I Know What He Means
by Kiki Gonzales

I remember my first Tom moment. I was 18 years old and had just moved to New York City. I was watching Jim Jarmusch's "Down by Law:" Tom has just been kicked out of a hotel room. He sits on the curb, putting his wonderful, tacky Vegas blackjack dealer shoes back on, crooning, "It's a sad...and beautiful world...." This little refrain became like a mantra for myself and a certain foxy, blonde, female music editor I know. During long nights of raging around the city, through the dark and crooked streets of Chinatown to the then-still-seedy streets of the East Village, we would walk arm in arm, singing Tom songs: "Well evenin' fell just like a star, left a trail behind...."

There were many nights we sat in our tiny Avenue C apartment, lighting all the candles and talking those late night talks that are always a bit lonely but still electric, and one or the other would inevitably pause mid-sentence to huskily quote Tom, in song, "It's a sad...and beautiful world...you KNOW that it is now..." (we'd ad-lib the ending, Etta James-style).

Any night's stay at a cheap highway motel spent drinking cheap wine out of a plastic cup that came locked in its own little plastic baggie is a potential Tom song: "I shot the mornin' in the back, with my red wings on, told the sun it better go back down/If I can find a book of matches, I'm going to burn this hotel down...." Any door-slamming fight with your boyfriend that sends him storming out into the night is cause to run to Tom: "Please call me baby, wherever you are, it's too cold to be out walkin' in the streets/We do crazy things when we're wounded, everyone's a bit insane/I don't want you catchin' your death of cold out walkin' in the rain...." Never mind that when your boyfriend finally comes home he tells you to stop wallowing in those depressing songs. He doesn't know what Tom MEANS! You start to think you should leave him. Which makes you sad, so you think about Tom's Train Song, "I remember when I left, without botherin' to pack...and I'm so sorry for what I've done, and I'm out here on my own/It was a train took me away from here, but a train can't bring me home...." Once you've symbolically left him through the power of Tom, you can make up. It works!

Tom is there for you when you're at the end of your rope, hit rock bottom. But he is also there when you've come out the other side of darkness, and feel a sort of renewal. He is not about rat races, ladder climbing, posturing, or playing guitar so chicks will dig him and guys will want to look like him. He is about the way we face life's little disappointments, the way we find magic and understanding in strangers, the way we screw up and lose things and remember why we wanted them in the first place. He is about the dreams that live on the edge of town, in the places we keep thinking we have to somehow rise above, he is about the moment we realize that everyone else is a heck of a lot like us (except we have cooler shoes).

It is our fate on this planet to be stranded out here in between slugs of gin and hits on a Lucky Strike, to gaze at the gaping maw of the milky way spread out before our wondering eyes while we ponder love and death and sky-blue Cadillacs. Who better to score the scene than Tom?