Great Tom Waits Song – Kentucky Avenue

Well, Eddie Grace’s Buick got four bullet holes in the side
And Charlie DeLisle is sittin’ at the top of an avocado tree
Mrs. Storm will stab you with a steak knife if you step on her lawn
I got a half a pack of Lucky Strikes, man, so come along with me
And let’s fill our pockets with macadamia nuts
And go over to Bobby Goodmanson’s and jump off the roof

Still more lushly sentimental was “Kentucky Avenue,” the great song of Waits’ childhood. One of his most unashamedly emotional outpourings, it mourned lost innocence with a compassion few other songwriters have ever attempted, let alone achieved. This wasn’t The Waltons—the lyric was full of wanton violence and vandalism—but as the song reached its climax, the love in Waits’ voice, heaved from his memory, was almost too much to bear.
-Barney Hoskyns (Lowside of the Road: A Life of Tom Waits)

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

I grew up on a street called Kentucky Avenue in Whittier, California. My dad was teaching night school at Montebello. I had a little tree fort and everything. I had my first cigarette when I was about seven years old. It was such a thrill. I used to pick ’em up right out of the gutter after it was raining. My dad smoked Kents. Now, I never liked Kents – I tried to get him to change brands. I used to repair everybody’s bicycles in the neighborhood. I was the little neighborhood mechanic. There was a guy called Joey Navinski who played the trombone, and a guy called Dickie Faulkner whose nose was always running. And there was a woman called Mrs. Storm. She lived with her sister. She used to sit in her kitchen with her window open and a twelve-gauge shotgun [sticking] out of it … so we took the long way around.”
(Source: Live at the Apollo Theatre, London, UK. March 23, 1976)

“My best friend, when I was a kid, had polio. I didn’t understand what polio was. I just knew it took him longer to get to the bus stop than me. I dunno. Sometimes I think kids know more than anybody. I rode a train once to Santa Barbara with this kid and it almost seemed like he lived a life somewhere before he was born and he brought what he knew with him into this world and so…” His voice fades off for a moment, then, “…It’s what you don’t know that’s usually more interesting. Things you wonder about, things you have yet to make up your mind about. There’s more to deal with than just your fundamental street wisdom. Dreams. Nightmares.”
(Source: “Tom Waits: Waits And Double Measures” Smash Hits magazine by Johnny Black. March 18, 1981)

Mojo Magazine listed Waits’ vocal performance in the song as one of the 100 greatest voices in the world.




Lyrics

Well Eddie Grace’s Buick got four bullet holes in the side
And Charlie DeLisle is sittin at the top of an avocado tree
Mrs. Storm will stab you with a steak knife if you step on her lawn
I got a half a pack of Lucky Strikes man so come along with me
And let’s fill our pockets with macadamia nuts
And go over to Bobby Goodmanson’s and jump off the roof

Well Hilda plays strip poker with the Mummers ‘cross the street
Joey Navinski says she put her tongue in his mouth
And Dicky Faulkner’s got a switchblade and some gooseneck risers
That eucalyptus is a hunchback there’s a wind down from the south
So let me tie you up with kite string and I’ll show you the scabs on my knee
Watch out for the broken glass put your shoes and socks on
And come along with me

Let’s follow that fire truck I think your house is burnin down
And go down to the hobo jungle and kill some rattlesnakes with a trowel
And we’ll break all the windows in the old Anderson place
And we’ll steal a bunch of boysenberries and I’ll smear em on your face
I’ll get a dollar from my mama’s purse and buy that skull and crossbones ring
And you can wear it round your neck on an old piece of string

Then we’ll spit on Ronnie Arnold and flip him the bird
And slash the tires on the school bus now don’t say a word
I’ll take a rusty nail and scratch your initials in my arm
And I’ll show you how to sneak up on the roof of the drugstore
I’ll take the spokes from your wheelchair and a magpie’s wings
And I’ll tie ’em to your shoulders and your feet
I’ll steal a hacksaw from my dad and cut the braces off your legs
And we’ll bury them tonight out in the cornfield
Just put a church key in your pocket we’ll hop that freight train in the hall
We’ll slide all the way down the drain to New Orleans in the fall

Live version

BBC July-26, 1979:

Childhood is very important to me as a writer, I think the things that happen then, the way you perceive them and remember them in later life, have a very big effect on what you do later on.” “That one came over a little dramatic, a little puffed up, but when I was 10 my best friend was called Kipper, he had polio and was in a wheelchair – we used to race each other to the bus stop.
(Source: “Hard Rain” New Musical Express (UK), by Gavin Martin. Date: New York. October 19, 1985)

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