The Walking Dead With Tom Waits

My all-time favorite musician Toms Waits had a song on AMC’s “The Walking Dead” last Sunday.  I was surprised because 1) The Walking Dead usually uses original score in their show and 2) Tom Waits refuses to use any of his songs in commercials.  Tom Waits has artistic morals, okay man?  He doesn’t cater to the sheeple or shill products.  Except for when he did a Purina Dog Food commercial in 1981.  Or when his songs appeared in multiple TV shows and movies like “Shrek 2” and “Bunheads.”  That’s not the point!  The point is that he’s a musical god and people should bow to him every time he whistles, farts or itches his head.

What I think caught me off guard was how it was presented.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but the episode ends with our post-apocalyptic zombie survivors huddled in an abandoned prison.  The teenage farm daughter suddenly starts to softly sing to herself.  It builds and becomes apparent that she’s singing “Hold On” by Tom Waits.  Then the song slowly morphs into Tom’s actual recorded song while everybody rocks back and forth and has an emotional moment to the voice of a human troll telling them that everything’s going to be okay.  Oh, how helpful.  “It’s almost certain you’re going to get eaten alive or shot in the head at some point, but hold on everybody!”

I just have a problem with the believability of the song choice.   This chick is cow-pie, podunk straight outta Cochran, GA.  She’s really going to be busting out an obscure Tom Waits song from 14 years ago?  I understand that it sets the mood.  The song is called “Hold On” and it gives the characters hope.  The only other notable song with that title is by Wilson Phillips, but the point of the whole scene is that they DON’T kill themselves.  I’m just saying I’d believe the scene a little more if she sang “Save A Horse Ride A Cowboy” or “You And Me Going Fishing In The Dark.”

I’m not one of those people who wants Tom Waits all to myself.  I think it’s cool that he was on the show.  Tom’s been around since the early 70s and he gets more popular every day.  And unlike most artists five decades into their career, he continues to put out top-shelf material.  Even if he had a top ten hit, I’m positive it would be on his own terms.  I just think they could have picked a more appropriate song of his.  He has songs about murder, greed and deceit.  Songs from the viewpoint of hobos, madmen, grave-diggers and monsters.  I’m sure a few of the songs are actually ABOUT zombies!

Here are a couple Tom Waits song suggestions for scary end of the world music that would have been more appropriate:

“God’s Away On Business” from Blood Money (2002): You’re all going to die.  God’s away on business!  I.e. You’re on your own so start getting used to zombie hickeys.

“Cemetery Polka” from Rain Dogs (1985): This actually sounds like a zombie walking and bobbling and losing body parts left and right.  This song signifies the kind of future that terrifies me.  Where everybody’s insane and out to get the best of you, leaving you “independent as a hog on ice.”

“Earth Died Screaming” from Bone Machine (1992): A real mood lightener.  This is actually a love song.  Everybody in the world is dead or dying in horrible agony, but the narrator is so in love that he just lays there dreaming of his honeybear.  The devil shovels coal, there are crows as big as airplanes, people are putting water in skulls and the locusts take the sky.  It’s a regular Sweetest Day in Tom Waits’ backyard.

Or, if you want truly end-of-the-world music, listen to Scarlett Johansson’s god-awful Tom Waits cover album.  This is what happens when nobody tells pretty girls “No.”  Stop butchering my musical idol and give us more naked cellphone pictures you tone-deaf tornado siren.

Photo from artybuzz.com/find-art/zombie-tom-waits/15593

Photo from artybuzz.com/find-art/zombie-tom-waits/15593

Further suggested non-doomsday related Tom Waits listening:
Downtown Train
I Don’t Wanna Grow Up
Hoist That Rag
God’s Away On Business (Cookie Monster Version) – Whoever made this video is pure genius.

Three Punkest Anthems

I grew up in Mason City, IA, in the early 90s and if you didn’t listen to Dave Matthews or Pearl Jam you were a weirdo. They say punk died in the 80s. I wouldn’t know, I was listening to Weird Al Yankovic back then. But by the 90s, it was still obscure and relatively dangerous in Iowa. Only a couple other kids in my high school even knew what punk was. Sympathetic ears were sparse. We even had to hang out with the “ancient” 27 year old punk guy who claimed to have roadied for Social Distortion, the metal kids and even the dreadlocked ginger-head and his awful industrial music. (Are you mad or do you want to dance, industrial people? Make up your mind!)

Regardless, I still dressed like a “normal” person. I never had an urge to stand out physically and I definitely didn’t come across like a punk. The music did help shape a lot of my social and political views on life, and it helped justify my laziness (which I pretended was apathy to the rat race) but I totally forgot to smash the system. When my friend’s Descendents/All influenced punk band “Marble” from Mankato, MN, wrote their liner notes, they wrote thanks to “Minneapolis punks, Mankato punks, Albert Lea punks and Mason City guys.” We weren’t punks, we were guys. And that was appropriate. We looked like the cast of Saved By The Bell, but with the Circle Jerks in our Walkman.

That was back when I was 16.  I’m 35 now, and a lot of punk has come and gone.  A lot of what I listened to then comes off as immature and strained now, but some of it still rings of truth and urgency.

Here are three pissed off, frustrated, venomous punk anthems that still get my blood going:

CRASS – Do They Owe Us A Living? (1978)

Screw the Sex Pistols, Crass is the punkest thing to ever come out of the UK. The Pistols were just about nihilism until they got bored with it. Crass actually walked the walk by living in communes and actually fighting for their political beliefs. Whenever you see kids panhandling downtown with mohawks and studs all over their jackets, they probably have a Crass patch on there somewhere. Crass’ songs were intelligent, violent and straight to the point: “Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do!”

Crass' least punk moment: Being worn as a shirt by millionaire Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. Photo from uncarved.org.

Crass’ least punk moment: Being worn as a shirt by millionaire Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie. Photo from uncarved.org

Subhumans – No (1982)

Another UK favorite. If ever there was a punk rock manifesto, it’s this song. “No, I don’t believe in what you say. You’re just part of what I despise.” I’m agnostic, but when I hear this song I want to go punch a priest in the face. I wouldn’t. I’m a nice guy, but that’s how intense this song gets.

Interestingly, there was another punk band called the “Subhumans” from Canada. They both started around the same time, had a certain level of success amongst their circles and both kept their names. I guess that’s just how punk works. If another singer started off today called “Taylor Swift” she’d probably get sued faster than you can say “Taylor Swift can’t sing.” In punk, nobody can sing so who gives a shit?

This man has never stepped into a Hot Topic in his entire life.  Dick Lucas of the Subhumans.

This man has never stepped into a Hot Topic (or possibly a shower) in his entire life. Dick Lucas of the Subhumans.

Black Flag – Nervous Breakdown (1978)

No matter how you slice it, punk rock was started in the US. The Sonics, Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, Modern Lovers, New York Dolls, Rocket From The Tombs and the Ramones all did it first. Suck on that, London!

LA’s Black Flag wasn’t the first punk rock band, but they may have been the first hardcore band. Back in the pre-Henry Rollins days when Keith Morris was their singer, they came out with the Nervous Breakdown EP and everyone’s heads exploded. While previous punk had been about politics or partying, this stuff was about self-hatred and boredom. The lyrics say it all: “I don’t care what you fuckin’ do! I don’t care what you fuckin’ say! I’m so sick of everything! I just want to…die!”

Black Flag recently decided to reunite. Unfortunately, they have so many ex-members that they couldn’t agree on who belonged in what. So they have two separate reunions going on with completely different members in each. Who are you guys, the Beach Boys? Get it together. Slap Greg Ginn on stage, throw in Robo and Dukowski, give Keith some meth and VIOLA! You have a kick-ass reunion that will last for at least 15 minutes.

A 100% Black Flag reunion would require a city planner.  Photo from speakimge.com/

A 100% Black Flag reunion would require a city planner. Photo from speakimge.com/

Further suggested punk rock anthem listening:
Stiff Little Fingers – Suspect Device (1979)
X-Ray Spex – Oh Bondage Up Yours (1977)
Youth Brigade – Sink With California (1983)
Fear – I Love Livin’ In The City (1982)

Three Covers That Are Better Than The Originals

Cover versions of famous songs almost always suck.  They’re usually done by some no-talent hacks in a tiny bar in St. Cloud, MN.  Or by a big-time band who couldn’t care less on some tossed-off tribute album to Creedence Clearwater Revival.  I would rather poke myself in the eye, with an icicle dipped in Sriracha, than listen to the cast of Glee singing “Losing My Religion.”

But every once in a while a band will knock it out of the park.  And sometimes, just sometimes they kill it so hard that it’s even better than the original.  Here are a few examples of cover songs that kicked the crap out of the originals:

Joe Cocker – “With A Little Help From My Friends
Original version by The Beatles

Sure, it’s Ringo singing it.  But it’s still the Beatles.  And Joe Cocker destroys their version.  There’s no comparison.  This is the greatest cover song of all time.  The balls!  To cover the Beatles like this in 1969!  It’s like going up after Martin Luther King’s speech and saying “I also have a dream and stuff!” and somehow making it better.

I used to jog to this song when my lazy ass used to actually work out.  I would run and pretend in my head that I was Joe Cocker strutting around and waving my weird arms around and everybody in my imaginery audience would think I was amazing.  Then I realized that John Belushi has already done this on the 3rd episode of SNL.  So I was copying somebody who was copying somebody who was copying somebody.  I’m like a fourth generation VHS copy of the Beatles.  And I’m fine with that!

UB40 – “Red Red Wine
Original version by Neil DiamondOkay, I’m not the biggest Neil Diamond fan in the world and reggae is my second favorite kind of music.  So maybe I’m biased.  But this song took a fairly forgettable Neil song and turned it into a Top 40 smash.  The video, however, is super creepy.  It’s basically just this guy hanging out in an English pub surrounded by gross soccer hooligans.  Suddenly a lady pops in and Leery Mc-has-to-knock-on-his-neighbors’-doors-when-he-moves-in stares at her until he vomits and gets thrown out.  Then the singer from Gogol Bordello comes by with his hounds and takes him home.  The end.

But the song sure kicks ass!

UB40 Red Red Wine

Blind dates are the way to go for this chap.

PM Dawn – “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss
Original version by Spandau Ballet

I understand that this isn’t technically a cover.  This is back from the 90s when people would just yank a hook wholesale from a band and rap over it.  But it’s the one and only time in the history where the rap version is better than the original, so I’m considering it a cover.  Thank you, PM Dawn.  Not only did you somehow make 7th grade Mike Brody nostalgic (“Remember 3rd grade, maaaaan?”) but you basically snuffed the original version into obscurity forever.

I mean, barf.  The Spandau Ballet version is just wretched.  Watch the video!  The singer looks like he’s doing karaoke to his own song.  Talk about zero charisma.  He’s holding the mic like Marcus Bachmann holds a cock.  Like he’s hoping nobody will notice.

Spandau Ballet

Pray away that microphone, Marcus!

Futher recommended cover song listening:
William Shatner & Joe Jackson “Common People.”  Original version by Pulp.
Ben Folds “In Between Days.”  Original version by The Cure.
Eels “Living Life.”  Original version by Daniel Johnston.