Great Tom Waits Song – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Hey Charley I’m pregnant
Living on 9th Street
Right above a dirty bookstore
Off Euclid Avenue
I stopped taking dope
And I quit drinking whiskey
And my old man plays the trombone
And works out at the track

One of Tom Waits’ most beloved songs from one of his more obscure albums, Blue Valentine, “Christmas Card…” is a live standard. The song showcases Waits playing a barroom piano melody, weaving words together — in essence, doing what he does best in one long, bittersweet song. The lyrics are essentially a reading aloud of what the title says it is — a Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis. Waits takes the voice of the female character: “Hey Charley, I’m pregnant…”; you can guess the rest. The song is littered with characters with names like Mario. There are references to the track, a filling station, and a used car lot. There is whiskey, dope, grease, a trombone, and Little Anthony & the Imperials. What more could you want from a Tom Waits song?
– Denise Sullivan (allmusic.com)

Studio version:

Facts

from the album Blue Valentine
Released September 1978
Recorded July 24 – August 26, 1978, at Filmways/Heider Recording, Hollywood, CA
Genre Jazz, Blues
Length 4:33
Label Asylum
Songwriter Tom Waits
Producer Bones Howe

 

There are more creative Tom Waits songs, and ones that he actually, well, wrote (“Christmas Card” is adapted from a Charles Bukowski poem called “Charlie I’m Pregnant”), but there aren’t quite as many that can utterly devastate a room full of people with quite the same slurred, finely-detailed aplomb. For maximum tears in your bourbon, watch this live version, which features a bedraggled interpolation of “Silent Night” and Waits’ rendition of that Little Anthony and the Imperials record. The audience laughs a bit at some of the lyrical gems, but after that final verse, you can hear a pin drop.
popmatters.com

“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” found him back at the keyboard but with George Duke for company, tinkling bluesily away on a Yamaha electric grand. The song was one of Waits’ great inhabitations: he really got inside the battered soul of this woman who’d stumbled from the pages of Bukowski. The epistolary self-deception was a kind of unreliable narration, redeemed by such touching details as the reference to “that record of Little Anthony and the Imperials.” This was no lush life, this was heroin and jail time. Under the surface sentimentality we heard the hard edge of self-destruction.
-Barney Hoskyns (Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits)

Lyrics

“Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” has been described as a “laconic first-person sketch.” The song’s lyrics narrate a letter written by a prostitute to a man named Charlie. She confesses to being pregnant, and describes her current living circumstances, including her stable relationship with a partner who promises to raise her arriving baby “like he would his own son.” At the song’s conclusion, the author confesses to Charlie that she has been lying to him; she does not have a husband, is currently serving time in prison, and will be eligible for parole on Valentine’s Day.
-wikipedia

Hey Charley I’m pregnant
Living on 9th Street
Right above a dirty bookstore
Off Euclid Avenue
I stopped taking dope
And I quit drinking whiskey
And my old man plays the trombone
And works out at the track

He says that he loves me
Even though its not his baby
He says that he’ll raise him up
Like he would his own son
He gave me a ring
That was worn by his mother
And he takes me out dancin’
Every Saturday night

Hey Charley I think about you
Every time I pass a fillin’ station
On account of all the grease
You used to wear in your hair
I still have that record
Of Little Anthony and The Imperials
But someone stole my record player
How do ya like that?

Hey Charley I almost went crazy
After Mario got busted
I went back to Omaha
To live with my folks
Everyone I used to know
Was either dead or in prison
So I came back to Minneapolis
This time I think I’m gonna stay

Hey Charley I think I’m happy
For the first time since my accident
I wish I had all the money
That we used to spend on dope
I’d buy me a used car lot
And I wouldn’t sell any of ’em
I’d just drive a different car every day
Dependin’ on how I feel

Hey Charley, for chrissakes
Do you want to know the truth of it?
I don’t have a husband
He don’t play the trombone
I need to borrow money
To pay this lawyer
And Charley, hey
I’ll be eligible for parole
Come Valentine’s Day




Live Versions

Austin, March 24, 1979:

Paul Hogan Show (Australia), telecast on June 13 1979:

Tyrone Guthrie Theatre, Minneapolis, May 9 1982:

Nice Cover version by Neko Case from the Tom Waits tribute album New Coat of Paint (2002):

 

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