Tom Waits – Rain Dogs


“Will the real bob Dylan please stand up?” Monsieur Tom Waits is a multifaceted artist, underrated musician with a voice like broken glass, actor, brilliant poet, a god, etc. Get to know him better with his 1985 album, RAIN DOGS.

Let’s have a little bit of music history: American musician Tom Waits has been active since the 70’s, participating in everything from acting, to singing, to incorporating whiskey and musical instruments into crafty monologues. In short, his songs are musical caricatures.

Stuff he writes about include quirky characters from the wrong side-of-the-tracks, sentimental memories, mules, Singapore, grapefruit moons, a chocolate Jesus, and even a Filipino Box Spring Hog – crafty indeed.

Though his lyrical talent is unremarkable, it’s nevertheless brilliantly highlighted on his 1985 album, Rain Dogs. The songwriting is not overly complex, pretentious, or preachy – he simply knows how to mix the right ingredients that ultimately function as poetry does, invoking memorable imagery through storytelling. He writes about places in a way that makes you feel as if you’re sucked into a time warp and find yourself in some bizarre, dim-lit labyrinth, immersed in thick atmospheric air with foreign objects floating around you.

Waits tastefully blends genres of jazz, rock, blues, experimental, folk, and industrial, to name a few, and every one of his albums is layered with eccentric collisions of sound that may or may not include chiming bells, clanking cups, xylophones, and harmonicas, to name a few. ‘Rain Dogs’ is in my opinion his best album, and is one of his most successful. It has 19 songs and a mix of everything imaginable… some of these songs are even catchy. Not surprisingly, it clinched a spot at number 21 on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.

Waits’ voice is disturbingly raspy, versatile, and seems to be pregnant with endless feeling and visual themes. His style may be faintly reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s poetic hypnotism and Johnny Cash’s raw emotion but is nonetheless one of its kind. According to Wikipedia (everyone’s favourite source of factual information), a critic named Daniel Durchholz once described Tom Waits’ voice as sounding “like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car.” Although such a statement might seem comical (and slightly gross), Durchholz definitely hit the nail on the head. While that description might be enough to deter someone from a dating ad, the singular voice of Tom Waits ironically provides the nostalgic, earthy sound that we crave to take us back to when Otis Redding first paved a winding road to what we now know as popular music.

Waits weaves his talent into something that surpasses the typical musical formula. There may even be a hint of similarity between Rain Dogs and The Wall, particularly since the former is also (loosely) a concept album… in which case the two might find themselves sailing in the same boat of fierce competition. Well, maybe not that fierce. But Tom Waits is truly a master of his art, and Rain Dogs thrusts itself past the musical boundary and into the sea of art.

Oh. What is a rain dog? It’s a dog that is caught in the rain after losing his way home when his trail is washed away.

Lyrics from ‘9th and Hennepin’ off of Rain Dogs:

Well it’s Ninth and Hennepin
All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes
And the moon’s teeth marks are on the sky
Like a tarp thrown all over this

And the broken umbrellas like dead birds
And the steam comes out of the grill
Like the whole goddamn town’s ready to blow
And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos
And everyone is behaving like dogs

And the horses are coming down Violin Road
And Dutch is dead on his feet
And all the rooms they smell like diesel
And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here

And I’m lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway
And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat
And no one brings anything small into a bar around here
They all started out with bad directions

And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear
One for every year he’s away, she said
Such a crumbling beauty
There’s nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won’t fix
She has that razor sadness that only gets worse
With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by

And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
’til you’re full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen
I’ve seen it all, I’ve seen it all through the yellow windows of the evening train.