Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Tom Waits – Carnival (Brunello del Montalcino) from Night on Earth (1992 Island Records)


Tom Waits is a force. He can be something of a polarizing figure, a fact that owes as much to his unconventional vocal delivery as it does to his extensive musical catalogue — with sixteen studio albums, two soundtracks, three live albums and seven compilation albums, it can be hard to please everyone.

Waits, now sober, has always enjoyed a place on the fringe of American popular culture anyway, sort of embodying a Bukowski-as-musician role for the chain-smoking, hard-drinking, white-tank-and-pork-pie-hat set over at the nearest rooming house.

It’s only natural, then, that he offers up this shambolic celebration of carnival life as a part of the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s 1991 film Night on Earth. (Full disclosure: I’ve never seen this film, a problem I hope to rectify soon.) The song feels very much like what one might find upon peeling back the curtain at some drunken late-night European traveling carnival. Indeed, Brunello del Montalcino is an Italian red wine. Interestingly, the interplay of the trumpet and guitar begins to suggest something like that old 1937 jazz standard, “Caravan,” if only for a moment. Soon afterwords, everything stops, a cymbal splashes, and we’re back to a more off-the-rails Esquivel-at-the-circus situation.

This is not my favorite Waits era by any means. I am too much a fan of his work behind the piano in the seventies and the heart-wrenching songs that he produced in those years, but what I appreciate about “Carnival…” is what I love about Waits in general — his ability to find and create beauty in places many might overlook. Waits doesn’t allow us to overlook anything; he doesn’t need our gaze, but he demands it, like some kind of crazy prophet.

“Carnival (Brunello de Montalcino)” begins at 21:01



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