It has the smoothness of Barry White, but the raspiness of a mountain lion.
Why yes, that is RZA describing Tom Waits’s voice—perhaps better than anyone else ever has.
And it’s that voice—that raspy, gnarly, gutter-dog howl of a voice—that has fueled the myth of Tom Waits for 40-some years now, up through today’s release of Seven Psychopaths, starring Waits (curiously petting a curiouser bunny) as one of the psychopaths.
It’s a myth that’s as iconic as any, and well worth a little thought and consideration...
While preparing last week’s report “In Defense of Cussing,” we stumbled upon a 1937 song by Lucille Bogan that contained the first swear word ever recorded. Judging from Ms. Bogan’s photo, we assumed her vernacular would have been similar to that used in, say, Gone with the Wind—which, in 1939, became the first major film to employ the word “damn.” We were fantastically wrong.
Count on Tom Waits to dig up both an all-but disappeared species of creole jazz and an all-but-disappeared record player to play it on. Sometimes, you just have to go for the full anachronism.
As part of a benefit for Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Tom Waits teamed up with the house band for a recording of two classic Mardi Gras chants circa 1947, but they’re only being sold as limited edition 78-rpm records, just like back in the day. If you spring for the deluxe package, they’ll even throw in a custom-made 78-rpm phonograph to play it on. It might be the crown jewel of a vinyl culture based on tactile authenticity…or just a really cool party favor.
This picture of Tom Waits comes by way of the newly released tome, The Story of Island Records, showing the correct form for strolling down a cobblestone street in heavy wind. Gentlemen, start your overcoats.
Clint Eastwood’s amazing for a lot of reasons (a more long-winded explanation of his greatness is available here), but his singing voice was never part of the package. And 78 is probably not a good age to start up.
For his upcoming film Gran Torino, he’s putting his tortured pipes on full display over the closing credits. The result could most flatteringly be described as “whispery,” but Vulture’s description—“Tom Waits with a punctured lung”—is probably also valid.