St. Tom

Tom Waits for no man in the Big D

The first time I heard Tom Waits was through a college boyfriend and, like many people, I didn't really get it.

"I don't like his voice," I said.

"You will," he said.

He'd played Mule Variations and I just couldn't wrap my head around its rusty, clanking sound. A few months later, I randomly saw Closing Time, his 1973 debut, at the record store, the cover showing young, wild-haired Tom seemingly passed out at his piano. I shook off my stubbornness and bought it. Suddenly it was like someone had pulled the tablecloth off the table without moving the dishes.

His voice still had a little velvet in it, his stories largely relegated to L.A.'s bars and women and drunks, himself included. To this day, the song "Lonely" will make me cry, any time, any place. So I bought The Heart of Saturday Night and Small Change. No one will ever write a song as wounded and clear as "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)." Seeing him live became part of my ever-growing list of "Things to Do Before I Die."

The last time Tom Waits played Dallas was the year I was born, 1979. Seeing him at the Palladium on Monday wasn't quite the soul-shattering experience I'd envisioned – and not just because my thighs were sweating – more a surreal thrill. He's first and foremost a storyteller, and he put on a show. He was the barker luring us into his wall of bullhorns and loudspeakers. He stuck mostly to stuff from the late 1980s onward, but then he played “Invitation to the Blues,” one of my favorite songs from Small Change, alone on the piano, and I decided it was worth the 30-year wait.

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