“Wow, thanks a lot! You finally include me in a song, and I’m sitting in a pub wearing my bra. And you’re there with the dog chained to the stool,” remarked Tom Waits’ wife, Kathleen Brennan, of the musician’s first song named after her, which was also inspired by a dive pub where they used to hang out.
Brennan and Waits are a timeless musical love story. The two met on the set of Paradise Alley in 1978, when the singer was about to make his acting debut and Brennan was just starting out as a scriptwriter. Both are multi-hyphenate creators who combine music, writing, acting, and production in a creative and loving union. By the early 1980s, Brennan had given Waits the freedom to start producing his own records. Since Swordfishtrombones in 1983, the duo has collaborated on Waits’ albums, often sharing producing or writing credits. It’s a match made in heaven, according to the singer, who describes his spouse as “a remarkable collaborator” who is “bold, inventive, and fearless”. Waits continued: “That’s who you want to walk in the woods with, right? Someone who completes your phrases for you.
Despite Brennan’s important involvement in Waits’ music, she was not well represented in his lyrics until 1999. In the midst of the Mule Variations’ wildness, with its experimental production and crazy sounds, Waits describes “a nice family portrait”. Waits sings, “Kathleen was sittin’ down in Little Red’s Recovery Room,” in her criminal underwear bra. “I was naked to the waist, with my fierce black hound.” In ‘Filipino Box Spring Hog’, one of Waits’ few solo compositions, the singer addresses his wife by name. But he also mentions another specific: the location of Little Red’s Recovery Room. Little Red’s Recovery Room, set in Sonoma County, California, where the Waits family lives, was a true dive bar. The dive bar was a Sonoma institution, offering inexpensive beverages and pool tables. It’s likely to have played an important role in the Waits family’s time in the county, serving as a true hub for the area’s alternative population or anyone looking for a pleasant watering hole.
Unfortunately, the bar closed in 2009 after the owners lost their lease when investors forced them out of the region. They intended to locate a new venue for the musical landmark, but there has been no word of a reopening since. While the song isn’t precisely a heartfelt tribute to his wife and their favorite tavern, it’s as close as Tom Waits ever goes. Little Red’s Recovery Room, clearly an important site for the couple and a generation of Sonoma County residents, sounds like the perfect place to drink a beer and drown your sorrows.