If you're exepecting something that resembles a semblance of an objective review you might as well forget it. I've listened to this album for over 25 years in both good times and bad. It's stood the test of time.
When it comes to Tom Waits most people seem to have a love/hate relationship with him and his music. As for me, when I listen to his songs, whether it be in the crooner style of his early days or the gravelly voiced minstrel of his later efforts, I seem to get transported to another place. Even though the lyrics might be considered maudlin by some, the place they take me to in my mind is one of happiness. Sometimes I think he knows more about my life than even I do.
To quote one of the founding fathers of this place on the topic :
”His blood runs thin with moonshine and thick with nostalgia.”
The album Closing Time was recorded back in 1973 and marked the first album in his long and illustrious career. It remains one of my favorites to this day and I’ll stick it on every now and then just to remind myself just how good it is. What follows is some short snippets and excerpts from each of the songs on the record and some personal insights.
Well my time went so quickly
I went lickedy splitly
Out to my Ol’ 55
As I go away slowly
Feelin’ so holy
God knows I was feelin’ alive
And now the suns comin’ up
I’m ridin’ with Lady Luck
Freeways, cars and trucks
Stars beginning to fade, and I lead the parade
Just a-wishing I'd stayed a little longer,
Oh, Lord, let me tell you that the feeling's getting stronger
Most people are probably more familiar with The Eagles version of this song and even though it’s not bad it can’t compare to Waits version. Some people think that the song is an ode to an old car and while that might be true what I hear in this song is a goodbye of sorts. To me, it’s about a guy who leaves a girls house after a late night tryst. At first he feels glad to get away but then later regrets his decision to leave. That’s an experience I can relate to.
I can see that you are lonesome just like me, and it being late,
You'd like some some company,
Well I turn around to look at you, and you look back at me,
The guy you're with has up and split, the chair next to you's free,
And I hope that you don't fall in love with me.
Now it's closing time, the music's fading out
Last call for drinks, I'll have another stout.
Well I turn around to look at you, you're nowhere to be found,
I search the place for your lost face, guess I'll have another round
And I think that I just fell in love with you
The name of this is "I Hope That Don't Fall In Love With You" and it pretty much nails it. It’s no secret that I love dive bars and the people that frequent them. I can almost picture myself sitting at the end of the bar ogling some pretty young thing and as the night progresses trying to work up the courage to go over and start a conversation. As the bar empties out I go in to take a piss before I make my move but when I come out the place is empty save for me and the bartender. After that, there’s nothing left to do but hoist a last round and ponder what might have been.
I'll just get on back into my short, make it back to the fort
Sleep off all the crazy lizards inside of my brain.
There's got to be some place that's better than this
This life I'm leading's driving me insane
We've all probably got a "Virginia Avenue" tucked away somewhere in our life. It just goes by a different name for each of us but the sentiment remains the same. I’m not too ashamed to admit that over the years I’ve been guilty of having a few too many. At least now, as opposed to my younger years, I can recognize the signs and cut myself off. I know when it’s time to fold my tents and take that long walk home and when I get there I start scribbling down random pieces of “poetry” on any piece of paper I can find. They make no sense whatsoever the next day.
I can see by your eyes, it's time now to go
So I'll leave you to cry in the rain,
Though I held in my hand, the key to all joy
Honey my heart was not born to be tamed.
So goodbye, so long, the road calls me dear
And your tears cannot bind me anymore,
And farewell to the girl with the sun in her eyes
Can I kiss you, and then I'll be gone
The name of this song is “Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards)” and goddamn it, it brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it. This is especially true as I reach the latter stages of middle age and begin to finally comprehend just how many good things in my life I managed to piss away for one reason or another. For awhile, I thought I might never get them back but then I realized that’s not entirely true
Dream of West Virginia, or of the British Isles
'Cause when you are dreaming, you see for miles and miles.
When you are much older, remember when we sat
At midnight on the windowsill, and had this little chat
This one goes by the name of “Midnight Lullaby” and it reminds me of sitting on my front porch late in the evening with my daughter when she was approaching her teens and worried about everything under the sun. Boys, school, friends, you name it. I tried to tell her to follow her heart wherever it might lead and most likely, she’d wind up in the right place. So far as far as I can tell, that little chat we had so many years ago still seems to be working.
And those were the days of roses,
poetry and proses
And Martha all I had was you and all you had was me.
There was no tomorrows,
we'd packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day
This one is simply called “Martha” and it tells the tale of a man trying to reconnect with a lover that’s been gone for over forty years. Waits is in full nostalgia mode here and the pain in his voice as he sings the song is heartbreaking. I don’t know if the song is about trying to reconnect with his lost love to try and give it another shot or he’s just trying to say he’s sorry for being such an asshole so many years ago. As for me, it hasn’t been forty years but in a sense I’ve been there, done that.
Well I'm sitting on a windowsill, blowing my horn
Nobody's up except the moon and me,
And a lazy old tomcat on a midnight spree
All that you left me was a melody.
Rosie, why do you evade?
Rosie, how can I persuade?
Another one word title by the name of “Rosie”. Waits sure likes to keep shit simple if he can. If you haven’t got the theme of this album yet I’ll offer you up a little clue. Tom sure likes his girls an awful lot but seems to have blown many a chance to finally get the right one. Along the way, he regrets many of his decisions and is left to ponder his decisions alone. Sounds like somebody I know.
I'll be clickin' by your house about two forty-five
Sidewalk sundae strawberry surprise,
I got a cherry popsicle right on time
A big stick, mamma, that'll blow your mind
'Cause I'm the ice cream man, I'm a one-man band
I'm the ice cream man, honey, I'll be good to you.
One of the more upbeat and up tempo songs on the album, this one is called “Ice Cream Man” although I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out he ain’t singing about ice cream. Tom, Tom, Tom, singing about getting blowjobs or getting laid in 1973 on your opening album was a bit of a risk don’t ya think?
About six years ago I vowed that if I’m ever lucky enough, crazy enough, stupid enough or drunk enough to risk a third trip down the aisle the next tune on the album would be my wedding song. It’s called “Little Trip to Heaven (On the Wings of Your Love)” and if you want to read about it just clink on the link but don’t forget to come back and read the rest of this write up. Thanks.
Now I'm smoking cigarettes and I strive for purity,
And I slip just like the stars into obscurity.
'Cause every time I hear that melody, well, puts me up a tree,
And the grapefruit moon, one star shining, is all that I can see
The first time I heard this I thought to myself that besides being the title of the song, “What the fuck is a Grapefruit Moon?” After repeated listenings it became clear to me. I was listening to this song sober when I should be drunk off my ass. Again, a man sits alone pining over what have might have been. Waits must be some kind of fortune teller because he began telling me the story of my life back in 1973 and I was only 15 old years at the time. Fucker.
The last number on the album is also the albums namesake. “Closing Time” is an instrumental piece. It’s got a sort of funky jazzy bluesy type thing going on and it’s definitely something to listen to when last call comes around and it’s time to settle up your tab, pack your bags and make your way home.
Until you do all it over again the next time.
Inspiration for this effort comes from my, at times, good friends Bud Weiser and his trusty sidekick Jim Beam. I’d also like to thank all of my friends both past and present for putting up with my shit over the years and hearing me out. I know it hasn’t been easy.
Hopefully, one day your patience will be rewarded.