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He got 20 years for lovin' her / from some Oklahoma governor
January 17, 2014 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Ever been to Johnsburg, Illinois? Have you received a Christmas card from a hooker in Minneapolis? Maybe you left Waukegan at the slamming of the door? Or perhaps you were simply full of wonder when you left Murfreesboro. If so, the Tom Waits map is for you.
posted by scody (60 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've long wanted to do this sort of project with the novels of Andrea Barrett.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 10:46 AM on January 17


Oh man, I love this...as a sometime writer, I've always been intensely jealous of the place names he finds for his songs. They're beautifully poetic, and the writer that he is allows him to imbue mere names of places I've never been with wistful memories of things I've never done.
posted by nevercalm at 10:47 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Went looking for Singapore, was not disappointed.
posted by mykescipark at 10:52 AM on January 17


Aw hell. Almost four years ago (February 2010) I made a blog post titled 'Cities mentioned in Tom Waits songs' that listed them by album. I don't know if custom Google Maps interfaces were available at the time but I'm irritated that I didn't think to do this.
posted by komara at 10:53 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


So why'd he pick that upstart Portland in Oregon? The song doesn't specify which Portland, and there's a far far better Portland that is closer to Buffalo.
posted by Floydd at 10:59 AM on January 17


This is great, though "Gun Street Girl" seems to be missing... Tahoe, St Johns Wood, Birmingham, Waukegan &c. (Though I may just not be able to see them, as the pins cluster is so dense)
posted by chavenet at 11:01 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Cool! See also this Mountain Goats map.
posted by aka burlap at 11:03 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


The one thing that good songwriting and good improvisation have in common is that both are improved by seemingly pointless specificity. Charna Halpern used to say (regarding specificify in improvisation) "never ask for someone to hand you the ketchup, ask them to hand you the Heinz", and often name-dropped Mike Meyers as a former student who understood and embraced this tactic to good effect. In songwriting, I occasionally reference a random real-world place just to ground the lyric in some sort of reality and exploit people's built-in attitudes towards those places, even if the place itself has nothing to do with the song. Both are examples of grounding something in a tangible reality.
posted by davejay at 11:03 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Also: I want to know where he's building the thing he's building in there. What's he building in there?
posted by davejay at 11:05 AM on January 17 [13 favorites]


Is there an index somewhere I'm missing or do you have to search by brute force.
I'm looking for Monte Rio, son.
posted by rocket88 at 11:06 AM on January 17


The one thing that good songwriting and good improvisation have in common is that both are improved by seemingly pointless specificity.

Agreed. I often notice that in songwriters I really admire - the details that make it seem to be about something real, instead of just about the sky/your eyes/we tried/etc. Must be a hard line to walk, though. Lots of details could easily come off sounding silly or jarring.
posted by aka burlap at 11:06 AM on January 17


what's he building in there?
posted by davejay at 11:08 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Must be a hard line to walk, though. Lots of details could easily come off sounding silly or jarring.

Yep. That's why I'm a songwriter, but not necessarily a good songwriter.
posted by davejay at 11:09 AM on January 17


we deserve to know!
posted by aka burlap at 11:10 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


And why isn't Buzz Fledderjohn's yard listed?
posted by aka burlap at 11:12 AM on January 17


My work's internet filter says "access denied, potentially damaging content." Indeed.
posted by popaopee at 11:14 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


Much thanks for this, though there is a distinct lack of "Mayor's Income, Tennessee".
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 11:17 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


This map is wildly inaccurate. For one thing, China should have its Cuban and Half Puerto Rican regions clearly marked.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:18 AM on January 17 [3 favorites]


There are certainly a few places missing but this is amazing. Mentally planning the bar crawl/road trip!

And I hadn't seen the Mountain Goats map before either; I knew he sang about place a lot but damn!
posted by mountmccabe at 11:25 AM on January 17


I really want one of these for Jonathan Richman.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:30 AM on January 17


Much thanks for this, though there is a distinct lack of "Mayor's Income, Tennessee".

My thoughts exactly. But ...
Don't bother checking your road atlas for Miner's Prayer, Nevada, let alone move there to pick the radio show. This city, along with Mayor's Income, Tennessee, exists in Waits' reality alone.
Damn.

(Excerpted from "What's He Building in There? The Existential Geography of Tom Waits" (PDF) -- source: Volume 7 of Aether, the journal of media geography).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:36 AM on January 17 [4 favorites]


Diamonds on my Windshield!
The eights go east and the fives go north
And the merging nexus back and forth
You see your sign, you cross the line
Signal with a blink
This was in my head every time I was coming home to my old Mission Hills apartment without the radio on. They placed it in Oceanside but really it belongs to the whole California coast.
posted by rouftop at 11:40 AM on January 17


davejay: Also: I want to know where he's building the thing he's building in there. What's he building in there?

The TomWaitsFan.com site has a ton of possibilities, noted from introductions of the show in live songs and various interviews. It's part tribute to Ken Nordine, partly influenced by the Unabomber, and a bunch of other things.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on January 17 [2 favorites]


I favorited this before even reading the whole thing. Because TOM WAITS.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


No Old 55 either. Disappoint.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:43 AM on January 17


Oh, I figured there wasn't an actual town called Mayor's Income, but dammit there should be.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 11:44 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


That same page includes a reference to Mayor's Income, TN as coming to Waits in a dream, along with Miner's Prayer, W.V.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:44 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


rocket88: Is there an index somewhere I'm missing or do you have to search by brute force.

Not exactly an index, but here is a chronological listing of all cities mentioned by Tom Waits.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:47 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


So why'd he pick that upstart Portland in Oregon? The song doesn't specify which Portland, and there's a far far better Portland that is closer to Buffalo.

"Buffalo squeeze" (second definition seems applicable here) doesn't have anything to do with the city.

Also I have heard that at one time the one in Oregon was the strip joint capital of the U.S., though I don't have a reference on that and don't know that Tom Waits had heard that.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:48 AM on January 17


So not only did the Ocean not want me anymore, but it also did not want to be tagged.

I would buy a hand-drawn poster map of this.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:49 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


This city, along with Mayor's Income, Tennessee, exists in Waits' reality alone.

Apparently Tom once overheard one of his kids tell another, "Don't ever let Dad help you with your homework. He made up a war once."

I've actually sometimes toyed with a blog listing the flights-of-fancy, baroque metaphors people use to describe him, his voice, or his music. Because invariably someone always reaches for something incredible - a Facebook friend once described his voice as "a bear gargling roofing nails" and then went on to say that "he may be made of music, leftover songs all cobbled together with story paste, rotgut and hats. He's like a brokedown calliope that's traveled to every children's circus on earth."

And there are so much more like that. Tom Waits seems to inspire people himself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:51 AM on January 17 [8 favorites]


I've actually sometimes toyed with a blog listing the flights-of-fancy, baroque metaphors people use to describe him, his voice, or his music.

A related blog could be all the ways Tom Waits describes his friends and family. I recall seeing him on Arsenio Hall (I think?) back in the '90s, and when he was asked what Keith Richards is like, he declared "he's a man who's good with animals!"
posted by scody at 11:54 AM on January 17 [5 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos, the one I like is "swallowing lit cigarettes with Tabasco sauce chasers."
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:55 AM on January 17 [1 favorite]


In the "1001 Albums before you die" book, they begin their review of Rain Dogs something like this: "If Swordfishtrombones saw Waits coming into new musical territory, then Rain Dogs sees him setting up a home there. And that home is a tin shack in the junkyard about a half mile along the railroad tracks outside town."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:01 PM on January 17 [4 favorites]


"Not exactly an index, but here is a chronological listing of all cities mentioned by Tom Waits."

and that'd be my blog post I mentioned but wasn't sure I should link to, so thanks for doing the work for me.

"Apparently Tom once overheard one of his kids tell another, "Don't ever let Dad help you with your homework. He made up a war once.""

He said that in an interview on Letterman.
posted by komara at 12:02 PM on January 17


Also missing is McHenry, as in:

She grew up outside McHenry
In Johnsburg, Illinois



I've been to both places. Other than the song, neither has much to recommend it.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:22 PM on January 17


I grew up in Murfreesboro TN. I was full of something when I left but it wasn't wonder.
posted by josher71 at 12:29 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


komara: that'd be my blog post I mentioned but wasn't sure I should link to, so thanks for doing the work for me

Oh, so it is! By the way, folks can share their own sites and efforts in the comments of MetaFilter threads, as long as they note it's their own thing. Self-linking is forbidden in front page posts and as veiled promotions through AskMe, and be careful when self-linking in an AskMe comment.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:32 PM on January 17


Tom Waits Does Math
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:59 PM on January 17 [7 favorites]


AHEM.

Maybe you're standing on the corner of 17th and Wazee Streets
Out in front of the Terminal bar there's a Thunderbird moving in muscatel sky


That's Nighthawk Postcards, and that is Denver.
posted by ernielundquist at 1:01 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


"Bad Liver and a Broken Heart (In Lowell)" -- My first guess would be that this is a song inspired by Jack Kerouac, but the lyrics offer no clues in that regard, not even anything like:

Hey Jack Kerouac
I think of your liver

So who knows?
posted by Fuzzypumper at 1:08 PM on January 17


I haven't spent a lot of time in the Twin Cities, but if she's "...livin' on 9th St, right above a dirty bookstore, on Euclid Ave." it seems like the marker shouldn't be on 9th and 21st ave, should it?
posted by blacksmithtb at 1:15 PM on January 17


I was glad the read the last sentence of the post didn't end the post the way my lightheadedness was predicting it would.

woo boy, I was thinking just last week of making a long form TW obit post to hold on file for the inevitable, as simple "Tom Waits has passed away" worded post would make me about as upset as sad.

But, positively. yay, this is fun
posted by edgeways at 1:15 PM on January 17


I just realized that a comprehensive list of city and township names would make a terrific alternative to a rhyming dictionary.
posted by davejay at 1:25 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


"Tom Waits has passed away"

The day he dies is the day we discover he's been dead all along.
posted by davejay at 1:25 PM on January 17 [3 favorites]


Nice. I was about to say, "Alas, it's not The Tom Waits Library", which hasn't been accessible lately, but Filthy light thief has found another incarnation : there.
posted by nicolin at 1:58 PM on January 17


The day he dies

Lalalalalalala I can't hear you lalalalalala
posted by scody at 2:52 PM on January 17 [7 favorites]


I haven't spent a lot of time in the Twin Cities, but if she's "...livin' on 9th St, right above a dirty bookstore, on Euclid Ave." it seems like the marker shouldn't be on 9th and 21st ave, should it?

There is, apparently, no such thing as Euclid Ave. in Minneapolis (cite: here and here.)

We definitely got a 9th & Euclid in Cleveland, though.

So maybe that song isn't set in Minneapolis so much as in a sort of archetypical wintery industrial midwestern city.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:59 PM on January 17


9th and Euclid Ave is an intersection in upland, ca. Which is 2 towns over from Pomona, ca, where he was born. In "hold on st. Christopher" he also mentions Mt Baldy which is the mountain range north of that same area. (Mt Baldy is also where Leonard Coen disappeared into Buddhist monastery back in the early 90's)
posted by Jaymzifer at 5:38 PM on January 17 [1 favorite]


How is Jersey Girl not represented here?
posted by phooky at 5:54 PM on January 17


This is great.
posted by homunculus at 7:43 PM on January 17


STOP RIGHT NOW AND WATCH mcstayinskool'S LINK.

"The scientist has three monkeys. Two speak Mandarin, the third's got a knife!"
posted by JHarris at 9:04 PM on January 17


And the friend who introduced me to Tom Waits likes to call him "The Velvet Gravel."
posted by JHarris at 9:05 PM on January 17 [2 favorites]


Went looking for Marysville, was disappointed. (Drove through that particular (I like to assume) wide spot in the road a few times.)
posted by Lexica at 10:37 PM on January 17


The Philippines aren't marked. (Warning: VERY WAITS)
posted by JHarris at 11:48 PM on January 17


mcstayinskool: "Tom Waits Does Math "

That's a very bad Tom Waits voice, but a spot-on Tom Waits impression.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:26 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]


Thank you for lots of good suggestions. I have made some adjustments now:
I have added Marysville (the one in Iowa), see this link
Added New Jersey from Jersey Girl
Added Mt. Baldy
Added 17th st/Wazee st, Denver
Added McHenry
Oklahoma added
posted by windyjonas at 4:25 AM on January 18 [9 favorites]


Oh hai windyjonas! It's the guy who made it, everyone!
posted by JHarris at 9:16 AM on January 18


Welcome, windyjonas!
posted by scody at 11:15 AM on January 18


windyjonas: " I have added Marysville (the one in Iowa), see this link"

Iowa does make more sense, given the landscape described in the song. Still, it gave me something to think about while driving on Highway 99 late at night.

Welcome!
posted by Lexica at 11:54 AM on January 18


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