Nighthawks is a familiar painting that has been honored, parodied, and rendered in so many ways that pretty much everyone has seen a version of it. I like it; there’s a print of it hanging in my home office with a crack in the glass from the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. That glass will not be replaced, as a reminder of how much that event impacted this area.
Painted in 1942 by Edward Hopper, it is an image of three people around the counter of a diner, with the cook/server behind the counter. What makes it evocative is the faces of the people: Why are they there? What are their stories? What is everyone thinking? The painting leaves it up to the viewer to decide.
Tom Waits made an album in 1975, Nighthawks at the Diner, which was a live and intimate recording including the title song, and to be honest, I heard that song before I ever saw the painting. When I saw the painting, well, the two go together very well.
Perhaps I loved it because that was my way at the time (I heard it in the 80’s to be fair; I’m not THAT old!). Many a late night was spent in a similar diner (or more likely Denny’s – not remotely as romantic) unable to sleep, off work in the middle of the night, and just wanting that last cup of coffee and cigarette. Often, the people at the counter were workers like me, or just left the bar scene, or just couldn’t sleep, and had to be out of the house. There is a bit of mystery about the people there, like I mentioned above; it’s almost like a Twilight Zone episode. A story is there, but the viewer gets to interpret it.
Someone did – Douglas Steinberg made a play about it, and set it up with real live people:
Then there’s this:
I kind of like it, but it’s a IDKWTF sort of thing.