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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

Say, What's in This Drink?

The recent and unlikely controversy surrounding Frank Loesser's 1949 Academy Award-winner "Baby, It's Cold Outside" got me reflecting on other songs that aren't about Christmas itself but have an association with the holiday season just the same. My favorite of these is Tom Waits' "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis," from Tom's 1978 album "Blue Valentine."

Tom takes the 32-bar format of the pop standard, elongates it, then superimposes on it some very non-standard-like subject matter and imagery:

Hey Charley, I'm pregnant, living on 9th Street

Right above a dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue

I stopped takin' dope and I quit drinkin' whiskey

My old man plays the trombone and works out at the track

He says that he loves me, even though it's not his baby

He says that he'll raise him up like he would his own son

He gave me a ring that was worn by his mother

And he takes me out dancin' every Saturday night

And hey Charley, I think about you every time I pass a fillin' station

On account of all the grease you used to wear in your hair

I still have that record, Little Anthony and the Imperials

But someone stole my record player, well now how do you like that?

And hey Charley, I almost went crazy after Mario got busted

I went back to Omaha to live with my folks

But everyone I used to know was either dead or in prison

So I came back to Minneapolis, this time I think I'm gonna stay

Hey Charley, I think I'm happy for the first time since my accident

I wish I had all the money we used to spend on dope

I'd buy me a used car lot and I wouldn't sell any of 'em

I'd just drive a different car every day dependin' on how I feel

Hey Charley, for Chrissake, if you want to know the truth of it

I don't have a husband, he don't play the trombone

I need to borrow money to pay this lawyer, and Charley, hey

I'll be eligible for parole come Valentine's Day

It's a minor masterpiece. And I still wonder if Charley ever sent her the money.

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