Monday, April 17, 2006:

Get Behind the Mule, Buzz Fledderjohn

Tom Waits -- Get Behind the Mule
Tom Waits -- We're All Mad Here
Tom Waits is from an alternate universe where M.C. Escher's architecture is scorned as uninspired and pedestrian. People walk up upside-down stairs and into/out of buildings through doorways which are also pools or mirrors, and the kitchen sink is the most popular percussive instrument. Animals are routinely parts of bands, and they're paid well (over here we get a glimpse of why when they unionize in the running of the bulls in Pamplona; in Waits' universe the reflex is more widespread).

In this universe, avant-garde cinema consists of a romantic comedy with a meet-cute, a misunderstanding in the middle third, a scorned boyfriend banging on the door near the end, and a girlfried who wants to forgive, and does. Strange place.

"We're All Mad Here" is from Alice, Waits' tribute to Lewis Carroll and Carroll's muse, Alice. The album is mad, yes. Completely and utterly, like a hatter who's soaked up more than his share of mercury.

Waits "says the title phrase of the slow-roasting blues 'Get Behind the Mule' comes from something the late bluesman Johnson's father told his shiftless son: 'You gotta get behind the mule in the morning and plow.' For years Waits lived out the gutter-trawling lifestyle of his characters. 'There have been plenty of days when I've gotten up too late in the morning and the mule is gone,' he says. 'Or somebody else is behind the mule, and I have to get behind the guy who's behind the mule.'"
Waits Plays Out 'Variations' On A Twisted Persona

... If you like "Get Behind the Mule" be sure to pick up "Buzz Fledderjon" from's been on an EP in Europe and on one in Japan but was cut from Mule Variations--God knows why; it's fantastic, and better than a couple of the songs that made it onto the CD. This is the spiritual flip-side to "Chocolate Jesus," which I posted over the summer: sleepy front-yard blues with animals pitching in where they can.
[Mule Variations]


Tom Waits has come a long way from his original persona as a demented piano bar singer. He reminds me of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness (or the movie version, Apocalypse Now). He keeps journeying deeper and deeper into the madness. Based on these songs, he seems to have arrived.

These recent albums are excellent.

rosswords, he may have arrived, yes. ^_^

Richard: I like them a lot. And I like much of his earlier, more traditional work too--"Virginia Ave." especially. There's a lot to pick from, and a lot of it quite good.

... I should have put this in the main post but I forgot: annotations of "Get Behind the Mule".

Neil Gaiman points us towards World Trade Center poem by Aleja Bennett, who Writers Beware consider one of the twenty worst literary agents or agencies currently working. Gaiman comments that it's "a remarkable poem that should, I think, be read aloud by groups of people, late at night." It's a wonderful way of questioning whether Bennett could be a good agent, regardless of her ethics.

Good to see Waits getting the love out in the blog world. Can't wait to hear where that guy goes next. There must be something in the air with him; I just wrote about the new production of the Black Rider over on my page. Talk about a deeper trip into madness...

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