Tom Waits: What Keeps Mankind Alive? (1985)

 |   |  1 min read

Tom Waits: What Keeps Mankind Alive? (1985)

How do you describe Hal Willner? Is he an arranger (yes), producer (definitely) or a facilitator (most definitely)?

Over the years he has brought many diverse artists together on projects to celebrate and reinterpret the work of composer Nino Rota, Thelonious Monk, and most recently the Rogue's Gallery collection of pirate ballads, sea songs and shanties.

The cast on these projects has included Bono, Sting, Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry, Johnny Depp, Lou Reed, Charlie Haden, John Zorn, Van Dyke Parks, Marianne Faithfull, Carla Bley, Todd Rundgren . . .

Willner has a very interesting roll-a-deck of contacts.

In '85 he pulled a typically diverse crew together to celebrate the work of Kurt Weill (pictured, and by association Bertolt Brecht), among them Tom Waits who delivered this typically gruff treatment of the cynical What Keeps Mankind Alive? from 1928.

The lyrics, should be unable to decipher them are as follows: killer pay-of line!

You gentlemen who think you have a mission

To purge us of the seven deadly sins
Should first sort out the basic food position
Then start your preaching, that’s where it begins.

You lot who preach restraint and watch your waist as well
Should learn, for once, the way the world is run.
However much you twist or whatever lies that you tell
Food is the first thing, morals follow on.

So first make sure that those who are now starving
Get proper helpings when we all start carving.
What keeps mankind alive?

What keeps mankind alive?
The fact that millions are daily tortured
Stifled, punished, silenced and oppressed.
Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance
In keeping its humanity repressed
And for once you must try not to shriek the facts.

Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts.

For more one-offs, oddities or songs with an interesting backstory see From the Vaults

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   From the Vaults articles index

Little Willie John: Leave My Kitten Alone (1959)

Little Willie John: Leave My Kitten Alone (1959)

R'n'b singer/songwriter Little Willie John -- born in Arkansas in '37, raised in Detroit and perhaps best known for his crossover hit Fever which Peggy Lee famously covered -- clocked up more than... > Read more

Chicago Transit Authority: Free Form Guitar (1969)

Chicago Transit Authority: Free Form Guitar (1969)

This band -- who later shortened their name and became simply "Chicago" -- have appeared at Elsewhere previously with their thunderous and extended version of the old Spencer Davis Group... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

PRODUCED BY GEORGE MARTIN, a doco by FRANCIS HANLY

PRODUCED BY GEORGE MARTIN, a doco by FRANCIS HANLY

Sir George Martin's career will always be defined by the eight years he spent with the Beatles, but there were years before that 1962 audition and many decades after their final sessions in 1969.... > Read more

Josephine Foster: No More Lamps in the Morning (Fire/Southbound)

Josephine Foster: No More Lamps in the Morning (Fire/Southbound)

Out of Colorado, Josephine Foster defies many expectations if you come to her having heard the word "folk" appended. Because here, at least her 12th album by my count, she applies her... > Read more