art & littérature



A letter to Tom Waits

from a french fan








I’m living in Auvèrnhe (France). Sorry for my English if it is not that good. I do not speak that language every day… 

the moment I fell in love with Tom Waits music

When I was a young, young man, I was fond of The Beatles when my friends liked Supertramp, Queen and Genesis. They didn’t like the Beatles : it was old fashion. Then, I studied French and a bit of English literature at the faculty. A friend of mine made me listen to jazz and blues and I began to know much about that music and enjoy it. I first listen to Tom Waits’ music in a film by Jim Jarmush. I saw Stranger than Paradise in Clermont, (in French Clermont-Ferrand, the town where I’m living)  that film delighted me. I loved him. Then I go and see Down by Law, another film by Jim Jarmush and I heard Jockey Full of Bourbon. I remember that was the moment I fell in love with the music of Tom Waits. It was in 1985, I think. I bought Rain Dogs and I found it fantastic. I tried to make it listen to my friend, but they don’t like it. They preferred to listen to Michael Jackson and Madonna. I thought they were all fools, but  anyway, it was usual for me not to like the same thing the others like. Then I saw Waits as an actor with Roberto Begnini in the film Down by law. That movie was really good, but I was not fond of Tom Waits as an actor : he’s not bad, but I thought his qualities as a poet and a musician are far much greater. I thought he was loosing his time making cinema.

 I regret not to be good enough at English to really appreciate Tom Waits as a poet. To my ears, Tom Waits lyrics are much better than any other lyrics. I like the music of his lyrics, and the way he sings it.

Waits songs are classics

We hear lot of English or American music in France on the radio, but not Tom Waits of course, except for one very rare emission (I think that France Inter’s “Loup Garou” specialized in Rock music broadcasted the last concert in Paris ). I liked very much to listen to Swordfishtrombone. We could ear at the radio Soldiers things that was interpreted by Paul Young if I remember well. A friend of mine who disliked Tom Waits was a Paul Young’s fan and she liked that song. We must say that Tom Wait’s voice is not easy to ear, especially live. We’re far from Barbara Streisand’s concerts. That frightens people, they can just listen to the voice, they forget to listen to the music. Then, that kind of creativeness is not often appreciate by the general public. As for me, I think some of Waits songs are classics. Songs like Tango till they Sore, Rain Dogs, Soldiers things

as much interesting in the “asylum years” than after

Then in the nineties, I began to listen to more French “chanson à texte” (Brassens, especially) then I began to be interested in Occitan music (music from southern France in the roman Occitan language) and no more English texts. I was always listening to old Waits songs from time to time. Then in 1999 my brother offered to me Mule Variation for my birthday. I think he was tired of listening  Songs from Auvergne and Provence”. I realized that Tom Waits had released only two CD since I stopped to follow his production. The Lone Rider and Bone Machine. Ten years ago, I didn’t like very much the “Asylum” period. I thought the two periods were very different and only the second was creative for me. The first period was too” jazzy”, a bit “old fashion”, not too original to my ears. Today, I don’t think so. I think that Waits can be as much interesting in the “asylum years” than after. Tom was really Tom from the beginning to theses days.

even more important than Dylan

For me there are very few singer and poets like Waits. I know he was influenced by Dylan, but as far as I’m concerned, Waits seems to me even more important than Dylan. I can’t speak about the texts, but the way the lyrics are interpreted, the music of the words, the expressivities of Waits voice and the many ways he use (he can be in the same song a punk or a jazz singer, and then in another song a “crooner”, and then a rocker… I can’t express the things as I would, the English words are lacking to me.

Today, I want to go back and listen to albums like Heart of Saturday night, Blue Valentine (I’m listening to it very often at that time, every song seems interesting to me) Heart attack and Vine… And of course  I will buy Alice and Blood Money. (March 2004)