I was listening to an old Tom Waits’ album recently–Mule Variations (1999). To be sure, Tom Waits is an acquired taste and is not for everyone. But he is a taste that I long ago acquired and enjoy each time I re-listen.
I once read a comment under a YouTube video that “Tom Waits is a pint of Guinness in a Bud Lite world.” And that statement makes perfect sense to me. (Whoever said this, fair play to you. I can’t find it anywhere now to give you credit.)
Anyway, the album Mule Variations continues in the style that Waits had started back with the album Swordfishtrombone, It has that clanky, cacophonous junkyard sound throughout much of it, except for one song in particular, “Georgia Lee.”
And it is this song that I can’t get out of my head.
“Georgia Lee” is based on a true story. A young girl, Georgia Lee Moses, had dropped out of middle school and run away from home at 12 years of age. Her disabled mother was simply unable to handle her. Ten days after she ran away she was found murdered near the exit ramp of a highway. She was 12-years old. The case didn’t make many headlines, and the murderer was never found. The community knew of her situation, knew of her plight. And it let her down.
I don’t want to imagine what her life was like on the streets. She was 12 years old.
And this is Waits’ chorus:
Why wasn’t God watching?
Why wasn’t God listening?
Why wasn’t God there
For Georgia Lee?
Now, a lesser songwriter could have easily slipped into Hallmark-esque platitudes like “Why do bad things happen to good people” or decide on some soap-box philosophizing on the existence of god, the nature of evil, or the fall of innocence.
But Waits’ doesn’t do that. Instead, he simply paints the picture, bleak and unforgiving as it is, and lets us figure it out.
And then in the middle of the song comes the bridge: an invitation to play hide-and-seek, a care-free activity that should be available to any child, but wasn’t to Georgia Lee.
The song is a good one: a sad one, but a good one.
Below is a nice version of the song from an album of female singers covering Tom Wait’s song. Give it a listen.