Today, we look at the brilliant bittersweet nature of a reflection of a past love by Tom Waits in “Martha.”
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There are a lot of songs about lost loves out there, but what I find so brilliant about Tom Waits’ “Martha,” off of his 1973 debut album, Closing Time (wow, it is the 50th anniversary of Waits’ recording career. Crazy), is that it is one of those songs that’s not really about “lost love,” per se, but more about the celebration of a past love just for the sake of being a past love. What I mean is, there are all of these songs that are about lamenting losing someone that you loved, but I would imagine that there are many of us out there who have been in multiple relationships in our lifetimes. Let’s say you end up marrying someone that you love a lot, and you get the “happily ever after” with them. There’s songs about that. And there’s songs about people who never got that, or people who had that and lost that, but what about people who loved someone, and then ended up with someone else that they loved, and lived happily ever after?
What about that PREVIOUS love? That still mattered, even if it wasn’t your “happily ever after” or whatever, it still mattered, but it is a nuanced idea that it is hard to parse into a song, and that is why it is so impressive that Waits did so with his song, “Martha,” where a man calls up an old girlfriend to talk about the past.
There’s the main chorus, which is beautiful in and of itself, as the narrator glorifies his past with Martha:
And those were the days of roses, poetry and prose
And, Martha, all I had was you, and all you had was me
There was no tomorrows, we’d packed away our sorrows
And we saved them for a rainy day
That’s really strong stuff, but what I find even more important in the song is when he notes:
And I feel so much older now
And you’re much older too
How’s your husband and how’s the kids?
You know that I got married too?
Lucky that you found someone
To make you feel secure
‘Cause we were all so young and foolish
Now we are mature
In other words, he isn’t saying that they made a mistake breaking up, they didn’t. They both found love elsewhere and lived their own lives with new people, but at the same time, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth celebrating what they shared together in the past, as well.
Like I said before, it’s a nuance that you don’t typically see in many songs. And this was his FIRST ALBUM. Wow.
Obviously, Waits has written many great lyrics since then, but this one still feels special to me.
Bette Midler has an iconic cover version of it that she did on Saturday Night Live in somehow her one and only appearance in 1979…
Okay, folks, if you have suggestions for cool pop culture quotes, drop me a line at email@example.com!