Thursday, June 26, 2008

Across Town from Easy Street

The other day I was in a coffee shop, getting the one cup of coffee I drink per day. Sometimes I drink more than one cup, but man do I feel it. Not like the old days when I was downing five, six, seven, eight cups a day. Was I irritable? Was I ever!

Anyway, while I was waiting for my Americano, the coffee shop was playing "Emotional Weather Report" by Tom Waits from his fake live album, Nighthawks at the Diner. What a song! What an album! I hadn't heard it in years, but I was glad I was hearing it then and there. It's been said that Bruce Springsteen, especially in the 70s, affected a nostalgia for a 50s that never was. But on Nighthawks, Waits not only evokes, but surpasses a false ideal of a 1950s Beat/Jazz sound. If you heard it when you were 13 in Saskatoon, it would set you up for disappointment when you'd eventually hear (on tape) real Beat Poets at 18 in Wawa. When you hear Polaris-nominee (and next year's Bill Richardson) Buck 65 rapping about 1957, he's not channelling Ferlinghetti, he's riffing on Nighthawks at the Diner. The album creates an appetite for a spoken word genre that would never live up to the hype. Likewise, it created unrealized expectations for jazz music.

The best part of the album isn't even the songs, but the interstitial interludes where Waits tells dirty jokes, tall tales, and sometimes just says things that might not even mean anything but sure as hell sound cool.

Waits would evolve into a more interesting artist, and even an Important Artist (whatever that's worth), but he'd never more entertaining (though you should for sure check out his story about the Civil War bullet on the Big Time album).

mp3: "Nighthawk Postcards" by Tom Waits

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