Hell Broke Luce – Tom Waits
A month ago, Tom Waits released a series of cryptic images of Waits as a pirate, being chased by sharks and fighting fire with a spoon. In the weeks preceding the reveal, forums were set ablaze with breathless speculation of new tours, new albums, or even a Tom Waits curated music cruise. Well, Tom Waits didn’t announce a tour. Instead, he revealed the music video for Bad As Me track “Hell Broke Luce,” which he claims is his “tour de force.” Oh, Tom, why do you have to be so cruel?
“Hell Broke Luce” has been in my top three favorite tracks of Bad As Me so although I was disappointed in missing another chance to see Waits before he dies or turns into smoke or whatever, I got over disappointment pretty quickly. I still have conspiracy theories about the true purpose of a month long teaser for a music video but, honestly, the video is worthy (or semi-worthy because nothing can measure up to a Waits tour announcement) of the ridiculous hype.
Waits makes it apparent in the title of the song that he has no sympathy for the “the only ones responsible for making this mess who have got their sorry asses stapled to a goddamn desk.” The words “Hell Broke Luce” were carved on a wall at Alcatraz after the Battle of Alcatraz, the bloodiest escape attempt ever attempted at Alactraz. Whether the words were misspelled or a particularly poetic phrase by a scared inmate at the end of his rope after a day of mortar shelling, the phrase calls to mind the image of chaos, stupidity, and pointless violence. Inmates shooting through rusty bars, running in the dark through labyrinths of narrow hallways and foul cells, and the sound of constant, mad barking is laid on top of the prime-time image of war. Waits portrays war as brutal and ridiculous, a game organized by criminals and monsters. The video is as disturbing, angry, and oddly beautiful as the song it accompanies.
Matt Mahurin’s video of war’s absurdity and cruelty recalls Terry Gilliam’s artfully bleak but beautiful work, which happens to match the guttural barking and raw music of “Hell Broke Luce” brilliantly. Waits describes Mahurin’s video as “a soldier pulling his home, through a battlefield, at the end of his rope.” The clever visual wordplay and strikingly macabre imagery is pure Waits. Death is everywhere: in the shape of shark-like submarines, vultures in the shape of bombers, and corpses singing as sirens from their body bags. He and his fellow soldiers drag their houses through the dirt, up cliffs, and through barbed wire while being pursued by skeletal army under a black sun and commanded by half-human faceless generals with bombs in their eyes. The most striking scene has Waits dragging his home through a graveyard so that death is quite literally at his doorstep. Finally, when Waits finds his own neighborhood and goes to fill in the spot where his house used to be, the neighboring houses close the gap. Wait’s grunts, “Now I’m home / and I’m blind/ and I’m broke/ What /Is/ Next?” and the soldier is forced to carry his house on his back as he walks away from his only home.