Better Off Without A Wife


All my friends are married
Every Tom and Dick and Harry(2)
You must be strong if you're to go it alone
Here's to the bachelors and the Bowery(3) bums(4)
Those who feel that they're the ones
That are better off without a wife

Cause I like to sleep until the crack of noon(5)
Midnight howlin' at the moon
Goin' out when I want to,
And I'm comin' home when I please
Don't have to ask permission
If I wanna go out fishin'
Never have to ask for the keys

I've never been no Valentino(6)
But I had a girl who lived in Reno(7)
Left me for a trumpet player
Well, it didn't get me down
He was wanted for assault
And though he said it weren't his fault
You know the coppers(8) rode him right out of town(9)

I'll be sleeping until the crack of noon
Midnight howlin' at the moon
And I'll be goin' out when I want to
Comin' home when I please
Don't have to ask permission
If I wanna go out fishin'
Never have to ask for the keys

Yeah, you see I'm kinda selfish about my privacy
Now as long as I can be with me
We get along so well I can't even believe it
I love to chew the fat(10) with folks
I'll be listening to all your dirty jokes
I'm so thankful for these friends I do receive

I'll be sleeping until the crack of noon
Midnight howlin' at the moon
And I'll be goin' out when I want to
Comin' home when I please
Don't have to ask permission
If I wanna go out fishin'
Never have to ask for the keys, no

Hey, I got this girl I know, man, and I just...
She's been married several times and...
I don't wanna end up like her.
I mean, she's been married so many times
she's got rice-marks all over her face.
Yeah, you know the kind...

Written by: Tom Waits
Published by: Fifth Floor Music Inc. (ASCAP), ©1975
Official release: Nighthawks At The Diner, Elektra/ Asylum Records, 1975
(11)

Known covers:
Stilte Als Refrein. Johan Verminnen. 1976 (Beter Zonder Wijf). Jean Kluger (Belgium)
The Piano Has Been Drinking. The Piano Has been Drinking. April, 1990. Chlodwig /BMG Germany (in German/ Kölsch)
Live 1989-1993. The Piano Has Been Drinking. November 15, 1993. Chlodwig /BMG Germany (in German/ Kölsch)
Step Right Up (The Songs Of Tom Waits). Various artists. November, 1995. Manifesto Records. Performed by Pete Shelley
East Of Sunset - Soundtrack. Various artists. September 13, 2005. Manifesto Records. Performed by Pete Shelley (same version as on Step Right Up, 1995)
Dolphin Blue Live. Dolphin Blue. December, 2007. Rising Sun Productions (German CDR)


Waits performing "Better Off Without A Wife". Solo at the piano. Taken from "Soundstage" PBS television show on Tom Waits and Mose Allison. Chicago/ USA (aired December 22, 1975, recorded November 3, 1975 or earlier).  

Notes:

(1) Intro from "Nighthawks At The Diner": "For all the bachelors out there tonight. Yeah, for anybody who's ever whistled this song (plays the wedding march). Or maybe you've whistled it but you've lost the sheet music. Eh-heh-heh-heh. This is eh.... Well, actually, I don't mind going to weddings or anything. As long as it's not my own, I show up. But, eh... I've always kind of been partial to calling myself up on the phone and asking myself out. You know... (whoops from the audience). Oh yeah, you call yourself up too, huh? Yeah... Well, one thing about it, you're always around! Yeah, I know. Yeah, you ask yourself out, you know. Some class joint somewhere. The Burrito King or something. You know... Well, I ain't cheap, you know. Take yourself out for a couple of drinks maybe, you know. Then you'll be... some provocative conversation on the way home. And park in front of the house, you know, and you... Oh yeah, you´re smooth with it... you know, you put a little nice music on. Maybe you put on like... you know... like shopping music, something that's not too interruptive, you know. And then, you know, and eh... slide over real nice, you know, say, 'Oh, I think you have something in your eye'. Eh-heh-heh. Well, maybe it's not that romantic with you, but Christ, I... you know! It ain't... you know... Take myself up to the porch, and take myself inside. Oh, maybe... I make a little something, a brandy snifter or something. Would you like to listen to some of my back records. I got something here... Well, usually about 2.30 in the morning you've ended up taking advantage of yourself and... there ain't no way around that, you know. Yeah, making the scene with a magazine, there ain't no way around... I'll confess, you know, I'm no different, you know. I'm not weird about it or anything. I don't tie myself up first, I just... you know. I just kind of... spend a little time with myself. So this is kind of a little anthem here..." (Submitted by Ulf Berggren as sent to Raindogs Listserv Discussionlist, October 31, 1999) 

Make the scene with the magazine, to: phr. [1900s] to masturbate, [joc. use of make the scene + assonance, with ref. to the 'men's magazines' used for stimulation] (Source: "Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang". Jonathon Green. Cassel & Co., 1998. ISBN: 0-304-35167-9)

Tom Waits (Intro from Coffee Break radio show, 1975): "Well here's one about eh... matrimony... Eh, it's kind of an old song I kept working around eh... I used to do it like a blues and it ended up like a little ballad, like a little anthem. But this is kind of a eh... Well I don't have any personal vendetta against the constipation of holy matrimony, but this is just kind of a... " (Source: Coffee Break Concert Interview: The Coffee Break Concert radio show on WMMS-FM (Cleveland/ USA). Conducted by Kid Leo (Lawrence James Travagliante). December 3, 1975)

(2) Every Tom and Dick and Harry: 1a. Fig., just any youth or man (men) regardless of worth; a nobody. Usu. in the expression "every Tom, Dick and Harry." (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner) 1b. A set of nobodies; persons of no note; persons unworthy notice. Jones, Brown, and Robinson are far other men: they are the vulgar rich, especially abroad, who give themselves airs, and look with scorn on all foreign ways which differ from their own. (Source: "The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable", E. Cobham Brewer. © 1997-99 Bibliomania.com Ltd)

(3) Bowery, The: America's most famous Skid Row (New York City). The Bowery gets it name from boweryij, the Dutch word for farm, because it was part of a farming area north of the city during the late 17th century. As the city grew northward, the Bowery grew in elegance and prominence, Philanthropist Peter Cooper and songwriter Stephen Foster were among those who called the street home. The Great Bowery Theatre opened in 1826 as the largest auditorium on the continent and came to play a major role in the theatrical life of the city. After the Civil War, much of the commercial and residential bustle of the city shifted to Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Elevated trains above the Bowery spewed oil and hot coals on the sidewalks below, making the street undesirable for pedestrians. Cheap entertainment and cheap lodging replaced homes and businesses, drawing visiting sailors and a steady crowd of vagrants. The Bowery's seedy reputation earned it a prominent place in the culture of the times. The Luc Sante novel Low Life focused on the neighborhood. And the work of painter Reginald Marsch was linked with the street life of New York, including the Bowery. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Bowery was featured prominently in films including the popular Bowery Boys series. More recently, the famous street received mentions in the Broadway musicals Guys and Dolls and The Will Rogers Follies. (Source: "The Bowery Mission" at http://bowery.org/. Copyright © 1997-2000 Christian Herald, Site Designed and Maintained by Admatha)

(4) Bum
- n.: Generally, a beggar, tramp, hobo, vagrant, or loafer; also, any jobless man or youth having little or no income; a poor, poorly dressed, and unkempt frequenter of saloons; a down-and-outer; sometimes , a hoodlum
- A drifter; a grifter 3. Any male without a professional occupation, goal in life, or social prestige; any disreputable or disliked youth (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner).
- Also mentioned in "Barber Shop" (Well, if I had a million dollars, what would I do? I'd probably be a barber, not a bum like you), "Mr. Henry/ Tie Undone" (That the no good bum is at it again. After she's given him all the best years of her life)

 (5) Sleep until the crack of noon: "Sleep until the crack of noon" is an ironic play on the phrase "Wake up at the crack of dawn" meaning "to wake up at sunrise." (Source: Email by Leroy Larson to Tom Waits Library. October, 2005)

(6) Valentino: Cliche expression meaning: a passionate lover. From American actor Rudolph Valentino. Born: 1985 Rodolpho Guglielmi di Valentina D'Antonguolla in Castellaneto Italy. Died: New York 1926. Became the stereotype Latin-lover

 (7) Reno: also mentioned in: Wrong side of the road, 1978: "And we'll drive all the way to Reno on the wrong side of the road.", Hang on St. Christopher, 1987: "Hang on St. Christopher now don't let me go, get me to Reno and bring it in low."

(8) Copper n.: A policeman; esp., a tough policeman or one who is intent on enforcing the law to its fullest (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)

 (9) Town, out of: In prison. Some underworld use. (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner) 

(10) Chew the fat: 1. To talk; to gossip; to chat at lenght, esp. about trivial matters. 2. A visit, esp. for the purpose of discussing "old times." Orig. British Army sl., W.W.I. (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)

(11) Song could be inspired by: "Doin' What I Please". Fats Waller, Andy Razaf. Transcribed from Don Redman and His orchestra, vocals by Don Redman; recorded October 6, 1932: "I'm staying single, Conscience at ease, I'm free to mingle, I do what I please! When I'm out late nights, No one has my keys, Yeah, I keep my dates nights Doin' what I please. You know, I don't have no starved waters, (?) Because they keep you on the shelf, And I ain't takin' orders, So I just go along enjoyin' myself. Should I go sailing 'Cross the seven seas? No one can stop me, Doin' what I please! You know I have romances, Just like a dog has fleas, And I take in all the dances, That's because I do what I please. I blow in at these parties, Just like a reckless breeze; I outsmart all these other smarties, Because I do just what I please. You know, where there's no action, You'll find that there's blues about, And I get my satisfaction Only when I'm steppin' out. And whenever I get tipsy Out at one of these jamborees, No one can stop me, 'Cause I do what I please!"