Tom Waits: What Keeps Mankind Alive? (1985)

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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

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