Tom Traubert’s Blues

Back in the mid-1980s I was a member of a rabble-rousing collective in Peterborough, Ontario called Projects for Change.  We ran a food bank, paid homage to Kropotkin, and, on occasion, even worked on actual pressing issues like capital punishment and welfare reform.

Originally we worked out of a tiny sliver of a storefront at 219½ Hunter Street West and after a few years we expanded into a larger space up the street at 231.

When we took possession of the new space the floor inside was covered in a ratty old blue carpet; underneath we found broad pine-plank flooring in fantastic condition, and so our first project was to rip up the carpet (let it never be said that anarchists don’t have aesthetic sensibilities).

Once the carpet was ripped up we found the floor covered with a thick skin of carpet glue, so project number two was to scrape the glue off; when brute force didn’t work we resorted to boiling up kettles of water, pouring the hot water on the floor and the swooping in to scrape off the now-softened-up glue before it hardened up again.

This wasn’t brutal work, but it took a long time; I remember spending what seemed like weeks coming in every night to boil and scrape, boil and scrape.

There was an old record player in the storefront, and there was, as memory serves, only a single album: Small Change, the 1976 album from Tom Waits. 

The first track on the album is Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen), a 6-minute song that is classic Tom Waits: a rambling gravel-voiced pæan to Waltzing Matilda (you can see a video of a live performance from 1977 here).

We listened to Tom Traubert’s Blues over and over and over that summer, and every time I hear that song I immediately have flashbacks to the smell of warm carpet glue and the collegiality that scraping it off involved.

I thought of all of this again this morning when I came across this link to a free download of the first 8 songs of Waits’ new album, Glitter and Doom Live, to be released in late November.


Isaac Grant's picture
Isaac Grant on October 13, 2009 - 20:03

My definitive Tom Waits album happens to be a live album, the great Nighthawks at the Diner.

I hope the upcoming album is half as good.

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