Tom Waits vs The Internet

Tom Waits has long been one of my favourite music performers. His raspy voice is unmistakable. His subject matter is at once universal and oddball. He can write rock, blues, gospel, ballads, and funhouse music with equal aplomb.

Readers of this blog know that it focuses mostly on things digital, but if there is one thing in this world that is antithetical to digital it’s the music of Tom Waits! Tom Waits is analog through and through. (Waits defies expectations though, so to confirm the previous statement I looked for him on Twitter — @tomwaits is obviously maintained by his record label or PR agency.)

L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres
L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres

Last night I went to a see Quebec City’s L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres perform Tom Waits at Calgary’s historic Grand Theatre. (Last night was the 100th anniversary of the first ever show at the Grand.) Their show is part concert, part vaudeville theatre, part mayhem. L’Orchestre pour all their energy into each arrangement, finding inventive ways to make music and channel the spirit of Mr. Waits.

The stage on which L’Orchestre perform is strewn with over 100 items (in truth, pieces of junk) from which they coax sound with [pullthis]the subtlety of a golf club striking a frying pan[/pullthis] (one of the “instruments”) or boxing gloves pounding a piece of wood (another). By the end of the performance the stage is in shambles, the performers spent, and the audience converted.

These days we are surrounded by all types of communication that are 100% digital: smart phones, the iPad, digital photography, digital music and video downloads, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, email. Watching L’Orchestre it struck me what a treat it is to see something so decidedly analog. It is a rare and precious thing to connect with someone who is beating out a frantic rhythm on a banjo with a fist full of dry spaghetti noodles; to be enchanted by two ladies in proper 1940’s dress tapping their spoons against absinthe filled tea cups; to hum along to a whiskey jug band, drunk on longing.


One of my joys in life is getting away from modern city life and spending time in the wilderness (or even a park if I can’t get away for very long). Last evening I felt the same joy listening to Tom Waits as performed by L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres as I do when hearing the sound of footsteps crunching dry leaves, water dripping from a canoe paddle into a glassy lake, wood exploding from the force of an axe, or fire crackling in the moonlight with coyotes howling in the distance.

So here is my advice to you. Right now, before you do anything else: listen to some Tom Waits in iTunes (or better yet, on vinyl if you have some); visit L’Orchestre d’Hommes-Orchestres website or search for them on YouTube and watch something truly amazing (warning—not a replacement for seeing them live); or, stand up, turn off your computer, go outside, feel the sun on your skin, and listen to the sound of clouds forming or stars exploding in the universe light-years from where we are now.

2 thoughts on “Tom Waits vs The Internet

  1. One man’s escape into nature (or Tom Waits) is another woman’s escape into crafting. I have kept a post-it at my desk (now in the sewing room) with the following quote from John Naisbitt in Megatrends: “The more high tech our jobs become, the more high touch we will want our leisure activities to be.” The greatest therapy for getting back to ourselves and the roots of life seems to be in detaching ourselves from technology (if only for a brief moment). Love reading your thoughts on this. Poetic and true as usual.


  2. Fascinating article, and so true. It’s sad how we are quietly slipping away from the analog world. At a recent Christmas party, I was comparing notes with a friend of mine who is also a writer. I was excited to show her the callous on my finger from writing at such a frenzied pace lately. She stared at me like I was insane and said: “You use a PEN? Don’t you write at your computer?” Um….no.
    For me, writing is as much physical activity and performance art as it is intellectual process.I sprawl out across the bed surrounded by notebooks, dictionary, thesaurus, other reference materials, and possibly a novel or two in case I need a break. (Barbaric, I know, but I still use an actual, tangible dictionary even though it means reciting the alphabet in my head several dozen times a day to remember if I should be flipping forwards or backwards ~ good thing I have a three-year-old to keep me on track, hey?)
    I like to cavort in the digital world as much as the next person (or maybe only as much as the last person) but some things are sacred. One of the most satisfying sensory delights in my experience is the tangy scent of ink on aged paper. Writing ~ and also reading, for that matter ~ just isn’t the same without it. I have yet to read a book on an ipad or laptop, so why would I want to write one that way? (Blogs are another matter.) Truthfully, even this comment I wrote out on paper first. Because that’s how I roll.
    Another good reason not to write at the computer: WAY too distracting. This morning, for instance, I was supposed to be composing a cover letter. *sigh* Oh, well.
    Thanks anyway for the very interesting and informative distraction.


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