“The only strings that hold me here/Are tangled up around the pier/And so a secret kiss/Brings madness with the bliss/And I will think of this/When I’m dead and in my grave/Set me adrift/I’m lost over there/But I must be insane/To go on skating on your name/And by tracing it twice I fell through the ice/Of Alice/There’s only Alice.”
Tom Waits wrote the Alice songs for a 1992 stage play directed by Robert Wilson, and for the next decade they were available only as bootlegs in various configurations. I haven’t seen the play, but I was delighted with the 2002 release of the songs. As much as I love Tom Waits’ music and growling, sardonic stage persona (I speak as someone who’s been buying every new Waits album since the Nighthawks at the Diner era), I sometimes get tired of the whole carny barker routine. The Alice songs have none of that posturing. This is the great overlooked Waits album — tender, spooky, full of longing and a sense of loss — and “Alice” is the great overlooked Waits song.
Shortly after the CD came out, I was playing it in the living room and Dances With Mermaids (then about eight) came in to listen with me. After a while, she said, “Daddy, this music is scaring me.” Smart kid. It scares me, too, when it isn’t doing a lot of other things besides.