As promised, the long-awaited (well, about a week) story of how Tom Waits dispelled some of my old ghosts.
When Tom Waits took the stage of
’s restored “Fabulous Fox Theater” to a sell out crowd there were ghosts lingering in the theater. St. Louis
The Fox is near the campus of
, where I received a BA in political science many years ago. However, it was not campus life at SLU, which sent thrills of déjà vu down my spine. I have been inside the Fox Theater only a handful of times; but those occasions included my stage debut, at the tender of age of four as a tap dancer. Two more performances on stage and I was relegated to a tap-dance dropout by age six. St. Louis University
My next and last visit to the Fox prior to attending Waits’ concert was at the almost equally tender age of fourteen, wearing my first pair of “kitten” heels for the St. Louis premier screening of “Sound of Music.” Navigating awkwardly in tiny heels, I managed to stumble and tumble down a long flight of stairs at the elegant Fox Theater, only to land in front of a group of my older brother’s friends also attending the movie. Obviously, the dance lessons had not equated to grace.
Returning to the Fox resurrected shades of my first awkward stage performance in shiny costume and perky dance hat and my bruised ego from the teenage humiliation on the elegant staircase at the same theater.
Tom Waits took the same, though now restored, stage on which I had once tap danced. Waits is not elegant but he certainly has class. How is it that Waits can sell out thousands of tickets in a matter of minutes and yet not one friend to whom I mention his name recognizes his name?
Maybe because Waits is in a category all his own. First, he is an amazingly versatile songwriter. His songs have been performed by singers as diverse as Bette Midler (“Shiver Me Timbers”), and Bruce Springsteen (“Jersey Girl”).
The diverse crowd of college students and senior citizens amiably mingled before the performance began. Maybe some of them had their own ghosts waiting to be dispelled.
As a performer, Waits is strange but mesmerizing. With his porkpie hat tipped back on his forehead, Waits stomped on the stage to accent the music, at the same time, causing clouds of smoke to billow forth. His gravelly voice invites comparison. I like to think Waits has been ordering scotch on the rocks, every day for the last thirty years and gargling with it. And, also, someone has been bringing him real rocks for gargling.
The next time I visit the Fox Theater it will not be my own awkward performances, but Waits’ gravel voice and weird but compelling singing and strutting of which I will be reminded.