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Here’s one of the most Tom Waits openings I’ve ever heard in a song not written by Tom Waits: stark piano chords, a voice with just the right touch of amused resignation, these lines:

     Summer went the way of spring
     Winter’s waiting in the wings
     And we haven’t saved anything
     That’s all right…

But the rent is paid and there’s still a little money left and the two lovers in the song decide to make a night of it, head down to their favorite bar and play some songs on the jukebox (seven plays for a dollar, I want to go to this place!) They are young but not that young and they have been together for a long time: “I know your figure like my own,” the woman says. (The song is a duet.)

Tonight though there’s a difference: one is wearing a new hat. I’m not big on hats personally (I like baseball caps, but on baseball fields) but for whatever reason, the mood or the drinks or the songs playing on the jukebox, it causes the other to see their partner anew:

     And you look like a stranger
     In that old-fashioned hat
     I’ve got a pocket full of change
     And I don’t want to go home yet…

You can’t plan those nights, when the familiar seems unfamiliar but in a good way, and you wish you could slow down time just a little but know you can’t so while you’re enjoying you make a mental note, remember this, remember this, because you know there will come a time later when you’ll need it. Billy Joel also wrote a great song about this feeling, “This Is the Time.”

I stumbled across this song looking for cabaret shows to go to in New York over President’s Day Weekend. Marissa won’t be playing then, but she is a Tom Waits fan. She recorded an entire album of his songs, including word-for-word recitations of Tom’s between-songs patter, which may actually tilt over from fandom into obsession.

The song itself was written back in 2007 by someone I don’t know much about, Anais Mitchell. Her version is too fast and not a duet. It works better as a duet and a Valentine’s Day reminder to appreciate what we love best in the ones we love but also be open to swerves and surprises, even if it’s just an uncharacteristic article of clothing like a hat confidently worn. Hopefully not one with a feather, but the point is you don’t always get to choose.

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