Tom Waits


I’m a sucker for a great love song.  There might not have ever been a better one written than Tom Waits’ “I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You”.

I went to a Bonnie Rait concert in Missoula at the University of Montana in 1975.  The opening act was THIS guy that nobody had ever even heard of at that point, Tom Waits.

When he came out he looked like a bowery bum.  His voice was gravelly and he had the demeanor of an alley cat.  He was the incarnation of the guy who stands mumbling on the corner drinking out of a brown paper bag.

But the words and music were stunning, haunting, poetic, alive, and novel.  He was like what beat poets would be when they grew up and learned how to write melodies.

Once he was done with his set, Bonnie came on stage and sang for a while before she realized he had taken up a horizontal positon at the side of the stage on the floor and was taking a nap there looking like he was still trying to sleep off last night’s indulgence.

I have this notion of something I call “The Perfect Song”.  There are only a few of them.  Johnny Mercer wrote some: “Moon River” and “One More For the Road”.  These are songs so perfectly constructed, with words so flawlessly paired with the music; along with melodies so haunting and beautiful that they seem to have been co-written by a Heavenly power.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is a perfect song.  Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” is another one.

Tom Waits wrote several Perfect Songs like the one I already mentioned: “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love with You”.  Others of his include: “Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night”, “Martha”, “San Diego Serenade”, “Shiver Me Timbers”, “Please Call Me, Baby”, and “Drunk On The Moon”.

If you want to listen to one that is just great poetry and jazz, try out “Emotional Weather Report”, or “Eggs and Sausage”, or “Better Off Without a Wife”.

All his early songs were something like a poetic archaeological exploration of what urban nightlife looks like from the perspective of those living it.  It’s not necessarily pretty, but it is always authentic.  And like all great writers, he has genuine empathy for the characters who inhabit his landscape.

With Tom Waits songs, you are transported to an LA Corner with the light shining down from a single bulb on an otherwise dimly lit and mostly deserted street – right before you decide it’s time to go eat at the late night diner that’s still open at 3am.

And with his music, that LA street corner and the light shining down is somehow made sacred with his words and melodies infusing it with a spirituality that he has found there on his own expedition …  looking for the Heart of Saturday Night.


The Canyon Shadows

I went on a 10 mile hike last summer up the lower Clark’s Fork on the border of Montana and Wyoming.

It was late enough in the summer that the floods of spring and early summer were mostly just a memory except there were large mud flats that made you realize how the river rages down through there during run off.

This is the section of the river as it exits the deepest part of the canyon and runs toward the high desert sage brush country to the east.  So you basically walk from the trail head, which sits is still connected to the last vestige of the flat prairie, toward the mountains which rise up higher and higher on both sides as you walk west toward the Clarks Fork Gorge.

It is a beautiful hike but the trail is extremely rough – too many four wheelers going through there on the weekend and they just tear the trail to pieces, lots of medium size boulders to trip on if you aren’t careful.

But the rough trail and the threat of four wheelers can work in your favor sometimes and so I didn’t see another human all day which gave a sense of solitude that you almost never get anywhere anymore.  So it was really special and there were beautiful vistas everywhere you looked.

Here is the poem I wrote about the day.

The Canyon Shadows

Walked all afternoon up the lower Clarks Fork

Just me, the canyon walls and the variegated river

One lost cow kept asking me what I was doing there, alone

The sun was bright and the air mugging hot

As I walked the Canyon narrowed, until it was like a coffin you couldn’t climb out of

There were huge boulders that seemed to have washed down in some primordial flood, they stuck up out of the black mud like the helmets of ancient buried soldiers

I thought of an old friend as the hot wind caressed the sagebrush – four years gone and I just found out

I caught one small fish but let it go back into the clear green water – in no mood for any other kind of death today

I heard a hawk screech at me, way up, riding the thermals in broad slow circles as the afternoon started to exhaust itself

Walking out, I saw Hemingway fishing along one turn of the river and he was really nailing the cutthroat

I felt it was important to discuss matters with him but he was focused on his fishing and the shadows were now emphatically pushing me out of the canyon

Later, as my car came out into the bright sunshine on the freshly laid blacktop on the road to Edelweiss, I saw no one and no one saw me –

Heart Mountain, off in the distance towards Cody, was bragging about how pretty she was and I couldn’t disagree

She asked me to dance…

But I was late getting back to Red Lodge, to more familiar favorite earth – and to Connie, My Love

— Mike Blaylock, 2017


John Wayne and Albert Einstein

I had been super focused on trying to paint a watercolor of John Wayne.  Here is my try at that.

I thought I could improve on it, but never did get the sketch right for a second try.  I finally got super frustrated and decided to just switch to a different subject entirely and stumbled onto a picture of Einstein that I found on the web.

I painted this very quickly – from sketch to completely done with the watercolor in less than a half hour.

I am endlessly fascinated how some watercolors just “happen” while others turn into days long efforts.  I’m not sure why.  It sure is fun when they pop right out like this one did.

I experimented a bit more with what we call “negative space” on the right half of his mustache.  Painting around a light area and leaving the center mostly unpainted or just lightly painted is something I need to do more often.

I also experimented with a little yellow here and there for highlights.  I think it worked pretty well.

Another thing I did in this portrait is try to put more detail on the eyes.  I think that I’m learning that the eyes are really key to how we perceive faces.  If you get the eyes right, you are actually 90% there – little details really help.  As they say, “God is in the details”.

As far as why painting John Wayne was somehow a great setup for successfully painting Albert Einstein,  I have no idea.