Cold Water

Album: Mule Variations (1999)
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  • "Cold Water" has Tom Waits singing from the perspective of a hobo. It's not a sad, self-pitying song, though. There's a sense of triumph about it, as Waits sings:

    Slept all night in a cedar grove
    I was born to ramble, born to rove
    Some men are searchin' for the Holy Grail
    But there ain't nothin' sweeter than ridin' the rails

    There's also a comic element to the song, with lines like, "I look 47 but I'm 24," but it would be a mistake to think Waits is mocking a homeless man. If anything, the song is an examination of an alternate path in life Waits may imagine for himself.
  • In 1999, Waits told The Magnet, "I have slept in a graveyard and I have rode the rails. When I was a kid, I used to hitchhike all the time from California to Arizona with a buddy named Sam Jones. We would just see how far we could go in three days, on a weekend, see if we could get back by Monday."
  • In discussing the song, Waits has also mentioned folk and blues legend Leadbelly. While recording with Mose Ash, Leadbelly was given free rein to record pretty much anything, so he'd improvise little tunes.

    "A lot of the litany in his songs were - well, he'd have a lot of repeats," Waits said. "'Woke up this morning with cold water, woke up this morning with cold water...' It's a form. They're like jump-rope songs, or field hollers."


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