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by Bree Perlman

Tom Waits makes me want to do bad things…But I’m innocent when I dream.

The Pied Piper of broken hearts, unthinkable misdeeds, and everything in between, leading us to the edge of the cliff, letting us decide for ourselves whether or not we wish to jump. Tom Waits, the poet. Tom Waits, the mad man. Tom Waits, the prickly devil perched on my left shoulder singing through a megaphone into my ear. That voice. That Goddamn voice.

Theatrical. Magical. Menacing.

Tom Waits makes me want to do bad things. But I’m innocent when I dream.

I’m born to trouble. I’m born to fate.

And so it begins.

I’m inclined to tell the story of a perfect crime. I’m inclined to tell how he set me up; seduced me. How I followed through, always with the urging of the man in the bowler hat shaking his fists at the sky. He knew all along what would come of this.

Outside: Palladium Ballroom, Dallas, Texas. Hot, sprawling, ho down of a town. Inside: you decide. The possibilities are endless. Tom Waits, the storyteller. Your story, someone else’s story; someone else’s story you wish was your story. It doesn’t matter in the end. The narrator stands on his stage. The narrated stand erect at full attention; hanging on his every word. That voice.

“Texas makes me feel so lawless.” He squawks. That Goddamn voice.

And then,

Got a crazy sensation, go or stay? Now I gotta choose,
And I’ll accept your invitation to the blues.

Permission granted. And then it is done. Blood on your hands. There was a bad joke: the punch line involved shellfish. He laughed. We laughed nervously too. Was there a hidden message? Is he trying to trick us? The hunter pretending to be hunted in order to make amusement of the catch. The lyrics always baiting, their complexity hanging in the air, the double saxophone beckoning…and all the while he’s watching.

“Lucky Days.” There’s nothing like a can of beans and a campfire.

Now what, Mr. Waits? Now what are we to do? To the piano, of course! We will sing about redemption. We will sing the gospel. Quiet. Haunting. Beautiful. Hopeful. As if it may all turn out OK. Someone behind me, under their breath, “If church sounded like that I would go more often.”

Fooled again! Up from the piano now, scornfully, “Lie to me baby.” Belting now, “Lie to me, baby!” A man who has lived above, below, and always just off to the side. “I have no use for the Truth”. As if singing to dull, reluctant children, he tells us again, “I have no use for the truth.” Frustrated that we may be listening but not hearing; that we are too slow to understand, “I have no use for the truth!”

Dull, perhaps. Everything is hazy. We’ve been at it for 2 hours now.

OK, empathy, then. Maybe? A small sign of compassion. A lullaby of sorts:

It’s such a sad old feeling
the fields are soft and green
It’s memories that I’m stealing,

The woman in front of me is giggling, her white teeth gleaming in the otherwise near black darkness. She sings into her boyfriend’s ear:

but you’re innocent when you dream
when you dream
you’re innocent when you dream

Bopping her head as if it was nothing. As if it was nothing. He puts his hands out to the crowd, “I think we can do one more.” Only he means us. We’re on our own now. We all sing,

It’s such a sad old feeling

He remains silent.

The fields are soft and green

A satisfied smile creeps across his face.

It’s memories that I’m stealing,

Hands rise up into the air,

But you’re innocent when you dream
when you dream
you’re innocent when you dream

I look around. Yes, yes, I have no use for the truth. Yes, yes. I’m innocent when I dream.

It’s time to go now. Foreboding words he sings to us,

It’s the same old world
But nothing looks the same
Make it rain!

And we are sent on our way back out into the hot Dallas night.

Make it Rain.

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