Wasted And Wounded


"Wasted and wounded,

It ain't what the moon did,
I got what I paid for now".

So sang Tom Waits at the beginning of Tom Traubert's Blues, the classic opening track to his 1976 album, Small Change.

The origin of the song is somewhat ambiguous. The sub-title of the track "Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen" might indicate that it is about a time that Waits spent in Copenhagan in 1976 while on a tour. There, he apparently met Danish singer Mathilde Bondo. Indeed, in a 1998 radio interview, she confirmed that she met Waits and that they spent a night on the town together. Tom Waits himself described the song's subject during a concert in Sydney Australia in March 1979: "Uh, well I met this girl named Matilda. And uh, I had a little too much to drink that night. This is about throwing up in a foreign country."

Bones Howe, the producer of Small Change, recalls when Waits first came to him with the song:

"He said the most wonderful thing about writing that song. He went down and hung around on skid row in L.A. because he wanted to get stimulated for writing this material. He called me up and said, 'I went down to skid row ... I bought a pint of rye. In a brown paper bag.' I said, 'Oh really?'. 'Yeah - hunkered down, drank the pint of rye, went home, threw up, and wrote Tom Traubert's Blues.'"

Howe was amazed when he first heard the song, and he's still astonished by it. "I do a lot of seminars," he says. "Occasionally I'll do something for songwriters. They all say the same thing to me. 'All the great lyrics are done.' And I say, 'I'm going to give you a lyric that you never heard before.'" Howe then says to his aspiring songwriters, "A battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace / And a wound that will never heal." This particular Tom Waits lyric Howe considers to be "brilliant". It's "the work of an extremely talented lyricist, poet, whatever you want to say. That is brilliant, brilliant work. And he never mentions the person, but you see the person."

So, we're "Wasted & Wounded", in honour of Tom. Respect is due.