Saturday, October 5, 2019

Repost - Tom Waits For No One - An Excerpt From Jay and the Americans

When I wrote Jay and the Americans, it was with the goal of keeping it 90% accurate. I'd been reading a lot of memoirs. For the first hundred pages or so, I'd find myself fascinated and then lose interest. The lack of plot in modern memoir was boring, no matter what The New York Times Book Review said. And so 90% of what is in Jay is the truth; the rest is fictional verisimilitude that serves as plot. I bring this up because Max Ten is real. Maxwell Tennial was the coolest kid at Van Nuys High and now the coolest dad and the coolest husband too, I suppose. I've always jokingly said that my man crush was Ellen, but really, it's Max Ten. OK, the point: Max sent me an email all about Waits after he read Jay and the Americans. I mean, how cool do you have to be to dis Waits? Am I right? Fucker even writes better than I do. Here's the email:
Tom Waits is just awful.
I can imagine all the hipsters if they heard this statement, choking on their clove cigarettes, twisting their Smith Bros. beards, tripping over the laces of cherry Doc Martens; the tattoo that says, "You’re Innocent When You Dream," starts to itch, her mocha latte spills, she forgets to record Portlandia.  "How could you say such a thing?" she implies with a look of disdain.
Reality: I don’t think I have ever seen a negative review of Tom Waits. Cool people are required to love him, and only the coolest people write music criticism, ergo blah blah blah; an assumption is made that those who don’t like him are listening to the Disney girls and Radio Banal. 
I guess I'm just annoyed.  If Waits had simply sung his songs like a normal human being instead of the Incredible Hulk (Tom Waits Smash), I'd have no reason to call him out; maybe if he didn't hope to expressly appeal to the margins of cool, to those college kids and the eternally infantine who prop up the Avant-Garde willy-nilly, I'd have nothing to complain about, but the newly devoted are the same types impressed by Duchamp's urinal in the same way that a four year old is thrown into hysterics by a floater in the bathtub. These folks play Rain Dogs in public at top volume to show how edgy they are, how unlike Mom and Dad. They prove that they are "artists" instead of frat boys by putting on Waits during the evening shift at Jamba Juice.
Point is, even the gods are flawed, or fall. Joni Mitchell comes to mind. From the sixties through Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter in 1977 she could do no wrong. Sometime after that she got bored, seemingly with her own talent, or she was far too influenced by the culture of cool, and, like Waits, began channeling old black men. We need Joni doing Charles Mingus about as much as we need a blonde Mingus singing "Circle Game."
For me Waits announces the coming of the art student in paint-splattered coveralls and gauges and dirt strategically left in the most visible places. Every move screams, "Look at me! I’m different; I'm post-colonial, post postmodern, deconstructing all I see and hear and step over; I must dress exactly like all other art students, rearranging the dirt and tattoos and duct tape, assuring that I recycle (but 'God don’t take away my K-cups.')"  
So, yes, J’accuse!  I object.  How excited I was when "In the Neighborhood" was in rotation on MTV.  Something new. "Look at this guy!" Or when he appeared in Rumblefish.  Waits was cool exemplified - but all the hipsters have ruined that, reminded me that this is a fallen God.  Ho-hum. 
Swordfishtrombones is indeed a ten, the albums that preceded it are iconic, and there is nothing less beautiful about Franks Wild Years (sic), but that voice.  Bowie said that Dylan had a voice like "sand and glue."  The difference: that is Dylan; that's how he sounds.  He's not a caricature of himself, a parody. Hipsters United has embraced the wrong Waits and I guess that's why I’m so bitter.  Waits should be a ten all the way around.  Makes me so angry.  Just sing, Tom, like on "Neighborhood" or "Please Call Me, Baby." Sing like Waits sings, not like Waits with a trach. Okay, I'm done now.  End of rant.

Jay and the Americans is available all over the world!

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