Music Blogs

Some words about The Heart Of Saturday Night

  • By AndyVale
  • 4 May 2013

I wrote nearly all of this on the way home from a party in the early hours of this morning. It was meant to be a message to someone who had asked me about getting into Tom Waits. But seeing as we're all friends here I thought I'd share it with you.

I once made a big list of songs for another friend who wanted to know where to start with the big TW, but they didn't seem interested once I'd lovingly compiled a career-spanning playlist. So I thought I'd try the opposite this time and just suggest one song to plant the seed.

The title track of Tom's second album was recommended by Russel Brand somewhere on iTunes a few years ago. This was where I first knowingly found him. Russel elaborated on how the song looked at the ultimate futility of night time pleasure chases and I thought I'd give it a whirl. Waits isn't the first or last person to make this observation, so what makes this track special in some way?

Well, let's listen to the bit about the barmaid. You know her. You went to school with her. No you didn't. You were just at the same school as her, she didn't know you existed. She was two years above you and going out with some dude who was at Uni. That's what you'd heard anyway. Apparently she was a model. Apparently she had a pierced nipple. Apparently she had sex upstairs at a party. Her brother was in your year and people pretended to be his friend to somehow meet her, not that you'd know what to say if that ever happened.

But you're a man now. You can say hi to her. You don't, you just order a drink. But she gives you a smile. She doesn't remember you, but at least she has acknowledged the fact that a collection of atoms have spawned a human being that turned into you. She's pretty, but you don't know what got everyone so worked up all those years ago. A hive mind crush on the girl who wore the most make-up in school.

What's all this for? The drink, the people, the noise, the music, the drugs, the money, the skin, the saliva, the sticky bits on the floor, the big men, the skinny women, the see-through bits on clothes, the make-up, the food, the talking, the shouting, the singing, the spitting, the mass of bodies, the lights, the dancers, the signs, the fun fun fun. You don't know what you're really after but you know it's all tied up in there somewhere. You're so close to something that you can identify and name, something something everywhere and way too much to drink.

You're on the road Jack. But you're not Dean Moriarty, he just wanted kicks. You can get kicks, you've got kicks. The whole set-up is geared towards giving you kicks in some way regardless of whatever time or budget you have. No, you're Sal Paradise. You want the pearl to be handed to you. You don't know how you'll get it but in this smorgasboard of base delights you're desperate to find it. You don't want it because it will make the night better, you want it because it will make your turgid monotonous days better. You want that secret to make it clear why you're doing all of this. Why you're working, why you're raising kids, why you're saving, why you're buying, why you keep on breathing in and out. What's the game and how do you win?

This song catches you as you're lurching about trying to answer all of those questions at once. It wearily tells you that there never were any rules to this game and you can't win. That's not a bad thing, nor is it a good thing. It's just an element of it all. Don't be sad at the emptiness, but don't be smug that you've found the answer. Don't think about it too much as it really achieves nothing. I've spent far too long writing about it, way way more than the core truth really deserves.

If you can get all of that on your plate from one song, you might enjoy further listening. This is also a good place to start because it showcases Waits' ability as a songwriter before he gets too husky or experimental, a trait that may scare off timid first-time listeners. Music, go.

So anyway, if you're looking to try Tom out then that's where I'd start. Settle with that, then buy Rain Dogs. A whole journey awaits you there.

Andy is a Supajam writer who has been a small-fry at numerous Commerical, BBC and Student radio stations over the last 6 years. He is also a music promoter in the South-East of the UK. He has a website where he interviews musicians with only one question, and he is currently typing in third-person. You can tweet abuse at him if you fancy letting off some steam.