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Wow In Music – Take It With Me

Wow In Music –  Take It With Me

| On 20, Nov 2019

Darrell Mann

First up, no-one – no-one – writes lyrics like Tom Waits. He has the rare knack of hitting a nerve. The song ‘Take It With Me’ from his 1999 album, Mule Variations represents something of a high-point among a myriad other high-points.

As with all of his records from the all-time classic, Swordfishtrombones, the sounds in the room where he was recording are (Principle 22) honored, even accentuated. By this time, he had begun recording in an untreated room in a barn out on the premises of the Prairie Sun Studio 100 miles north of San Francisco. The simple ballad format of Take It With Me — verse, refrain, bridge, repeat (no “chorus” in the pop music sense) — starts with a 10-note motif that returns at the end. We hear the light knocking of the upright piano’s sustain pedal against the wood, as Waits presses and releases it. Greg Cohen fingers high up on his double bass.

“We were usually tracking him with at least one other person, most of the time an upright bass player, sometimes a drummer,” engineer Jacquire King explained to Paul Tingen at AudioTechnology. “His vocal performance and his piano or guitar, plus the bass, are the basic take. What you hear on the album are often first takes (Principle 21). Tom rarely did more than two or three takes in a row. If he felt it wasn’t coming together, he’d switch to piano or guitar and try a different approach or move to another song. We were always trying to capture a mood and atmosphere.”

Waits begins, his voice like the low notes on a bowed cello. He is recorded with very little, if anything but the natural atmosphere of the room, present and up front. He croons intimately. So intimately, towards the end, you can almost catch the sound of his beard scratching on the microphone. The first verse begins with champagne, a phone off the hook, no one knowing where they are. It’s likely an older couple celebrating, probably an anniversary. The singer is humble, maybe working class. After all, it’s “been a long time since [the narrator] drank champagne.” They’re near the ocean. He declares the theme of the song, “Ain’t no good thing ever dies.” Waits’ lyric is a reverie, a mixture of reminiscence, the past catching up with the present. With a little sip or three, the narrator has tapped into some deep romanticism that was always there, the kind of guy, an old softy who you know feels more than he expresses, deep below the stoic surface. But with a little encouragement, the right setting and situation, he pours forth with time-stopping eloquence…

The phone’s off the hook, no one knows where we are
It’s a long time since I drank champagne
The ocean’s blue, as blue as your eyes
I’m gonna take it with me when I go
Old long since gone, now way back when
We lived in Coney Island
There ain’t no good thing ever dies
I’m gonna take it with me when I go
Far, far away a train whistle blows
Wherever you’re goin’, wherever you’ve been
Waving goodbye at the end of the day
You’re up and you’re over, and you’re far away
Always for you, and forever yours
It felt just like the old days
We fell asleep on Beaula’s porch
I’m gonna take it with me when I go
All broken down by the side of the road
I’s never more alive or alone
I’ve worn the faces off all the cards
I’m gonna take it with me when I go
The children are playing at the end of the day
Strangers are singing on our lawn
It’s got to be more than flesh and bone
All that you’ve loved is all you own
In a land there’s a town, and in that town there’s a house
And in that house there’s a woman
And in that woman there’s a heart I love
I’m gonna take it with me when I go
I’m gonna take it with me when I go

(I particularly like the – Principle 7 – Nested Doll land/town/house/woman/heart climax to the lyric.)

I love the song, and I love the way Tom Waits does it. But then I also recognize that, for a lot of people, he can be a bit of an acquired taste. Several other artists have covered the song over the years, but none – for me – have quite captured the Waits’ magic. That is until I heard the version from jazz pianist Lynne Arriale on her 2018 album, Give Us These Days. Take It With Me makes for a perfect closing track, and guest singer, Kate McGarry makes for the perfect singer. First of all getting a female voice (Principle 13) gives the lyric a whole new level of meaning. Second of all, Arriale has the good sense to keep the number of notes to a (Principle 2) bare minimum. Waits’ version is sparse, Arriale’s is downright skeletal. To the point of making me forget to breathe when I hear it. In my more morbid moments, I sometimes like to think of what music I might have played at my funeral. Different songs enter and exit the playlist. Kate McGarry’s version of Take It With Me is a new entry. From where I sit right now, I can’t imagine it will ever leave.