Sunday, September 12, 2004

The world is wrong 

A week or two ago I received an email from my good friend, Faz, containing news so momentous and exciting that it caused me to do a passable impression of Donald Sutherland in the final scene of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers: arm raised stiffly pointing at the monitor, eyes widely staring, mouth agape and emitting a disturbing and otherworldly noise (something that also happens when I try to sing but this was something else). The Missus put her head round the door to see what was wrong. More otherworldly moaning, more pointing. She read the email.

Tom Waits was going to play live in the UK!* I was, it would be fair to say, a little excited at the prospect.

The first I heard of Tom Waits was when In The Neighborhood was featured on a TV show called (if my wretched memory serves me) Eight Days A Week. This would have been around 1983 I think: I was 15 and I was intrigued. I bought the album, Swordfishtrombones, the next Saturday from St Martins records in Leicester even though it cost an extortionate £4.99 rather than the more usual (at the time) £3.99. I took it home and listened to it and I was amazed. My God, I thought, I paid a fiver for this? But it's rubbish. What have I done? I mean I'd been expecting it to be a little unlike the normal musical fare, that had been the appeal on the evidence of In The Neighborhood after all, but I'd thought for some reason that Neighborhood would be as strange as things got whereas, in fact, it was the tamest track on the album. I really wasn't prepared for the less than warm welcome of the opening track, Underground: Marc Ribot's jagged guitar style, unlike anything I'd heard before, and Waits's frankly terrifying vocal were too much for my young blood. Then Trouble's Braids with its weird rhythms was a different animal again, less scary but still difficult listening. And so on: most of the album left me similarly perplexed: Shore Leave, Gin Soaked Boy, Down Down Down, Sixteen Shells From A Thirty-Ought Six (I mean, what did that even mean?) I was out of my depth and I knew it.

And yet...

I still loved In The Neighborhood and, along with a couple other of the less abrasive tracks (the beautifully melancholy Soldier's Things, the just beautiful Johnsburg, Illinois ("She's my only true love/She's all that I think of/Look here in my wallet, that's her")) and the darkly funny monologue of Frank's Wild Years... well I guess it wasn't a total loss. Still, though, a fiver for it... that was a mistake I wasn't likely to make again.

Of course, I fell in love. Because in those pre-CD days skipping through the album listening to only a few tracks would have required too much faffing about so I put up with the rubbish tracks in between the ones I liked and gradually they became less rubbish. In fact some of them were quite good. I mean Rainbirds for instance is actually rather lovely. Can't understand why I didn't see it before. In fact... well, you see where this is going. I can't remember how long the transition took but certainly by the time his next album, Raindogs, came out I'd accepted Swordfishtrombones as a work of unadulterated genius. I bought Raindogs as soon as it came out, of course I did. I'm pretty sure it cost £4.99. I didn't like it much. Although there were a couple of tracks that... and the same process again. From there on I bought each album as it came out more or less and gradually accumulated the back catalogue too (oh such riches) such that now I have pretty much everything he's done. It's just the most amazing body of work: rich, surprising, beautiful, heartbreaking and hilarious by turns. There is no other artist who has so consistently entertained and amazed and delighted me.

But I'd never seen him live. And now he was playing the UK for the first time since 1987. So eventually Faz hears that he's playing one date only at the Hammersmith Apollo in November and he lets me know and we find out that tickets go on sale at 9a.m. last Friday. We're both on the phone dialling and listening to engaged tones for an hour or so while simultaneously trying different ticket websites (all useless) and emailing each other about our lack of progress. There's a bad feeling growing in my stomach all the while. Oh God, I'm not going to get any am I.

Finally, at about 10.15 I get through as far as a recorded message telling me all the tickets are sold out. I find out later they'd all gone in about 30 minutes. The rest of the day is spent in a grumpy cloud of blackness not getting enough work done and picking at the scabs of my disappointment by checking eBay every so often to see more and more of the already expensive tickets (£65 plus booking fee, who does he think he is? Barbara Streisand?) appearing in auctions and rising to the kind of prices (£200+) that ensure they'll only be bought by the really very comfortably off indeed. I'm not a big fan of capitalism or the laws of supply and demand at the best of times but this is particularly ugly isn't it? Opportunist scum-sucker middlemen vermin playing the system and making big money while offering no real service to anyone. Go do something useful with your lives you bastards. May the tickets give you paper cuts that become infected so badly that your arms have to be amputated...

So anyway, obviously I was a little disappointed at the time but I'm fine now. And anyway, maybe he'll be shit.

Sob. The world is all wrong.

*If you're at all familiar with my attitude to exclamation marks, you will appreciate the excitement here denoted.

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