Happy New Year or some shit. I’m in kind of a weird place right now so have some Tom Waits:
Tom Waits is a musician every performer on Earth should study the hell out of, if only because he’s one of the very few out there who’s managed to be relevant across five decades just by being who he wants to be. He’s not super famous and you’d be a crazy person to imply otherwise, but he’s always kind of been around, and he’s generally been notable for the whole of his career. From fairly impressive beginnings as a jazz/lounge singer sort of musician, Waits slowly became something of a musical oddity, creating music that was often either a result of his upbringing and musical knowledge, an odd hybrid of multiple styles, or some kind of progressive piece that looked into a crazy future only he really got.
Then, in the early 80’s, after what most people would call an acceptable career, Waits got married and went bugfuck crazy, musically speaking.
He began experimenting with new instruments he’d never played before, like the accordion and the waterphone (seriously). He and his wife created a musical play, Frank’s Wild Years, which saw fairly good success, especially considering Waits himself played the title role, and oh yeah, it was directed by Gary Sinise, which is kind of unheard of now but he apparently did a decent amount of directing early in his career so hey, why not right? He’s appeared in one of the most eclectic collection of film roles you could think of, from Mystery Men to Bram Stoker’s Dracula to The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus to Seven Psychopaths to Domino, and for someone with a forty-one year career, he’s only turned out a total of sixteen actual records, or a record every two and a half years.
He’s also probably one of the most influential musicians on the planet, and you’ve heard his work outside of this web page.
His songs have appeared in Orange is the New Black, One From the Heart, The Walking Dead, and The Wire, among other places. He’s written a shitload of songs other people have covered, including I Don’t Wanna Grow Up (the Ramones), Goin’ Out West (Queens of the Stone Age), Long Way Home (Norah Jones), Bad As Me (Tom Jones), Time (Tori Amos), and of course, Jersey Girl (Bruce Springsteen). Scarlett Johansson’s first record, Anywhere I Lay My Head, is basically a tribute album to Waits, as literally every song on it save one is a cover of one of his songs (thought she sadly does not cover the song in the associated video above). He’s released a sum total of three records in the past decade, one of which is a compilation of old and unreleased material, and not only did that compilation record get nominated for a Grammy, but also received the highest overall score on Metacritic in its release year.
Tom Waits is a goddamn institution, is my point here, and his existence proves you don’t have to be the biggest act or the most popular person to be important, you just have to be good.