Bweinh! Soundtrack — Randy Newman

April 1, 2007, 2:18 am; posted by
Filed under Music, Steve  | 2 Comments

Every weekend, a different Bweinh!tributor will discuss a song or songwriter that inspires or interests them.

Judging from his lyrics and statements, Randy Newman and I disagree on most everything. One of his latest songs compares the Bush administration to Hitler and Stalin and implies that Clarence Thomas’s constitutional jurisprudence has somehow made him no longer black. Even a song I like — “God’s Song (That’s Why I Love Mankind)” — is sung from the perspective of a deity who laughs at prayers and “recoils in horror” from mankind, which “means nothing” to Him. “You all must be crazy to put your faith in me,” he (He?) sings. “That’s why I love mankind.”

But I don’t need to agree with someone’s politics or theology to recognize their brilliance, and Randy Newman is undeniably a brilliant songwriter — in music and lyrics. Part of the reason I like him so much is that he doesn’t care about making popular music. His themes are often dark (“Sail Away,” “Old Man”), he makes frequent use of irony (“Jolly Coppers on Parade”) and satire (“Political Science”), and his only real hit song (“Short People”) dared to admit the harsh truth that the vertically challenged — who make up a significant portion of American music buyers — have “grubby little fingers,” “dirty little minds,” and “nobody to love.” He even wrote “Lonely at the Top” — a bouncy denunciation of the emptiness of fame — for Frank Sinatra, who unsurprisingly passed on a song that ends, “Listen, all you fools out there — go on and love me, I don’t care. Oh, it’s lonely at the top.”

Randy Newman writes songs that are real, and I value that more than almost anything else. Whether it’s the low-key piano of “Old Man on the Farm,” the strange electrified meanderings of “Last Night I Had A Dream,” or the full orchestration of “In Germany Before the War,” Randy couples memorable melodies with thoughtful, conversational lyrics, too subtle and unorthodox for the radio, but perfect for the person who likes to think and listen. And if, at times, music can be a tool to produce an emotional response, to create in the listener’s mind the world of its lyrics, few use it better.

My favorite song of his might be the haunting “Texas Girl at the Funeral of Her Father.” Under 3 minutes, it starts with soft strings, leading into the stark and simple melody of the verse, which fulfills its own request (“sing a sad song, for a good man; sing a sad song for me”). And another musical interlude comes, before the last few lines carry the song out.

“Here I am — alone on a plane. The sun’s goin’ down. It’s startin’ to rain.”

“Papa, we’ll go sailin’.”

The last chord on the piano.

And I’m there.




2 Comments to “Bweinh! Soundtrack — Randy Newman”

  1. Bweinh! Soundtrack: Billy Joe Royal : Bweinh! on April 8th, 2007 11:53 pm

    […] Read last week’s soundtrack entry here. […]

  2.! Soundtrack - Death Cab for Cutie : Bweinh! on April 14th, 2007 12:00 am

    […] Every weekend, a different Bweinh!tributor will discuss a song or songwriter that inspires or interests them. Read the last two soundtrack entries here and here. […]

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