One Track Mind: Tom Waits – "Please Wake Me Up" (1987)

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by Mark Saleski

After listening to certain Tom Waits songs, I get to thinking about what the man might have stored in his garage. Sure, it’s become sort of a cliché, doing a mental inventory of Waits’ collection of bullhorns and whatnot, but it sure is fun.

Even more fun is doing an inventory of my own garage to see if there might be any intersections. I don’t have a megaphone from an old navy battleship but there might be something of interest.

Let’s see….there’s my Husqvarna snowblower, which takes up too much space but I don’t have a garden shed so there it sits.

There’s also a Husvarna gas-powered trimmer, which I used just yesterday to clear a spot for a flower garden (or a bocce court, nobody has won the argument about that one yet). On the other side of the room are two boxes of Corning glass blocks, which are for a project that I started a few years ago (Don’t worry, I’ll get to it). Under the work bench is a long galvanized box. I have no idea what it’s for, but it was out here underneath the stairs in the garage when we bought the house. As usual, the work bench itself is loaded with all sorts of junk that I’m too lazy to put away. When I unloaded one of my dad’s old toolboxes, I found this hunting knife that somebody gave me years ago. The handle is a deer hoof with the lower part of the leg. I didn’t know what to do with it so there it sits. Above the pegboard mounted on the wall is a girlie calendar. It’s been on the same bikini-clad woman since 2004.

I bet that Wait’s doesn’t have a girlie calendar. Well, maybe a Betty Page, but it’s more likely that he’s got a Farmall Tracktor calendar circa 1952. Ah, but what about the instruments? You think he’s got a calliope? Bet he does! A mellotron? Definitely.

I’m pretty sure that Waits has a lot of things in there that most of us have never heard of. For example, take the Optigan. The what?! The Optigan was a keyboard instrument made by Mattel in the 1970’s. It had a small library of sounds that were read from celluloid discs that contained waveforms of real instruments. Are any of us surprised that Tom Waits has such a device in his arsenal?

On the track “Please Wake Me Up,” Waits employs a melotron as the lead instrument, switching over to the Optigan to add sorta-piano and other sounds. Lilting basses and an occasional blurt of the baritone horn add to the atmosphere that manages to be both romantic and carnival-like. At times, the vocal melody wants to be “Que Sera Sera,” which adds to the surreal nature of a tune that veers between “I know that she’ll be my queen,” and “Her out-fit was all made of vinyl.”

So there’s almost no intersection between Tom Waits stuff and my own, but I knew that going in. Still, it’s comforting to know that we might both appreciate a good wall calendar.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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