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Monday, 05 November 2012 10:09

Falling in love with music: 'Small Change' by Tom Waits + Video

Falling in love with music: 'Small Change' by Tom Waits
Written by Erin Frank
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In the fall of 2003, I was living in San Diego and wondering when fall would actually happen. People who leave the idylls of Southern California frequently cite their need for discernible seasons, and I was no different.

San Diego does have seasons, of course, but their changing happens with a whisper instead of a bang, and outside of the fire hazards that accompany the Santa Ana Winds each fall, it's difficult to understand when the city makes its official switch to cooler temperatures, longer nights and the smell of crushed dry leaves (which usually end up being eucalyptus, and they don't have the same appeal as something more, well, fall-like).

I tried to assuage my profound homesickness by burying myself in books and music, and one day at Tower Records, I picked up "Small Change" by Tom Waits. "Small Change" was released in 1976 by Asylum, the post-"Closing Time" label that saw Mr. Waits switch gears from a folksy balladeer to a doleful, poetically-hearted and thoroughly soused piano man. Before jazz-club-cad Tom or bizarre-circus-ringmaster Tom, there was "Small Change" Tom and the other Asylum recordings, so many of which are perfect for the lengthening shadows and rain-slicked streets of fall.

Tom Waits will always have the market cornered on strange and lonely little characters inserted into strange and lonely little vignettes: his small-time criminals (like the titular Small Change in "Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38)"), tip-scraping musicians ("The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)"), and skid row, flop-housing, nowhere-to-go-but-everything-been-drunk anti-heroes forever stumbling through bad neighborhoods and foreign cities ("Tom Traubert's Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)").

For me, "Small Change" was an album of homesickness that became an album for a season, one I've continued to listen every fall even though I'm now in a place, Seattle, where the change is apparent and significant, and everything seems like a more appropriate setting for Tom and the people inside of his songs.

Discover more great autumn albums in our "Falling in Love With Music" series.

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