Brush with Fame: Tom Waits


As soon as Tom Waits entered my bookstore I assumed he was a shoplifter. Now, even if I couldn’t recognize a Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated musical genius when I see one, his impeccably distressed jeans and coiffed soul patch should have tipped me off that this guy had a more lucrative career than petty thievery.

But being an anxious, sheltered suburban boy, I couldn’t see past the tectonic features and fedora. All I saw was Wharf Thug #2 from The Eye-Gouging Angels or some other pre-code gangster film. All I saw was trouble.

I took it upon myself to track trouble through the store. But he never veered far from the art section, and its huge volumes were unlikely candidates to be snuck down someone’s pants. After 20 misdemeanorless minutes passed, I began thinking maybe this guy wasn’t a shoplifter after all.

But my anxiety still desperately felt for a foothold. I recalled among the art section’s Monets and Matiesses was The Last Day of Summer, a book of photographs featuring French beachgoers. These included a discomfiting amount of nude preteens.

His proximity to the book was fuel enough for my worry. How could I have been so blind? This guy wasn’t a shoplifter. He was a pedophile. I suddenly cared less about what he might sneak into his pants, and more about what he might sneak out.

But another 20 minutes passed, pedophilia-free, and he finally brought his purchases to the counter. I swiped his card and thought just how relieved I’d be when he left. Sure, he didn’t commit any crimes today. But I just knew he was someone to watch out for, someone with a record.

And when I glanced at the credit slip he handed back, my suspicions were confirmed. “Thomas A. Waits,” it read. He did have a record, plenty of them: Bone Machine, The Heart of Saturday Night, Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs.

“Uh, hey, you’re not THE Tom Waits, are you?” I asked my shoplifting pedophile.

“ME? Nah nah nah,” he replied, waving his hands like he was trying to wipe away his unmistakable, chain-smoking bullfrog voice that shattered the possibilities of sound for generations of music lovers.

I stood there blinking as he fulfilled my wish and left.


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One Christmas At A Time


As you may have gathered from my weekly podcast, “Feeding Ducks, with Zack & Quackers,” I maintain a pretty low-key lifestyle. Of the punk life trifecta—sex, drugs, rock and roll—only that last element sounds appealing, because it conjures up images of me enjoying a warm roll. Actually, our mutual fondness for bread is the only reason Quackers and I can still do the podcast, and if I were honest with myself there’s really nothing left for me in that relationship.

Hence, there was no small amount of shock and chamomile tea spilling when I received a call from the gem-encrusted cell phone of bona fide rock star John Roderick (of The Long Winters fame). Evidently, he and fellow guitargonaut Jonathan Coulton had grounded their golden pleasurecopters long enough to collaborate on an album of Christmas music, and wished to secure my services for the front and back covers. Having met the two under totally normal circumstances a month prior, I knew this was a great opportunity to work with a couple of swell guys who—if I played my cards right—might just share with me the secret of facial hair husbandry (Note: they did not).

Now, I realize for many of you, Christmas music is Proustian invitation to bask in the warm memories of yuletides past, to be quaffed with nogalcoholic abandon as soon as the last fiber of Thanksgiving turkey is pried from the bone. I understand. I have a similar reaction Marvin Hamlisch’s score for Seems Like Old Times. However, I nonetheless find 99.4% of all Christmas songs to be cloying miscarriages of sound, and spend most of December wishing my superpower was “retractable ears” instead of “parellel parking.”

Not so with Roderick and Coulton’s “One Christmas At A Time.” Whether it be the anthem to video game gifting, “2600,” or the universally-applicable “Christmas In Jail,” every song on the album gets me right in my two sizes too small heart. My only misgiving is that the meeting of Jonathan Coulton and The Long Winters wasn’t christened “The Jonathan Winters.” Missed opportunity, that.

To get your copy of “One Christmas At A Time,” sally forth to the order page. And while any edition of the record is a Christmas miracle, word on the sleet is the special edition box set is especially suffuse with holiday cheer.


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Satie Time

Boy howdy, there has been a flurry of activity between this post and last. Hopefully I'll soon get around to a longer post about my trip to London and gallery show there, but for now I'll just say it was great. Even the part where the drunk guy in the pub bathroom accused me of being Canadian, asked if I played Sudoku, then literally kicked my butt out the bathroom door. I assume he was some sort of Lord or something. Just like Downton Abbey! SO EXOTIC!

For now, here's a quick(ish) portrait of my favorite eccentric French Dadaist composer, Erik Satie. He's regarded as the father of ambient music, coining the term musique d’ameublement ("furniture" or "wallpaper" music) to describe a genre of music meant to be played in the background. Satie is also the genius behind the three Gymnopedies compositions, a snippet from the first of which can be heard here. And he owned over 100 umbrellas. Hero.


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We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of the dreams

At long last, the first completed page of my picturebook!

Here, Melvin's adoration of music is introduced, as we see him experiencing a transcendent moment listening to Frank Sinatra's "That's Life." You can tell it's Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" because I got the score online and reproduced it (almost faithfully) on the scroll of notation enveloping Mel. Beyond that, there are 13 other musical references and/or puns on this page.

How many can you spot?


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