Small Change

(Got Rained On With His Own .38)

Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight
And nobody flinched down by the arcade
And the marquees weren't weeping, they went stark raving mad
And the cabbies(2) were the only ones that really had it made
And his cold trousers were twisted, and the sirens high and shrill
And crumpled in his fist was a five-dollar bill
And the naked mannequins with their Cheshire grins(3)
And the raconteurs and roustabouts said, Buddy, come on in, cause...
Cause the dreams ain't broken down here now, they're walking with a limp
Now that Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight
And nobody flinched down by the arcade
And the burglar alarm's been disconnected and the newsmen start to rattle
And the cops are telling jokes about some whorehouse in Seattle
And the fire hydrants plead the Fifth Amendment(5)
And the furniture is bargains galore
But the blood is by the jukebox on an old linoleum floor
And what a hot rain on 42nd Street, and now the umbrellas ain't got a chance
And the newsboy's a lunatic with stains on his pants, cause...
Cause Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight
And no one's gone over to close his eyes
And there's a racing form in his pocket, circled 'Blue Boots' in the third
And the cashier at the clothing store didn't say a word
As the siren tears the night in half, and someone lost his wallet
Well, it's surveillance of assailants, if that's what you wanna call it
And the whores hike up their skirts(6) and fish for drugstore prophylactics(7)
With their mouths cut just like razor blades and their eyes are like
And her radiator's steaming and her teeth are in a wreck
Nah, she won't let you kiss her, but what the hell did you expect?
And the Gypsies are tragic and if you want to buy perfume
Well, they'll bark you down like carneys, sell you Christmas cards in June,
But Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight
And his headstone's a gumball machine
No more chewing gum or baseball cards or overcoats or dreams
Someone's hosing down the sidewalk, and he's only in his teens, cause...
Cause Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight
And a fistful of dollars can't change that
And someone copped his watch fob, and someone got his ring
And the newsboy got his pork-pie Stetson hat(8)
And the tuberculosis old men at the Nelson wheeze and cough
And someone will head south until this whole thing cools off, cause...
Cause Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight, yeah
Small Change got rained on with his own thirty-eight

Written by: Tom Waits
Published by: Fifth Floor Music (ASCAP), 1976 & Warner Bros. Music Ltd, 1986
Official release: "Small Change", Elektra/ Asylum Records, 1976 &
"Anthology Of Tom Waits", WEA/ Elektra, 1984 &
"Asylum Years", WEA International Inc., 1986

Known covers:
Vox Poppin'. Stormy Weather. 1993. Street Gold. "Small Change/ The One That Got Away" (a cappella medley). Re-released on "Looking For An Echo", 1999
Looking For An Echo. Stormy Weather. July 13, 1999. Street Gold. Songs covered: "Small Change/ The One That Got Away" (a cappella medley). Same version as on "Vox Poppin'", 1993


(1) Small Change: n. [1970s+] (US) an insignificant, weak person [monetary imagery] (Source: "Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang". Jonathon Green. Cassel & Co., 1998. ISBN: 0-304-35167-9)
- Tom Waits (1976): "It was the first time I ever covered a homocide, and the incident is a true one. I was in New York City, stayin' at the Chelsea Hotel, and a young cat was shot and killed across the street from the restaurant where I was goin' to eat - just as I walked in the door. It happened two years before I wrote anything about it. I just didn't know how to deal with it, y'know" "I was just trying to deal with the whole murder thing in New York, the whole ambience... It's all just like 'so what?, somebody got shot and killed, I don't care.' By the time you read it in the newspapers, it's gone. I mean, a newspaper doesn't weep, it's not wet, it doesn't bleed, doesn't croak. It's just facts, no ideas, no mess, no funeral, no phone calls in the middle of the night explaining it to somebody, no tears, no nothing. "The night I saw this cat blown away, the cops were sittin' around sayin', 'Hey, Charley, where you goin' on your vacation?' And there's this little cat oozin' life, lyin' in his own blood. I don't know it was just... sssshhhheeewwww," Waits said, shaking his head, unable to find the words to describe it further. (Source: "For Waits City Life Is Small Change" by Bob Claypool. The Houston Post. December 12, 1976)
- Barney Hoskyns (2009): "It was during this brief stay in New York [Sep. 16-20 1975] that Waits and [writer David] McGee witnessed a singularly shocking scene one night, just along 23rd Street from the Chelsea. The two men had left the hotel to eat at a nearby pizza parlour, only to find it blocked off with police tape. Inside, with his head at the foot of a gumball machine, was a black teenager, a puddle of blood fanning out from him as he lay dead on the floor. "Some guy had just shot him," Waits recalled. "He was sprawled right there against the wall. I was scared shitless." The two men speculated as to what had happened. "Tom said something like, 'Maybe he got rained on by the pizza man's 38 "' says McGee. Born in the conjecture of that conversation was the spoken word masterpiece "Small Change". (Source: David McGee email interview April 1, 2008 as quoted in “Lowside Of The Road: A Life Of Tom Waits" by Barney Hoskyns. Faber/ Broadway, 2009)
- Live intro from State Theatre, Sydney, Australia. May 2, 1979:"This is a story that takes place on 23rd street in New York City On a hot summer night A place called the Chelsea Hotel On this particular night, there was an incident that never made the papers No one squandered over this thing Kojak wasn't there this night Some little guy with bovine perspiration on the upper lip area walked over and said 'Bag 'im and tag 'im' It's about a guy named Small Change On this particular night he got rained on with his own thirty-eight..." (Transcribed by Ulf Berggren. Tom Waits eGroups discussionlist, 2000).
- Francis Thumm (1988): "When did you first see yourself as a songwriter?" TW: "Actually, even after I had made records. I didn't feel completely confident in the craft until maybe Small Change. When I first put a story to music. I fell I was learning and getting the confidence to keep doing it. "Tom Traubert's Blues" "Small Change" and "I Wish I Was in New Orleans" gave me some confidence." (Source: "Tom's Wild Years" Interview Magazine (USA), by Francis Thumm. October, 1988)
- In the late 1970s Waits often used to perform Small Change as a medley with "Big Spender" Written by Coleman and Fields. Originally performed by Helen Gallagher, Thelma Oliver and The Girls in the musical "Sweet Charity " in 1965. Originally recorded by Shirley Bassey in 1967. Big Spender: "The minute you walked in the joint. I could see you were a man of distinction. A real big spender. Good looking, so refined. Say wouldn't you like to know what's going on in my mind. So let me get right to the point. I don't pop my cork for every gal I see. Hey big spender. Spend a little time with me."

(2) Cabbie n. A cab-driver; now specif. a taxi driver (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner) 

(3) Cheshire grin:
- He grins like a Cheshire cat.
Cheese was formerly sold in Cheshire moulded like a cat. The allusion is to the grinning cheese-cat, but is applied to persons who show their teeth and gums when they laugh. (Source: "The First Hypertext Edition of The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable", E. Cobham Brewer. 1997-99 Ltd).
- Also quoted in "Nighthawk Postcards": "Lookin' for some kind of a Cheshire billboard grin."

(5) Plead the fifth/a five
- To refuse to do something; to refuse to state one's opinion, reason, or objection. Derived from taking the Fifth Amendment (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)
- phr. [1950s+] (US) to avoid committing oneself, to refuse to take an action or make a statement. [the Fifth Amendment (1791) to the US Constitution states that no person 'shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself'] (Source: "Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang". Jonathon Green. Cassel & Co., 1998. ISBN: 0-304-35167-9) 

(6) And the whores hike up their skirts: In earlier versions this goes: "But the whores still smear on Revlon and they all look like Jayne Meadows." (American actress and sex symbol. As Meadows got older she became known for using too much make-up, hence the reference). In later versions of Small Change the above line is removed for legal reasons (Revlon) and replaced with "And the whores hike/ kike up their skirts, and fish for drug-store prophylactics". The censored booklet of the Small Change album gives the incorrect and incomplete lyrics. Strangely enough the orginal lyrics are used again on the later album Asylum Years.
- Jay S. Jacobs (2000): "Here, in the details, is everything that Waits had learned about telling a story with music. Unfortunately, a couple of those details had to be edited out. Tom was forced to change the lines, "The whores all smear on Revlon / And they look just like Jayne Meadows," when the cosmetic giant threatened legal action. And Meadows - the wife of Steve Allen, who had performed on Waits's favorite Jack Kerouac album - also had a problem with this vivid image. When the LP Small Change was reissued the offending passage was replaced with, "The whores all hike up their skirts / And fish for drug-store prophylactics." On the CD version of the album Waits sings the compromise lines, but the printed lyrics read: "The whores all smear on / And they look just like." Apparently Waits wasn't willing to let Revlon and Meadows off the hook so easily after all." (Source: Wild Years, The Music and Myth of Tom Waits. Jay S. Jacobs, 2000).
- Clark Peterson (1978): "You (also) got into trouble for singing your 'Small Change' song when you said, 'And the whores still smear on Revlon and they all look like Jayne Meadows.' When you recorded it, you changed it to, 'But the whores still kike up their skirts and search for drug store prophylactics. Tom Waits "I deleted the Jayne Meadows reference from the album 'cause Steve Allen (her husband) would have been upset. You can use a personality's name in a song but not if it's slanderous. If you say that all the whores like Jayne Meadows, regardless of whether they look like her or not you can't say that ... 'cause the whores'll get pissed off." (Source: "Sleazy Rider - A man who works at being a derelict". RELIX magazine by Clark Peterson. May - June, 1978. Vol. 5 No. 2)

(7) Prophylactic n.: A rubber; a condom. "A thin rubber sheath worn over the penis during sexual intercourse, usually as a contraceptive device, but legally available only 'for prevention of [veneral] disease." :-)(Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)

(8) Pork-pie hat:
- n. [1920s+] a style of men's hat. [resemblance] (Source: "Cassell's Dictionary Of Slang". Jonathon Green. Cassel & Co., 1998. ISBN: 0-304-35167-9)
- Etymology: from its shape. Date: 1860: a hat with a low telescoped crown, flat top, and brim turned up all around or up in back and down in front (Source: Merriam-Webster online dictionary. 2003 by Merriam-Webster, Incorporated)
- "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" was a tune written by Charles Mingus. The tune came up instinctively when at a gig Mingus learned that Lester Young (who most often was seen wearing the hat) had died. (Source: "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" on the album "Mingus").
- Stetson, John B. Stetson
: A hat made by the John B. Stetson hat company. "My good old John B. Stetson. That was 'the' hat in those days.' L. Armstrong, Satchmo, My life in New Orleans. Any man's hat, regardless of make (Source: Dictionary Of American Slang, Wentworth/ Flexner)