Monday, August 24, 2015
Tom Waits – “Lucky Day” from The Black Rider (1993 Island)


We’ve written about Waits a number of times over the past year, about what an eccentric enigma he is, etcetera. I was tempted, then, to move away from that assessment, to instead tell you about how my three-year-old son loves nothing more than to listsen to Closing Time on repeat while he sleeps, singing “Martha” and “Grapefruit Moon” with me at bedtime.

But then two things happened:

  1. My iPod Classic seems to have given up the ghost. It’s tragic, really, and if there is a rich benefactor who has been waiting in the wings, one of the five or so people who clicks on this thing from time to time, well, the time for heroism is now.
  2. I stumbled upon this mind-blowing tidbit about The Black Rider on Wikipedia:

The Black Rider is an album by Tom Waits, released in 1993 on Island Records, featuring studio versions of songs Waits wrote for the play The Black Rider, directed by Robert Wilson and co-written by William S. Burroughs. The play is based on the German folktale Der Freischütz, which had previously been made into an opera by Carl Maria von Weber. The play premiered on March 31, 1990, at the Thalia Theater in HamburgGermany. Its world English-language premiere occurred in 1998 at the Edmonton International Fringe Festival.

Yes, that William S. Burroughs. I’ve been running around making what I thought was the obvious Bukowski comparison at every opportunity, and meanwhile, homeboy wrote the score for a play that was co-written by the author of NAKED LUNCH. That’s kind of mind-blowing.

I heard someone remark recently about how a common career trajectory for recording artists looks something like this: debut album, shows some promise, sophomore album either flops or shows further promise, subsequent albums reveal the genius/deficiency that was there all along. By contrast, the remarker remarked, Tom Waits emerged on the scene in 1973 fully formed (and at 24!). Given that, it’s maybe no surprise that he took a turn towards the wildly less conventional (a contrast probably felt most dramatically on Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs).

Even so, along the way, there’s always been that vague but persistent backdrop of familiarity. Something in the structure that was vaguely, I don’t know, gypsy in nature. He’s maybe like a chef who understands Reuben sandwiches so well that he can deconstruct them down to foam and them serve them to you on your hand while your eyes are closed (that happened to me once). It’s super bizarre, but goddamn if it doesn’t taste just like a Reuben. That’s Waits with songs, and anybody who doesn’t believe me needs to go back and listen to that debut album on repeat while they sleep.

“Lucky Day” sounds like what might happen if a band of Rroma descended upon New Orleans and took over a second line, with a carnival barker at the fore, singing an Irish drinking song (see: “Sally Maclennane“) as a sweet, sweet dirge. In fact, the tune, situated near the album’s close, has its own overture kicking off the record, complete with Waits as an actual carnival barker yelling about human oddities.

The song itself, though, is something sweeter, the thrust of which is this:

So don’t cry for me
For I’m going away
And I’ll be back some lucky day

Songs like this have a rich tradition the world over, sung at the bar while extremely drunk by individuals who care not about the massive hangover that will undoubtedly accompany them on their voyage.

Sure, that stuff from the seventies is still my favorite, but because he is so goddamn good at so many things, I say it about “Lucky Day,” too: this is Waits at his best.


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