Jersey Girl

“My wife’s from New Jersey, this is a song for my wife [Kathleen Brennan – Ed].”Tom Waits (459)
“I never thought I would catch myself saying “sha la la” in a song. This is my first experiment with “sha la la.” It has one of them kinda Drifters feels. I didn’t wanna say “muscular dystrophy” in it or anything, ’cause I didn’t think it fit in with the feel of the number. So lyrically I tried to do it straight ahead, a guy walking down the street to see his girl.”Tom Waits (895)

Burma Shave

“[Did he get ‘Burma Shave’ from the Nick Ray movie, They Live By Night, from 1947? – Ed] Yeah. That’s the one. In fact, that’s a great story. Very sad at the end where he gets mowed down at the motel. Farley Granger does soap operas now, I think. He was in Minneapolis and this woman disc jockey played it for him and he got a real kick out of it. He always played the baby-faced hood. He don’t work much any more. I guess Sal Mineo got most of his roles. Yeah, I used that. I kept coming back to that movie image. Also, I have a lotta relatives in this little town called Marysville, and a cousin, her name is Corrine Johnson, and every time I’d go up there from Los Angeles in the summers, she was always like you know, ‘Christ man — I gotta get outta this fucking town. I wanna go to LA’. She finally did. She hitch-hiked out and stood by this Foster Freeze on Prom Night, got in a car with a guy who was just some juvenile delinquent, and he took her all the way to LA where she eventually cracked up. Burma Shave was a shaving cream company. Abandoned in the late Fifties. Used to advertise all along the highway. I always thought it was the name of a town.”Tom Waits (896)

Heartattack And Vine

“I was in a bar one night on Hollywood Boulevard near Vine Street, and this lady came in with a dead animal over her arm, looking like she’d obviously been sleeping outdoors. She walked up to the bartender and said, “I’m gonna have a heart attack,” and he says, “Yeah, right, you can have it outside.” I thought that was pretty chilly. So I re-named Hollywood Blvd. “Heartattack”.”Tom Waits (895)

On The Nickel

“That was written for the Ralph Waites motion picture of the same name. I don’t think it’s still showing anywhere. It was released about the time I got back from New York, in April sometime. It was a wonderful picture, I mean it, but it didn’t make it. It wasn’t no Towering Inferno, just a small picture with a lot of feeling. It was set on skid row in Los Angeles, Fifth Street, downtown. The locals call it “the nickel.” The film was about a couple of old friends who were reunited after some years. One had cleaned up and moved off the nickel and the other was still there, and dying from it. The one who’d cleaned up went back to find his old pal. It’s a wonderful story.”Tom Waits (895)

Mr. Siegal

“I’m trying to kind of refer to Bugsy Siegal [Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel was a Jewish American mobster – Ed].”Tom Waits (895)

Ruby’s Arms

“I was trying to visualize this guy getting up in the morning before dawn and leaving on the train, with the clothesline outside. I just closed my eyes and saw this scene and wrote about it.”Tom Waits (895)

Kentucky Avenue

“My best friend, when I was a kid, had polio. I didn’t understand what polio was. I just knew it took him longer to get to the bus stop than me. I dunno. Sometimes I think kids know more than anybody. I rode a train once to Santa Barbara with this kid and it almost seemed like he lived a life somewhere before he was born and he brought what he knew with him into this world and so it’s what you don’t know that’s usually more interesting. Things you wonder about, things you have yet to make up your mind about. There’s more to deal with than just your fundamental street wisdom. Dreams. Nightmares.”Tom Waits (897)

It’s Raining Cuban Cigars

“I knew that would come back to haunt me. It started out as just a joke. The character of Ray in the film [One From The Heart – Ed] is always in a tuxedo, a real Harvey’s Bristol Creme kind of guy, so the line seemed to fit him in a humorous way. But it was Gene Kelly who actually finished the song. He heard the line, “Meet me tonight, it’s raining Cuban cigars,” then asked me if he could add some words. I told him, “give me a beautiful lyric,” and Gene wrote, “We’ll make love where we are, it’s magic tonight, ’cause you turn me on.”Tom Waits (898)

Cemetery Polka

“‘Cemetery Polka’ is a family album, a lot of my relatives are farmers, they’re eccentric, aren’t everyone’s relatives? Maybe it was stupid to put them on the album because now I get irate calls saying, Tom how can you talk about your Aunt Maime and your Uncle Biltmore like that? But Mum, I say, they did make a million during World War Two and you’ll never see any of it. It’s time someone exposed them.”Tom Waits (899)

9th and Hennepin

“Hennepin is in Minneapolis. But most of the imagery is from New York. It’s just that I was on 9th and Hennepin years ago in the middle of a pimp war, and 9th and Hennepin always stuck in my mind. “There’s trouble at 9th and Hennepin.” To this day I’m sure there continues to be trouble at 9th and Hennepin. At this donut shop. They were playing ‘Our Day Will Come’ by Dinah Washington when these three 12-year-old pimps came in chinchilla coats armed with knives and, uh, forks and spoons and ladles and they started throwing them out in the streets. Which was answered by live ammunition over their heads into our booth. And I knew “Our Day Was Here”. I remember the names of all the donuts: cherry twist, lime rickey. But mostly I was thinking of the guy going back to Philadelphia from Manhattan on the Metroliner with the New York Times, looking out the window in New York as he pulls out of the station, imagining all the terrible things he doesn’t have to be a part of.”Tom Waits (900)

I’ll Take New York

“Well, it’s another song about New York. Those other ones try to make it bigger or prettier – but in this case, I was trying to make it more like something from the Jerry Lewis Telethon, and somehow the song and the singer are cancelling each other out as it’s happening. As you’re singing ‘I’ll Take New York’, someone’s stealing your billfold. You know? It’s like the guy singing in the middle of Times Square with his pants down around his knees.”Tom Waits (901)

What’s He Building In There

“We seem to be compelled to perceive our neighbors through the keyhole. There’s always someone in the neighborhood – the Boo Radley, the village idiot – and you see that he drives this yellow station wagon without a windshield, and he has chickens in the backyard and doesn’t get home till 3 a.m., and he says he’s from Florida but the license plate says Indiana… so, you know, ‘I don’t trust him’. It’s really a disturbed creative process.”Tom Waits (902)

Such A Scream

“Anyway, that’s like a little showbiz tune, about the perils of the business. “You got to have a manager, that’s what it’s all about…” If you wanna get into music, someone will eventually say that to you.”Tom Waits (902)

Frank’s Wild Years

“My dad’s name is Jesse Frank. It’s just a name. It’s just a guy I half made up. My dad left the family when I was young, so you know, that’s pretty eventful. I may have been telling some of that story – ‘He got on the Hollywood Freeway and headed north/Never could stand that dog’ – it was probably a reaction to that. I was rewriting the story and putting it in my own language.”Tom Waits (903)