Take It With Me

Album: Mule Variations (1999)
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Songfacts®:

  • This very evocative song finds Tom Waits singing from the perspective of a guy pondering his death. Just as ancient Egyptians were buried with items to help them through the afterlife, this guy is planning to retain what he treasures: his memories.

    Waits avoids press but offered a detailed account of this song for Steve Baltin's 2022 book Anthems We Love: 29 Iconic Artists on the Hit Songs That Shaped Our Lives. Waits explained: "To most folks, when they hear the phrase, 'take it with me,' it is like saying, 'after I am gone.' And 'all you have loved is all you own' feels like you are saying that if you lovingly experience something, then you can take that with you, so you load up with images and memories, because when someone is gone that is how you bring them back."
  • Waits wrote the song with his wife Kathleen Brennan, his frequent collaborator. A key line in the song is:

    I've worn the faces off all the cards
    I'm gonna take it with me when I go


    Brennan talked about it in Anthems We Love: "That line, standing alone, makes me sad and lonely, as I think of the story that accompanies that image. But in the story of the song, it signifies, for me, getting every last drop out of the bottle. We wrestle with the riddles and paradoxes of life like everyone and most of our days are spent doing the chores we all do in hopes of keeping our worlds stitched together. Our idea of songs is sometimes to paint the story of a feeling. We don't believe we are the same person that returns after every departure, and that includes the Big Departure. So what is eternal?"
  • This was the last song written for Mule Variations, Waits' highly acclaimed and most popular album. Waits and Brennan completed the song in a day.
  • Typical of Waits, he adorned the song with names and places to give it some texture. We learn that the couple in the song fell asleep on "Beaula's Porch" and lived in Coney Island.
  • The opening line in the song might baffle younger listeners who have never used a landline:

    The phone's off the hook, no one knows where we are

    Taking the phone off the hook kept it from ringing so you could be afforded privacy. It's the equivalent of putting your smartphone on silent.

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