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.