Tom Waits’ Saddest Song: Kentucky Avenue, live at the BBC in 1978.


Ross Bennett is right:  Only a heart of stone could resist Tom Waits’s Kentucky Avenue, live at the BBC in 1978.

“This is a song about growing up,” says Asylum Records’ barfly raconteur Tom Waits at the start of his BBC performance of this devastating ballad from 1978’s Blue Valentine.

A trip down memory lane that mixes the wide-eyed abandon of childhood (“Let’s fill our pockets with macadamia nuts / Then go over to Bobby Goodmanson’s and jump off the roof”) with a harsh reality (“I’ll steal a hacksaw from my dad / And cut the braces off your legs”), it is, in true Waits-ian fashion, a beautiful dream frayed at the edges, all captured in a four-and-a-half minute MGM lullaby that might just be one of the saddest songs ever.

“My best friend, when I was a kid, had polio,” recalled Waits in 1981. “I didn’t understand what polio was. I just knew it took him longer to get to the bus stop than me. I dunno. Sometimes I think kids know more than anybody. I rode a train once to Santa Barbara with this kid and it almost seemed like he lived a life somewhere before he was born and he brought what he knew with him into this world and so… it’s what you don’t know that’s usually more interesting.”

Check out Waits’ extraordinary performance right now. Watch video below.