Guest poem submitted by Pradeep Sarin:
(Poem #1681) The Piano Has Been Drinking
The piano has been drinking, my necktie is asleep And the combo went back to New York, the jukebox has to take a leak And the carpet needs a haircut, and the spotlight looks like a prison break And the telephone's out of cigarettes, and the balcony is on the make And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking... And the menus are all freezing, and the light man's blind in one eye And he can't see out of the other And the piano-tuner's got a hearing aid, and he showed up with his mother And the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking As the bouncer is a sumo wrestler cream-puff casper milktoast And the owner is a mental midget with the IQ of a fence post 'cause the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking... And you can't find your waitress with a Geiger counter And she hates you and your friends and you just can't get served without her And the box-office is drooling, and the bar stools are on fire And the newspapers were fooling, and the ash-trays have retired because the piano has been drinking, the piano has been drinking The piano has been drinking, not me, not me, not me, not me, not me...
From the album "Small Change", 1976. Background Sketch: Through most of his musical career, Tom Waits has combined a lyrical focus on desperate, lowlife characters with a persona that seems to embody the same lifestyle, which he sings about in a raspy, gravelly voice. This song is track #5 on one of his earlier albums "Small Change" (1976). I find its bitter-sweet combination of a down-and-out mood with a tumbling series of humorous metaphors particularly picturesque. As he tumbles through the lines, the poetry arises almost by accident - brought to life by the image of a piano player singing in a run down bar. There is underlying structure to his imagery: he brings you in to the room with playful metaphors on physical objects that you would normally encounter in a bar. The middle of the poem first turns introspective - the piano players' crib with his mistuned piano, and then reaches out to grasp at lost friendship. The persitent complaint of the drunk piano hangs the whole thing together. Having been born twenty years after 'Howl' was published, when growing up I always felt envious of my elders for having missed out on the whole Beat poetry phenomenon. To a lot of people my age, Tom Waits represents the 'post-Beat' experience - we are not directly connected to the events and social conditions that inspired much of the beat generation. We arrived on the scene when the Grateful Dead were just exiting - but the basic human needs that Beat poetry spoke to still exist, and Tom Waits has managed, in my opinion, to find a voice that speaks to those needs. I was first introduced to Tom Waits through a documentary on Beat poetry made by Ron Mann, called 'Poetry in Motion'. It's a somewhat iconoclastic work, juxtaposing the likes of Allen Ginsberg with William S Burroughs, John Cage, Micheal Ondaatje and Tom Waits. It brings home the message that as much as we can appreciate poetry in written form, to hear a poet orating his or her poem - often extempore, is an experience of an entirely different kind. To me, the songs of Tom Waits epitomize poetry as an oral art form. Some of his earlier songs were indeed recorded extempore - singing into a ratty tape recorder sitting in his car driving across the california desert. Of course, not all his songs are as dark - check out the playful 'Step Right Up' on the same album "Small Change" or the laugh-out-loud funny 'Filipino Box Spring Hog' on his recent album "Mule Variations". The latter is especially funny given the story behind the song: it's a recounting of a tradition he and his friends had of cooking up a hog strung on a trashed box-spring in their penny-less youth. Some informational links: Ron Mann's documentary 'Poetry in Motion': http://www.filmreferencelibrary.ca/index.asp?layid=44&csid1=403&navid=46 There's also a 'Poetry in Motion II', which covers the poets that were filmed for the first documentary, but not included in it. Ron Mann's filmography (I like a lot of his work): http://www.filmreferencelibrary.ca/index.asp?layid=46&csid1=50&navid=46 and his production company [broken link] http://www.sphinxproductions.com/pages/index.html Pradeep Sarin.