I REMEMBER hearing Tom Waits for the first time.
It was a dark and stormy night, of course. My brother Doug and I gigged together back in the late 80's and used to traverse a good part of north/central Florida. We were driving back from our six nights a week gig at the Omni in Orlando in Doug's yellow Toyota Celica. The heavy droplets of rain smacked across the hood and roof, sounding like an endless supply of loose change being dumped on the car.
My brother popped in a new cassette he had just gotten. He'd been enjoying it already so it started about six songs in. The song began with a rooster crowing and then launched into a bizarre plodding groove somewhere between a beloved bum's makeshift New Orleans funeral parade and a ship full of jaunty drunken pirates, recklessly reveling, hopelessly lost at sea. A single bulb dangling from the ceiling of some strange darkened room in the back of my mind clicked on. A gaggle of goosebumps appeared across my skin producing the first itch that soon I would forever be trying to scratch.
After a steady diet of toothless tenors effortlessly navigating clever verse and complicated melodies; finger twisting chord progressions and shiny production - this new arrival was engrossing and rich with atmosphere, a cracked voice exuding naked emotions and bellowing genuine poetry.
We listened to the entire cassette (maybe twice) on the ride home, mostly silent and engaged. My music-mind had been mutated. We sat for a moment in the parking lot of my apartment complex, letting the song finish, "you're innocent when you dream". The rain, still cats and dogs, I said goodnight and scurried up the steps to the second floor as the yellow Celica pulled out of sight. Already soaked, I reached into my pocket and found I had left my keys in the car.
It was a dark and stormy night and I was locked outside.
As I stood there wondering what to do next (no cell phones my friends), the sounds of squawking accordion, skeletal banjos, jagged atonal guitars, distant pianos and a voice both demonic and angelic - making it deeply human - was still rolling around in my head, securing for itself a permanent home. A perfect introduction to Tom Waits.