The whacky circus music and Waits accustomed minstrel role is all here. You know good writing in a song when you have great characterization in few short words, but it’s elusive enough to impel the reader to interpret it based on their lives and worldview. The call-down of the lyrics suggests a disheveled family which we all almost have. But given bad luck almost anybody could wind up where we see this played out. So Cemetery Polka on the surface seems to be a crack at the everyday family and persons failings, but its about much more.
Cemetery Polka is from Waits esteemed ’85 Raindog album which was ranked number 399 on Rolling Stones list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time“. Waits recalled about his time living in NY during the period he did the album: “There is something interesting about Manhattan. Someone could stand out in the middle of Fourteenth Street stark naked, playing a trumpet with a dead pigeon on their head and no one would flinch. In fact, tomorrow there will probably be two guys like that. They’d be lease-letting, trying to get more subscribers.”