Tom Waits

Johnsburg, Illinois

Composed by Tom Waits

Song Review by

It's always been widely assumed that Tom Waits writes in character. While that's undoubtedly true much of the time, even his most theatrical albums will occasionally brush upon something more personal, and one of his most personal songs is the brief but lovely "Johnsburg, Illinois." In the midst of the junkyard arrangements and Kurt Weill-inspired melodies that cover much of Swordfishtrombones, "Johnsburg, Illinois" is a simple tune for piano and acoustic bass with lyrics that shyly profess the singer/songwriter's love for his new wife, Kathleen Brennan, who grew up in the small town of the title. On an album that at times overwhelms the listener with surreal lyrics and uncompromising music, "Johnsburg, Illinois" is both a welcome respite and a touch of reality in an otherwise skewed vision.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Swordfishtrombones 1983 Island / Universal Distribution 1:33
Big Time 1988 Island / Island/Def Jam / Universal 1:29
Beautiful Maladies: The Island Years 1998 Island 1:33
blue highlight denotes editor's pick