Thursday, June 12, 2014

Discographies: Tom Waits The Heart of Saturday Night

I have to say that after the intimacy of Closing Time, Tom Waits' second album, The Heart of Saturday Night, took me a bit to get into. Right off, it felt more produced and bigger, not that it doesn't have intimate moments, but still. And while the first album felt like the end of a night, this feels like the middle of it. The middle of a bustling, hustling, neon, cigarette smoke and rain filled night in lounges, motels, pool halls, strip joints, all night laundry mats, truck stops, taxi cab depots, docks and ports. The stories here reminded me of when I used to work nights and was headed to work on a Saturday night, just as everyone else was getting ready to party. This is back door jazz, muffled in the distance while you take a cigarette break by the service entrance.

If Closing Time was nostalgic, this is more present and searching. Watching. Observing. But always yearning. There's a lot of talk of traveling here, or going away. Leaving. Characters are truckers and cab drivers or would be merchant marines or lovers of traveling salesmen who pass through town like a glimmer of stability, but never settle down. Everyone here is on the periphery of something bigger, but that periphery is crawling with undeniable anxiety of its own. The gaze is on the horizon and what's next, even if that's just a dark road to another town with same questions. And musically, the album is more focused on jazz with lots of bouncing upright bass and horns throughout. A standout track is Diamonds on my Windshield which could easily have been a left over Jack Kerouac poem.

There was nothing terribly gut-wrenching on this album for me. Maybe that's because I'm in a stable place in my life and the idea of searching for the heart of Saturday night out there in the world, on my own, is not something I relate to much anymore. But no matter, because at some point in our lives, I think most of us do relate to that restlessness and Tom captures it perfectly here. This was the 70's, and he uses music and imagery that may have been retro at the time, but remains vibrant and alive to this day. He was living in Los Angeles at the time, I believe, but the album really makes me think of New York in the 70s as much as it brings to mind the beat poets of the 40s and early 50s. Timeless and yet of its time. Retro and yet futuristic. There's no telling where this discography is heading.

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