Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Track of the Week: Tom Waits, "Christmas Card From a Hooker In Minneapolis"

Christmas cards are a tradition I don't engage in, but they make sense to me.  At the end of the year I too usually take stock of my life and think about all that has happened since my last go 'round the sun.  It's good to get letters from friends and family about what they've been up to themselves.  I look forward especially to my sister's Christmas card and letter each year, since it gives me a great sense of what's been going on in her life over a thousand miles away.

Of course, my private thoughts about my life over the past year would need a great deal of editing before they could be doled out for public consumption.  Some people's Christmas cards might also make for harrowing reading.  That's the darkly humorous conceit behind Tom Waits' "Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis." The narrator frankly discusses destitution, pregnancy, drug addiction, and hitting bottom.  This is not a letter full of brags about children on the honor roll or vacations in Spain, so much so that anyone who sends Christmas letter like that ought to receive a copy of this song in the mail in reply to remind them that others don't have it so easy.

"Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis" comes off of Blue Valentine, which is the last of Waits' 1970s jazz piano-based records.  It's never been among my favorite albums of his, mostly because he seemed to know that his original persona and musical style were getting played out.  (He previously brought it close to perfection on Small Change, and would soon switch gears in a bluesier direction on Heartattack and Vine.)  However, the owl of Minerva flies at dusk, and this song beautifully combines the low-life stories, tender growl, and moody jazz accompaniment that defines Waits' best work in this period.

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