The Tom Waits Map: A Mapping of Every Place Waits Has Sung About, From L.A. to Africa’s Jungles

“And what becomes of all the lit­tle boys who nev­er comb their hair? They’re lined up all around the block, on the Nick­el over there.” So sings Tom Waits on 1980’s “On the Nick­el,” which he orig­i­nal­ly com­posed for Ralph Wait­e’s epony­mous fea­ture film, a sto­ry of shame, degra­da­tion, and good times in the sketchi­est part of down­town Los Ange­les, through which runs 5th Street — the “Nick­el” of the title. That part of town has man­aged an aston­ish­ing cleanup since 1980 (then again, most parts of town have, includ­ing the once-seething cor­ner ref­er­enced by Heartat­tack and Vine, the title of Waits’ album from that year) to the point that you’ll now find, just off 5th, the new-wave retro, hip­ster-friend­ly Nick­el Din­er: a favorite eatery of mine, inci­den­tal­ly, but hard­ly one describ­able with Waits’ sig­na­ture rasp, a force­ful­ly resigned instru­ment tuned to evoke the clas­si­cal­ly, near-mytho­log­i­cal­ly ragged Amer­i­can life.

Still, you can find the old Nick­el on The Tom Waits Map, which marks out all the lyri­cal­ly iden­ti­fi­able places in Waits’ Amer­i­ca, from Min­neapo­lis’ 9th Street (“Hey Char­lie, I’m preg­nant and liv­ing on the 9th street,” goes “Christ­mas Card From A Hook­er In Min­neapo­lis”) to the state of Ida­ho (“Dan­ny says we got­ta go, got­ta go to Ida­ho, but we can’t go surf­ing ’cause it’s 20 below,” on “Dan­ny Says”).

We may think of Waits’ artis­tic per­sona as a cer­tain low­er slice of Amer­i­ca made song, but this map, when zoomed out to a glob­al lev­el, reveals ref­er­ences to many exot­ic lands, as when he sings about “a Hong Kong driz­zle on Cuban heels,” from the per­spec­tive of a char­ac­ter who “drank with all the Chi­na­men, walked the sew­ers of Paris” and of “Radion the human tor­so, deep from the jun­gles of Africa.”

The Tom Waits map itself, in fact, comes from an obvi­ous­ly die-hard Swedish fan by the name of Jonas Nord­ström. As he and the rest of the Waits faith­ful know, the man does­n’t just speak to an askew sen­si­bil­i­ty in Amer­i­ca; he speaks to askew sen­si­bil­i­ties all through­out human­i­ty.

via @sheerly

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Big Time, the Con­cert Film Cap­tur­ing Tom Waits on His Best Tour Ever (1988)

Tom Waits’ Clas­sic Appear­ance on Aus­tralian TV, 1979

Tom Waits Reads Charles Bukows­ki

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

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Comments (13)
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  • caroline says:

    why has he nev­er played in South Amer­i­ca?

  • Manny says:

    He also makes ref­er­ence to the Ivar The­ater.

  • Brian says:

    Well Car­o­line there was a long peri­od dur­ing which play­ing South Africa was a polit­i­cal act — and you were iden­ti­fied as being in one group ( the moral anti- apartheid group or the less moral go-along-to-get-along group) or the oth­er.

    Just maybe Waits was a man of a par­tic­u­lar poli­ty that for­bade him from play­ing there — for a long,long time. Per­haps it was a moral choice.

    But just as like­ly, the eco­nom­ics of the jour­ney to S.A. sim­ply pre­clud­ed him going there.


  • Fibak says:

    Don’t for­get ‘Depot, Depot’:
    (about the San Diego Grey­hound Depot)
    Out­side the mid­night wind is blow­ing, Sixth Avenue…

  • Dusan says:

    Where’s War­saw — Poland?

  • Laura says:

    Des­de Méx­i­co hacia el sur, hay casi todo un con­ti­nente… podría venir a Buenos Aires, no?

  • Andrew says:

    Left out May­or’s Income, Ten­nessee from “What’s He Build­ing”

  • Jonas Nordström says:

    If you find an actu­al place called “Mayor’s Income”, let me know :)

  • Pepa Mayo says:

    Where is Barcelona (Spain).
    He played here @ El Forum


  • Jonas Nordström says:

    The items on the map shows places men­tioned in songs by Tom Waits. It is not places where he has per­formed. But maybe I should include that … :)

  • Pelle Hedin says:

    You missed Stock­holm I saw you there 1987 or 1988 on Drak­en. You were fan­tas­tic.

  • Donald says:

    I might add that there is a dif­fer­ence between south-Afri­ka and south-Amer­i­ca. Apartheid is speci­fi­al­ly south african☺ the lack of an audi­ence prob goes for both as rea­son not to per­form there

  • tomasz. says:

    she said South AMERICA dum­b­ass

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