I first came to love the music of Tom Waits while I was living in Nairobi, Kenya about fifteen years ago. Rain Dogs, Swordfishtrombones, and Frank’s Wild Years (especially the song “Hang on St. Christopher,” which I took on as the theme song for my own personal adventures) kept me company on many a beer-soaked ramble.
The world of Waits is drowning in booze-filled Friday nights and maudlin Sunday morning hair of the dog cocktails. His music and lyrics conjure a land built on the paradox of an American Dream filled with limitless promise and failed attempts at realizing it. Tin cups of whiskey, and broken bottles of beer litter the road to Waits’ strangely-contented desolation in middle America.
So, after so many years of relying on Waits to produce records that romanticize drunken escapism, it was a pleasant surprise to hear Road to Peace on his new three album set entitled Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards. It’s a directly political song addressing religion and government and the failure of the peace process in Palestine and Israel.
Contrast these lyrics excerpted from his classic Warm Beer and Cold Women with two verses from Road to Peace:
Warm Beer and Cold Women
. . .
warm beer and cold women, I just don’t fit in
every joint I stumbled into tonight
that’s just how it’s been
all these double knit strangers
with gin and vermouth
and recycled stories
in the naugahyde booths
with the platinum blondes
and tobacco brunettes
I’ll be drinkin’ to forget you
lite another cigarette
and the band’s playin’ something
by Tammy Wynette
and the drinks are on me tonight
. . .
Road to Peace
. . .
In the video that they found at the home of Abdel Mahdi (Shahmay)
He held a Kalashnikov rifle and he spoke with a voice like a boy
He was an excellent student, he studied so hard, it was as if he had a future
He told his mother that he had a test that day out along the road to peace
The fundamentalist killing on both sides is standing in the path of peace
But tell me why are we arming the Israeli army with guns and tanks and bullets?
And if God is great and God is good why can’t he change the hearts of men?
Well maybe God himself is lost and needs help
Maybe God himself he needs all of our help
Maybe God himself is lost and needs help
He’s out upon the road to peace
. . .
Part of what I have come to respect about Tom Waits is his ability to change. His musical styles have altered drastically over the years, ranging from piano-bar vocals to Russian folks songs with a chorus of boot-stomping as the rhythm section and electrified hand saws for spooky warbling effects. Road to Peace marks yet another new foray for Waits, this one into current political affairs. Not only is the song itself touching, but it is made even more effective by the sheer contrast it provides against the backdrop of his entire catalog of previous recordings.
On a somewhat related note, Palestine now has a brewery. It’s called Taybeh Brewing Company. Owner Nadim Khoury brews three German-inspired styles and advocates moderate daily beer consumption as a healthful practice. Opening a brewery in an Islamic country renowned for suicide bombing, this guy must have balls the size of Jerusalem.