Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Waltz & Ramble with Matilda & Tom

It was a viewing of the 1959 movie On the Beach the other evening that set me on a Waltzing Matilda ramble. The old song features frequently in the movie's soundtrack, presumably because the film adaptation of Nevil Shute's famous novel On the Beach is set around Melborne, Australia. Time: the aftermath of a nuclear World War III, in 1964, just 5 years after the movie's release. In 2013 we might tend to feel quite smug that such a disaster was averted, and has been kept at arm's length ever since. A 2006 re-interpretation of the novel, made for TV, might wipe out any feelings of smugness though - haven't seen that version yet.

When the movie was first released the fear and possibility of a nuclear conflagration was very much alive in people's minds, the film would have packed far more of an uneasily sharp edge, back then. In black and white, it's a low key affair, considering the subject matter. Nevil Shute (more about him in an archived post HERE) projected that legendary "stiff upper lip" style well, and though he and the movie's director, Stanley Kramer disagreed about certain aspects of the adaptation, the movie in general manages to retain the general atmosphere of the novel. There's no mass paranoia, just a quiet and rather eerie acceptance of the situation, with a determination to carry on for as long as feasible. Waltzing Matilda, with its air of serene melancholy fits right in, even though the song was really written about an itinerant worker who steals a sheep, and chooses to commit suicide rather than being caught by the police - far cry from nuclear annihilation!

All through the movie I kept remembering another song in which the Waltzing Matilda melody is used....Tom Waits' Tom Traubert's Blues. The song became popular in the UK in the 1970s after Rod Stewart sang a version of it - but his doesn't pack nearly the same punch of the original, which is the only song of Tom Waits that I truly enjoy. Oddly, my husband hadn't ever heard it before, it must have tanked on the US market. If I were making an apocalyptic movie in 2013 I'd choose Tom Waits' song as suitable accompaniment to (gods forbid, but they probably won't) the last days of humanity on Earth.

Tom Traubert's Blues lends itself to a variety of interpretations, but according to Waits it was written about "a friend of a friend who had died in prison", with references to alcoholism, lost love, and a general feel the "skid row" lifestyle. I used to think the song was about a soldier in the Vietnam war. The lyrics are capable of bending and blending themselves to encourage a variety of interpretations.

Wasted and wounded, it ain't what the moon did
I got what I paid for now
See you tomorrow; hey, Frank, can I borrow
A couple of bucks from you to go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda?
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me

I'm an innocent victim of a blinded alley
And I'm tired of all these soldiers here
No one speaks English and everything's broken
And my Stacy's are soaking wet to go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me

Now the dogs are barking
And the taxi cabs parking
A lot they can do for me
I begged you to stab me
You tore my shirt open
And I'm down on my knees tonight
Old Bushmill's, I staggered
You buried the dagger
In your silhouette window light to go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me

Now I've lost my St Christopher now that I've kissed her
And the one-armed bandit knows
And the maverick Chinamen and the cold-blooded signs
And the girls down by the striptease shows go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me

No, I don't want your sympathy
The fugitives say that the streets aren't for dreaming now
Manslaughter dragnets and the ghosts that sell memories
They want a piece of the action anyhow, go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me

And you can ask any sailor and the keys from the jailer
And the old men in wheelchairs know
That Matilda's the defendant, she killed about a hundred
And she follows wherever you may go
Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You'll go waltzing Matilda with me

And it's a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace
And a wound that will never heal
No prima donna, the perfume is on
An old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey
And goodnight to the street sweepers
The night watchman flame keepers
And goodnight, Matilda, too.

Tom Waits is one of nature's true oddballs. I did a post about his natal chart in 2009 - extract below:
Tom Waits, born 7 December 1949 at 7:25 am in Pomona, California. (Astrodatabank).
This singer, songwriter, composer and occasional actor doesn't immediately strike me as a Sun/Mercury Sagittarian with Sagittarius rising. His demeanor, his broken-down, hard-lived-in crackly voice, and the unrelenting melancholia seeping through his songs seems far too downbeat for bright and breezy, extravagant Sagittarius.

Neptune (creativity) sextile Sun is a helpful link for a song writer/composer. Jupiter, his Sun's ruler is in Aquarius conjoined with Venus, planet of the arts . Perhaps an Aquarian penchant for the unusual and unexpected is playing into the picture via his stage persona. Aquarius can be sensed in some of his more socially concerned lyrics.

Mars conjunct Saturn (a difficult combination of two planets often seen as having negative connotations) in Virgo form a challenging square (90*) aspect to Tom's natal Mercury, planet of communication. This Mars/Saturn link could well account for his draw towards the downbeat of life. His natal Moon in sensitive, moody Cancer just five degrees from Uranus, planet of the unexpected and rebellious echoes the peculiarly dismal impression Tom Waits projects.

The best way I can think of to describe Tom Waits' singing, to anybody who hasn't heard it, is "like the sadder, darker side of Louis Armstrong". Unexpected!


mike said...

All of Tom Waits' planets have dispositors back to his Moon in seventh house Cancer. His natal planets are dominated by the Moon in the house of "not-self". Moon is the symbol of feelings, subconscious, ebb and flow of the emotional tides, extreme sensitivity.

The meaning of Matilda from the original composition is supposed to be a duffel bag. I can't determine Waits' inference of the name Matilda...carousing? women? drugs? What do you think he means, Twilight?

Nuclear holocaust would be dreadful, of course, but a continuing threat, as so many countries have the warheads and enemies. The Earth has been contaminated with nuclear radiation to an extent that may surprise...the radioactive burden already received may be enough to nullify life down the road. The melt-down in Japan is rarely discussed now and it has not been fully contained.

There are many industrial applications for radioactive materials and I have used radio-labeled proteins in previous work situations...we were told to "dilute so as not to pollute" when we disposed of the labeled materials down the drains.

Any signs of returning health, Twilight, or did you book an appointment with the physician?

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Waits is an artist I've mostly avoided, due to his peculiar voice, but I think I shall investigate his songs further now, to see whether that ultra sensitivity shines through.
Tom Traubert's Blues is kind of addictive for me....maybe some of his other songs will be too.

Re Matilda - yes in the original song it's the Australian slang for a back pack or swag bag (or burden of some kind), often used by itinerants on "walk about".

In Waits' version of the song it seems Matilda does reference an actual female.
Here are a couple of relevant bits (with links)

"I'm gonna do a song called 'Waltzing Matilda'. It's not really the original 'Waltzing Matilda', I kinda bent it out of shape. And eh... but eh.. I was eh around this beautiful girl for a while and I was really crazy about her... so was her husband. So we could've made quite a trio on piano, bass, and drums. So eh what happened was eh... Well it's eh... Actually it's a real short story. I drank too much and I threw up over my tennis shoes and went to sleep in a men's room..." (Tom Waits, West Chester Jazz Festival. West Chester, USA, 1976)

"For a long time the story has been told, that Tom Waits wrote the song about the violinist Mathilde Bondo, and that's the truth, Mathilde assures us: 'He was in Copenhagen in 1976 to perform in a tv-show, in which I played the violin. And afterwards I of course had to show him the City - we were in Tivoli and on Christianshavn. It was a lovely night out", says Mathilde Bondo."



The origin of the song is somewhat ambiguous. The sub-title of the track "Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen" seems to indicate that it is about a time that Waits spent in Copenhagen in 1976 while on a tour. There, he apparently met Danish singer Mathilde Bondo. Indeed, in a 1998 radio interview, she confirmed that she met Waits and that they spent a night on the town together. Waits himself described the song's subject during a concert in Sydney Australia in March 1979: "Uh, well I met this girl named Matilda. And uh, I had a little too much to drink that night. This is about throwing up in a foreign country."[2] In an interview on NPR's World Cafe, aired December 15, 2006, Waits stated that Tom Traubert was a "friend of a friend" who died in prison.[3]

Bones Howe, the album's producer, recalls when Waits first came to him with the song:

He said the most wonderful thing about writing that song. He went down and hung around on skid row in L.A. because he wanted to get stimulated for writing this material. He called me up and said, "I went down to skid row ... I bought a pint of rye. In a brown paper bag." I said, "Oh really?." "Yeah - hunkered down, drank the pint of rye, went home, threw up, and wrote 'Tom Traubert's Blues' Every guy down there ... everyone I spoke to, a woman put him there."


Nuclear holocaust doesn't bear thinking about! Since the end of the cold war its potential horror has been forgotten, sidelined - especially now with climate change hovering in the wings.
Climate change is one thing which could trigger a conflagration though - as countries compete for resources and food, water.

It's no good puttting our heads in the sand, and there's the issues you mention too!

Re health -thanks for asking! Both had much better night's sleep last night. I had no long coughing bout - first time for several nights, and non so far today. So there is improvement on that front. We haven't made an appointment with the doc yet....intended to call first thing but decided to wait maybe a day longer....just to see how things go. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, how I love your movie reviews. "On the Beach" is a favorite of mine for many reasons. It is a horror film in a most benign manner. You see no destruction,no deaths and very little suffering. That is what makes it all the more profound. The scenes that affected me the most was near the ending; empty streets and the sign, "There's still time brother". In black and white it was more pronounced because color film distracts you from the immediate impact. You are looking at color and the subject matter then follows. The San Francisco streets without life and the characters who began getting radiation sickness one by one and finally the distribution of pills to take when the effects are too intolerable. Tony Perkins and his wife talking about their life together before taking their pills. I thought the casting of Fred Astaire was interesting and Ava Gardner, well they don't make stars like that anymore. Stanley Kramer was a superb filmaker.

The remake with Jason Robards and Bryan Brown was more graphic as the radiation intensifies and the population began rioting and looting. It was typical of remakes; you have to make it more sensational.

"Waltzing Matilda" was always a song that I that was jovial, but in the film it was heartbreaking, especially at the fishing camp.

Great post and I can't believe how our film choices parallel. I was the one in agreement with you on "The Victors". You're not a lIbra are you?

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~~ Hi again! Not Libra no - Aquarius Sun here - both Air signs though, so usually more or less in sync. :-)

I picked up the VCR tape in Goodwill for 99 cents, not sure that it would work, but in spite of its age it did, perfectly!
I'd seen part of the movie before, long ago, but never all of it from beginning to end. It truly is a classic - thanks to Nevil Shute's original insight and the decision of Kramer to keep things so calm - not what we're used to nowadays, but such a relief.

I want to see the newer TV miniseries, will acquire DVDs asap, but in this case I suspect the film will remain favourite.
In the case of Nevil Shute's other classic A Town Like Alice I've always thought the TV version was much better and truer to the book (which I love), and it had Bryan Brown too (in Peter Finch's original role) - I've always thought BB to be under-rated.

On the Beach and The Victors, yes two of the best ever movies about dire events, treated in an out of the ordinary way by directors who had true insight and talent.

R J Adams said...

"On the Beach" and Tom Waites, "Waltzing Matilda", (Okay, 'Tom Traubert's Blues', but it was always "Waltzing Matilda" to us). Two very old, and very favorite, memories of mine. Thanks.

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~ Good! Happy to know you like them too.