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 [2011]) 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 . 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


  1. Ralph Beard, March 30, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    Every now and then I do a search on this thing just to see what’s been written about it over the years. It’s not doing to badly for something I cut together on a whim back in 1996 using a very Primitive copies of CoolEdit and Soundforge. (The sound is a little tinny from the old noise removal tool) You’re right, by the way, the levels are all over the place at points and it kind of runs out of steam at the end. But it’s remarkably effective for something that only came about because I was changing cds, and went from one to the other. It wasn’t till I cut it together that I heard the live version of a reading where it’s performed as a crass comedy routine.

    Then again, it was never meant to go any further than my computer. I shared it to a friend on Soulseek 1999 and it made it’s way from there. Funny how some things can live on even if you don’t mean them to.

    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

  2. So yeah, I found that on Soulseek in 1999! I was at the University of Kansas in the Film Department and we were tasked with editing together a collage video to music or poetry. I had recently downloaded this on Soulseek being both a Tom Waits and Ginsberg fan and actually cut a fan video of it using old vhs footage of Robert Frank photos, newsreels and some other “iconic” yet ironic things. Damn I’ll need to go find that mini DV tape. Glad to know the story on it, I’ve always looked for the recording commercially to no avail and now I know why. Love how quick it had legs in ’99 to reach me.

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