The gravel voiced, neo-Beat, saintly gutter rat, utterly inimitable, Tom Waits, will be joining the likes of Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Chuck Berry and other music lifers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Waits' response to the news, according to Rolling Stone magazine, "I am still recovering...I never really cared about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame...but now I am surprised to discover how much I DO care. I'm wondering if I did something wrong?" is prototypical Waitsian rhetoric. His acceptance speech should be nothing short of fine satirical comedy.
Beginning his career in the early 1970s as a piano playing, blues singer/songwriter, Waits long celebrated the social ladder's lowest rungs in his songs, and he lived a life not far from his muse. For the first decade of his career, Waits added increasingly idiosyncratic characters to his stories, in songs like "Frank's Wild Years", "The Ghosts of Saturday Night", and "Small Change", though his biggest successes came as more famous artists covered his songs, with Springsteen doing "Jersey Girl" and Rod Stewart doing "Downtown Train".
In the mid-1980s, Waits met his wife, Kathleen Brennan, who inspired a new approach to songwriting, with the inclusion of non-traditional instrumentation including trombone, kettle drum, and other percussive instruments that often sound like they might well have been his own creation. The result was his most creative period, producing the landmark Rain Dogs and Swordfishtrombones and continuing through his more recent work in the Grammy Award winning Bone Machine and my personal favorite, Mule Variations. Also check out the sprawling three disc set of absurdly good b-sides from this period, Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, & Bastards, released in 2006.