Life at 33 1/3: It’s always after midnight


Tom Waits, Heartattack and Vine (Asylum)

From the vaults of Carl Meyer, a record review written in October 1980.

Tom Waits is the poet of the seedy waterfront bars.  His stories are as grainy as hard boiled American detective stories from the 30s, 40s and 50s.  He has a wonderful way with words and an eye for detail that makes his songs come alive.  It’s all there as his stories unfold; the smell of garbage from the backyards, angry hollering from a window in the alley, a woman sobbing, the distant sound of screeching tires.  Messed up low down people who smoke too much, drink too much, sweat and swear, always living on their last dollar.

These are hard-luck stories of  humor and love woven in coarse burlap.  Straight to the point.  Delivered by Waits’ grunt of a voice.  Hoarse, raspy and husky, an asphalt mass soiled by oil.  He has picked up a lot from the gritty black blues and jazz singers, and he shoots the syllabels at you in a cloud of saliva.

The music is a perfect match, the sound of smokey night clubs down by the harbour, the mood is tired and desperate and it’s always after midnight.  No fancy embellishments, just a sluggish, heavy shuffle, the main weapons being a Hammond organ and a guitar as rusty as the exhaust pipe of an old Buick.  A few of the cuts are carefully orchestrated, though, and sprinkle a little magic Hollywood-dust on the lives of these brave losers.  A brilliant album.  Among my favourites are “Mr. Siegal”, the title track and “Jersey Girl”.

Released: September 1980

Produced by: Bones Howe

(All songs written by Tom Waits)

Contents: Heartattack and Vine/In Shades/Saving all My Love for You/Downtown/Jersey Girl/’Til the Money Runs Out/On the Nickel/Mr. Siegal/Ruby’s Arms


Bob Alcivar – string arrangement, orchestral arrangement, conductor

Ronnie Barron – hammond organ, Piano

Roland Bautista – electric guitar, twelve-string guitar

Greg Cohen – bass

Victor Feldman – percussion, chimes, glockenspiel

Jim Hughart – bass

Plas Johnson – tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone

Michael Lang – piano

Larry Taylor – bass

“Big John” Thomassie – drums

Tom Waits – vocals, electric guitar, piano

Jerry Yester – orchestral arrangement, conductor