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