Saturday, December 17, 2011

Music To Write By: Tom Waits' "Black Wings"

Why listen? For non-lyrical songwriting; a strikingly gritty presentation; almost five-minutes worth of dark inspiration.



Even the most superficial survey of the Billboard Top 40 reveals that today's music prides itself on accessibility. Transparent lyrics and catchy melodies sung by pretty people rule the day. Given that standard, Tom Waits' "Black Wings" would never get a hearing on a Clear Channel station. Muted upright bass and hushed banjo riffs bracket Waits' sepulchral growling as he unfolds a mythic narrative about a wanderer who might not be entirely human. Biblical allusions pepper the tale, but this stranger has more in common with Christopher Walken's creepy Gabriel in The Prophecy than Christ. "Some say he once killed a man with a guitar string. / He's been seen at the table with kings. / Well, he once saved a baby from drowning. / There are those that say beneath his coat there are wings." Popular listening? Certainly not. But it fires the imagination better than anything sung by those picture-perfect crooners.

(Hat Tip: Tor.com)

8 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

The most distinctive voice around. And the music ain't bad either.

Loren Eaton said...

I wasn't too familiar with him until I read that Tor.com piece. But that voice seemed to fit perfectly with this year's Advent Ghosts. Waits really sounds as though he just crawled from a grave.

Milo James Fowler said...

Wow. I can honestly say I probably never would have heard this song today if it wasn't for your post! Cool stuff.

Loren Eaton said...

Thanks! I hope this ongoing series will help get others' creative juices flowing.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

Great song. Remniscient of Leonard Cohen, but with more energy and bite. It does get the wheels spinning.

You should also listen to some of the Christmas music of Sufjan Stevens.

The two original pieces that may best showcase his diversity are "That was the Worst Christmas Ever!" and "Star of Wonder," though "Sister Winter" is also pretty amazing as well.

His Christmas album collection wouldn't be complete without their saturation of general Christian hymns and traditional Christmas songs, but he may have created the first CD I've heard in which I prefer new compositions over covers of traditional songs.

Loren Eaton said...

I'm not terribly familiar with Stevens, but I have heard "John Wayne Gacy, Jr," and I love it:

"And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid"


Such a powerful depiction of the universality and horror of human depravity.

Scattercat said...

I <3 Tom Waits' "What's He Building in There?" It's the perfect suburban-dystopian-mad-scientist-fear-mongering prose poem.

Loren Eaton said...

Yet another one to add to the queue! Thanks for the tip, sir.