by Dan Bolles
Some of you are likely aware that husky-voiced blonde bombshell, Scarlett Johansson, has been recording an album of Tom Waits covers — with a little help from Ziggy Stardust himself, David Bowie, no less — due out next month. Actors turning to music — whether out of boredom, the need to stave off "Where Are They Now?" status for a few seconds longer or laboring under genuine delusions that they posess actual musical talent — is hardly a new phenomenon. But that doesn't mean it should be allowed to continue.
To wit, who could forget gems such as Tony Danza's The House I Live In? Or Alyssa Milano's Look In My Heart? (We're still waiting on records from Judith Light or Danny Pintauro to complete the "Who's The Boss" hat trick of ignominy). Better yet, whose collection could possibly be complete without Bruce Willis' The Universal Masters Collection? Seriously? He has a whole fucking "Masters Collection?" Die hard indeed. Joey Lawrence box set anyone? How about a Scott Baio Complete Masterworks?
There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. William Shatner's spoken word stuff, while not explicitly "good," per se, is at least oddly entertaining. Billy Bob Thornton is actually pretty decent as well — though he was a musician long before Sling Blade. And Zooey Deschanel's work with M. Ward as She & Him is simply fantastic. Generally speaking though, the forays of actors into music are almost always embarrassingly awful, bringing us back to Ms. Johansson and Tom Waits.
Like any number of red-blooded, heterosexual American males, I love Scarlett Johansson — though not in a creepy Internet-stalker kind of way, mind you . . . ahem. And like any number of superficially depressed American high school students, I was weaned on Tom Waits — in particular, The Early Years Vols. 1 & 2. The gravelly voiced saloon troubadour was a staple on practically every romantically motivated mix-tape I made from the time I was 16. Perhaps that explains why I never had a girlfriend in high school . . . but I digress.
In any event, I adore Tom Waits. Every serious music fan has certain artists they hold as "untouchable," songwriters for whom it is near sacrilege for anyone to attempt to cover — ironically, those are exactly the types of usually iconic artists whose songs are most often done by others. For me, Tom Waits is that artist. Go ahead and hack up Dylan. Release a box set of Beatles tributes. I couldn't care less. But don't mess with Tom.
In order, the ten most egregious offenses of Waits-icide — in my opinion, a crime worthy of punishment by death or a career writing jingles for Burger King — are as follows:
10. Rod Stewart -"Downtown Train"
9. Everything but The Girl - "Downtown Train"
8. Mary Chapin Carpenter - "Downtown Train"
7. Patty Smyth - "Downtown Train"
6. The Manhattan Transfer - "Foreign Affair"
5. The Walkabouts - "Yesterday Is Here"
4. Bette Midler - "Shiver Me Timbers"
3. Meatloaf - "Martha"
2. Rod Stewart - "Tom Traubert's Blues"
1. Hootie & The Blowfish - "I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You"
Given my affection for both Scarlett Johansson and Tom Waits, I view the former's upcoming release with a conflicted morbidity. The karaoke scene in Lost In Translation proved Johansson can sing. But does anyone really believe she's artistically capable of pulling off a Waits cover album? Of course not. That's like asking Marylin Monroe to do Sinatra . . . or algebra, for that matter.
Sadly, judging by "Falling Down," the first video from the album posted today by Pitchfork — who couldn't even bring themselves to "Pitchfork" it, fer chrissakes! — my suspicions/fears appear to be confirmed. Check it out and see if you don't agree. Sigh . . .
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go listen to Baio's "How Do You Talk To Girls?" on repeat and have myself a good cry.