Monday, June 22, 2015

"Tommy the Cat"

Primus, based on their humor, the volume, and a kind of primal eccentricity had a much deserved cult following, yet their one big success was a version of "Tommy the Cat" featuring Tom Waits, which, as a video, got a lot of MTV airtime, back when MTV still played music videos. 

Loud, loud, (did I mention loud?) metal-funk guitar starts off unpromisingly, the same riff heard from ten-score local bands that will go no further than the neighborhood bar. Just when the instrumentation implies there's nothing much there, Waits gravelly croon perks up one's attention and we're off to surreal Comedy Land. A staccato rap by Waits follows. The video opens with live action glimpse of an old man drinking at a bar, then we're off like a shot into a b/w cartoon featuring decrepit alleycats with bloodshot eyes. Waits' hyper-swift lyrics lament those cats that "hang out in droves" in O'Malley's Alley, lusting after a certain slutty she-kitty mooning for the stud-bull he-cat: "And that was me. Tommy the Cat." Although Waits didn't condescend to appear in the video, he's caricatured as the fat, lazy Tommy rapping the story from flat on his back on a moldering mattress like Disney from hell. 

"Tommy the Cat" is unquestionably the best thing Primus ever did, thanks to Tom Waits' guest appearance. It was the band's second version, recorded with Waits for their third album, Sailing the Seas of Cheese (1991). Two years earlier, on their first album, bassist Les Claypool's grampa sang what would become Waits' lines. In concert, Les sings the whole thing, but it's Waits that pumps the mediocrity into something fun.

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