Wicked Songs: Town With No Cheer by Tom Waits

So after yesterday’s post this seem like the right song to follow that with. This is one of my fave Tom Waits tracks of all-time, so what’s your all-time fave Waits song/s? I do have a few more faves which I’ll save for another time but say for early 80’s Tom Waits it’s Town With No Cheer would it for me.

This does seem to be the very first time I’ve written about him at any length here on my blog thingy too. So I’ll share any and everything about this song with any and everyone who wants to have a read. To start with it’s track number six on his 1983 Swordfishtrombones album sandwiched in between two maybe more well known songs 16 Shells From A 30.6 and In the Neighbourhood.

Serviceton, Victoria, Australia train station today

The title Town With No Cheer is just Aussie slang for “pub with no beer” and Tom wrote it after his late 70’s Aussie tour where he heard and read that with also a few other things that pop up in the lyrics. There’s a famous old Aussie song you might have heard or not? Called the Pub With No Beer which was recorded by Slim Dusty, it’s based on a yet another true story about a pub in Queensland.

Tom’s has such a great use of language because even his soon to be new wife who’s now has becomes his main co-songwriter to almost all his future tracks and albums said after hearing the song for the very first time “Oh, gee you must have loved her very much.” Waits then had to say tell her it’s about a guy who couldn’t get a drink in a small town in Australia and taken the whole song from a newspaper story he read while on tour here. That full quote is from Swordfishtrombones Island records promo interview from 1983:

“When my wife heard that for the first time she said: “Oh gee, you must have loved her very much.” So I said: “Wait a minute. This is not a love song. This is about a guy who can’t get a drink!” It’s about a miserable old town in Australia that made the news when they shut down the only watering hole. We found an article about it in a newspaper when we were over there and hung on to it for a year. So I said: “Ah, I ‘m going to write something about that someday.” and finally got around to it. That’s a freedom bell upfront just trying to get a feel of a ghost town, tumbleweeds and that kind of thing. It’s basically a folk song”

Both the characters in the opening lines are jobs here down under, a grazier is a person who rears cattle or sheep for market and jackaroo is a young man who works on a sheep or cattle station. Serviceton is a real place in Victoria, Australia and I’ve even past through it once coming back from over east which I did sing those lines at the time. It’s just before you cross the bonder into South Australia plus on the other side of the dotted line is a town called Bondertown.

It’s another sad song off course but I’ve have come to the conclusion that I do like a sad song or two but I guess, you can interrupted it different ways. I find really interesting Waits lifted the story straight from a newspaper. Maybe, it’s a just love song too soon to be his old ways. You know, he was getting married soon so he was leaving behind his young drinking ways and that was his early image. Also happens to be Australian, so called drinking culture which go hand in hand with Aussie slang.

Hummingbirds are not found anywhere in the eastern hemisphere and I know this because I was bit of an amateur bird spotter once, hummingbirds are only found in Northern and Southern Americas. It’s the only time in the whole song he don’t stick to the so called facts but when do songwriters ever do, really? Waits is a totally bullshit artist in interviews he never tell the truth. I’ve read books/magazines full of his tall tales and stories but once again that’s what sitting around a pub drinking and talking shit with a few beers is all about. So why not throwing a hummingbird in a shoe store that’s also closed down?

I live in Perth W.A. so Jan./Feb. can be the worst months of the year but a lot times by, if you what to name a date like March 21st, it could be pretty much the end unofficially of summer but it can still be hot as hell then. By April hopefully, it can be finally cooling down and temperature are better for human beings. Then he even sings about Patterson’s curse which is a terrible weed like creeper with a purple flower which does cover whole hillsides and plus can also easy kill livestock because it’s so very toxic.

Anyway even if it’s all of these are just great metaphors but that’s what great songwriting is about. People who are even Tom Waits’ own fans don’t seem to believe him and his newspaper cutting collection story because one of the craziest fan theory I’ve ever read once is: Waits somehow meet Malcolm Fraser, former Aussie MP who’s also was a farmer from S.A. in Memphis one night drinking. There is true story after Fraser lost his 1983 Aussie election Fraser was in USA and then he lost his wallet with $600 cash, Rolex watch, passport and even his shirt and pants, walking into his hotel lobby wearing only a towel in the next morning. Fraser always say he was drugged and don’t remember anything but somewhere once I read an idea that he just got drunk with Waits.

Even Tom himself has never, ever told and by god you would tell this tall tale if you could? Then again, it does sound a little too made up? All of Tom bullshitting has a bit of believably and or could be entertaining way about it. That’s why it’s so good to read it, I will continue to read his interviews just like I will keep listening to his music. Waits even told an interviewer he doesn’t help with his kids homework anymore because he made-up a war once, the kids got into trouble at school for it. Malcolm Fraser passed away last year and now and you can google anything you like? So double checking the facts now and find out the time he lose his clothes and everything was in 1986, which is three years after the album Swordfishtrombones was released. Sorry, I’ve got a little side track in this last little bit but sitting around drinking beers that does happen, you know? I think, I will sign off now and please have a drink on me!

Town With No Cheer lyrics:

Well it’s hotter ‘n blazes and all the long faces
There’ll be no oasis for a dry local grazier
There’ll be no refreshment for a thirsty jackaroo
From Melbourne to Adelaide on the overlander
With newfangled buffet cars and faster locomotives
The train stopped in Serviceton less and less often

No, there’s nothing sadder than a town with no cheer
Vic Rail decided the canteen was no longer necessary there
No spirits, no bilgewater and eighty dry locals
And the high noon sun beats a hundred and four
There’s a hummingbird trapped in a closed-down shoe store

This tiny Victorian rhubarb
Kept the watering hole open for sixty-five years
Now it’s boilin’ in a miserable March twenty-first
Wrapped the hills in the blanket of Patterson’s curse
The train smokes down the xylophone, there’ll be no stopping here
All you can be is thirsty in a town with no cheer

No Bourbon, no Branchwater, though the townspeople here
Fought her Vic Rail decree tooth and nail
Now it’s boilin’ in a miserable March twenty-first
Wrapped the hills in a blanket of Patterson’s curse
The train smokes down the xylophone, there’ll be no stopping here
All ya can be is thirsty in a town with no cheer



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