Discover more from Every Tom Waits Song
'One from the Heart', 1982
Every Tom Waits Song is an email newsletter covering just that, in alphabetical order. Find more info here and sign up to get it sent straight to your inbox:
A few months ago, I met musician Lail Arad through a program for people who write newsletters on Substack. “Write” doesn’t fully encompass Lail’s newsletter Foggy Notions, though, as it just as often serves as a forum for the songwriter and performer to share new music — whether her own wonderful compositions or solo covers of Bob Dylan or The Velvet Underground.
So I invited her to cover a Tom Waits song for us, and sent her the next few months’ worth of songs coming up, the tail end of the “B”s. I was gonna build to a big reveal of her selection here, but then I remembered it’ll be right there in the subject line. Here’s why she says she chose “Broken Bicycles”:
Listening through the letter B options, ruling out the purely instrumental and the just-too-obscure-to-pull off, I was struck by a beautiful song I’d never heard before. Humming along, the melody reminded me of two very different numbers I’d performed in past lives — Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat and (brace yourself) Take Back Your Mink from Guys & Dolls. It also reminded me a little of the title track from my album The Onion, which I’d not sung or even thought about for a long time.
I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t normally volunteer to sing words like orphanage or skeletons. Luckily the eerie imagery is always undercut just in time, saved at the last moment by romance and hope. Much more my style. I’m also a sucker for seasonal relevance so couldn’t resist the opportunity to sing about September in September. My choice was made: Broken Bicycles. Double B.
Sorry, if you were hoping to hear Lail shred her vocal chords beatboxing some melody-free horrorscape like “Bone Chain” or “Big Face Money”, it will have to wait. Premiering here and on her newsletter today, here’s Lail Arad’s tender cover of “Broken Bicycles”:
Beautiful, no? Her version really brings out that Leonard Cohen connection she mentioned. It’s too bad Judy Collins, an early popularizer of Cohen’s songs, never covered Tom Waits. It might have sounded something like this.
Lail Arad is a London-born singer and writer. She has released two solo albums to critical acclaim (Someone New and The Onion) and has toured extensively, from Italy to India. She will soon be launching a duo album with her partner, Canadian songwriter JF Robitaille. She is also working on her debut novel and bringing up her debut baby.