Tom Waits and Down by Law

This past weekend I watched Down by Law, a 1986 Jim Jarmusch film. Not long ago I had watched an older flick of his and thought I’d check out some other things.

The movie, in case you haven’t seen it, is more or less about a pimp and an out of work DJ who land in, then escape from, a New Orleans prison. Along with them is an Italian guy whose knowledge of English is mostly limited to phrases such as “If looks could kill, I am a-dead now,” or “I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream.” (For a more complete synopsis, check the above link.)

Tom Waits is in the movie, as Zack, the DJ. I knew he’d had a couple of small roles in other films, but I’d somehow missed the fact that he’s in Down by Law. His relationship with his cellmate, Jack (played by John Lurie), is the movie’s main focus. Waits also has a couple of songs in the film, both from his 1985 album Rain Dogs.

Although the rough concept of the album revolves around New York City, the two songs used in this movie, “Jockey Full of Bourbon” and “Tango ‘til They’re Sore,” are both just as appropriate to New Orleans. Not just the music, which, especially in “Tango,” is overlaid with horns, but the noir-ishness of the music fits beautifully with Jarmusch’s grim, black and white New Orleans.

If you haven’t seen the movie yet, I need to recommend it to you. Here are the songs, which are great in their own right, but in the context of Down by Law, gain a whole new level.

Jockey Full of Bourbon.mp3
Tango ‘till They’re Sore.mp3

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