Buttkickin’ Halloween Songs: “What’s He Building” — Tom Waits (1999)

He has no children of his
Own you see… He has no dog
And he has no friends and
His lawn is dying… and
What about all those packages
He sends. What’s he building in there?

Tom Waits’s brilliantly macabre 1999 spoken-word song What’s He Building is absolutely infuriating. Horrifyingly, maddeningly infuriating.

Of course, it makes for a perfect Halloween song. With its dark, ominous narration, intermittent radio static, metallic percussion, no real melody to speak of, and continuous bursts of random noises, this is a Creep Factor Level 99 exercise in Paranoia.

We never do find out what, exactly, the subject of the matter is building. Or if he is indeed building anything at all. It’s hardly the point, really.

What we do discover is that the narrator is a creepy, stalking, obsessive mess who is utterly driven by fear, distrust, and paranoia. He constantly observes the man going about his business, a man who lives alone with no kids, no pets, no friends, and simply keeps to himself.

This, of course, fuels the intense fear and distrust — and dangerously obsessive anger — of the narrator. He needs to know what’s happening in this man’s house, since he has long given into believing everything the neighborhood rumor mill has pumped into circulation.

What’s He Building is a terrifying descent into frustration, obsession, and entitlement. Its final line, simply delivered, will thoroughly chill your spine.

I heard he was up on the
Roof last night
Signaling with a flashlight
And what’s that tune he’s
Always whistling…
What’s he building in there?
What’s he building in there?
We have a right to know…

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2018 Matthew Millheiser