Opinion

This festive season we should let Tom Waits call the tune

Tom Waits may not seem like the ideal Christmas crooner, but some of his tunes are guaranteed to bring the joy this festive season needs

Tom Waits

Tom Waits, forever a bringer of festive cheer. Photo: Agencja Fotograficzna Caro / Alamy Stock Photo

It started with a WhatsApp message from an old friend. Actually, it didn’t START with the message. But that certainly changed direction of travel, for a little time. He sent me a link to a live performance from Tom Waits doing Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis. That is one of the great songs, the GREAT songs. And that’s saying something. Tom Waits is one of the original, and one of the last, great American songwriters. His body of work is out of sight. 

We talk about Tom Waits from time to time on this particular WhatsApp group. It’s a small group, just three of us, men in middle age, old friends, talking about football, politics, music, mocking each other and rarely mentioning our children. On this particular day up popped the Waits track. Recorded live for American TV in the late Seventies, Waits folds into Silent Night. We were angry – FURIOUS – that the audience were chuckling, laughing, as Tom laid it all out. Those idiots. DON’T THEY GET IT? By the end, they’re slayed, of course. It’s Tom Waits live.

It precipitated a conversation about great Christmas songs that are not obviously about Christmas but are about Christmas. This is a wide area. And I can tell you’re already itching with a list. After Waits, we looked at Family Life by The Blue Nile. I DARE you to get through that with a dry eye.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EznGGYQ-Tv8

White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes comes up. As does any version of In the Bleak Midwinter. I’ve always liked A Snowflake Fell (and It Felt Like a Kiss) by Glasvegas, a barely veiled reference to The Crystals. And there is a cover of The Saw Doctors’ N17 by Tolü Makay and the RTE Concert Orchestra that leaves me in a heap. This is a game that, when you get started, you will find hard to stop. Let me know how you go. 

The point is not the music, though really, music may well be the heart of everything. But the point is that there is a group out there for everybody. It may not be WhatsApp. There are other communication methods. The method is not the key. What is key is the communication. And I hope The Big Issue can be part of the wider support group when it is called upon.

As Christmas gets closer, and we’re more physically open this winter than in any winter in three years, lights will shine but troubles for many will close in. 

We carry details this week of the dark future Martin Lewis has revealed that those circled by debt feel they face. But we also carry details of where help can be found. The cost of living does not have to cost everything.

These are contacts and messages that we repeat in The Big Issue as often as we can. If you need someone, there is somebody you can ask. And if you feel you can help, there are ways you can do this. There is always somebody.

And one more thing regarding feeling better. Roy Keane is right about a lot of things, but he is wrong about dancing. There is always space for a joyous shuffle, or more. That can lift so much. 

I’ll sort the tunes.

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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