Tom Waits – Closing Time/America

The ubiquitous Tom Waits-Allen Ginsberg mash-up “Closing Time/America” has got to be one of the most accessed Allen Ginsberg items on the web – 86,000 (and counting) hits on this particular up-load (since it was first uploaded in April of 2006), and that’s not counting the hits for other, more recent, versions, here and here and here. Of course, the two never recorded anything together. The reading of “America” is from Chicago, in 1959 (when Tom Waits was all of ten years old!)  and the Waits instrumental is the last track (and the title track) from his first (1973) album, Closing Time, recorded some decade-and-a-half later. “America I’ve given you all and now I am nothing/ America two dollars and twenty-seven cents, January 17, 1956./ I can’t stand my own mind./ America when will we end the human war?”. The bitter-sweet last-dance-in-the-dancehall strains of the instrumental may or may not resonate with some of the lines of the poem (one of the poem’s strengths, the range of tones, not simply poignant resignation and melancholy). And is the music? might it not be (on a number of occasions) too loud? (drowning the delivery and import of the words?). That said, there’s something sweet, and curiously fitting, about this “artificial collaboration”.

[Tom Waits, Allen Ginsberg and David Blue ca 1975  by
Richard E Aaron via
Rolling Stone]

One comment

  1. Ralph, Can't thank you enough for posting this. It's been a mystery for so long, and I can't tell you how often people approach us asking when that was released or when were Tom and Allen in the studio together. Always knew it was a mashup of sorts, and knew Allen & Tom had never worked in the studio together but that's all we knew. It's really great finding out how it all happened. Cheers, Peter

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