Nobody writes about life like Tom Waits does.


I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED that songwriters are the best storytellers of all.

Maybe it’s because they write short.

They tell their stories in a dozen or so lines.

Novelists take three hundred pages, more or less.

Songwriters take the time to turn a phrase.

Novelists are just trying to turn the page.

If you want great, clever, and creative writing, just listen to the  lyrics and the thoughts of  Tom Waits.

When he sang, perhaps, his voice was a growl. It was once described as sounding like it had been soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over by the car.

It didn’t matter.

His words were impeccable, and he strung them together as no other.

I read the following lines and wish I had written them:

I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.

There ain’t no devil, only God when he drinks.

Well it’s either kiss me or kill me. That’s the way I see it.

It ain’t no sin to take off your skin and dance around in your bones.

This is about all the bad days in the world. I used to have some little bad days, and I kept them in a little box. And one day, I threw them out into the yard. “Oh, it’s just a couple little innocent bad days.” Well, we had a big rain. I don’t know what it was growing in but I think we used to put eggshells out there and coffee grounds, too. Don’t plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke ’em down to nothin’. They’re your days. Choke ’em!

A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion but doesn’t.

The world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.

The piano is drinking, not me.

All that you’ve loved is all that you own,

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

I’ve been riding on the crest of a slump lately.

The big print giveth, and the small print taketh away.

And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget that history puts a saint in every dream.

As Tom Waits once said: “I’ve always been a word guy, I like weird words and I like American slang and all that and words that are no longer being used… I like to drag them out of the box and wave them around… this is an interesting one, it’s amazing how in addition to punctuation just a little pause in the wrong place can just completely transform the meaning of something.”

He was once asked, “What’s hard for you?”

And he answered: Mostly I straddle reality and the imagination. My reality needs imagination like a bulb needs a socket. My imagination needs reality like a blind man needs a cane. Math is hard. Reading a map. Following orders. Carpentry. Electronics. Plumbing. Remembering things correctly. Straight lines. Sheet rock. Finding a safety pin. Patience with others. Ordering in Chinese. Stereo instructions in German.”

It turns out that what’s hard for Tom Waits is also hard for me.