Christmas Card From a Hooker In Minneapolis

Taken from his 1978 album, Blue Valentine, Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis by Tom Waits is not a typical seasonal song. In fact, it’s not even a typical song as it is presented in the form of a letter and has no chorus or repeated lines. Its title situates the song in a particular time and place and introduces preconceived notions in the listener’s mind about its subject simply by naming her profession. As soon as the singer’s distinctive voice begins, it becomes apparent that her letter is addressed to a guy named Charlie and he reads the letter to us through the voice of Waits. Straight away, she reveals that she’s pregnant and living in a seedy part of town. However, she claims that she has given up soft drugs and whiskey and is even married to a musician who works at a racecourse. She has informed her husband that he’s not the father of the child, but he has decided to stand by her and the baby. We learn that she hails from Omaha and has made a number of attempts to move back to her family, but keeps returning to Minneapolis because everyone she knew back home is “either dead or in prison”. She may have had a previous relationship with Charlie as she tells him that she now regrets the amount of money they wasted on drugs in the past

Just when it seems we’ve been completely wrong about her, she confirms all our prejudices by dropping the bombshell that she isn’t married at all and is actually writing to him from prison. She’s due for parole in a couple of months (on Valentine’s Day, no less!) and we discover that she’s only writing to Charlie to ask him for a loan. So, her Christmas card now becomes a begging letter, albeit a very poetic one. The only hint we’re given that the song is set at Christmas is its title, so why has Waits decided to make it a Christmas card and not a letter? Well, it’s plausible that someone in dire straits would be more likely to think of friends and loved ones at this time of year and that Charlie might be more likely to be filled with generosity as well. Perhaps he’s even the father of her child. In any case, Waits has chosen the title of his song carefully as it plays on the gulf between our views of prostitution and our traditional concept of the spirit of Christmas. The song’s lyric also showcases Waits’ economical use of language as he manages to paint such a vivid picture with so few words. In a simple song, he has created scenes and characters that would not be out of place in a pulp fiction paperback, a film noir or an Edward Hopper painting. Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis is a million miles away from the picture postcard view of Christmas and it’s all the more refreshing for that

Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis – Tom Waits

The painting above is Edward Hopper’s Automat (1927) and is courtesy of a blog named Best American Art

The 12 Songs of Christmas Archive

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4 thoughts on “Christmas Card From a Hooker In Minneapolis

  1. Pingback: The Junky’s Christmas « Town Full of Losers

  2. Ah, our civic fathers were so proud of this title when it was released…and I doubt it’s any more welcome today by the current board of tourism and chamber of commerce here in Minneapolis.

    I view this as a Christmas song the same way I hold The Pogues’ “Fairy Tale Of New York”. Neither are exactly “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “O Holy Night”, but they all have their place in the season.

    I like the festive new look, Pat!

    • Cheers, Jim! I was going to dedicate the song to you, but I didn’t think you’d want to be getting dedications from hookers. Even if they’re from Minneapolis. There’s certainly nothing Christmassy about the song, but I guess Waits thought the title was catchier than Letter From a Hooker in Minneapolis. And maybe he thought he’d get a few plays this time of year. The write of the card claims she was “living on 9th street right above a dirty bookstore off Euclid Avenue”. You know if such a place ever existed?

      • There’s a Euclid Place, but that is in one of the very spendy residential neighborhoods near one of the city lakes, so there wouldn’t be any kind of smut palaces found there. Waits’ song “9th & Hennepin” is a real address in the heart of downtown Minneapolis, which used to be a seedy area but is now a bit more respectable (during daylight hours…) Not exactly as Tom described, but that’s artistic license I suppose.

        Here’s an article from a local paper about the once-notorious Block E, which was between 6th & 7th on Hennepin Ave. You can see by the circa 1973 photo that Tom’s characters – if not Tom himself – would have felt right at home there.

        http://blogs.citypages.com/gimmenoise/2008/03/pack_up_all_you.php

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