht?, or Whose World and Whose Hands?

Did you know that Brecht used to sing songs with a guitar in coffeee bars?

Note: This song is written entirely in German, except for the words

Hey,  let's say we play this brand new game,
One where I make up all the rules.
And on your turn you follow all these rules to learn
That I've changed them all
And that it's always your turn.
And the game's called "Watch You Dangle"
From every bone you’re thrown
Do you know that all you know
Is just so very very very wrong.
C'mon Everybody, sing along!
Swing your hammer of a head and ring the bell.
All your dreams are dead as hell
'Cause I've got your whole world in my hand.
I've got your whole world in my hand.
And what part of "Fuck you!" don't you understand?
I remember when they used hold you up
Like a diamond against the sun
And I'd watch you as you caught the light
So that anyone who dared look at you would go blind.
But they say that what goes up
Sometimes needs a little help to land,
And that what goes 'round
Sometimes swings around
Wielding something shiny sharp and heavy in it's hand.
It’s so easy to fall for love with the ones one should avoid.
Look deep into my dark blue smile
And see what’s lying tightly coiled:
Hey I like you.
I do.
I even respect you, too.
Think of me as a faithful friend and fan.
Then watch as I wield your loyalty and trust
To turn every friend you ever had
Against you to a man.
The game‘s called “What’s the poison?”
That I've poured down in your well.
Spreading lies can satisfy
Near as much as pulling wings off writhing butterflies.
You’d never believe it if I told you
What the guy nailed up on that cross believes is true.
It's true.
And I’ve got your whole world in my hand.
I've got your whole world in my hand.
And what part of what you've heard don't you understand?
If you know "What Keeps Mankind Alive?"?
Sing it in the German if you can.
And what part of "Fuck you!" don't you understand?

-March 2009

“Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts!” – Brecht

"People who fight may lose. People who do not fight have already lost." - Bertolt Brecht

Notes were written on 3/12/2012.  I had the line “What part of 'fuck you' don’t you understand” for years.  Thought it be a good name for an album, too.  There is more than a little Elvis Costello in the song. There is a fair amount of vitriol as well.  Hopefully it doesn’t just spill out as whining. Who doesn’t feel that there are folks out there who gained your trust who relish fucking you over, for their own reasons.  Maybe good Buddhists don’t feel like this, but other then them, everyone. I haven’t recorded this one properly yet, although I did lay down a backing track once.

I would also strongly recommend that everyone become fully knowledgeable about Brecht’s Three Penny Opera, and especially the wonderful song “Dreigroschenfinale”.  There is a fantastic performance intranslation of this song by Tom Waits which he put on his brilliant album Orphans.