Sunday, October 20, 2013

Shutdown: Closing Time

Tom Waits: Closing Time


Our current theme is rich with possibilities, but they require some creative thought to tease out. Shutdown. All kinds of things can be shut down. It may be permanent, or very temporary. One example happens every night, and it has been a great inspiration to songwriters. I‘m talking about closing time. You went out to a bar for an evening. You had certain hopes and intentions. Now the bar is closing, and you are still there. How did those expectations turn out? Songwriters have answered that question in a wide variety of ways. To hear some of those answers, try searching for the words “closing time“ in the Amazon mp3 store. Three completely different songs bear that title, and many other song titles contain the phrase.

One Closing Time song holds my attention here. On an album of mostly vocal tracks, Tom Waits made the instrumental song Closing Time the title track of his 1973 release. The song, appropriately, closes the album. When Sting made the instrumental The Dream of Blue Turtles the title track of his first solo album, he was taking a tune that was the result of an impromptu jam session in the studio, and using it as a declaration of personal and musical freedom. Tom Waits is after something completely different here. The song Closing Time is a mood piece that sums up the emotions of the entire album. The song could just as easily have opened the album and served as a sort of overture. The album Closing Time is one of Waits’ most lushly romantic works. Waits is known for his portrayal of down-on-their-luck men who have turned to alcohol to dull the pain, with varying degrees of success. What is remarkable is how Waits makes us sympathize with these men by showing us that, even at their lowest, these men still dream of better things. The album Closing Time focuses less on how low these characters have fallen, and instead is about those dreams. Here are some of Waits most unabashed and beautiful love songs. Still, at the end of the night, the lights come up, and these characters leave alone. So the song is still lush and sweet, but it also has a melancholy strain. Nobody balances these emotions better than Tom Waits, and here he doesn’t even need words to do it.

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