volume of my Narrative in Tom Waits' Songs series follows
the shifts in his music as Reagan's eighties tumbled into
the nineties. The narrative voice shifts with his music as
the stories drift outside the personal to examine the world
around him just as much as it does his reactions to it.
middle period is much more experimental than his early work.
The piano-playing hard-drinking and smoking Waits of The
Heart of Saturday Night and Nighthawks at the Diner
settled down into the much stranger magician and carnival
roustabout of the eighties. Drawing upon three-penny opera,
vaudeville, classic blues and industrial music, Waits began
to experiment with non-traditional instruments, bagpipes,
marimba, pump organs, and odd percussive "instruments" such
as brake drums, a damaged Chamberlin, and a Stroh violin.
shifted with his music, and the characters of his ballads
from Closing Time were less recognizable as he shifted
Swordfishtrombones to Island Records in 1983. Then
his music became more experimental than the songs of his earlier
albums. Rain Dogs continued that experimentation two
years later, and he began to tell the stories of people trapped
on the outside of society. In another two years, he followed
the story of Frank, a kind of alter ego if Waits had lived
a different life, as if Frank from "Frank's Wild Years" hadn't
doused the house in kerosene and driven away. It was about
this time that Asylum released some older versions of some
of the early work, capitalizing on Waits' growing popularity
and taking advantage of their contract with him. This proved
to be a kind of unconscious elegy to Waits' early work as
he went even further afield, and showed the shift to the experimentation
in Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs and how
that became extended into Bone Machine.