Tom Waits – The Ultimate Wordsmith

Tom Waits The Ultimate Wordsmith

Tom Waits – A true word magician

Calling myself The Vandal was a bit of fun many moons ago that probably arose as a result of an excess of cheap red wine. A joke about my bad spelling and a chronic yet imaginative use of the grammatical negative. In such a state, it was easy to think that I had some ability with words. Maybe I do, but I just write stuff.

In such a state, it was easy to think that I had some ability with words. Maybe I do, but maybe I just write stuff.

When it come to a true wordsmith, there is for me no one who stands anywhere close, let alone above, Tom Waits. In my mind, he is a modern day genius without peer. The only shame is that although his music will join the all-time classics, I just wish he had put a lot of his words together in a book. Oh, one can wish. But maybe his brilliance is in his brevity, and we should be satisfied with that.

Oh, one can wish. But maybe his brilliance is in his brevity, and we should be satisfied with that.

Here is just a small sampling of his mastery with words.

“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”

“I don’t have a drinking problem ‘Cept when I can’t get a drink.” 

“I was born in the back seat of a Yellow Cab in a hospital loading zone and with the meter still running. I emerged needing a shave and shouted ‘Time Square, and step on it!'”

“It’s colder than a ticket taker’s smile at the Ivar Theatre on a Saturday night.”

“Colder than a well digger’s ass”

“I knew him when he was nothing and he hasn’t changed a bit”

“…it seems a stray bullet actually pierced the testicle of a Union soldier and lodged itself in the ovaries of a woman standing approximately 100 ft. away. She’s alright, the baby’s doing fine…of course the soldier’s a little pissed off…”

“…You end up taking advantage of yourself. There ain’t no way around that.” 

“I’m so goddamn horny the crack of dawn better watch itself around me.”

“Coleen’s belly was shakin’ like jelly And I’m gettin’ harder than Chinese algebra.”

“Oh, I don’t mind going to weddings, just as long as it’s not my own…” 

“It walks down to end of the counter (His Veal Cutlet) and beat the shit out of my cup of coffee. I guess the coffee just wasn’t strong enough to defend itself.”

“All the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes” 

“Let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair” 

“Deal out jacks are better on a blanket by the stairs, I’d tell you all my secrets but I’ll lie about my past, So send me off to bed forevermore.”

“The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away”

“It was a hubba, hubba, ding dang, baby you are just everythang. A week later it’s a hubba, hubba, ding dong, baby sure didn’t last too long.” 

“Never trust a man in a blue trench coat, never drive a car when you’re dead” 

“Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight” 

“With their mouths cut just like razor blades and their eyes are like stilettos”

If this is your first taste of Tom Waits, you must go on a discovery mission. But one warning. He is highly addictive.

9 thoughts on “Tom Waits – The Ultimate Wordsmith”

  1. Lily White LeFevre

    I love Tom Waits! “Dead and Lovely” is one of my all-time favorite songs. And the fact that it opens one of my favorite quirky love story movies (Wristcutters) is just icing on the cake! Agree that he is a very pithy and clever and brutally insightful writer. The large print giveth and the small print taketh away, indeed….

  2. Yvonne Johnston (@Whyjay99)

    Lovely post about a great lyricist. Have you seen ‘Short Cuts’? One of my favourite films. Loved him in that.

  3. Oh, Derek, why did I not know this about you? Tom Waits is haunting me today, and I could go on, but I want to add two of my many favorites to your list:

    ” As he dreams of a waitress with Maxwell House eyes
    And marmalade thighs with scrambled yellow hair.”

    and a classic, “Making feet for childrens’ shoes”

    Waits drives me to write, and writes me to dreaming.

  4. Every person I know who has a great love of words is obsessed with Mr.Waits. I can’t even pick a favorite album at this point anymore. I just keep them rotating.

    Did you see him in the Imaginarium of Dr.Parnassus? I love when he steps into an acting role as well. So much of his stage shows are pure performance.

  5. As much as I love Mr. Waits, he can’t take credit for “cold as a well digger’s ass”. That phrase been around for much longer than Tom.

    But as long as he can take credit for “Downtown Train”, his reputation is secure.

  6. Astro Gremlin

    Some of those phrases have been around for awhile, but having the sense to repeat them in the right place takes good sense. “Cold enough to freeze the b*lls off a brass monkey” is another one, and “Colder than a witch;s t*t another.” The old words are everyone’s or they wouldn’t make much sense anyhow.

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