Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Canon #11

Tom Waits - "Anywhere I Lay My Head"

Let me start by saying that I haven't always loved Tom. I had a rocky relationship with him for many years, but, in the last year or so, I started going back to him more and more. When it comes to unconventional music, it often takes time for the listener to really "get it." However, I think loving Tom had less to do with "getting him" and a lot more to do with me feeling him. Chalk it up to me getting older, wiser, and more experienced, but I just love this gnarled old bastard now.

Tom has described his musical oeuvre as being comprised of "weepers" and "creepers." "Anywhere I Lay My Head" seems to mine the area between the two - both a resilient underdog's sad lament and a raggedly triumphant anthem. With a wonderfully woozy horn section as his only musical accompaniment, Tom bellows the words of a truly bruised and beaten-down guy:

Well I see that the world is upside-down
Seems that my pockets were filled up with gold
And now the clouds, well they've covered over
And the wind is blowing cold
Well I don't need anybody, because I learned, I learned to be alone
Well I said anywhere, anywhere, anywhere I lay my head, boys
Well I gonna call my home

However, this song does not end with downcast eyes. As Tom utters that last line "...anywhere I lay my head, boys/Well I gonna call my home," he sounds defiant and tough. A second of silence, and then those drunken horns march on with that beautiful, broken melody. The last minute of the song makes you think all that sadness was nothing more than a fleeting thought. This is the song that made me love Tom Waits. I don't expect this song to resonate equally for everyone, but it hits especially close to home for me. As a person who has spent his life being a vagabond (8 cities in 25 years, and more than one residence in certain cities), those lines "anywhere I lay my head...I gonna call my home" just grab my heart with their crooked fingers. It goes without saying that a side effect of constant moving is constant loneliness (especially when you're younger).

If this song had a moral, it would be this: Pick yourself up by the bootstraps boys, everything is going to be fine.


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