It’s hard to pick what the best Tom Waits song of all time is. However, “Tom Traubert’s Blues” is the greatest in my opinion. A beautiful and sad variation on the Australian folk song “Waltzing Matilda,” “Tom Traubert’s Blues” is about the ravages of alcoholism. According to Bones Howe, Waits’ producer, the inspiration for the song came from a time when Waits “went down and hung around on skid row in L.A. because he wanted to get stimulated for writing this material. He called me up and said, ‘I went down to skid row … I bought a pint of rye. In a brown paper bag.’ I said, ‘Oh really?.’ ‘Yeah – hunkered down, drank the pint of rye, went home, threw up, and wrote ‘Tom Traubert’s Blues’ […] every guy down there… everyone I spoke to, a woman put him there.”
According to Waits, he used the melody from “Waltzing Matilda” because “”when you’re ‘waltzing matilda’, you’re on the road. You’re not with your girlfriend, you’re on the bum. For me, I was in Europe for the first time, and I felt like a soldier far away from home and drunk on the corner with no money, lost.”
The song was used brilliantly in the film “Basquiat” when Jean Michel-Basquiat learns that his mentor Andy Warhol has passed away.