“Tom Traubert’s Blues” (Waltzing Matilda) by Rod Stewart
The refrain of “Tom Traubert’s Blues”, “waltzing Matilda”, references an experience that its writer, Tom Waits, had. That is to say that he literally waltzed with Matilda, that being one Mathilde Bondo, in her native land of Denmark. And as has been verified by Bondo, other parts of this song are also based on that event.
You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Rod Stewart's Tom Traubert's Blues at Lyrics.org.
For instance, Waits is from California. But in the second verse, we find the vocalist lamenting being at a location where “no one speaks English”. That would likely be a reference to Copenhagen, where he and Bondo linked up, as in Denmark people tend to speak Danish.
Waits sheds light on the Lyrics of “Tom Traubert’s Blues”
Waits himself is known to have offered diverse explanations to this song’s meaning over the years. But in 2007, he revealed what came to be the accepted theory concerning the poetic motif upon which this piece is based. And that would be “Matilda”, in his own words, “being a backpack”. And as he also relayed during that particular outing, this song is meant to be based on the concepts of “being on the road” in the name of “chasing your dream”.
Yet another aspect concerning this song’s background that must be pointed out is, according to Tom Waits, the titular Tom Traubert having been a real-life person, i.e. someone whom one of his friends was personally familiar with.
Waits revealed that said individual proceeded to pass away while incarcerated, thus giving the impression that he was locked up for a serious crime. And as can be ascertained, there are also a number of references to criminal activity found in these lyrics. Some of these references include the vocalist implying he’s been stabbed. He also mentions the likes of the following:
- “the one-armed bandit”
- “the maverick Chinaman”
- a “manslaughter dragnet”
- “keys from the jailor”
So putting all of that together, what seems to be going down here, at least in speculation, is this. The vocalist takes on the role of Tom Traubert. And if Tom was a real person who had been involved in an actual violent crime, then obviously Waits would not have been compelled to overtly reveal the details of what landed him in prison, even if gathered from a third-party source (i.e. gossip), to the public. So instead, he utilizes all types of obscure and indirect lingo to do so.
Concerning Matilda being a backpack, then we will take it that the act of “waltzing Matilda” actually alludes to being out on the road. So perhaps what Waits was trying to get at, in putting himself in Traubert’s shoes, is that if he had found himself in the same predicament, he would have fled from the law, which may well be what Traubert actually did for all we know. Or put otherwise, the vocalist appears to be taking on the role of a fugitive from justice.
And then, intertwined into this narrative are certain observations or emotions from Waits’ time abroad, hanging out with Mathilde Bondo. So obviously that experience had some type of profound effect on the writer, even if he wasn’t compelled to pen a song about it directly.
The track was released on February 22nd, 1992. It was part of Stewart’s 1993 album, “Lead Vocalist”.
Did Rod Stewart write “Tom Traubert’s Blues”?
No. American alternative rock musician Tom Waits is credited as the official writer of this song. He is also the one who originally released this song. He did so in September of 1976. Stewart’s version is therefore a cover.
Stewart’s “Tom Traubert’s Blues” was produced by English record producer and former band member of The Buggles, Trevor Horn. Horn has also worked with likes of Seal, Tina Turner and t.A.t.U.
Rod Stewart’s version of this track enjoyed multiple top-10 positions in various official charts in countries such as Denmark, Ireland and Switzerland.