Tom Waits’s Bone Machine
Steen Christiansen

Tom Waits’s album Bone Machine (1992) sounds like an apocalyptic vision, the clattering of percussion like a dance of skeletons, Waits's gravelly voice a necromancer conjuring America’s ghosts of both past and future. The album is itself a bone machine, a thing stitched together with all the scars showing. Its monstrosity articulates the spectres that surround an imminent apocalypse. Gothic media images are conjured up to show how much haunting, spectres and ghosts have always been part of the American national imagination. Drawing on David Wills’s concept of dorsality, in which the human is constituted in and through the technological, this chapter argues that Waits’s dorsal music employs unexpected sounds, disruptive musical technologies and vocal rasp in order to surprise and sometimes disconcert the listener. This disruptive and disrupted listening experience enables Waits to realise in auditory form a tradition of American Gothic that identifies with the outsider.

in Monstrous media/spectral subjects