Sunday, August 8, 2010

Who Are You by Tom Waits: Issa's Sunday Service, #64

Detail of Ophelia by John Everett Millais

This week, in a post about identity, Miss Late July appended a video of a song by Tom Waits entitled "Who Are You?," which somehow had gotten under the radar here at Issa's Sunday Service. So, with this sincere tip of the hat to MLJ, this week's selection has, in a sense, been reader selected. From the album Bone Machine, it's arrangement harkens back to his well-known "hit," "Downtown Train." The illusion here is to Hamlet, via the reference to Ophelia. What, you say, there are many other Ophelias out there. Maybe, but when you take a good hard look at the lyrics - well, you decide.

Who Are You
They're lining up
To mad dog your tilt-a-whirl
3 shots for a dollar
Win a real live doll
All the lies that you tell
I believed them so well. Take them back
Take them back to your red house
For that fearful leap into the dark
I did my time
In the jail of your arms
Now Ophelia wants to know
Where she should turn
Tell me...what did you do
What did you do the last time?
Why don't you do that
Go on ahead and take this the wrong way
Time's not your friend
Do you cry. Do you pray
Do you wish them away
Are you still leaving nothing
But bones in the way
Did you bury the carnival
Lions and all
Excuse me while I sharpen my nails
And just who are you this time?
You look rather tired
(Who drinks from your shoe)
Are you pretending to love
Well I hear that it pays well
How do your pistol and your Bible and your
Sleeping pills go?
Are you still jumping out of windows in expensive clothes?

Well I fell in love
With your sailor's mouth and your wounded eyes
You better get down on the floor
Don't you know this is war
Tell me who are you this time?
Tell me who are you this time?

I saw Tom Waits back in 1979 and its really hard to describe how formidable and moving an experience that was. Fortunately, I don't have to grope for words because here, courtesy of his website and YouTube, is a live performance from that same year; certainly the Theatre le Palace in Paris doesn't quite have the ambiance of the New Jersey venue I was at, but it'll have to do. This is full-blown, balls-out, in-character, and incendiary rendering of "Heart Attack and Vine." Enjoy.


This week's feature poem is from Lilliput Review, #98, from July 1998, and is by the inimitable Albert Huffstickler. I can't believe I've never featured this poem before but, well, there you go.

Hope enters shyly,
swinging her small grey purse.
Albert Huffstickler

Finally, here's a poem by Issa, translated by Robert Hass, that I came across in the book Essential Haiku, while doing background work for this fall's session for lifelong learners on haiku. I wonder what they'd think of this one?

Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
isn't art.
translated by Robert Hass

Hass, in his note to this translation, says the original is really "Writing nonsense" and he "turned it up a little." The story is that this was Issa's response to a request for a poem about "new snow" for a contest. As Hass observes, "The joke is that it is a perfectly correct haiku and uses the seasonal phrase 'new snow,' which symbolizes, of course, freshness and purity."


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Charles Gramlich said...

Writing shit about new snow for the rich isn't art. Yep, but I have occassionally hoped for a rich patron who would pay me to write some shit about snow.

Jim H. said...

Waits, Huffstickler, and a Hass/Issa piece. The trifecta!

[An almost irrelevant aside: I work in the town where Tilt-A-Whirls are built. The locals are justifiably proud.]

Thanks again, Don.

TC said...

Hope enters shyly,
swinging her small grey purse.

That says everything. Beautiful.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Charles, ha!

Jim, glad I touched all the bases.

Tom, Albert Huffstickler is a small press poet who wrote some amazing poems, both short and long, of the caliber of "Hope enters shyly." He died a number of years back,

I think about him everyday.

Unknown said...

Love this post :)

Ed Baker said...

meeting in his poems
a kindred soul sits
in the back of
The Everyday Cafe

the "stuff" of dreams and poetry

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, MLJ - hope NYC went well - post good to go for the Sunday feature ...

Ed, ah, to join you and Huff at that back table, with a cigarette and a cup of joe ...

Unknown said...

look forward to it!

Ed Baker said...

we'll all "do it" as soon as The Everyday Gourmet Cafe reopens:

,, said...

Always liked this one also from Tom - line about 'taking on the dreams of the ones who have slept there' works for me:

"Well it's Ninth and Hennepin
All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes
And the moon's teeth marks are on the sky
Like a tarp thrown all over this
And the broken umbrellas like dead birds
And the steam comes out of the grill
Like the whole goddamn town's ready to blow...
And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos
And everyone is behaving like dogs
And the horses are coming down Violin Road
And Dutch is dead on his feet
And all the rooms they smell like diesel
And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here
And I'm lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway
And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat...
And no one brings anything small into a bar around here
They all started out with bad directions
And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear
One for every year he's away, she said
Such a crumbling beauty, ah
There's nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won't fix
She has that razor sadness that only gets worse
With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by
And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
til you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen...
And I've seen it all, I've seen it all
Through the yellow windows of the evening train..."

9th & Heppepin, copyright T Waits, from Raindogs

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ninth and Hennepin, a real beauty, thanks for the reminder ...

Ninth and Hennepin