Here’s a clip of Brechtian barfly and junkyard poet Tom Waits with his 2004 track “Day After Tomorrow” from his most recent disc, Real Gone. Once again, Waits shows his ability to put across an affecting, humanized portrait of a figure which is often dehumanized by context – the soldier away at war.
In 2004, commentary about the realities of war remained to be an important message, with many soldiers and their families wondering how long the war in Iraq, and the conflicts in Afghanistan would continue. Of course this still remains true four years later. Yet, this song isn’t about those specific conflicts so much as it is about one of the many casualties of war – separation from those who love us and are loved by us. As far as songs about war goes, this one packs a punch, and could really be about any war, past, present, or future.
Tom Waits’ delivery suits the material here, with the sound of a man who is buoyed up only by the last shreds of hope that the war will not consume him before he is able to return to his loved ones. There is a sense too that innocence has been lost, that “they fill us full of lies/Everyone buys/of what it means to be a soldier”. The impossible task of trying to reconcile the images of heroism and glory to the grubby, mundane, and terrifying realities of war that is left to each soldier, giving way to disillusionment and spiritual emptiness.
And further to that, the song evokes the ultimately confounding idea of an enemy who ‘prays to the same god we do’ and also the idea that if there is a god, how is it that only the prayers on one side are valued? So many questions which arise against the idea of a just war, even a holy war, so as to make the entire exercise one of absurdity rather than nobility.
Ultimately as the song points out, the only real fight that means anything is the fight a soldier puts up for life, for the chance of going home to loved ones. This of course is the prayer for every soldier, regardless of their culture, political position, or religious faith. They all want to go home.
For more about Tom Waits, check out Tomwaits.com.