I was 20, in college in the morning, remodeling the no water no heat apartment that I got to stay in for free in the afternoon, and I was a doorman/underage bartender at a jazz club. I would get home at 3am, warm up 2 shots of Jack Daniels in an iron skillet, and sip it while inside a sleeping bag atop a 2 foot high stack of drywall. I had an extension cord coming up from the meat cutting business downstairs that powered a lamp and a boombox that only played the album, “Small Change,” by Tom Waits, every night, for the coldest winter of my life.
Listening to the Closing Time and Small Change by Tom Waits during this young and stupid part of my life made me feel like my decisions were not completely insane.
He Describes his early work as: “a comprehensive study of a number of aspects of this search for the center of Saturday night, which Jack Kerouac relentlessly chased from one end of this country to the other, and I’ve attempted to scoop up a few diamonds of this magic that I see.”
His body of work spans 40 years of songs that take place in bars, like his duet with Bette Midler in “I never talk to strangers,” a song about a drunk trying to make way with a lady out of his league. Waits has songs about drinking like “I got a bad liver, and a broken heart,” which is self explanatory title about having some tough times that you can fix in the bars. He writes about love on late night mass transit in “Downtown train,” the cultural equivalent of cream cheese hotdogs in, “Nighthawks at the diner,” and what it is like to work the closing shift is, “I can’t wait to get off work and see my baby.”
The album, “Closing time,” his first, released when Waits was 23, is a brilliant distillation of everything that drinking culture is, sad and hopeful, pathetic and beautiful, confusing and comforting. Every bartender has a love and a mind to switch over the tunes to Waits the late night closing hours. Most drinkers have a tale or two that can be summed up in the key of c by Tom Waits as well.
Let the bawdy, lovely, peculiar and obvious late night life inspire you to tell a favorite drinking tale while listening to, or being inspired by Tom Waits. Waits 40 years of drinking tunes to choose from.