Tom Waits' music video I Don't Wana Grow Up (1992) supported his album Bone Machine. The video has him playing two roles. He's the devil riding a little bicycle & doing other scruffy oddball things, being funny-creepy. Plus he's himself underneath a diner book's table with a miniature guitar & miniature microphone singing most thrillingly the title song, though the title is often mis-written "I Don't Want To Grow Up."
His every physical motion under that table is like tortured poetry, simultaneously whimsical & suffering. The jaunty beat means it's more whimsical than painful, but the Peter Pan lyrics by Waits & Kathleen Brennan are an endearing marvel with lines like:
"I don't wanna be filled with doubt/ I don't wanna be a good boy scout/ I don't wanna have to learn to count/ I don't wanna have the biggest amount/ I don't wanna grow up."
The fact that Jarmusch directed this video has got to be part of the reason for its greatness, though Waits maintains, & Jarmusch eventually agreed, that music videos are not "James Jarmusch films in miniature" but are only commercials for Tom's songs. I don't agree; music videos can be films of artistic merit, & odds are increased of achieving art if there's a great director as well as a great singer at work.
Tom's original version will always remain definitive & best, but the Ramones cover for I Don't Wanna Grow Up (1995) is known to more people. And there's nothing bad about their amped up, exciting version.
The Ramones were one of the greatest of great rock bands, so it's joyful that they'd be attracted to one of the greatest of great singer-songwriters like Waits. From Tom this was a jazz number verging into rock, but from the Ramones it's pure rock & roll.
This music video comingles live-action with brightly colored cartoon animation. The Ramones rob the number of some of the irony it has when Tom sings it, but early deaths of Joey, Johnny & Dee Dee Ramone rather restores some of that irony.
Musically first-rate, Marky's got the right voice for this song, & the Ramones look good incorporated into an animation. The full animation bits are imaginatively, whimsically horrific in interpretting some of the worst stuff about childhood.
The music video for Downtown Train (1985) opens in a tenement room with an old man (Jake La Motta, villainous hero of Raging Bull) demanding his old wife close the window because that guy in the street sings all night when there's a full moon, & it drives him crazy.
Pan out the window & into the lamp light on the sidewalk. Tom Waits is leaning on the lamp post, as the music rises for one of his greatest of so many great songs.
Springsteen covered this song beautifully & made it a chart hit, but there's no supplanting the original, here preserved in all his glory. Tom still has a flush of left-over youth in his worn-out merchant marine good looks, & the camera loves him, closing in for a facial close ups shadowed by his fedora.
We'll soon see some of his unique body-movements on the steaming sidewalk, & cuts to people in their rooms overlooking the street, waking to his music, clearly realizing a veneer of great glory is seeping into this world of poverty.
Pain & poetry, this heartbreaking song of working class emotion is given enormous power of community: a girl dancing in her dark room, a soldierly sad-faced man seated in the window to better hear the world's angst & so on. And there's a sweet little coda for luck, of the daytime Tom on the waterfront with accordian.
Rod Stewart's version was aksi supported by a music video, & undoubtedly sold more copies of Downtown Train (1989) than had Waits, at the time at least.
The decades since have perhaps been less kind to Rod's version & in the interim I'd wager Tom's timeless original caught up with Rod's accumulative sales for the song. Though I'm just guessing.
There's nothing faulty in Rod's vocal rendition. He heightens the romanticism of the piece, strolling the nighted street & subway platforms, looking & sounding like a strong but lonesome man. He's not willing to look as scruffy as he sounds, however, & while Tom seemed like a ghostly spirit of the city streets, Rod seems like a guy who needs to get out of his gloomy penthouse now & then.
Award-winning director Amy Goldstein went on to direct East of A (2000), but already in 1989 she knew how to capture inner city streets.
Her take on Downtown Train is vastly less cinema verite artfulness than was Jean Baptiste Mondino's direction of Tom. Amy's is a very slick little film with fast-edits between the woman seen nightly on the downtown train (these inserts in black & white), & Rod singing next to a fiery trash-can while wearing a fashion-version of a biker jacket, or walking alone in a duster.
Having Rod wearing two radically different coats kind of spoils the continuity, & he looks better in the long coat, stepping out of the misty steam.
The big studio music-mix is okay but I suspect Rod's rough voice would've been better showcased with something a little closer to Tom's streamline arrangement. It's not Rod's voice, but the orchestral accompaniment, that brings it all a little lower than it needed to be.
I usually hear in the voice & lyrics of Tom Waits, by far my favorite singer, something that is a bit different from what he invariably intends.
I'm guessing this is true because in some of his music videos Tom provides a visual interpretation, of himself & his music, in which he expresses horror without romance, sometimes even demonism. But what I usually hear is a great godly sigh for the suffering & the crumbling dreams of humanity.
Goin' Out West (1992) is particularly strong in the department of the ugliness of humanity. He's kicking up his scrawny legs for a tune about voodoo & karate, meaning only harm.
Well, with Waits at the center of it as a physical presence it's definitely a kind of ugly called beautiful. But he's not portraying himself as that romantically lonesome man in the corner of a bar, but as an aggressively dangerous monstrosity.
Instrumentally it's like a spaghetti western soundtrack gone jazz-rock, with Tom screaming lyrics by himself & Kathleen Brennan: "Well I'm goin' out west where the wind blows tall/ Cuz Tony Franciosa used to date my ma/ They got some money out there, they're givin' it away/ I do what I want & I'm gonna get paid/ Do what I want & I'm gonna get paid..."
His costume change halfway through adds devil horns to his costume. The creepy devil in I Don't Wanna Grow Up was just one of two characters he portrays, but becomes the whole schtick in Goin' Out West. The lack of vanity is to be lauded, but for me it's all missing something important, & that's the goodness at the core even of things that are pitiful or wicked on the surface.
It's not one of his best songs because it lacks the gritty humanity & goes for the grit without humanity. Scoundrels may prefer it, but I'd think even scoundrels like to think of themselves as romantics deep down. And I for one always prefer it when Tom leaves me room to fool myself, if that's what I'm doing, that he's a beautiful romantic dude.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl