“I just want you to be happy. That’s my only little wish.”

Is a line from the song “Just the right bullets” by Tom Waits. There are many reasons why I dig this song.

1. The opening. It starts off with a slow yet sinister slant on traditional carnival music (that is kind of an oxymoron; my only hope is that no one notices).

2. Waits’ gravelly voice. This man sounds like he gargles broken glass and washes it out with sand, and then smokes a pack of cigarettes in an hour. His voice is rough and harsh and grating, but it somehow overcomes these (what some would call) detrimental qualities and manages to express the interconnectedness between the ideas of heartache, hope and resignation. All three of these thematic elements can be found in most, if not all, of Waits’ music, and while they may be tragic and heavy on the heartache and resignation, like “Georgia Lee.” But even Georgia Lee (click here for lyrics) as absolutely soul crushing as it is still presents an idea of hope, a small glimmer of hope, to be sure, but a glimmer nonetheless, a glimmer which is sustained by the harrowing sound of Wait’s sandpaper vocal cords and carries the listener through the song. Without the sorrow filled hopefulness of his vocal delivery, the song would run the risk of simply being depressing or sappy, but his voice and his delivery allow him to overcome these pratfalls.

Back to “Just the Right Bullets (lyrics).” This song is light on the heartache and resignation, and heavy on the hope and giddiness. Here Waits is having fun. He toys with a traditional carnivalesque melody and then when the “chorus” comes around he changes it. Which brings me to reason number three why I dig this song.

3. The folk/gypsy instrumental chorus. Here it goes from stationary carnies and their bearded ladies to energetic and animated folk storming the carnival. It fits the song perfectly, adding a but of frenetic energy to the piece and giving us a break from Waits the carnival barker.

4. The ambiguity of the narrator/voice. On one hand it appears that the character singing (henceforth known as the singer) is genuine and really wants to be of help. He has blessed the bullets (60 of them, I suppose since that is how many wishes he grants) in a show of camaraderie and good will, but there is something sinister and wrong about him. We know this not only because of the sound of his voice and his choice of words, but also through the fluctuation of good old carny music and crazy ass gypsy music. These elements combine to create one great song.

And that’s all I am trying to say.

So without further ado, here it is.

Enjoy.

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