Tom Waits is one of the most original musicians of the last five decades. Renowned for his gravelly voice and dazzling mix of musical styles, he’s also one of modern music’s most enigmatic and influential artists.
His songs have been covered by Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart and Norah Jones, among many others. But Waits has always pursued his own creative vision, with little concern for musical fashion.
In a long career of restless reinvention, from the barfly poet of his early albums to the junkyard ringmaster of Swordfishtrombones, his songs chronicle lives from the margins of American society – drifters, dreamers, hobos and hoodlums – and his music draws on a rich mix of influences, including the blues, jazz, Weimar cabaret and film noir.
Using rare archive, audio recordings and interviews, this film is a bewitching after-hours trip through the surreal, moonlit world of Waits’ music – a portrait of a pioneering musician and his unique, alternative American songbook.
Executive Producer Richard Bright
Director James Maycock
Production Manager Fiona Crawford
Production Coordinator Fiona Dorman
Editor Bradley Richards
Camera Operator Luke Finn
Interviewed Guest: Terry Gilliam, Lucinda Williams, Ian Rankin, Ed Harcourt, Ralph Carney, Bones Howe, Ute Lemper, Nitin Sawhney, Guy Garvey and Jim Sclavunos
The same year as Mule Variations was released, 1999, VH1 broadcast a Storyteller episode with Tom Waits. It aired in the middle of the night; I didn’t have any plans for the next day so I stayed up and watched.
What a songwriter! What a storyteller! He teases the audience, plays with them, he is the pied piper! All the stories are funny/weird and moving. Is he lying? He’s probably making the stuff up as he goes along, or have all of these things actually happen? I really don’t care, his delivery is amusing and so entertaining that he could probably read the A to G in the phonebook and I would find it funny. This might not work with newcomers to Waits’s concerts, they will probably find it a bit too weird and rambling. They should watch Big Time (the movie) first and then come back to this (or maybe it’s the other way ’round, he he).
VH1 Storytellers allows Tom Waits to showcase some his then new material — among them is House Where Nobody Lives, one of the finest ballads he has ever written, here in a heartbreakingly beautiful version. We also get some Tom Waits history with favorites like Downtown Train (also a hit for Rod Stewart); Old ’55, (a hit for The Eagles ); and Jersey Girl, which Bruce Springsteen turned into a live favorite.
Downtown Train Ol’ 55 House Where Nobody Lives
What’s He Building In There? Strange Weather Get Behind The Mule
Tom Waits – VH1 Storytellers 1999:
The show was around 44 minutes but there were much more material recorded.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
– Revelation 1:1-3
John the Revelator is a traditional gospel blues call and response song. Music critic Thomas Ward describes it as “one of the most powerful songs in all of pre-war acoustic music … [which] has been hugely influential to blues performers”. Blind Willie Johnson recorded John the Revelator in 1929 (or 1930) and is the first known recording (at least to me) and subsequently a variety of artists have recorded their renditions of the song, often with variations in the verses and music.
The song’s title refers to John of Patmos (or traditionally John the Apostle) in his role as the author of the Book of Revelation. A portion of that book focuses on the opening of seven seals and the resulting apocalyptic events. In its various versions, the song quotes several passages from the Bible in the tradition of American spirituals.
This is a dark and brooding masterpiece!
The Blind Willie Johnson version:
Blind Willie Johnson recorded the song on April 20, 1929 (or 1930) in Atlanta (his second (1929) or his fifth and final recording session for Columbia Records (1930)). He is accompanied by his first wife (probably), Willie B. Harris. Johnson was a gospel blues singer and guitarist. While the lyrics of his songs were usually religious, his music drew from both sacred and blues traditions. It is characterized by his slide guitar accompaniment and tenor voice, and his frequent use of a lower-register ‘growl’ or false bass voice.
I’ve picked 12 songs, one for each of Jesu’s disciples. All these are from Tom Waits’s musings on God and the Devil, it’s hard to tell if Waits is a religious man, but he sure is fascinated by the afterlife.
A music video or song video is a short film integrating a song and imagery, produced for promotional or artistic purposes.Modern music videos are primarily made and used as a marketing device intended to promote the sale of music recordings. Although the origins of music videos date back much further, they came into prominence in the 1980s, when MTV based their format around the medium. Prior to the 1980s, these works were described by various terms including “illustrated song”, “filmed insert”, “promotional (promo) film”, “promotional clip” or “film clip”.
Music videos use a wide range of styles of film making techniques, including animation, live action filming, documentaries, and non-narrative approaches such as abstract film. Some music videos blend different styles, such as animation and live action. Many music videos do not interpret images from the song’s lyrics, making it less literal than expected. Other music videos may be without a set concept, being merely a filmed version of the song’s live performance.
My favourite music video artist is without a doubt, Tom Waits! Since I saw the video for In the Neighbourhood in 1983, I’ve eagerly waited for his promotional videos for his albums. They are valid works of art in their own right, and combined with Tom Waits’ songs they’re taken to a higher level.