The Words We Use When We Talk About Tom Waits


There’s no reason for me to review the new Tom Waits record. It would be like handing my 4-year-old son a crayon and asking him to explain photography. I’ve grappled in this space before about the futile pursuit of “writing about music,” but Waits is one of those masters who sucks people into writing diatribes about rock artistry, junkyard poetry, and the history of American music while at the same time inspiring scores of the rest of us to just put our pens down and listen.

Tom Waits, and attempting to pinpoint or even describe whatever “Tom Waits Music” might be, is a bit like that old quote about defining the legal threshold of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” And we all know Waits when we hear him. One of the better descriptions was when Elton John called Waits “the Jackson Pollock of song.” And I also agree with one reviewer’s assessment of Waits as “more of a mad mechanic than a painter to me: a man collecting rusty old wrecks of vintage American music and getting them to clatter-bang back to life — untaxed, uninsured and possibly with a corpse left rotting in the boot.”

As for my only stab at a description of Waits and his music. I think of him as the musical equivalent to the possibly crazy eccentric guy in the song “What’s He Building In There?” from 1999’s Mule Variations. All these years he’s been clanging around that house, banging on pianos and knocking over bottles while I’ve been busy listening to everyone else’s records but also wondering about that Tom Waits guy. What’s he building in there?

I’m not qualified to really break down Tom Waits and provide some semblance of an attempt at a professional critique, in the sense that I’ve only ever heard a few of his records. I’ve always known and respected Tom Waits, he was someone who I’ve always wanted to like. And somewhere I still have the cassette copy of swordfishtrombones that a friend made for me years ago. But beyond that I don’t own any of his records, I can’t honestly say that I’m at all familiar with his whole body of work but I certainly know what he sounds like.

That’s why, instead of “reviewing” his great new album, Bad As Me, and in the process banging out a mini-Wiki regurgitation of his career, I thought I’d throw a bunch of other proper reviews into a word cloud and see if all those Waitsian adjectives and imagery would come bursting out. You know, like “boozy” or “growl” and variations of carnival barkers and closing-time balladry. Possibly some smoke. I mean, those are the words we use when we talk about Tom Waits because his inimitable vocal stylings bring to life such a litany of real characters’ characters.

Interestingly enough, the word cloud (consisting of more than 10,000 words taken from recently published reviews) is a bit short on the old weird American saloon imagery I’d expected. But it turned out pretty cool. Words like new and Bad were prominent as every review of course mentioned that Bad As Me was the new record [we threw out the word “Waits”].

Pretty neat to look through the cloud, a bit like combing through one of Waits albums, where little vignettes are splattered across the page and phrases reveal themselves depending on how you look at them.

Prominent guests like Keith Richards and Waits’ wife/collaborator Kathleen Brennan show up. Funny that “Richards” appears near the words “time” and “years” and “guitars” (and Kathleen is near “love”). The word “great” is surrounded by “percussion,” “horns,” “writing,” “rock,” and “voice.” You see “record,” then “business” and “hell.” There’s “soldiers” next to “lost,” while “Chicago,” “blues,” and “sounds” anchor the middle.

After all these years of me wishing I was “into Tom Waits” for some reason, always wondering what he was building, but never taking the time to listen… he emerges with this fantastic new record that, to my novice ears, sounds like a great sampling of all the things he does best.

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Week 6 NFL Picks

Welcome back degenerate gamblers and office pool pickers. No time for rambling faux analysis, let’s just get right to the NFL locks of the week.

Detroit Lions -4 vs. San Francisco 49ers:  I know San Fran hung 48 on Tampa last week, and their record says they’re 4-1. I’m not saying the Niners are frauds, I’m sure they’re pretty good. But SF comes back down to earth a bit this week as QB Alex Smith faces that Detroit D-line and the crazy crowd in the D. Take the Lions -4.

Baltimore Ravens -7 vs. Houston Texans: the Ravens have always been great after the bye week and they take care of business at home. Houston is an okay/good team that gets treated like a contender. But without WR Andre Johnson and now the defense without Mario Williams, I think the Ravens roll easily at home. Take Baltimore -7.

Oakland Raiders -7 vs. Cleveland Browns: this is the week that we confirm that Oakland is pretty good and Cleveland is not. First home game following the death of Al Davis, and a weak opponent, spells a Silver & Black blowout. Take the Raiders -7.

The Obvious Joe Public Square Pick: take the Over in the Cowboys/Patriots game. It’s a high number, 55, but each team shouldn’t have much trouble getting to 30.

 

Last Week: 4-2
This Season:13-8

 

Top 10 Albums of 2001

Lost among the 20th anniversary hype around Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pearl Jam’s Ten, and U2’s Achtung Baby, and all the 10th anniversary energy only focusing on 9/11, let’s pause to look at the Top 10 Albums from 2001.

Earlier this year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory, and elsewhere there was some brief hoopla about The Strokes Is This It album turning 10 years old. I loved it at the time and while I don’t think it holds up quite as well as the other albums on this list, it was certainly a touchstone release worthy of the mentions.

Interestingly enough, two albums I most associate with 9/11 for some reason (Radiohead’s Kid A and Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the titles I originally thought would anchor this list), were actually misremembered. They were from 2000 and 2002, respectively. Also, this list is short on hip-hop, but if you check the record books, there were several classics dropped by Outkast, The Roots, Talib Kweli, Eminem, Mos Def, and Common in either 2000 or 2002 (or in some cases both).

On to the list of the Top 10 Albums of 2001:

10. The Strokes – Is This It
Let’s go ahead and include this aforementioned Strokes debut. Mostly since this original banned-in-the-US album cover would look nice here on our website.

9. Explosions in the Sky – Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever
I admit I only recently discovered this band and their fine brand of instrumental rock goodness, and after investigating their back catalog, this is one gem I certainly missed back in 2001.

8. Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera
One of their most famous and celebrated albums, the DBT’s “concept album” surrounding the legend of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the deep south is no longer their best. It’s long since been surpassed by their continuing output, but this one put them on the map.

7. Radiohead – Amnesiac
Sometimes overlooked and underrated, this follow-up to 2000’s Kid A album is usually dismissed as simply the second album of Radiohead’s Bleeps’n’Blips Era. Kid B, if you will. But Amnesiac stands on its own as yet another solid entry in the band’s great catalog.

6. Whiskeytown – Pneumonia
Actually recorded in 1999 as a follow-up to Strangers Almanac, this one didn’t see the light of day until 2001 after the band broke up and Ryan Adams released his first solo album. Finished up with producer Ethan Johns, Pneumonia was called “easily Whiskeytown’s most ambitious and eclectic work” by AllMusic.com. A really catchy record that some people might not have caught when it was released.

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Week 5 NFL Picks

Al Davis died again this week, and as cliché as it might seem, I like the Raiders to Just Win Baby against the Texans in Houston. Or at least cover the spread. Oakland has been pretty good, and Houston might be a little overated in this spot (playing at home a week after a high-profile win over the Steelers). Following the death of Davis, it certainly would have been more emotional if it was a home game or if they were playing a division rival. But I don’t think anyone in the sports world would be shocked to see the Raiders play with a little extra emotion and win this game on the road, especially considering that Houston’s All-World WR Andre Johnson is out. Oh by the way, the Texans are giving 6 points. That line is too high, take Oakland +6.

Only a degenerate gambler would consider wagering on the game between the Manning-less Colts and the 1-3 Chiefs. But I think Indianapolis at home, after 4 weeks of practicing how to play without Peyton, they can manage a win over a punchless and weak Kansas City team. Of course, the Colts are still winless, but therein lies the value: it’s only Indy -2 or so, depending where you look. They get the win this week and the easy cover. Bet the Colts.

Here’s another horrible game that you have to bet on just to give it a reason to exist. The Bengals travel to Jacksonville to take on a bad Jaguars team breaking in a rookie QB. Ciny has a rookie QB but he’s been damn good so far and has an explosive fellow rookie at WR. The Jags defense is decent, but the Bengals is better. Mix in the fact that Cincinnati is pretty good and Jackonville just isn’t… yea, the Bengals are gonna win this game, by at least 7 or so. But probably more like 24-13 or even 27-10. This line opened at Jacksonville minus 2 or so and has slowly been moving toward the Bengals. You might have to lay a point, but take Cincinnati.

It’s time for this week’s Joe Obvious Square Public Pick! That’s right, I’m suggesting you bet the OVER in the Philly/Buffalo game. It’s a high total (51.5) but you know both teams have a good chance of hitting 28.

Sunday night, despite all the signs pointing to Aaron Rodgers being unstoppable and the fact that this line opened at GB -4.5 and was bet up to GB -6… and the fact that Atlanta probably isn’t as great as we think they are…. I have a weird feeling the home crowd for the nationally televised Sunday night game and a little playoff payback will push the Falcon over the Packers. And if they fall short? You’re getting 6 points. Take Atlanta plus the points.

Monday night, I like the New Upstart Can You Believe the LIONS of Detroit. First Monday nighter in 10 years, loud dome, dominant pass rush, Jay Cutler and his lack of protection up front, Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. Done. Take Detroit -5. And the Lions defense isn’t great so I imagine this could end up turning into a garbage time pseudo shootout as Cutler, Hester, and Forte score enough to hang around push this one over 47.5 points relatively easily. Bet the Lions-Bears OVER.

Last Week: 2-1
This Season: 9-6-1

The Hunter Reels in a Mastodon Masterpiece

This is the best hard rock album of the year.

I wanna rock! Seriously, I really wanna rock, and I know you also enjoy rocking out. To rock, and rock music, is at the core of our being, as most music fanatics were turned on, raised, and possibly brainwashed by Satanic forces to feel the primal attraction of rock music.

This is often best expressed by hard rock and heavy metal. So it was written by Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, and so it has since been done. But most people, probably including you, are pansies like me. We don’t listen to all that crazy death metal and black metal and deathcore and goregrind and whatever other sub-core speed genres of anti-pop horror-metal madness exist out there.

I’ve got a couple of very close friends who are metal freaks. I’m sure you do too. But for pussies like us, we’re okay to just burn out on Them Crooked Vultures and maybe crank some old-school Van Halen in the car and be done with it. Some of you dig on the Foo Fighters cuz their CD’s are so much louder than most of your other ones. You like to name check Queens of the Stone Age, but “No One Knows” that you never actually heard Rated R. You probably dig on the Deftones and Disturbed and possibly some stuff that sounds like Slipknot, but System of a Down was a bit too intense and political. Hopefully you don’t rock out to Linkin Park at the gym. I don’t. But then again, I don’t go to the gym.

Well fear not, rock fans who crave something a little goddamn harder than fucking Wilco or My Morning Jacket but don’t want the bloodbath of Satanic butchery and mass-slaughter imagery infesting your precious earbuds.

Behold The Hunter, the new album from Mastodon.

Certainly not a household name, they’ve never been on Dancing With The Stars or served as guest judges or mentors on any of the other 14,682 talent-show style “reality” shows, Mastodon is one of those crazy talented bands of musicians with the kind of extreme chops that leave many jaws dropped. But, so far, their hard rock/metal has skewed a little proggy, so it was like some Rush-meets-Tool kinda thing with concept albums and 12-minute songs.

This is the deluxe version.

The Hunter is already being received as their “more accessible” album that pisses off the hardcore fan base but attracts the accolades of casual hard rock fans and possibly some non-metal bloggers working on their snarky reaction to the Lou Reed/Metallic collaboration. With apologies to any Mastodonians who feel like their favorite band is “selling out” (impossible these days anyway), The Hunter is perfect for fans of the band who’ve been waiting for them to make an Album Like This, and for people like me who need and want to rock the fuck out and turn it up to 11 but only sometimes.

This album is badass, and yet just catchy enough in its badassery to keep the festivities moving from one crunching riff and sick drum fill to the next. The vocals certainly sound like they hurt somebody’s throat, as well they should, but they are not so in your face or gory to turn off any casual listeners. It just kicks ass. But Mastadon is a different animal: among the mayhem it manages to mix in an obvious “The love I make is equal to the love I take” nod to the Beatles lyric, while “Creature Lives” features an intro that sounds like it’s covering two Pink Floyd intros at the same time.

Strongly rooted in the Black Sabbath basics, Mastodon’s technical proficiency allows them to elevate their stoner rock to high-grade medicinal levels. And it remains concise and hard hitting, certainly recommended if you lean a bit closer to Clutch than Slayer and prefer your Tool albums to have less hot-yoga droning interludes.

So if you crave that metallic taste in your ears without the messy dismemberments and commitments to spend eternity in damnation, pick up Mastodon’s The Hunter and crank that shit up.

The Jersey Shore is Bad?

Please don’t ask questions about why but last night I watched an episode of The Rachel Zoe Project. First let me say, God bless Rachel Zoe for having a job that pays her to dress other people in other people’s clothes. I do not begrudge her one bit for how she makes a living. If there are people out there that are willing to pay other people to dress them in other people’s clothes then I am not going to try to discredit the people that the people pay to dress them in other people’s clothes. Had I known that such a job ever existed whilst I was busy ‘studying’ in college then I might have considered exploring that career path.

Rachel Zoe

People only pay me to put video on the web. I should have tried a hand at dressing people in designer clothes and have them pay me to do it like Rachel Zoe.

With that said, I can’t believe there is a television show that is dedicated to stylist such as Rachel Zoe. Again, I am not discounting Zoe’s profession. There apparently exists a market for people to have their fashion choices made by other people. Mouth agape, who knew? I am getting sidetracked, the episode I watched last night centered around Zoe’s work with actress Anne Hathaway. Hathaway was to host the Academy awards and it was Zoe’s task to provide her with multiple outfits because God knows that one should never host the Oscars without multiple wardrobe changes.

During the episode much of the teleplay led up to the big night with the show’s climax of Zoe and her team gathered together to watch the Academy Awards broadcast so that they could all congratulate each other, and most importantly Zoe, on just how great Hathaway looked in other people’s clothes. All in all it seems like a job well done. Hathaway certainly looked stunning in each of the outfits picked by Zoe and her team.  However, I think Anne would look great wearing little to nothing at all.  Don’t believe me? Maybe you should watch this sometime.

The real rub…

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Week 4 NFL Picks

Week 4 NFL action is upon us and once again Bums Logic has your Best Bets: NFL picks against the spread that are sure to win, but might possibly lose, as evidenced by our paltry but technically winning record so far!

Oftentimes winning football picks aren’t the glamorous Game of the Week when two popular contenders square-off in a showdown. As sad as it is to bet on crappy who-cares games that no one in their right mind would ever watch, if you have a feeling about a game, no matter how bad or boring, just take the easy money.

Case in point this week: the ho-hum Tennessee Titans to take on the perennially putrid Cleveland Browns. Not exactly the kinda game that inspires you to make sure you have a table at the wings place at quarter-to-1, eh? The Titans showed some life in a home win against Baltimore when they utilized a pass-heavy attack with Veteran QB Matt Hasslebeck. Even that season-high only yielded 26 points. In their other 2 games they scored 14 at Jacksonville and 17 against Denver. And now they are suddenly without emerging WR threat Kenny Britt. So this is probably the week they look to get RB Chris Johnson going (he’s yet to have a really big game), and that will keep the clock moving. It’s also a good bet that Cleveland will look to do the same by feeding the rock to RB Peyton Hillis in hopes of grinding out a home win. No one outside of Cleveland or Nashville will be watching this game. It’s got 16-13 written all over it. Maybe 17-14 or one of those weird-score games like 19-15. You get the idea. The point is, bet the Titans-Browns game Under 39. Even if they get to 21-17, it still stays under.

In another game that might be canceled due to lack of interest, New Orleans makes the short trip east to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Giving 7 points on the road is often risky in the NFL, but the Saints are a good team with an explosive offense and Jacksonville is mediocre at best with not much of a home-field advantage. I could see a lot of regional Saints fans from the Southeast making the trip to North Florida for this one. The only stat we need for this one is the Saints score 35 points per game while the Jags score just under 10 while giving up an average of 21. Okay maybe that was three stats. Anyway, I expect that to continue as Drew Brees and company will run a clinic en route to a 38-17 win. Bet New Orleans -7 at Jacksonville.

If you must make a bet with a bit more fun and pizazz than the two snoozers above, bet Over 54.5 in the Patriots-Raiders game. I know, it’s another obvious bet just like the Over pick in the last New England game (that won easily). But just like the 2007 Patriots were killing opponents and the spreads they were favored by kept going up and up, these high totals for New England wont keep Over bettors from cashing in for a few more weeks. The Raiders will have confidence and energy at home, and Darren McFadden is running wild on the NFL so far this year. The Pats cant stop anyone, but Tom Brady can keep them moving up and down the field and scoring quickly and often. Both teams should hit 30+ in this game and it will sail over the total. Even 31-27 or 34-24 would be a winner.

Last Week: 2-1-1
This Season: 7-5-1