probably my favorite Tom Waits song–Small Change
Phosphorescent’s bubble and boil around my mother’s undecipherable body emerging from the ocean and onto the sailboat. My eyes zigzag upwards until they reach a starry Mexican sky. Beside me my mothers satisfying sigh is muffled by a towel. I bring a glass of water to my lips. I start taking in a large gulp and then spit it back into the cup. In a jabbing motion my arm extends forward dumping the contents of the glass into the ocean. Using as much strength as I can muster my intention is to create a giant neon explosion. Water hits water, sparkles pop and fade very quickly. My mother heads down to help with dinner.
The 42’ sailboat I stand on is named Dumela and is the home of family friends. It would be my home for a few weeks in the summer of ‘94. It has been a memorable experience so far, snorkeling above Manta Rays and enjoying campfires on deserted beaches on the northwest Mexican coastline.
Music swirls upwards from the Galley. I make my way down. Everyone is sitting down to eat and listening to Graceland. By now I know every single word to every song on this album. While eating, I twist my torso and mumble along with PAUL SIMON. Tommy, one of our hosts on Dumela, gets up and moves towards the stereo. “I have something you guys have to listen to,” he says.
“No, no. Can we wait until the end of the song,” I complain.
“You can listen to it another time,” my father chimes in.
After a little fumbling we hear the high-pitched sound of a CD swirling around. This is followed by the tired sway of a piano. The music continues and a low-gravely voice asserts itself.
The piano has been drinking, my necktie is asleep
And the combo went back to New York, the jukebox has to take a leak
And the carpet needs a haircut, and the spotlight looks like a prison break
And the telephone’s out of cigarettes, and the balcony is on the make
And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking…
I’ve always been an especially attentive listener of lyrics and his are hard to ignore. The album cover is passed around. TOM WAITS, Small Change. I look across the table at my dad. He’s leaning against a cushion, arms extended in front of him. Looking up, his eyes are as wide as mine, even wider. He laughs, “This is great”. I think to myself ‘How did my father not know about this musician? Why wasn’t I aware of Mr. Tom Waits?’ Up until that point my father was my music guru. Everything he listened to, it was certain I would enjoy. Now I knew he was missing out on way too much. Mr. Waits continues. His music is gritty and honest his words nostalgic. On every note you can hear the heavy dip and sway of his heart just sitting there matter-of-factly, hanging out through an entire song.
After that night I listened to The Piano Has Been Drinking enough times to almost memorize the song and then enough times to piss-off everyone else on the boat. I have since moved on to more songs but my bias cannot be hidden. My favorite TOM WAITS album is still Small Change.
I dream of seeing a Tom Waits concert simply to listen to his captivating stories.