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Music / Bone Machine

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Such a scream.

What does it matter, a dream of love or a dream of lies?
We're all gonna be the same place when we die.
Your spirit don't leave knowing your face or your name.
The wind through your bones is all that remains.

Bone Machine is the eleventh studio album by Tom Waits, released in 1992 through Island Records.

Recorded in the cellar of a music studio (described by Waits as "just a cement floor and a hot water heater" and chosen because he liked the echo there), the album showcases a Darker and Edgier sound than his previous work. It was Waits's first studio album since Franks Wild Years (1987) and is best recognized for the tracks "Earth Died Screaming," "Goin' Out West," and "I Don't Wanna Grow Up."

Not to be confused with the Pixies song of the same name, which can be found on Surfer Rosa (1988).


  1. "Earth Died Screaming" (3:39)
  2. "Dirt in the Ground" (4:08)
  3. "Such a Scream" (2:07)
  4. "All Stripped Down" (3:04)
  5. "Who Are You" (3:58)
  6. "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me" (1:51)
  7. "Jesus Gonna Be Here" (3:21)
  8. "A Little Rain (For Clyde)" (2:58)
  9. "In the Colosseum" (4:50)
  10. "Goin' Out West" (3:19)
  11. "Murder in the Red Barn" (4:29)
  12. "Black Wings" (4:37)
  13. "Whistle Down the Wind (For Tom Jans)" (4:36)
  14. "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" (2:31)
  15. "Let Me Get Up on It" (0:55)
  16. "That Feel" (3:11)

The Earth Died Screaming While I Lay Troping:

  • Admiring the Abomination: "Black Wings":
    Some say they fear him;
    Others admire him.
  • All Are Equal in Death: "Dirt in the Ground":
    Take a king or a beggar
    And the answer they'll give
    Is we're all gonna be ... just dirt in the ground
  • Alliterative Title: "Whistle Down the Wind."
  • Alternative Rock: And how alternative it is.
  • Angels in Overcoats: The song "Black Wings" invokes this trope. The main character of the song is a very dangerous, Ambiguously Evil, Ambiguously Human entity on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Possibly a Fallen Angel, possibly The Angel Of Death, possibly just a very dangerous human being.
    Well he once killed a man with a guitar string
    He's been seen at the table with kings
    He once saved a baby from drowning
    There are those that say beneath his coat there are wings
  • As the Good Book Says...:
  • Awesome Mccoolname: In "Goin' Out West", he considers changing his name to Hannibal or "maybe just Rex."
  • Badass Boast: "Goin' Out West" is one long boast by a character assured of his good looks and badassery, specifically saying he knows karate and voodoo and can handle himself in a high speed chase. He's got the scars and chest hair to prove it.
  • Barred from the Afterlife:
    • "Earth Died Screaming":
      Well hell doesn't want you
      And heaven is full
    • Echoed in the next track, "Dirt in the Ground":
      Hell's boiling over, and heaven is full
  • Call-Back: The fifteen-year-old girl who "[had] never seen the ocean" in "A Little Rain" may well be the girl addressed by the secondary interpretation of "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me." If not, this is merely a Continuity Nod.
  • Careful with That Axe: "Such a Scream" living up to its name.
  • Carpet of Virility: "Goin' Out West":
    I've got hair on my chest
    I look good without a shirt
  • Caught Up in the Rapture:
    • "All Stripped Down" uses the Rapture as a metonym for death.
      And all the sinners know what I'm talking about
      All stripped down, all stripped down
      When all the creatures of the world are gonna line up at the gate
      All stripped down, all stripped down
      And you better be on time, and you better not be late
      All stripped, all stripped down
    • The singer of "Jesus Gonna Be Here" is very much this.
      Well I'm just gonna wait here
      I don't have to shout
      I have no reason and
      I have no doubt
      I'm gonna get myself unfurled
      From this mortal coiled up world
      Because Jesus gonna be here
      Be here soon
  • Come to Gawk: "In the Colosseum":
    And the madness of the crowd
    Is an epileptic fit
  • Concept Album: Virtually every song on the album features death as a theme or explores it directly.
  • Counting to Three: Waits does this in "Such a Scream."
  • Dark World: It could be a twisted, darkly reflected version of our world that this album takes place in . . . or it could just be ours.
  • Darker and Edgier: The themes and musical arrangements are far darker even than Waits's previous output. Case in point: the first track is about the apocalypse.
  • Deadly Euphemism:
    So I will take the Marley Bone Coach
    And be whistlin' down the wind
  • Death Song: In "Whistle Down the Wind," the narrator implies that he is planning to kill himself.
    I can't stay here and I'm scared to leave
    So kiss me once and then
    I'll go to hell; I might as well
    Be whistlin' down the wind
  • Devil, but No God: There is most certainly a devil in the world of Bone Machine, but if God exists at all, he isn't interested in you.
    Heaven is full
    To make matters worse, the Jesus the singer of "Jesus Gonna Be Here" is waiting for is strongly implied by "Black Wings" to be the devil.
    He's not there for he has risen
    He's not there for he has risen
  • Double Entendre: The entirety of "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me": Read at face value, it's the already dark story of a man who has decided to postpone drowning himself, but consider "the ocean" a metaphor for a girl, and the lyrics take on a new dimension.
    I'll open my head
    And let out all of my time
    I'd love to go drowning
    And to stay and to stay
    But the ocean doesn't want me today
    I'll go in up to here
    It can't possibly hurt
    This reading is supported by the Call-Back in "A Little Rain":
    She was fifteen years old
    And she'd never seen the ocean
    She climbed into a van with a vagabond
  • The End of the World as We Know It: "Earth Died Screaming," interestingly enough placed as the first track of the album:
    There was thunder, there was lightning
    Then the stars went out
    And the moon fell from the sky
    It rained mackerel, it rained trout
    And the great day of wrath has come
    And here's mud in your big red eye
    The poker's in the fire
    And the locusts take the sky
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Waits's voice is at its lowest on the album in "Black Wings," which seems to be concerned with the supreme evil being.
  • Face on the Cover: Played with; Waits's face is almost unrecognizable.
  • Gladiator Games: "In the Colosseum," about the violent spectacle in the Colosseum.
  • Gothic Country Music: The album plays with this genre, though its instrumentation is a bit weirder.
    • "Murder in the Red Barn" is an iconic example, discussing a mysterious murder in vague, macabre, and decidedly rural terms.
      The trees are bending over and the cows are lying down
      The autumn's taking over, you can hear the Buckshot hounds ...
      Pin it on a drifter they sleep beneath the bridge
      One plays the violin and sleeps inside a fridge
    • In "Whistle Down the Wind," a man dying somewhere in the Great Plains region laments that he never got to leave his small town and do all that he always imagined he would.
  • Grief Song: "Dirt in the Ground," for all of humanity at large.
  • Growing Up Sucks: "I Don't Wanna Grow Up":
    I don't wanna put no money down
    I don't wanna get me a big old loan
    Work them fingers to the bone
    I don't wanna float a broom
    Fall in and get married then boom
    How the hell did it get here so soon
    I don't wanna grow up
  • Hell Is That Noise: Many of the sounds on the album can make listeners wonder this. Answers range from unusual instruments to odd machines and random objects.
  • In Harmony with Nature: The literalist reading of "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me," where a man puts off drowning himself because he believes he can tell that the ocean isn't ready for him. He fantasizes about the further harmony the drowning will achieve:
    And the strangels will take me
    Down deep in their brine
    The mischievous braingels
    Down into the endless blue wine
  • Instrumentals: "Let Me Get Up On It" has lyrics, but they might as well be just another instrument.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: "Jesus Gonna Be Here," where Jesus apparently drives around in a fancy car:
    I got to keep my eyes open
    So I can see my Lord
    I'm gonna watch the horizon
    For a brand new Ford
    I can hear him rolling on down the lane
    I said Hollywood be thy name
    Jesus gonna be, gonna be here soon.
  • Lyrical Tic: Half-articulated Wells at the beginnings of lines are frequent.
  • Motif: Bones.
    • "Earth Died Screaming":
      Bring me some water, put it in this skull ...
      And the army ants, they leave nothin' but the bones
    • "Dirt in the Ground":
      And the wind through your bones is all that remains ...
      Along a river of flesh, can these dry bones live?
    • "Such a Scream":
      The plow is red, the well is full
      Inside the dollhouse of her skull
    • "All Stripped Down":
      Let your backbone flip and let your spirit shine through
    • "Who Are You":
      Are you still leaving nothing
      But bones in the way?
    • "Black Wings":
      And the fence posts in the moonlight
      Look like bones
    • "Whistle Down the Wind":
      So I will take the Marley Bone Coach
      And whistle down the wind
    • "I Don't Wanna Grow Up":
      I don't wanna get me a big old loan
      Work them fingers to the bone
  • Murder Ballad: "Murder in the Red Barn":
    There was a murder in the red barn
    A murder in the red barn
    Now thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house
    Or covet thy neighbor's wife
    But for some murder is the only door through which they enter life
  • Mythology Gag: In "Whistle Down the Wind," to the album Bone Machine Spiritually Succeeded:
    And the dog is tied to a wagon of rain
  • New Sound Album: More minimalistic and percussion driven—something Waits referred to as "bones rock," as in "stripped down to the bare bones"—than his previous work. Lyrically darker as well.
  • Nightmare Face: Waits on the album cover.
  • Noble Demon: The subject of "Black Wings." "He broke out of every prison," and "they say he once killed a man with a guitar string," yet "he once saved a baby from drowning," and "there are those who say beneath his coat there are wings."
  • Non-Appearing Title: The phrase "Bone Machine" never appears in any of the songs, although the word "bone" does appear in over half.
  • Old Flame Fizzle: "Who Are You" is a scathing polemic to an old lover.
    Oh, well I did my time
    In the jail of your arms
  • Once Killed a Man with a Noodle Implement: "Black Wings":
    They say he once killed a man with a guitar string
  • Power Gives You Wings: "Black Wings":
    Some say beneath his coat there are wings.
  • Questioning Title?: "Who Are You"?
  • Quest to the West: "Goin' Out West" is something of a deconstruction: the singer, brainwashed by media images of idyllic Hollywood happiness, sets out for where he believes people will "appreciate" him.
  • Rain of Something Unusual: "Earth Died Screaming":
    There was thunder, there was lightning
    Then the stars went out
    And the moon fell from the sky
    It rained mackerel, it rained trout
  • Rugged Scar: "Goin' Out West":
    I don't need no makeup; I got real scars
  • Satan: The subject of "Black Wings" seems to be this, unsettlingly crossed with elements of the Jesus story.
    Take an eye for an eye
    A tooth for a tooth
    Just like they say in the Bible
    We'll never leave a trace
    Or forget a face
    Of any man at the table
    Any man at the table
  • Second Coming: The singer of "Jesus Gonna Be Here" is waiting for this. Truth be told, he sounds a little cracked.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Near the end of "Earth Died Screaming," Chopin's Funeral March is quoted.
    • From "Who Are You":
      Now Ophelia wants to know
      Where she should turn
    • Another to Hamlet in "Jesus Gonna Be Here":
      I'm gonna get myself unfurled
      From this mortal coiled-up world
  • Signs of the End Times: "Earth Died Screaming" lists many classics, including locusts and the stars going out.
  • Small Town Boredom: Exaggerated in "Whistle Down the Wind," which delves into the deep, desperate grief engendered by a life spent in a suffocating small town.
    The buses at the corner
    The clock on the wall
    Broken down windmill
    There ain't no wind at all
    I've yelled and I've cursed
    If I stay here I'll rust
    I'm stuck like a shipwreck
    Out here in the dust
  • Special Guest: Les Claypool from Primus plays electric bass on "Earth Died Screaming," drummer Bryan "Brain" Mantia drums on "All Stripped Down" and "In the Colosseum," David Hidalgo from Los Lobos plays violin and accordion on "Whistle Down the Wind," and Keith Richards duets along with Waits on "That Feel."
  • Spoonerism: A clever variation on the chorus in "In the Colosseum":
    In the Colosseum
    We call 'em as we see 'em
  • The Stars Are Going Out: Occurs during the apocalypse in "Earth Died Screaming."
  • Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: A subtle one in "Black Wings":
    He can turn himself into a stranger
    Well they broke a lot of canes on his hide
    He was born away in a cornfieldnote 
    A fever beats in his head like a drum inside
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: "Murder in the Red Barn":
    Cause there's nothin' strange
    About an axe with bloodstains in the barn
    There's always some killin'
    You got to do around the farm
  • The Swarm: One of the Signs of the End Times in "Earth Died Screaming" is when "the locusts take the sky."
  • Tick Tock Tune: "Earth Died Screaming."
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: "All Stripped Down." In a very twisted way, of course. This is Tom Waits.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Bone Machine" for the human body, as Waits himself explains in the press kit for the album:
    What's a bone machine? Most of the principles of most machines developed in the machine age were principles that were found in the human body. Originally, I was going to take sounds of machines I'd recorded, and add a really strong rhythmic sense; I was going to try to build songs out of the rhythms. But then it didn't really develop that way. The stories kind of took over. So it's more bone than machine. Bone Machine... We're all like bone machines, I guess. We break down eventually, and we're replaced by other models. Newer models. Younger models. Bone Machine... Sounds like a superhero, doesn't it?
  • We All Die Someday: This is essentially the overall theme of the album.
  • While Rome Burns:
    The earth died screaming
    While I lay dreaming
    Dreaming of you
  • Who Are You?: One track carries this title.