Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tom Waits 4 My Man

I was eating toast at the kitchen bench today when The Love came in tearing at a brown package.
“The new Waits,” he muttered, mouth full of cardboard. Normally The Love is ordered when it comes to opening packages. A pair of scissors. Use of the actual Open Here pull-tab. But sticky tape was flying. Saliva. Eyes were crazy. Finally the beautiful purple object plopped newborn-like onto the counter.
“The new Waits,” he sighed, and sunk onto the stool looking puppishly at it, not ready yet to touch.
The Love loves Waits.
He loves every mad gravelly swaggering big-shoed diner-boothing sad funny whimsical carnivalesque clownish magical piano-leaning weird childlike orchestral theatrical irreverent thing about him. He has loved him a long time. The day I went to his house for the first time to play Favourite Hits, he played me ‘Fawn’ – the last song from the Alice album. It made me melt on his couch. We later danced to it at our wedding.
The Love loves Waits.
I have a story about The Love’s love for Waits and it has a great moral and that moral is this:
Even if the thing you want is impossible, buy a glass of champagne and wait beside it. You never know. You might get lucky.
Before the story begins I have a side note regarding the naming of The Love in this blog. It was juste to begin with, but used abundantly it has turned slightly, become a bit saccharine. The Love is so much greater than that. But what to call him – The Man – The One – The Dude - The Guitarist – The Patient One – The Friend – The Petit Ami – Meine Liebe – The Pal. He would particularly hate that last one.
Mr Rabbit?
Ok I think for now on I’ll call him Mr Rabbit – if he doesn’t mind.
Also on another side note I can’t get out of my head that a French friend a while back described the blog as Optimistic. It was such a strange word to use – he searched for it in his head, and then said it. I don't know if the word was right for what he was trying to say but that word is disturbing me greatly. And this story is very optimistic. I’ll try to balance it out later.
Anyway, so Mr Rabbit was at a party in Paris talking to a girl about music and she asked what sort he liked, that old chestnut.
“Oh most things,” he said, irritated. “I don’t know. Tom Waits.”
“Are you going to see him?” she asked.
The world stood still. “See him?” he asked.
“I heard he’s playing here,” said the girl but Mr Rabbit was already back at his apartment trying to buy tickets online, on the phone… he was already on his bike riding to every single ticket outlet in Paris pleading, begging for the chance of a forgotten ticket that perhaps got accidentally wedged in some FNAC server’s underpants. Of course there was not a single ticket in the city. I was in Sydney at the time when I received a desperate phone call.
“Please check if there’s some way you can buy – tickets – from there.”
Of course there wasn’t.
Now if you’re a Tom Waits fan you’ll know that he never tours. He’s not really into it – he’d prefer to sit around and make albums on his farm, hang out with his wife and kids, do the odd film role, eat eggs and sausage in a diner, coffee and a roll. Last time he toured Australia was 1978. Paris – 1979. And from the list of places he was to play the Glitter and Doom tour he clearly had sat around the table with Kathleen and the boys and said Now Where do you feel like going for Summer? How bout a tour of some cool places like San Sebastien and Paris? And the boys said Sweet and he booked this tiny tour that nobody could get into. The tickets must have sold out in four minutes. There wasn’t many of them at all. And there were to be no resales – tickets strictly limited to two per person and you had to have your name on the credit card to collect them. Bastards!
Mr Rabbit’s little bunny heart broke.
For the weeks leading up to it he couldn’t speak about it without wincing. I was back in Paris by then and feeling also like a kid shut out of the Chocolate Factory. Nobody we knew had managed to get tickets, we could have knifed them or concocted some Costanza-esque ploy to acquire them. There was nothing to be done. We trawled and trawled ticket sites.
Finally the date of the first show (there were to be two at the majestic old Grand Rex on the Grands Boulevards – perfect venue, perfect, perfect) arrived. We were sitting with friends at the Petit Fer à Cheval and I’d just discovered their gourmet salad and was giddy with white wine and it was a beautiful warm night and we’d got the best table on the terrace and I could feel Mr Rabbit’s heart breaking next to me because I’d promised we’d ride our bikes to the Rex and perhaps find some tickets somebody had dropped or watch the people go in and perhaps steal their tickets or sneak backstage or something. Perhaps just stand outside and imagine the show.
I didn’t want to go because I was having fun and I knew it would break his heart worse to be there and stuck outside. So I said,
“Let’s just stay here and get drunk.”
And we did and then we rode home and Mr Rabbit went to bed all quiet and Charlie-Bucket-eyed and souled.
The next day was quiet too. He just really really in his lifetime wanted to see Tom Waits play the Grand Rex in Paris. It was just something he would have liked.
The next day was very hot and the next night was very tense especially as 8pm approached so at the last minute I suggested,
“Let’s just go for a ride up there. You never know, something might happen.”
His eyes lit up. I felt cruel.
“It’s a nice night anyway. We’ll drink champagne at that crappy brasserie next door and maybe we’ll hear some of it from there. Maybe we’ll be able to sneak in at interval.”
“Yeah,” he said as we rode off. “Maybe he’ll actually be inside the crappy brasserie at the bar drinking an iced tea and we’ll go up and talk to him and he’ll love us and invite us in to watch backstage.”
“Maybe!” I said, crushed.
The doorway at the Grand Rex was very subdued when we arrived. It was 7:45. A sad American was moping around in a sandwich board with something tragic written on it like:
I will be your Slave for a Year if you’ll Sell me your Waits Ticket
And a few other moping heads who had already given up their plight.
The doors were shutting. It was over.
I told Mr Rabbit to hold my bike for a moment and ran over to the big black bouncer and asked him if there was any chance of buying a last minute ticket, just to make him feel better that I’d tried.
The big black bouncer laughed and said,
“Pas d’chance.”
I shrugged and Mr Rabbit and I chained up our bikes and headed into the awful brasserie. Tom Waits wasn’t at the bar. We ordered two glasses of champagne and two horrible sticky flutes of an awful, sickly crémant came out. We took a seat at the terrace with the best view of the doorway at the Rex, as if to torture ourselves.
“Oh well, we still have our health,” I said. And it was Optimistic, but we did.
Suddenly Mr Rabbit stopped drinking. I followed his gaze to the Rex doorway.
“Something’s going on,” he said. “Can you go and ask?”
It was true, the bouncer had approached the group of twenty or so hopefuls that had remained loser-like around the entranceway. He was murmuring something and there was a ripple through the crowd.
I ran over.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
The bouncer told me that six tickets had been released. SIX TICKETS! It WAS Willy Wonka. Again my heart sunk – there were at least a dozen other people there in front of me. In a frantic last-ditch effort I called out and asked the man if I could have two.
“120 euros each,” he said. When the tickets went on sale there were 60 euro ones in the circle and 120 in the stalls. Mr Rabbit was intent on snaring the expensive ones even though we didn't have enough money for that month's rent.
“I could take two,” I said.
And then I noticed that some of the other people were moving away.
“Trop cher,” I heard someone say. They didn’t want them!
“The two last ones,” said the bouncer and Mr Rabbit was there and then the bouncer said,
“En cash.”
“No problem,” I said and Mr Rabbit looked in his wallet. He had forty euros. Oh my god! There was no ATM to be seen.
“I’m closing the door,” the bouncer said.
“DEUX MINUTES!” I said and Mr Rabbit was off. Never has there been seen in the history of Paris a man run so fast up a boulevard. Despite the wall-to-wall shops and cafes all up the street, not a single ATM. I shifted from one foot to the other. The bouncer raised his eyebrows and looked at his watch. The Rabbit raced like the wind but there simply was no ATM in sight. Finally, all the way down near Opéra he found one, overdrew his account and with beating heart flew back towards the Rex. The bouncer said he was sorry the show was starting and he had to shut the door. I flirted. I pleaded. And then, Mr Rabbit was there.
He did it.
The bouncer pocketed the cash, locked the door and led us through the empty foyer to a big red door. With his flashlight he led us to our seats.
The best seats in the entire house. Right behind the mixing desk. The perfect place for perfect listening balance Mr Rabbit told me. All around us hushed Parisiens sat firmly in their plush seats in this vast sumptuous auditorium in all its art deco grandeur ready to listen. No dancing, no pushing, no moshing. A listening party. We were invited. We were in.
And then there, on a big wood box right in front of us as though he’d been waiting for our arrival, was Tom Waits. As the music began he stomped on the box in his big awkward boots and glitter puffed out all around him. Our hands were on the sides of our faces. And for the next two hours we just couldn't stop laughing.


  1. Yes. Swardfishtrombones. The Fernwood Tonight interview... Down by Law. Yes.
    But NO. I'm too cheap to pay €120 to see anybody play. Not God, not Waits. Maybe if Lowell George was resurrected, I'd think about paying to see the Feats.

  2. 'even if the thing you want is impossible buy a glass of champagne and wait beside it' - going up on my wall.