Death's Head Lullabies: Tom Waits - "In the Colosseum"
“In the Colosseum” details the dog-eat-dog entropy that results when Earth dies screaming, how those left on the planet’s shell fight and clamor over the heaps of stacked bodies to survive just a while longer. It is the sound of anarchy rising.
Whereas “Earth Died Screaming” opened the first half Bone Machine with the soundtrack to the end of the world, “In the Colosseum” begins the flip side with the panicked howls of society reacting to the destruction of all it knew. “Earth Died Screaming” offered a glimpse of the world fissuring; “In the Colosseum” details the dog-eat-dog entropy that results, how those left on the planet’s shell fight and clamor over the heaps of stacked bodies to survive just a while longer. It is the sound of anarchy rising.
If Bone Machine is any indicator, Tom Waits doesn’t foster a particularly favorable view of humanity (just look to the axiom he’d offer on Blood Money’s “Misery is the River of the World”--“If there’s one thing you can say about mankind / There’s nothing kind about man”). The theme of man’s cruelty to man is just as prevalent throughout the album as the central concept of death, and “In the Colosseum” depicts this is grandiose fashion. When it comes down to it or when given the proper prodding, humanity’s bloodlust--the urge that made fight-to-the-death spectacles and public executions so popular, and which has been sublimated through fictional violence a la horror movies--will boil to the surface and break through the guise of civility. The desire to watch wholesale slaughter still exists in individuals, Waits seems to be saying, it’s just been repressed for the sake of maintaining order and decency, the societal ruse being that we have evolved beyond such profane wants. In true sausage effect fashion, though, when an impulse has been stifled so long, it inevitably flares up in a proportionate surge, and that is what is happening in “In the Colosseum”.