Frank's Wild Years

Frank(2) settled down in the Valley(3)
and he hung his wild years on a nail that he drove through his wife's forehead
He sold used office furniture out there on San Fernando Road
and assumed a 30,000 dollar loan at fifteen and a quarter percent
put a down payment on a little two bedroom place

His wife was a spent piece of used jet trash
Made good Bloody Mary's
Kept her mouth shut most of the time
Had a little Chihuahua named Carlos(4)
that had some kind of skin disease
and was totally blind

They had a thoroughly modern kitchen
Self-cleaning oven, the whole bit
Frank drove a little sedan
They were so happy

One night Frank was on his way home from work
He stopped at the liquor store
Picked up a couple of Mickey's Big Mouths(5)
Drank 'em in the car, and with a Shell station
he got a gallon of gas in a can
Drove home, doused everything in the house
Torched it
Parked across the street laughing
Watching it burn
All Halloween orange and chimney red
Then Frank put on a top forty station
Got on the Hollywood Freeway
and headed North(6)

Never could stand that dog

Written by: Tom Waits
Published by: Jalma Music (ASCAP), © 1983-1998
Official release: "Swordfishtrombones", Island Records Inc., 1983 &
"Beautiful Maladies", Island Records Inc., 1998
Arrangement and lyrics published in "Tom Waits - Beautiful Maladies" (Amsco Publications, 1997)
Also included in Big Time movie (1988). Further reading: Big Time full story

Known covers:
Un Giro Extraño. La Chicana. September, 2000. Self-released ("Los años de joda de Aníbal")
Laiv. Davide Van De Sfroos. June, 2002. (Tarantanius) Venus (in Italian)
Cancion Llorada. La Chicana. June, 2005. Galileo Music Communication (new version of "Los años de joda de Aníbal")

Listen to audio excerpt of Frank's Wild Years as performed in the theatre play Frank's Wild Years.
The Briar Street Theatre (Steppenwolf Theatre Company). Chicago/ USA. June 17, 1986.
Ripped from low resolution audience tape

Waits performing "Frank's Wild Years" taken from the Big Time concert video.
Recorded live at the Warfield Theatre. San Francisco/ USA. November 5, 1987.
PolyGram Video (Island Visual Arts)/ Fries Home Video (Fries Entertainment Inc.), 1988.
With: Michael Blair, Ralph Carney, Greg Cohen, Marc Ribot and Willy Schwarz.
Stage show concept: Kathleen Brennan & Tom Waits. Directed by Chris Blum.


(1) Franks Wild Years:
- Tom Waits (1983): "Charles Bukowski had a story that essentially was saying that it's the little things that drive men mad. It's not the big things. It's not World War II. It's the broken shoe lace when there is no time left that sends men completely out their minds. So this is kind of in that spirit. Little of a Ken Nordine flavour. Ronnie Barren alias Rev. Eather from New Orleans, Lousiana, on Hammond organ and Larry Taylor, originally with Canned Heat, on dog house. I think there is a little bit of Frank in everybody" (Source: "Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones". Island Promo interview, 1983)
- Tom Waits (1983): "Crumbling beauty, Frank is a little bit of that American dream gone straight to hell. Frank is more of a commentary on real estate brokers and insurance investigators and defense attorneys, That fear, that button down, 8 o'clock, the whistle blows, Bermuda shorts approach to life. I've never like chihuahuas" (Source: Unidentified Swordfishtrombones Interview (interviewer's tape). Date: 1983/ 1984)
- Tom Waits (1983): "Insurance investigator in California. Just eavesdropping. Added my own funhouse mirror" (Source: "Tom Waits For No Man". Melody Maker. Brian Case. October 29, 1983) 
- Tom Waits (1983): "Frank's Wild Years" He was a real estate agent that I met. It's a salute to the kind of guy l want to grow up to be some day "Frank hung his wild years on a nail he drove through his wife's forehead." It's a cathartic dream" (Source: "The Beat Goes On" Rock Bill magazine (USA). October 1983, by Kid Millions)
- Barney Hoskyns (1985): Did his wife die in the fire? TW: "No, I didn't want to give the impression that she went up in the smoke. She was at the beauty parlour." BH: But the dog. TW: "The dog, yeah, the dog may have..." (Source: "The Marlowe Of The Ivories". New Musical Express magazine. Barney Hoskyns. May 25, 1985)
- Pete Silverton (1986): "At the end of the song Frank burns the house down with the dog inside. Does he get charged with arson?" TW: "No, he goes to Vegas, ends up dreaming his way back home." PS: "And the dog's gone?" TW: "The dog has disappeared" (Source: "Waits Happening" Beat magazine 1986, by Pete Silverton)
- Gavin Martin (1985): How did 'Frank's Wild Years' turn into a musical? TW: "The song was like a fortune cookie, after I wrote it I thought what happened to this guy. Everybody knows guys like that, people you haven't seen in a long time, what happens to these people? What happened to John Chrisswicky? Oh Jesus, John's second wife left him and he went to work in a slaughterhouse for a while. Then he was in a rendering unit, of course his dad was always in the wine business that didn't interest John, I hear he ended up as a mercenary soldier." "People go through these permutations in different stages of their life, perceived by someone else it can look strange. I imagined Frank along those lines. Y'see my folks split up when I was kid and ... hey, look, let me give you $100 and I'll lie down on the couch over there, you take notes and see if we can't get to the bottom of this" (Source: "Hard Rain". New Musical Express: Gavin Martin. October 19, 1985) 
- Q (1986): Why is Franks Wild Years the song so short? TW: "Well I kind of said what I had on my mind and then decided to pack it up and go home. Some of it is inspired by Ken Nordine who's a real hero of mine. I love his thought process and his word jazz and his stories, they're like movies for the ears" (Source: "WXRT-FM Radio Interview" Date: Chicago. July 11, 1986)
- Mark Kemp (2006): "But just who was that Frank character? Was he named after Zappa? After all, the short narrative "Frank's Wild Years," from Swordfishtrombones, had been dedicated to Frankie Z. Tom Waits: "Gee, I don't know," Waits says. "My dad's name is Jesse Frank. It's just a name. It's just a guy I half made up. My dad left the family when I was young, so you know, that's pretty eventful. I may have been telling some of that story-'He got on the Hollywood Freeway and headed north/Never could stand that dog'-it was probably a reaction to that. I was rewriting the story and putting it in my own language" (Source: "Tom Waits: Weird Science". Harp magazine (USA). December 1, 2006. Telephone interview by Mark Kemp)

(2) Frank: This fictional character gave rise to the theatre production: "Frank's Wild Years". For this production Frank was renamed Frank O'Brien, in stead of Frank Leroux. Waits' father's first name is Frank.

(3) The Valley: San Fernando Valley Los Angeles, CA.

(4) Had a little Chihuahua named Carlos: A very small dog of a breed originating in Mexico, having pointed ears and a smooth coat

(5) Mickey's: American malt beer. Made by Hireman. Alcohol content: 6.0%. Its green-colored bottle and the name of "Mickey's" are popular among young people. Its big top is easy to open, and you can drink out of it as if you are drinking from a glass. Its characteristically strong flavor of malts is different from other American water-like beers.

(6) Got on the Hollywood Freeway and headed North: 101 Hollywood Freeway Los Angeles, one of the busiest freeways in the US (US 101, SR 101). Generally a "freeway" is a grade separated divided highway designed for high speeds. Contrary to popular belief, a freeway is not a highway "free" from tolls. The "free" in freeway instead refers to a legislative definition passed by the California Legislature in 1939 which provided for a highway that would be free of encroaching properties and which provided for control of access. At the time this was very controversial since property owners next to the road could have no rights of direct access." Heading North on the Hollywood Freeway would mean one is driving in the direction of Bakersfield, Fresno, San Francisco