Untitled Blog about Poetry and stuff

The predicament of an exceptionally bored human being…

The inescapability of alienation in Tom Waits

As a starting point, a poet must shed the skin of an ‘actor’ and put on the ragged robes of a wanderer, a homeless observer, a timeless traveler — this is what he needs to be an ‘outsider’. As a poet first and then a performer, Tom Waits is compelled, even propelled, by this reclusive (as well as reflective and intuitive) protest against non-creativity and reckless damage to the human society. In his compilation ‘Beautiful Maladies’, he sketches a time when man desires to be alone – this alienation is a reminder for him to slow down; because struggle against it will only make it worse. Yet he fights a raging battle – his only weapon: jazz and his ‘rotten-tomato-run-over-by-a-truck’ vocals. In this battle (which he increasingly feels he is losing) he pushes his limits to carry on. In Temptation, his condition is starting to develop as a helpless maniac who knows no bounds and is only seeking pleasure. This leads him through most of the album. He doesn’t seem to go far with it; pushing nonetheless.

As the album progresses, his style takes over his conception of jazz as a medium — he bends the rules, breaks them in between, and before long, he lets them go altogether only to return and take refuge in them. He asks us to ‘clap our hands’ as we struggle to give ‘meaning’ to his protest, while we fail in doing so. Many generalizing characteristics of interpretation are inapt in this album, such as the post-modern distinction between ‘form’ or ‘style’ and ‘content’ or subject-matter as well as the perceived motives and artifices. Take the example of Clap Hands: although, familiar elements of poetry are observed (rhyme, meter, metaphor and irony), it is hard to say that the artifice alludes to the ‘larger than life’ sensibilities, or simply to bring together the poetic narrative. It is also (in Sontag’s vocabulary) ‘camp’ as it is unaware of itself. However, not all of Waits’ work can be characterized as camp.

One also senses in this album a longing for lost times; although time is not referred to in the historical sense, rather in the metaphysical sense. ‘Times’ that were never past or present, and certainly never becoming. They are lost because they never occurred in history. And so he paints them for us, notwithstanding the test of common sense, of course, but exceptionally exceeding expectations. He continues.

He creates many characters to carry his ‘timeless’ protest against the diminishing value of human conduct. Frank, for example, is a psychopath. To describe Frank’s plight, Waits uses his candor and bold expression, though not telling but showing us what it is like to be Frank. He is not simply a reckless maniac, but has a painstakingly sensitive (certainly destructive) character guided and perpetuated by the ‘absurd’ environment around him – absurd from his perspective, for he fails to put his surrounding in his romantic ideals. He tends to keep it, despite that it is not pleasant to his taste; in that, he is a prisoner of his self, his own thoughts and concepts. He brings the darker shades of what it is to be a prisoner of one’s own: it bears the burdens of only one instead of the shared burden of many. Such a distinction is perhaps important in Waits’ view, particularly in the socio-political context of the 1980s in the United States.

More about alienation, now. Waits is not alienated in the sociological sense. At the least, it is not the only kind of alienation he ‘suffers’; it is psychological; sometimes, it is also religious because it is impossible to relate with a morality derived from religion or religiosity. It becomes less clear, as he progresses through his musical career, to say whether he started due to the unbearable intensity of lacking a more accepted way of expressing his discontent for society or the other way. It is this lack of clarity that becomes the ironic ‘mask’ of Waits’ expression; he becomes exceedingly soft and blurred in quite the cinematic way, his music wilder and more experimental. All this, perhaps, to cover up the storm raging inside. For this very reason, it is often misleading to take his music as a reflection of his alienation process.

The concept of ‘time’ is very important as it appears frequently in his work. It is ‘time’ that he believes in, and yet rejects its influence on his psyche. The internal conflict of being in the wrong ‘time’ is disturbing to his work, in my view, as he is blinded by it as well as motivated to move away from it. This results in some of his performances making no sense to ‘ordinary’ jazz enthusiasts. But is he really playing for the ‘ordinary jazz enthusiast’? I don’t know, is he?

In Cold Cold Ground, he paints a repressed and alienated society, doesn’t matter which. There are elements of contrast, dissociated and even random lines:

Now don’t be a cry baby when
there’s wood in the shed;
there’s a bird in the chimney
and a stone in my bed.
When the road’s washed out,
we pass the bottle around,
and wait in the arms of the cold,
cold ground.

At this point in the album, the desolation and the beating of a morally degraded society starts appearing in detail. It is this state of alienation that he cannot escape.

This leads to the painful revelation that the individual is fading into the shadows of the cold November evenings (here, “November” is the metaphor for the post-modern sensibilities of arts and ethics). In November, Waits awaits the climax of a stretching battle. When there is ‘no moon and no cars’ around, among the ‘pile of dead leaves’ there is no hope of returning to a time hopeful for (and faithful to) a better life. Time has come to embrace the death of a homeless man on a lonely night of despair. As we try to make a final push to grab life’s ‘fruits’, November takes us away with its ‘firing squad’.

Then, in Downtown Train, Good Old World and I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, there is retrospection of the ‘good life’ and a flight from sorrow when one has embraced failure. At this point in the album, we are introduced with the highs of life – love in its glory. Here, confusion is beautiful and games of love are cute and anticipated. It is an escape from self-centrism by choice: the highest kind of sacrifice. However, as a sweet dream, it is short-lived but a delight.

In a display of his musical and lyrical genius, in Time, Waits performs his most mature protest. This time around, he touches an important human dilemma: the incompleteness of youth wasted on hedonistic pursuits. He alludes to having little to no regrets about living a life of an alienated person. Love is only a simple effect of such a life. We put so much effort in a small point of our emotive life of perception, deceit, desires and facts. It is in this conflict that he finds his true expression. Without much complaining, he blames time to be the burden upon the frail shoulders of man. He dives into the heart of the traveler, the homeless man, the inactive protester, the poet, to dig out the ‘facts of life’. He anticipates a lost time that never was; and realizing that it will never be, he writes and ‘performs’ the acts of the unfaithful women, orphans, reckless boys, and old people full of regrets.

Tom Waits is an exceptional point in American jazz. He has succeeded, I believe, in painting the picture of a lifetime of many people, detached from humanity, living on the sidelines of love and life: the travelers, the wanderers, the dreamers, the philosophers, the poets and desolate jazz musicians to name a few. His musical style has earned him the respect and notoriety that he may need to keep ‘protesting’ for decades, if he so wills. The poet beyond time in Waits will pull him inside while he fights to break free from the poet he is bound in time.

Bielefeld, 5.6.2016.


Untitled Poem # 31…

Darling, we must dance to the music of life…
And loneliness.
We must forget our past,
But remember our pain.
As summer drifts away,
Engulfed between our winters,
So must we.

This night will not be gentle –
We shall perish into its horrors,
And sorrows.
Must we then fight
And keep fighting until the end?
Until we decay…

I must tend to life,
As I look for facts —
I must not write poetry,
Until the after-hours
Of life and sanity –
Of love and darkness.

Why must you become my keeper?
We are on our own,
And afraid.
Come, darling, let us endure.

Wander across barren land
Of people and music –
Of gentle pain,
Of keen pressures and pleasures –
Of detachment
and timelessness.

Beyond shared pain —
Lies the aesthetics of isolation;
When our burdens pile,
Overcoming the benefits, of
Deep reflection and endless
Introspection —
Of useless digression.

Talha Minhas; Bielefeld, 17.6.2016.

Untitled Poem # 30…

To Sylvia Plath and Dean Moriarty…

The streets are full of drunk folks,
Searching for their voice and ‘smoke’.
Stretching lights, and empty pockets –
Blurred lines and glaring streetlamps.

Lovers break free — in hopeless longing;
Searching for their land.
Unending streets, cats on tin roofs in dark alleys –
Willows creaking; come the dead howl of lost friends.

Boys swaying around in wound up jazz bars;
Looking for kicks.
Drinking hemlocks…
Losing money, shame — and identities.

Sitting alone on lonely benches,
Reflecting on our lost chances –
Not regretting.
While languid hours pass, make
Peace with yourself.

Girls hanging out, giggling, swagging –
Notgivingashit… and whispering again.
Swinging on old ragged music,
Getting high on Miles, Waits and Morrison.

What difference can a little boy make?
Seeing within the Heart of Darkness,
Shuddering, clutching and crumbling,
Over the empty past and a harsh future.

Values lost —
Or forgotten, as
The world suffers delusion.
We are searching for our music.

Wandering in an abandoned town,
Looking for his ‘blues’ —
This man is becoming of you;
As you are becoming of him.

Where are the blues taking us?
Here, there, and everywhere.
Into the shallow streets, hollow trees,
Over the tents and half-burnt paintings —

Into the kitchen –
Filled with gas and a gasping Plath girl,
While her children sleep –
In another room.

Talha Minhas; Bielefeld, 13.6.2016.

In the ‘secret’ life of the neglected majority…

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Untitled Poem # 29

As I drift through existence,
I am constantly reminded of my failures;
I am bound
To consider the very restrictions of truth

When I am crawling all over reality:
I want the pleasures of detachment
To give meaning to my emotions —
Or lack of.

And when I try to explain
All exposition runs dry.
All words fall short,
And I digress.

I try to show pain,
The swollen wounds of dissociation;
As I try to keep perspective
I’m destined to lose it.

As we leap toward truth,
Let it flow through us;
Instead let us flow through it —
As we digress.

We are on our own,
We are fixated on our goals;
As you crawl toward IT,
I will pull you back — to safety.

You keep pushing this discourse,
Into the depths of despair;
You are proud of your rock ‘n roll,
Your inexorable candor.
TM; Bielefeld, 3.6.2016.

Untitled Poem # 25…

I’m bored of these days…
They are filled with nonsense.
The more one talks about it,
The more one realizes its grip on our thoughts.

I’m bored…
Of the way I’m moving across this barren existence.
I’m constantly reminded of how much I hate being a part of it.
And the efforts I put into waking up each day…
It is consuming my will to continue playing this game.

We’re all bored…
We’ve created this virtual reality,
That has all the ingredients of growth and multiplicity.
But it is an elaborate effort, nonetheless.

Our morals are shams;
Our values are shallow –
For they do not drive us
To seek what is beyond our own shadows!

Untitled Poem # 22…

I’ve known you long enough…
To know that you are unable to receive my love.
Long enough to know that you consider it a formality,
To care for my share of happiness…
In your happiness.

I’ve known you long enough…
To keep myself at a distance from you.
This is no way to live a life;
It is boring and a drag…
For me to live a lie.

I’ve cared for some things…
That I didn’t show you.
It was an elaborate effort…
But a failed one;
That it didn’t work out between us.

I’m not sad, my love, neither do I have regrets…
I am worried and unmindful,
Of what it might mean…
To push you away from myself.
And so, it is.

Remember the time we came so close,
We could have kissed?
I do, vividly!
Remember all the times we had to ourselves;
Could we still expect some more of those?

I like to think of you often…
Not as often, though, I feel like telling you,
That we could’ve been together…
And wrote poetry;

For Sundas; 8-28-2014.

Untitled Post # 7…

How would you like it, your life? You wake up one day and you’re young, very glowing. You’re having the time of your life; nice friends, good folks, a nice lover who cares for you and takes you out to new places. You’ve lived through the tough parts of your life, and you’re pretty sure that the future would be bright. You’ve had all the signs of a successful job and a raise in your paycheck. You’ve promised all the goodies to your nice happy family. But, one day you’re lying in your room and you realize that it is all boring and dull. The happiness is fake and the money makes you sadder because there are unfulfilled desires still left, and they are growing. Maybe it was the insurance, or the death of your best friend’s mother that saddens you, but all the same. You’re suffering.  Not happy, and depressed. You need a good reason, reassuring that your life is worth the while. Maybe you’re not too satisfied, because you’re too ignorant to see the big picture. Or maybe you aren’t in the big picture! But what difference does it make? You’re suffering all the same. If you could change one thing about your life to make it better, you’d find out that there’s nothing you could’ve done to change what it is now. It’s overwhelming.  There’s only so much you can do. Maybe all the books you read were teaching you unconsciously the sad lessons of life, and you accepted it from the inside. But, I don’t want it to be sad and boring.


Untitled Poem # 21…

I’ve kept myself up at the last hour,
Just to know what lies ahead…

I’ve kept myself at a distance…
Just shy of the truth.

But all this,
These efforts…
Are mere excuses,
To reach to you…
Where you are… but achievable!

How am I to know
The realities of your existence,
When I am so blinded by my own?

I want to think beyond my limits,
I want to expand the very limits that limit myself.
Let the pages become one giant ground,
For time and space to permeate them…
Through its web of uncoagulated bits,
That slowly liquidify it, but not quite thoroughly.

All this,
These efforts…
They are mere excuses,
To reach to an undisclosed location.
A location that stretches beyond words… my words,
And emotions, and imagination…

I want to hear that strange shriek,
That echoes around in my head…
I want to be inspired by it.
I want to be led by it.
I want to give it a chance to make me feel.
It is so old and grey,
Its fragility has encompassed me.

Let me not talk of the times,
That I had wished had been pleasing.
Let me not be reminded…
That I had been a fool,
An idiot…
To have forsaken my only chance to be happy.
I am, now, apologetic to my plight…

All this,
These mere efforts,
Are nothing more than languish to my idle hours.


Untitled Poem # 20…

It is late at night,
and I am smoking my last cigarette.
Winter feels like it will never end…
It will.
And so will
I am losing the will to let this poem ‘unwrite’ itself…
my words…
Neither is this last cigarette willing to stay the night.