Burma Shave (Live in Sydney, Australia, May 2, 1979)

Well, you know... [mumbles]
You know, I remember...
It rained all day the day that Elvis Presley died
And only a legend can make it do that!
And you know, I remember when my baby said we were through
And she was gonna walk out on me
It was Elvis Presley that talked her out of it
And he gave me my first leather jacket
And taught me how to comb my hair just right
in a filling station bathroom
It was Elvis that gave you a rubber on prom night
And told you that you looked real sharp
And you know, I think he maybe just got a little tired
Of repairing all the broken hearts in the world

And now I think maybe I understand
Why mechanics’ cars never start
And why night watchmen are always sleeping on the job
And why shoeshine boys always have worn-out scooped-up shoes

But eh... [mumbles]
A legend never dies, he just teaches you everything he knows
To give you the courage to ask her out
And I know, there’s a small little town where dreams are still alive
And there’s a hero on every corner
And they’re all on their way to a place called Burma-Shave

[Tape damage here, probably with a line missing]

Scrawled out across the shoulders of this dying little town, see?
And every night it takes the one eyed Jacks
You know, a one eyed Jack is like a...
You got one headlight burned out on your car
It’s called a one eyed Jack
You can see them from across the railroad tracks
Over the scar on its belly, there came a stranger passing through
And he was a juvenile delinquent
He never learned how to behave
But the cops never think to look
When you’re on your way to Burma-Shave

And the road was like a ribbon, man
Yeah, and the moon was like a bone and
He didn’t seem to be like any guy that she’d ever known
He kinda looked like Farley Granger, with his hair slicked back
And she said, ‘Honey I’ve always been a sucker for a fella
that wears a cowboy hat
And just how far do you think you might be going, Mister?’
He said ‘Baby, that all depends on... what you mean
Cause I’m only stopping here tonight,
cause I gotta get myself some gasoline
And I guess I’m going out thataway
At least ride as long as it’s paved
And I guess you’d say I’m on my way to Burma-Shave’

And he said, ‘Well, that’s cool
Why don’t you put your knees up on the glove compartment?’
Well, she took out her barrettes, and man,
her hair spilled out just like rootbeer
She popped her gum as she arched her back
She said, ‘Man, this little town don’t amount to nothin’
It’s just a wide spot in the road
And some nights my heart pounds like thunder
I don’t know why it don’t explode
And everybody in this stinking town has got one foot in the grave
And I’m gonna take my chances with you tonight
On the way to Burma-Shave’

And he said, ‘Eh, well you know.... okay
Eh... how old are you?
Ah! That’s... a problem...
Uh, where do you go to school, babe?
Oh yeah? I went to ????
Oh yeah, I dropped out, y’know
You know how it is. Got in trouble...
You know a guy named Eddie Alvarez? No?
Well, Presley’s what they call me
Why don’t you change the stations, baby?
And count the grain elevators,
Watch’em go by in he rear view mirror

Any way you point this thing, it gonna beat the hell out of the sting!
Cause every night I go to bed with all my dreams
I lie down and they die right here every morning
So come on, Presley, and drill me a hole with a barber pole
Cause I’m jumping my parole like a fugitive tonight
Let’s have another swig of that sweet Black Velvet
That sweet Black Velvet...
Let’s pass that car! Are you brave enough?
We can get there just before the sun comes up
You and me, on the way to Burma-Shave

Cause I’m going crazy in this town, man
Yeah, my old man gives me nothing but shit!
I don’t know, I don’t care what they say
Let’s get out of town tonight!’


I was talking to my brother-in-law
He said there was a wreck out on the highway
He saw the smoke from the tires and the twisted machine
Oh, but all you’ve got is just a nickle’s worth of dreams
And they’ve been swindled from you on the way
to a place called Burma-Shave
You let the sun hit the derrick and cast a bat wing shadow
It’s up against the car door on the shotgun side
But you know something, baby?
I swear to God, when they pulled you from the wreck
you still had on your shades
And dreams are growing wild every night
Just this side of Burma-Shave
And there’s another young girl out by the highway tonight
with her thumb up
Just a few trucks going by...


Fish are jumpin’, fish are jumpin’
And the cotton is high...

Words and music by Tom Waits
©1977 Fifth Floor Music Inc.

Recorded live at the State Theatre, Sydney, Australia,
May 2, 1979

Tom Waits: Vocals
Herbert Hardesty: Trumpet
Arthur Richards: Electric guitar
Greg Cohen: Upright bass
Big John Tomassie: Drums

Other live versions available on these bootlegs:

Huntington Beach, CA 1978 (Date? Venue?)
The Civic Center, Raleigh, November 5, 1978
The Warner Theatre, Washington DC, November 21, 1978
Canada After Dark (TV), January 5, 1979
Austin City Limits, 1979
Boot title: A Televisual Feast
BBC TV "Tonight in person", London, England 1979
The Beacon Theatre New York, November 5, 1979
The Uptown Theatre, Kansas City, October 8, 1979
The Dominion Theatre, London, October 17, 1985
The Dominion Theatre, London, October 18, 1985
Konserthuset, Oslo, Norway, October 28, 1985
Vredenburg, Utrecht, Holland, November 10, 1985
Folies Bergere, Paris, France, November 16, 1985
Boot title: Paris at Midnight
The Tenco Festival, San Remo Italy, November 22, 1986

Boot title: Italian Dream
Draken, Stockholm, November 26, 1987
Boot title: More Than Rain
Draken, Stockholm, November 27, 1987
The Raven, Healdsburg, CA, August 11, 1996
The State Theatre, Minneapolis, August 30, 1999
The Orpheum Theatre, Boston, September 20, 1999

See also 'Summertime'

Click HERE for everything you ever wanted to know about the Burma-Shave signs

Here is the intro from Healdsburg 1996:

‘A lot of people from Texas on the bill tonight. That’s what happens when a guy from Texas throws a party. And you know what happens when you invite that many people from Texas; there’s always trouble.
No really, there’s been no trouble at all tonight. And this is eh... I don’t know! [tinkles on the piano]
Thank you all for coming tonight! I know it’s a little warm out there, but...
[aside:] Turn up the heat, Bob!
[back to audience:] That was a joke. Uh... where’s my glasses?
[aside:] I’ll use your glasses.
[‘finds’ the keys] Oh, here’s one!
[starts playing ‘Burma-Shave’ properly]
This is about a small little town... When I was a kid we used to drive cross country. And for those of you who are old enough, you might remember the Burma-Shave signs on the side of the highway [some applause].
Thank you, all six of you!
Anyway, this is about that. My dad yelling at me to hold my horses! And thirty years later I yelled at my kids to hold their horses.
So this is about a small little town. One of those tiny little towns by the side of the road. And somebody thumbing a ride trying to get out of town...