Tom Waits, “New Year’s Eve”/”Sight for Sore Eyes”

Every year, the power of Robert Burn’s 1788 poem “Auld Lang Syne” becomes clearer and clearer to me. I assume it’s the result of growing older, losing touch with friends, and developing the sacchrine sentimentality of nostalgia that comes with age, but coupled with the song’s bittersweet melody, this message grows dearer to my heart each season. Tom Waits’ “New Year’s Eve,” from his most recent Bad As Me, not only employs the chorus and key of Burns’ poem, but does a good job of translating the tone of the poem into a story that only Waits himself could tell. The lyrics sketch the kind of prototypical New Year’s Eve where it all goes wrong: the narrator recollects a hazy, narcotic evening filled with disturbing noises in which he fights with his in-laws over his lover’s addiction, Nick and Socorro break up, and his camera gets broken while no one seems to know where they are or what time it is, until the chorus kicks in and everyone begins to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Then everyone moves away and doesn’t keep in touch. This is essentially how the sum total of my recent New Year’s Eves would add up, if remembered correctly.

Tom Waits, “New Year’s Eve”

Naturally, Tom Waits being Tom Waits, this isn’t the first time he’s appropriated “Auld Lang Syne.” The melody to “Auld Lang Syne,” a classic example of sentimentalism in early popular music, is perfect fodder for Waits’ skewed Americana and was also used to provide the intro for “Sight for Sore Eyes” from Tom Waits’ 1977 album Foreign Affairs.

Tom Waits, “Sight for Sore Eyes”

We marked Christmas with Waits’ “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis,” so it’s only right that we celebrate New Year’s with him too. Happy New Year!


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