I went looking for, but couldn’t find, a particular quote from Tom Waits about the radio.
I did find these from Waits, all of them perfect.
Eh, I like songs when they come through a wall and you hear them wrong. You just pick up a piece of it you know? When you distort the things that you are hearing and… New York’s good for that, things coming up of the radio outside through the traffic and in the window and… That’s good.
The common thread is “stuff that sounds unfinished. Then you can get in there. If it’s too beautiful, too produced, I back off a little, start gettin’ intimidated.
“You heard The Replacements? They seem broken, y’know? One leg is missin’. I like that. Songs that are scrawled on the wall with a nail – The Pogues, Henry Rollins – local kid. He’s bush. … Jail poems. I listen to all that rap stuff. Can’t escape it. This neighborhood you got stereos in the cars and they’re more expensive than the car itself. Walls in the house going CHUNGA! CHUNGA! CHUNGA! From a stereo five miles away.”
“I’m very crude, but I use things we hear around us all the time, built and found instruments – things that aren’t normally considered instruments: dragging a chair across the floor or hitting the side of a locker real hard with a two-by-four, a freedom bell, a brake drum with a major imperfection, a police bullhorn. it’s more interesting. You know, I don’t like straight lines. The problem is that most instruments are square and music is always round.“
Right now, that’s the crux of things, the clang and boom. Waits’ central argument, the thrust and arc of what he does, is contained in the idea of “stuff that sounds unfinished..”
He is correct that a problem with this world is that things are too finished, too perfect. Even the stuff that isn’t, is. We are great at making the perfect even! more! perfect! until we have evacuated the meaning from it.
Think of mall jeans, ripped and colored and faded just right, so that when you look at them you see someone digging in the garden or standing in the mud at a festival or wiping the grease off their hands while changing the oil, except the jeans are brand new and squeezed into by a 16 year old girl or 44 year old divorced guy who has done none of these things. What, exactly, have they bought?… since she doesn’t care about gardens or festivals and he has to take his car back to the dealership to even get to the oil spigot. Maybe that’s the worst of it – the further you run from slick, the slicker you get.