Extradition Music

Tom Waits and songs about Reno

Posted in Virginia Avenue Press by Extradition Music on April 14, 2010

  Did you know that the great Tom Waits has four songs that mention Reno?  This is from my forthcoming book, I Shot a Man in Reno:

 Waits references the city several times throughout his remarkable career.  His first reference to Reno is in “Virginia Avenue,” a track on his debut album “Closing Time,” released in 1973.  The song is unique in the Waits/Reno collection for several reasons.  First, it is the only time that he writes a song that is expressly about the city instead of simply mentioning it.  It is interesting to note as well that on this jazzy, piano-driven song about Reno, Waits completely misses his mark: the famous main drag that hosts the strip of casinos and bars in Reno is actually Virginia Street, not Virginia Avenue.  For most, though, just having someone like Waits pay so much attention to the city is enough.

Waits doesn’t wait long after “Virginia Avenue” to cite the city again, this time as merely a place.  On his 1975 album “Nighthawks at the Diner,” Waits references Reno again on the song “Better off Without a Wife.”  In this song, the most like a slow and sleepy honky tonk standard of all of his Reno songs, Waits tells the hard luck story of a guy who has lost in love.  He had a girlfriend, but she moved to Reno, leaving him for an unsavory character.  On his next two Reno songs, Waits seems to strike a balance between the two uses of Reno as probably only he could do.  On the gravelly, tough song “Wrong Side of the Road” from the 1978 album “Blue Valentine,” Waits concludes the song in his groaning, bluesy style that they’ll “drive all the way to Reno on the wrong side of the rood.”  And as if a companion piece to “Wrong Side of the Road,” he includes “Hang on St. Christopher” on his 1987 album “Frank’s Wild Years.”  In this song, a circus act of a blues number, Waits asks the venerable saint of traveling to get him to Reno, “and bring it in low.”  It is hard to miss the risk and chance the characters in Waits’ songs are taking by venturing into the city that offers so much opportunity for vice.  But even when Waits’ reference to Reno is more mundane than in these two songs, his dark rasp shrouds the city in equal darkness.  


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  1. […] You can read more about Waits’ affection for Reno in his songs here. […]

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