Monday, January 31, 2011

The Long Way Home by Tom Waits/Norah Jones

Sometimes when I read a book or listen to a song it seems like I am reading a first draft. Other times I feel like I’m experiencing the fiftieth draft, a piece of art that has carefully and painstakingly crafted. That’s how I feel every time I listen to a song by Tom Waits.

Most people’s exposure to Tom Waits is limited to Rod Stewart's cover of “Downtown Train,” (which I discussed in this earlier post). In addition, the Eagles recorded “Ol’ 55” which was from Waits first album.

Then there’s Springsteen’s cover of Waits’ “Jersey Girl.”

The list goes on and on of famous artist who covered Waits work. Last week I discovered one more. Norah Jones’ cover of “The Long Way Home” on her second album Feels Like Home.

For the past three weeks I’ve been on a Tom Waits kick and when I typed his name up
in iTunes her version of “The Long Way Home” came up and I was simply mesmerized.

Usually Jones plays somewhere between Jazz and Blues so it was a surprise to hear her sing this relaxed country ballad with a guitar part straight out of early Johnny Cash.  Like every other recording I have of Jones, her smoky, subtle and beautiful voice makes everything else in the world disappear. Waits on the other hand voice has a completely different kind of smoky to his voice:

Waits sounds like something between Louis Armstrong and a drunk homeless guy, and even though it’s ugly at times there’s something genuine and real in his voice.

Waits beautifully constructs a song about commitments, giving and love. The first verse expresses a sense of loneliness while Waits sings about not having the hope in him to wait for the light to show him the way home. Instead, he stubbornly takes the long way home.

The third verse talks continues this idea as Waits sings he would rather be on the highway than be at home putting food on the table. He warns that “watch your back if I should tell you, loves the only thing I’ve ever known.”

The lyrics in the last verse finally relfect the hopeful and peaceful melody as Waits commits his love to her in a gentle and beautiful way.
You know I love you baby,
More than the whole wide world.
You are my woman,
I know you are my pearl.
Waits shares his doubts, flaws, fears and insecurities with his love. After all of that she is still there and he realizes that he really does love her.  If she’s still with him after hearing all of this, than maybe he can commit to be with her, they can take the long way home, together.

Man, this guy is good.  These lyrics are so well crafted. Every syllable is laced with meaning. Whether its Jones or Waits singing, this song is truly amazing.


  1. This is one of my favorite songs, and Waits is one of my favorite artists. I find it interesting that Jones makes this song sound much more country (to me the Waits version is not really country at all), and she changes the line "Watch your back, keep your eyes shut tight" to "Watch your back if I should tell". I'm not sure if that was intentional, or just a momentary lapse in memory. Waits' lyrics seem to fit the theme of the song better (keep your eyes shut tight = ignore my infidelity/lack of commitment). Overall, great post and interpretation.

  2. I love all versions of this song. I am writing a story with this song as a a title. As i write this story i listen to both Nora Jones version and tom waits. It is amazing to me how the tone to the story changes by tom and Nora's versions. .Peace