Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crime Factory Music Spotlight/Keith Rawson


Alright, for a while now, it's been in my mind to spotlight the resurrection of David Honeybone's Crime Factory magazine with a series of music selections from those in the first new issue. I've been sitting on these way too long and I apologize to everybody who has been waiting patiently for me to roll them out. So, this week, look for music pieces from Patti Abbott, Frank Bill and Gordon Harries.

Today though, it's Keith Rawson, who has to be one of the busiest badasses working in online publishing today. He is one of the driving forces behind CF's triumphant return, (along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose) and it's a publication I'm really excited about. (CF is also teaming with New Pulp Press to publish a book this year!) Aside from his editorial duties there, he's got his own damn blog Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips and is a regular contributor and critic for BookSpotCentral and Spinetingler Magazine where he specializes in video interviews with the likes of Reed Farrel Coleman, Charlie Huston, Michael Connelly, Joseph Wambaugh and Dennis Tafoya among others. Oh yeah, he also writes some of the sickest crime/horror pulp floating on the web today, just bobbing there, refusing to sink creating a slick... killing water fowl and marshland creatures - which is saying something as Keith comes clean here with a dark admission - he used to be a hippie.

Keith Rawson is today's contributor to the Narrative Music series.

The Earth Died Screaming

Tom Waits saved music for me.

His soaked in a shot of drowning in flames bourbon and two pack of filterless Lucky Strikes a day for 25 years voice; his eclectic, surreal arrangements; his gloomy, yet hopeful lyrics about saintly carnies, teenage runaways, and broken down suburbanites slumming in dingy North Hollywood watering holes hoping to either fall in love or get into a bloody brawl with a broken PBR bottle; this weird combo of unique storytelling made music listenable for me again.

Let me explain.

It was back in 1999.
The wife and I had been together for just a little over a year, both us had spent the last several years prior listening to nothing but the Grateful Dead, Phish, Bob Marley and other music you typically associate with the self righteous, dread lock wearing neo hippie set. Neither me nor the wife wore dreads (although, I was sporting hair down to the middle of my back and my beard looked like something a murder of crows might nest in; and the wife didn’t shave her pits or legs and was mighty fond of peasant skirts and wearing the same pair of denim overalls for weeks on end.) but these were the types we were hanging with. However after we came back from a summer of crossing the country in our nearly indestructible Honda accord, we rolled back into Phoenix with an overall attitude change, wanting nothing more than to work, get our shit together and start a real life; the only problem was that the gang we hung with just weren’t down with the whole be responsible and get a real job kind of lifestyle we were aiming for.

So we decided to go Howard Hughes on our old crowd and start from ground zero. For me, this also meant the kind of music I was listening to. The major issue was that the end of the 90’s was a shit eating corporate wasteland of prefab music designed to make the spare dollars of preteen kids come flying out of the deep pockets of their baggy gangster jeans and into the greasy yellow hands of the Disney corporation.

None of that shit was for me and even punk rock—a sure fire staple in my life since I was twelve years old—sounded stale after the semi complex wall of sound arrangements of the bands I’d been listening to. So what happened was that I just stopped listening to music entirely; cold turkey, no weaning, no fuss, no muss. Admittedly, it sucked great big old donkey cock and there was something diffidently missing.

So just how did I come across Waits after putting myself into a tuneless purgatory?

Blind luck really.

The wife and I were living in a tiny one bedroom college ghetto apartment in Tempe, AZ and money was tight, so most of our entertainment dollars were spent either at the Tempe public library’s twenty five cent cast off rack, or at the Goodwill a couple of blocks from our place. The Goodwill had VHS tapes for a buck and cassettes for fifty cents (me and the wife never bothered looking at the CD’s, those charitable motherfuckers at the Goodwill wanted five bucks for those shiny silver discs.) both of us were pretty hooked on watching movies, so we never bothered shucking through the cassettes. But one Friday night after we’d exhausted all of our possible viewing choices, we started flipping through the cassettes. Most of the selections were out and out lame: Hall and Oats, Dionne Warwick, Flock of Seagulls, piles of disposable 80’s landfill fodder that you kind of expect to find at Goodwill. But amid the stacks, me and the wife found Waits classic experimental masterpiece, Bone Machine.

Both of us were slightly familiar with Waits from his improvisational studio recording, Nighthawks at the Diner (Hippies are big into anything improvised.) but we’d never heard any of Waits modern recordings. It was a couple of days before I popped Bone Machine into our little used K-mart stereo and I heard the Earth Died Screaming for the first time.

Rudy's on the midway
And Jacob's in the hole
The monkey's on the ladder
The devil shovels coal
With crows as big as airplanes
The lion has three heads
And someone will eat the skin that he sheds
And the earth died screaming
The earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you

Well hell doesn't want you
And heaven is full
Bring me some water
Put it in this skull
I walk between the raindrops
Wait in Bug House Square
And the army ants
They leave nothin' but the bones
And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you

There was thunder
There was lightning
Then the stars went out
And the moon fell from the sky
It rained mackerel
It rained trout
And the great day of wrath has come
And here's mud in your big red eye
The poker's in the fire
And the locusts take the sky
And the earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming of you

I rewound and replayed the song three times before moving onto the rest of the album.
Never had a song painted such a vivid mental image for me; I pictured Waits as a sickly frog king huddled atop a massive stone grey thrown, a tarnished gold crown perched on his over sized head as he shouts orders at his bloodthirsty army of reanimated skeletons to march on the cowering remains of humanity. (Yeah, the whole scene is very Army of Darkness, but what can I say, I was watching that movie at least twice a week back then.)

The remainder of the album was just as unforgettable and before I knew it I was snapping up as much of Waits music as I could (I even went so far as to spend nearly fifteen bucks on his all time classic, Mule Variations.) and each album was an equally visual experience for me, but none had the same impact as Bone Machine and The Earth Died Screaming.

8 comments:

jedidiah ayres said...

I thought Terry Gilliam used this song very well in 12 Monkeys

Paul D. Brazill said...

Great piece of writing. For me it was Tom's Foriegn Affairs in the 80's which suited my doomed romantic tastes.

Kieran Shea said...

Gee, and here I was thinking Keith was going to wax on about his bootlegged Bon Jovi stash.

Feel the jest, boyeee!

I too remember playing this album to death. Loud. Thank Jimminy my landlord was a rabid Waits nut.

Excellent choice.

Kent said...

Good song choice, Keith. And great story to go along with it. Very glad you made it out of the hippie wasteland.

Mike Wilkerson said...

Music is a window- it was good to learn a little more about you, Keith.

It's all good.

Dennis Tafoya said...

Only Tom Waits song I love more is "Underground." I wonder if Waits does writing seminars. He should.

Frank Bill said...

Great intro to Tom Waits. The man is something to fathom. He goes great with bourbon. You should check out Innocent When You Dream, the Tom Waits Reader, it's a book of interviews he's done over the years. Very funny. Shows how creative Tom is, like 24-7.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I love Tom Waits. That growl is enticing. Sometimes his music is the best thing in a movie for me.