By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
And nowwww, ladies and gentlemen, the Troubadour is proud to present . . .
And they'd say your name, and they'd walk you up to the stage in the spotlight. I used to watch other acts do that, and I'd be in the audience with my coffee, and I said, "That's it. That's it for me."
You know this group called That Mean Old Man Next Door? They've got a record called Tijuana Moon.
Me: I like the name.
Tom: I just made it up.
Me: Did you?
Tom: Could be the other way. Could be a group called Tijuana Moon.
Me: Could be. It's confusing sometimes.
Tom: You ever try to get a sandwich made for you in England? It'll just make you crazy. "Put a little more sauce ä on that." And it's your sandwich, you're gonna pay for it and you're gonna eat it. But they look at you like [snooty voice], "I won't do it." "Put a little more lettuce on that for me." "I can't do it." "And don't cut the crust." "I have to cut it off." I used to get in arguments. I used to end up going over the counter. I'd say, "Gimme that bread, goddamn it. Let me have that thing. I'll show you how to make a goddamn sandwich." I was young. I was rude. But there was something real and sincere about my reaction.
[The waitress approaches with a coffee pot.]
You got a decaf? I got to calm down.
Driving me back to my hotel in the big black Silverado he calls (today, at least) Old Reliable, Waits detours to a flower-bedecked makeshift roadside shrine dedicated to the memory of 12-year-old Georgia Lee Moses, the subject of "Georgia Lee," a lilting Irishy lullaby on Mule Variations.
"It's a good spot," he says as we pull over to a grassy plot of trees and brush by a freeway onramp. "She'd run away from home, been missing for like a week. I guess this is where they found the body." He takes a plastic point-and-click camera from his pocket and shoots a picture. "Not to make it a racial matter, but it was one of those things where, you know, she's a black kid, and when it comes to missing children and unsolved crimes, a lot of it has to do with timing, or publicity . . . and there was this whole Polly Klaas Foundation up here, while Georgia Lee did not get any real attention. And I wanted to write a song about it. At one point I wasn't going to put it on the record, there were too many songs. But my daughter said, 'Gee, that would reallybe sad -- she gets killed and not remembered and somebody writes a song about it and doesn't put it on the record.' I didn't want to be a part of that."
Waits recorded 25 tracks for the 16-song Mule Variations, which takes its title from the fact that "Get Behind the Mule," a low-slung gospel blues more or less about persistence, had been attempted in several styles; but the mule is an apt enough totem for the record, stubbornly itself and not as pretty as a horse. Like Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind, it's a mature work that trades away a young man's flash effects for an older one's plain speaking -- a step forward that can sound like a step back -- and like that record, it alternates between mutant blues and bravely sentimental ballads. ("It's got a lot of ballads," he says, "which I was nervous about at first," but which makes the album more immediately accessible than the elemental Bone Machine or the troll-cabaret The Black Rider.) While he has not abandoned his familiar lyrical complement of drifters, town-edge dwellers and sideshow freaks (like the "not conventionally handsome" "Eyeball Kid," whom the singer gives his own birth date), his subject here overwhelmingly is Home. (He will say no more about it than "You write about what you go through.") Waits -- who moved several times as a child, and conceived a fondness as an adult (in what might be termed his Bukowski phase) for flophouses and fleabag hostelries, living notoriously for a spell in West Hollywood's Tropicana Motel -- was formerly a poet of transients, and of transience; Mule Variations, a family man's album, is by contrast founded primarily upon household images: "Evelyn's kitchen," "Beulah's porch." "Never let the weeds get higher/than the garden," he advises in "Get Behind the Mule," while at the "House Where Nobody Lives," "the weeds had grown up/just as high as the drawers," and the unsavory neighbor of "What's He Building?" "has no dog and he has no friends and his lawn is dying." "I hope my pony knows the way home," sings the weary traveler of "Pony." "Picture in a Frame" provides a swell little metaphor for commitment and the civilizing influence of small gestures. "Filipino Box Spring Hog" concerns a barbecue. And in the breathtakingly intimate "Take It With Me," perhaps the most beautiful and most beautifully sung song in his canon, domestic pleasure inspires a vision of transcendent permanence: