A few weeks ago, listening to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 Music (May 31, 2020 – “Tom Waits, Tim Buckley and Talk Talk”), I heard a recording of Tom Waits singing his composition, “Time.” It reminded me of the Tori Amos cover of the piece. I like her version a lot; she captures the melancholic, soul-searching raspiness of the original, but brings additional layers of depth and vulnerability to the sound, I think.

As you may recall if you saw my post on “Strange Little Girl,” Amos wore different clothes, hair and makeup for each of a series of photographs depicting the songs on the 2001 album, Strange Little Girls on which her version of “Time” appears. It’s a terrific album, and if you don’t already own it, you should. Honestly.

Image of a woman from a CD liner notes.
Photo for the song “Time” in the liner notes to the Tori Amos CD Strange Little Girls.

I thought of the song this morning, in the context of the summer solstice that occurred this past weekend, and “time marching on” — after all, we’re nearing the end of June, and it feels in some ways like summer has barely begun. And, what will time bring us in the next weeks, months, year? Another lockdown if coronavirus infections spike at the same time influenza season starts in the fall? Maybe we can’t wait; just need to keep going on, doing our best to keep ourselves and others safe by following public health recommendations, and taking care of each other as we try to figure out how to coexist in a global pandemic that isn’t ending anytime soon.

“Time” is a beautiful song, and the lyrics are truly poetic.

“Well the smart money’s on Harlow
And the moon is in the street
The shadow boys are breaking all the laws
And you’re east of East St. Louis
And the wind is making speeches
And the rain sounds like a round of applause
Napoleon is weeping in the Carnival Saloon
His invisible fiance is in the mirror
The band is going home
It’s raining hammers, it’s raining nails
Yes, it’s true, there’s nothin’ left for him down here

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
That you love
And it’s time, time, time

And they all pretend they’re orphans
And their memory’s like a train
You can see it getting smaller as it pulls away
And the things you can’t remember
Tell the things you can’t forget that
History puts a saint in every dream

Well she said she’d stick around
Until the bandages came off
But these mamas boys just don’t know when to quit
And Matilda asks the sailors, ‘Are those dreams
Or are those prayers?’
So just close your eyes, son
And this won’t hurt a bit

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
That you love
And it’s time, time, time

Well, things are pretty lousy for a calendar girl
The boys just dive right off the cars
And splash into the street
And when she’s on a roll she pulls a razor
From her boot and a thousand
Pigeons fall around her feet
So put a candle in the window
And a kiss upon his lips
Till the dish outside the window fills with rain
Just like a stranger with the weeds in your heart
And pay the fiddler off till I come back again

Oh, it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
That you love
And it’s time, time, time”

(“Time,” by Tom Waits)

When looking this morning for a YouTube video for this song I found one of Amos performing it on September 18, 2001, on TV’s Late Night with David Letterman. Apparently she was the first musical guest on Letterman after the crashing of terrorist-hijacked airplanes in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC in the USA a week earlier.

I remember sitting in the car with Sweety when I picked her up from work, days after 9/11, and the Paul Simon song “American Tune” played in an interlude on the drive-home show Up to Speed on CBC Radio 1. Today when watching the video for “Time” I recalled the same sense of sadness as then, and imagine the TV audience must have felt it too, as they listened to Amos singing on Letterman’s sound stage with the deep, nationwide wounds of grief and loss so open and raw. (We felt it in Canada, too, and still remember.) Letterman himself looks quite touched, after the song and following the edited commercial break (at the very end of the clip).

Now you know a little about why this is my song of the day for today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s an unofficial video of the Letterman performance:

Plus, the studio recording, from Tori Amos’ official YouTube channel

And, if you prefer or just want to compare, Tom Waits’ 1985 version, from his official YouTube channel:

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