WTF?! Wednesdays: Tom Waits, “What’s He Building In There” (1999)

When somebody says that a piece of music is “out there,” you’ve got to consider the source. If said person only listens to mainstream music (pop music from the radio, for example) then it wouldn’t take a lot to push them out of their comfort zone. Just the other day, a co-worker admitted that he’d never heard of Philip Glass, so I played him the beginning of Music With Changing Parts. He was not impressed. He also did not make it past the first minute.

Going to the other “out” extreme, you’ve got artists who find sonic beauty in things like the sound of sheet metal being scraped with contact microphones. My colleague wouldn’t like that either, but I can’t say as I’d blame him. I mean, that stuff’s not for everybody.

Tom Waits, in his more “normal” moments, isn’t particularly “out.” But give him a few dusty old percussion instruments and a pad of paper and he will transport you. “What’s He Building In There,” from 1999′s brilliant Mule Variations, tells the story of of the mysterious man in the neighborhood, disrupting everybody with disturbing sights and sounds. In Waits’ funny way, he manages to come off as both comical and paranoid…but mostly comical.

I’ll have to try this on my co-worker.

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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 writes several 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.

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