Tom Waits and Mercersburg Rain

March 25, 2013

“It takes a sweet little bullet
From a pretty blue gun
To put those scarlet ribbons in your hair”

(excerpt from “A Sweet Little Bullet From A Pretty Blue Gun” by jazz singer Tom Waits

Last minute night meeting in Mercersburg, up in the high county in southern Pennsylvania, 50 miles from home. Meeting done, story filed from the laptop. Tom Waits, voice gravel and sorrow, singing in the Bluetooth, snare drums hissing, tires on the road.

The road a shiny black ribbon through black velvet, a light rain, and fog rising from this morning’s late March snow. Dark jazz, street jazz from the dirtier sides of every city, oddly good company for twisting through apple & dairy country, tense with the temperatures dancing around the freezing point, and Tom tells me that “Romeo is bleeding but nobody can tell/And he sings along with the radio/With a bullet in his chest/
And he combs back his feathers/And they all agree it’s clear
That everything is cool now that Romeos here…”

The music resonated with the wet dark; the bass with the hum of the Oldsmobile’s engine, the snare with the hiss of the road. The neon from the all-night diners smearing church-window colors on the asphalt palate, the red arrow from a shut used car lot writing scarlet ribbons in the gleam.

The Olds coasts down the last slope to the flats, motor relaxing to a rumble. Suddenly, signs of home, the familiar stores, restaurants, and the last bridge before home. Put Waits away. Enough blue jazz for a while. A mile of quiet, then the glow at the window


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