Scratching the sacred itch of secular mysteries

We’re big appreciators of Tom Waits around here. H.o.p. as well. He’s been an avid listener since he was little. When he was two or three he listened to “Bone Machine” non stop for a year.

Back in 2004 when he was, what, 6, he did the below picture as a tribute to Waits’ “What’s he building in there?”


H.o.p. listens to not only the music, he keys into the lyrics. A few weeks ago he admitted that some of them used to frighten him but he said he gets it now that he “understands poetry”. And we knew that some of the imagery used to frighten him–yet he was fascinated, he loved the music, he just had to listen. A kid and his magnet, there was no drawing him away from the music of Wait.

So after he said that he gets the music now that he “understands poetry”, I asked him why he would repeatedly listen to the CDs when he was younger, though some of it was frightening, giving H.o.p. the ten-year-old the opportunity to think about it and explain. “Because I loved the music,” he replied.

I also suspect it was scratching the sacred itch of secular mysteries (or the secular itch of sacred mysteries, it’s all the same). He would listen and for weeks and months would question us on the lyrics of every song, what they meant. He would also ask about instrumentation. He was eager to learn about it all.

I may be a writer, but Tom Waits, and his co-writing wife, Kathleen Brennan, have been H.o.p.’s big window on the art of telling a captivating story that drags universal meaning from the incidental.

Marty was the one who first brought the music of Waits home many years ago (he was a household name before 1979) but I didn’t start listening to Waits until about 1995.

The last U.S. stop for Tom Waits on his present “Glitter and Doom” tour is Atlanta. Walking distance from here. When I first tried for tickets, none were available. Not only that but the tickets are paperless and only two are sold per household.

They had sold out in 30 minutes.

Late in June and I was still thinking about it, how H.o.p. and Marty had to go see this show, which I’d read was incredible. Late one night, on a whim, I looked the Atlanta show back up on the off chance that someone had canceled their tickets…and this time, by some insane miracle, two were available.

I promptly bought them for H.o.p. and Marty.

Marty and I argued about it the past couple weeks. He wanted me to take H.o.p. I kept saying no, I wanted him to take H.o.p. He’s a musician. He can relate a lot to H.o.p. about the show that I can’t. Tell him things about the band and the performance that I don’t know. It would be a memory that they can talk about together for years, each ever augmenting with an intellectual musical appreciation that is beyond my ability.

I really wanted H.o.p. to see Waits, the performer (and just plain wanted Marty to finally see him).

This evening I walked them up to the Fox Theater. Accompanied them inside. I needed to as I made the purchase and the paperless tickets are only available to the individual who purchased them. My bag was checked for the camera I didn’t bring along because I knew they’d be checking bags for cameras. Identification properly made, I told Marty and H.o.p. I hoped they’d enjoy the show, gave each a kiss, and Marty and H.o.p. progressed on inside to see Tom Waits in his last U.S. show of his “Glitter and Doom” tour, while I weaved my way back out through the crowd, against the tide, and walked on back home.

I read that the wonderful Lucinda has been played at every show. I put on the new album, “Orphans”, on which the song appears.

H.o.p. will be likely hoping they play “First Kiss”. He is fascinated by the image of the woman who, through holes cut in the back of her dress, wears scapular wings covered with feathers and electrical tape. He plays that song over and over.

I instead play “Dog Door”.

I’m playing it now.

No sacrifice. I did the right thing on my summer vacation.

Update: The Atlanta setlist is now up at The Eyeball Kid’s blog.

Forget music appreciation night, H.o.p. was suckered in by the disco ball bowler Wait wore during the Eyeball Kid, he thought it was great. 🙂

I’d wanted H.o.p. to see the performer, the theatrical element. I thought it would teach him something about the music.

When he got home and I asked him about the show and the hat was the first thing he went on about, pretty much overshadowed everything else…except for his wanting to find out the name of a song that he didn’t recognize and that he really liked. Turns out it’s “9th and Hennepin” off “Rain Dogs”, which we have but is an earlier vintage than what is usually playing of Waits around here.

The show started a little late. 45 minutes or so. By about that time H.o.p. needed to visit the restroom but he was scared to go because he didn’t want to miss the opening song. So he waited and he didn’t miss the opening song and eventually made a break for the bathroom about four songs in.

Marty said it is the show of the decade.

Updated update: I see people writing about powder ghosting up around Wait’s feet as he stomps his two leagues’ legs in the show’s opening, but Marty described the effect as coming from a smoke machine underneath the riser on which Wait’s was standing.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

2 thoughts on “Scratching the sacred itch of secular mysteries”

  1. Feeling a little low this evening, decided to check in and see if you had posted anything new. The first thing I saw was H.o.p.’s wonderful drawing/painting. The colors are so vivid that I could feel my spirit lift. I felt the same way reading what you wrote about Marty and H.o.p. getting to go see Tom Waits, and why you thought they should rather than you and H.o.p. I know of Tom Waits but I’m not sure I know any of his music, though certainly remember his name from many years back. But even without knowing about the music, that sounds great, am sorry I missed the occasion but glad that Marty and H.o.p. got to go. I feel pretty unsophisticated when it comes to music, wish I understood it more…better.

  2. I’m glad if H.o.p.’s drawing lifted your spirits a little.

    Some are saying it was the best show they’ve seen in their lives…so must have been quite some performance.

    “Wish I Understood it More…Better” would be a great book title, wouldn’t it. I know I’d open the front cover to read the first paragraph.

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