The Wire Almost Had A Different Theme Song Because Tom Waits Couldn't Work His VCR

David Simon's "The Wire" has been lauded for a great many things over the years, including its visceral depiction of urban life and its deeply-entrenched sociopolitical themes. Equally widely praised is the crime drama's opening theme, a cover of Tom Waits' iconic "Way Down in the Hole" by The Blind Boys of Alabama.

Not only did Waits' lyrics complement the core elements of "The Wire," but the version by The Blind Boys of Alabama was able to re-emphasize the nitty-gritties of drug culture and poverty in Baltimore, which the show was predominantly about. However, what if "The Wire" had not been accompanied by this fitting theme song at all? Per Entertainment Weekly, the show could've had a wildly different theme song, thanks to an equally absurd string of events, with Tom Waits at the nexus.

An Almost-Missed Opportunity

As a longtime Waits fan, Simon instinctively settled on "Way Down in the Hole," and managed to receive permission for the usage of the song from The Blind Boys of Alabama, who agreed fairly quickly. Of course, the next step was to acquire authorization from the song's original writer, Waits, which proved to be rather difficult at first, as Simon and his team did not receive a response from the gravelly-voiced composer for quite some time. In a conversation with Entertainment Weekly, Simon explained:

"We were getting near our air date and we still didn't have permission...We mailed him versions of the show, so he could see what the show was about and he could see his song laid in, but he wasn't responding. It was like, 'Jesus, what are we going to do if he says no?"

Waits is no stranger to his songs being used in films, such as the inclusion of two tracks in Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and the indie film "Smoke," whose closing soundtrack featured "Innocent When You Dream." As Waits' legacy hinged on the urge to create heartfelt music focusing on the often-overlooked vistas of society, it was confusing for "The Wire" team as to why Waits would be averse to this proposition. Receiving no clarity about the situation amid an ever-approaching deadline, the show's post-production producer, Karen Thorson called Waits, and the confusion became instantly clear.

While Waits had received the material sent by the show's team, he was unable to check it out due to the fact that he was unable to work his VCR. Per Simon, Waits had simply asked them to wait till his wife came home and helped him sort out the technical issue. It is safe to say that the VCR issue was sorted out pretty soon, as his approval came right after — a pretty bonkers turn of events that was only possible due to a correctly-timed phone call. 

In case the call had not taken place (thankfully, it did), Simon had "A Common Disaster" by the Cowboy Junkies in mind, which, while also a great choice, doesn't quite match up to Waits' composition. The rest is history.