Romeo Is Bleeding (song)

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"Romeo Is Bleeding"
Song by Tom Waits from the album Blue Valentine
Released September 1978
Recorded July 24 - August 26, 1978, at Filmways/Heider Recording, Hollywood, CA
Genre Rock, jazz, blues
Length 4:52
Label Asylum
Writer Tom Waits
Producer Bones Howe

"Romeo Is Bleeding" is a song written and performed by Tom Waits, and released on his 1978 album, Blue Valentine.[1]


Jay S. Jacobs, in his book Wild years: the music and myth of Tom Waits, describes "Romeo is Bleeding" as depicting "a guy who sticks a shiv into the local sheriff [and] is fatally shot in the chest — a familiar Waits image, with echoes of West Side Story".[2] Waits had more overtly referenced West Side Story earlier on the Blue Valentine album, with "Somewhere" as the opening track. According to Waits, the song is based on a real incident in Los Angeles, and concerns "a Mexican gang leader who was shot and died in a movie house in downtown L.A."[3][4] The song's lyrics make frequent use of Spanish, including phrases such as "Hey Pachuco!", "Dáme esa pistola, hombre!" (Give me that pistol, man!), "Hijo de la chingada madre!" (You son of a fucking whore!), and "Vamos a dormir, hombre" (Let's go to sleep, man).[3] Waits also makes a reference to gangster movie-star James Cagney, also mentioned in "Invitation to the Blues" from the album Small Change.


Music critic Adrian Denning wrote that "one song that would, could and SHOULD rank amongst [Waits'] finest moments is the fabulous Jazz swing and late night seedy feel of 'Romeo is Bleeding.'" While lukewarm towards Blue Valentine in general, Denning remarked that "Romeo is Bleeding" "corrects matters somewhat," citing the song's "great vocals and... bass groove."[5] Robert Christgau wrote that "Romeo is Bleeding" was "easily my favorite among his Chandleroid sagas of tragedy outside the law," but added that it is "more effective on the jacket than when he [Waits] underlines its emotional resonance in song."[6] Patrick Humphries, in his book The many lives of Tom Waits, was unimpressed, labelling the song a "rewrite" of Waits' 1976 song, "Small Change."[7] The song later lent its name to the Peter Medak film Romeo Is Bleeding, which starred Gary Oldman.

Cover versions[edit]

"Romeo is Bleeding" has been covered by a number of artists, including MC 900 Ft. Jesus for the tribute album Step Right Up: The Songs of Tom Waits (1995), and by Dexter Romweber's Infernal Racket for the tribute album New Coat of Paint (2000).[3]


  1. ^ Blue Valentine track listing - Tom Waits Official Website - accessed June 1, 2010
  2. ^ Jacobs, Jay S. (2000), Wild years: the music and myth of Tom Waits, ECW Press
  3. ^ a b c "Romeo Is Bleeding" lyrics - Tom Waits Library - accessed June 1, 2010
  4. ^ Soocher, Stan (1979) "Tom Waits For No One," Circus Weekly, January 23, 1979
  5. ^ Blue Valentine review - Adrian Denning's album reviews - accessed June 1, 2010
  6. ^ Blue Valentine review - Robert Christgau's album reviews - accessed June 1, 2010
  7. ^ Humphries, Patrick (2007) The many lives of Tom Waits, Omnibus Press, p. 107