The prince of boozers, losers, and users, Bay Area resident boho Tom Waits has been thrilling audiences with his whiskey-soaked tales for more than 30 years. But it isn't his propensity to dredge the bottom of society that makes Waits an icon; it's his ability to inject life, wit, and passion into his tales of down-and-outers that distinguishes him from all the contenders and pretenders. He may exude a rugged, devil-may-care cool, but underneath there's the bleeding heart of a disillusioned romantic. And hate it or love it, Waits' rasp of a voice is undeniably one of the most distinct and enthralling in all of music. This past year has seen not just another excellent album, the appropriately titled Real Gone, but also the West Coast premiere of The Black Rider, his collaboration with European theater enfant terrible Robert Wilson and the late William Burroughs.