Tom Waits’s music has always been a beacon to those with vagabond souls, his inimitably gravelly, smoky, hoarse voice oddly soothing as he croons about the downtrodden and debauched. Thus there’s no one better to bring to audible life the poems of Charles Bukowski, whose own stories from the far wrong side of the tracks have been inspiring bad life choices in devotees for decades.
Waits first found Bukowski’s writing via his Notes of a Dirty Old Man column in the LA Free Press, and describes him as a “father figure,” which makes sense when taken in the context of his lifestyle and work.
Here, he reads from Nirvana, an ode to loneliness and finding solace in the moment.
And in The Laughing Heart, hearing Waits’ voice immediately brings the opening line “Your life is your life / don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission” to life, giving it a depth and character the printed page has a hard time delivering. In stark contrast, U2’s Bono follows Waits in this video, reading Roll the Dice, with much less in the way of effect or meaning.
Like peanut butter and jelly, or, more appropriately, gin and tonic or whiskey and cigarettes, Waits reading Bukowski is a perfect pairing, two things created separately that were meant, designed, to find each other.