June 23, 2021

Tom Waits and the basement of the spoils | Blog North American route and beyond


The day Paul Hackett lost the last meter of the night he knew that New York can be a nightmare. This anonymous programmer from a computer company knew first-hand the nocturnal fauna of a metropolis full of extravagant characters, inhabitants of dark and fantastic worlds, where you never know when the fun ends and the danger begins, perhaps because in the city that never sleeps there are no limits between the one and the other, as there are not between legend and reality.

As in the best nightmares, a simple nonsense triggers a whole parade of maddening events. Paul Hackett, the anguished protagonist of the film Jo, what a night (horrible translation for After hours from Martin Scorsese), everything will get rid of for pennies. You lose the meter because you were missing a few coins for the ticket. Just that day the price had just risen and the seller refuses to let him pass. You can’t even sneak in for a cop. Everything so absurd that it seems stupid, but in the end it is the beginning of a disturbing and crazy urban adventure.

When Tom waits He settled in New York in 1984 any day in the Big Apple seemed to him typical of the Scorsese film. “This city has no logic,” he said shortly after settling on 14th Street, near Union Square. “You have to be a little crazy to live here. If you don’t bend to it, it will end up breaking you. Here you can go outside, take off your pants and start singing Fly Me to th Moon and nobody will notice you ”. Contrary to what might seem and against all odds, including his own, Waits, a Los Angeles portrait painter of neon lights and drunk sleepers, did not take the move well to New York, a much more frenzied and awkward city, without that horizontal expansion in which to take the car without the need of a fixed course. But the unique madness of Manhattan turned out to be a conducive territory for a guy who, after the publication of SwordfishtrombonesHe had put a giant shipment of dynamite to blow up his own exquisite figure of jazz, bohemian and marginalized pianist. In Manhattan, Waits, who had just become a father and the baby barely let him work in the loft where he lived with his wife Kathleen Brennan, went for more dynamite and finished what he had started.

A basement was rented at the corner of Washington Street and Horatio Streets, a territory known as Little Spain. There, alone, locked up like a pipe rat, surrounded by records, instruments and a tape recorder, he began to compose Rain dogs. “The basement was in a kind of danger zone, lower Manhattan between Canal Street and 14th Street, just one block away from the river. Every day there was a Siamese cat hanging around. It was a good place to work. Very quiet, except for the water in the pipes. It was like being in a vault, “he confessed later. In that basement of lower Manhattan, he started working on an album that, at first, he thought of calling it Wreck Collections (Collections of the spoils). It made sense: while it is true that Waits longed for Los Angeles, he had discovered that New York provided him with insane energy to take his work further. He would use the offal around him. “New York trash is incredible. I mean, it’s just … exciting, you know? In fact, I furnished my entire apartment with things I found on the street, “he said. I would do the same to compose Rain Dogs.

Tom Waits and the basement of the spoils



After getting used to the vibrant and jumbled roll of Little SpainA place full of filthy slums and restaurants without any pretense, he said he wanted to make an album with “that chaotic diner atmosphere.” Since it starts with Singapore, with that marimba, that trombone and that voice of slaughtering ducks, Rain dogs It is a tour of 19 compositions composed of garbage, waste and chaos, an impressive display of urban dispossessed, all those losers who live in the shadow of the big city and the prevailing materialism on the island that houses Wall Street.

On the album, where pop, rock, gospel and country songs are mixed with polkas, waltzes and rhythms of old New Orleans, Waits hardly uses the piano and uses all kinds of instruments: marimba, accordion, double bass, trombone, banjo … ” Those that nobody likes, “he acknowledged. But he was especially nurtured by the talents of a team of musicians who executed his crazy ideas on the bastard and unrepentant sound that Waits had in his head. The musicians who worked with him on the recording that he came to the studio with his recorder were counting, in which he had collected until late at night street sounds and environmental noises from Manhattan, Bronx, Queens and other areas of New York. He would turn on the recorder and point out with his finger in a theatrical way that this was what he was looking for. And one of all the musicians understood it better than anyone. It was Marc Ribot, a fabulous guitarist and a New Yorker of pure stock. His haunting style and full of edges led him to spit out the notes with the determination with which Waits was transformed into all the beings he sang about.

It could be analyzed song by song because they are all very different, but it is enough to highlight the atmosphere of the album. Pure chaos with harmony. Listening to it is like being stuck in a dreadful diner where you watch a plate of eggs and sausages being fried while the toast burns and the hustle and bustle of the dishes and people surround you like on a drifting party night . Suddenly, there is a man with a whiksy and a cigar who sits two stools away from you and starts growling, then greets you with his hat and walks up to your place at the bar. It seems that he is going to insult you, but he begins to tell you stories of the city and other more distant places and turns out to be a kind fabulator. Everything he says and how he says it is fascinating. That man is Tom Waits and everything Rain dogs breathe that dirty, but poetic air.

When computer scientist Paul Hackett spent the craziest night of his life for missing the last subway in New York, where he thought he might even die, he realized how sad and gray his existence was. The good thing about madness is that, although it misplaces us and takes us to other limits, it ends up teaching us some truth about ourselves. In the end, Tom Waits did not call his album Wreck Collections (Offal collection), but Rain dogs. It was a tribute to New York’s army of lost beings, referring to the title of stray dogs that are in the rain and become disoriented because the smells that guide them disappear with the water. Waits found more dignity and appreciation in the delirious night and the stray dogs than in all those guys in suits and ties who know numbers and raise office skyscrapers to take over the sky. While I didn’t promise them a compass, Rain Dogs, the large offal disco offered at least a shelter for stray dogs.

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