June 11, 2008


I went to Maine this past weekend with some friends. For four hours there and four hours back we listened to Randy Newman and NPR.

1) Why is Randy Newman famous? He can't sing (he mostly does that sing-speak thing that irritates me so much) He can't play the piano very well. Better than me, but not better than a talented fifth grader. His lyrics are all standard liberalism. It's not even that interesting liberalism. Rednecks suck. Conservatives suck. People who like America suck. People who disagree with Randy Newman suck. People who aren't as tolerant of diversity as Randy Newman suck. If you want music with funny, interesting, liberal lyrics, check out the Dead Kennedys. He says that he doesn't want to be known for novelty songs like Short People, but what else has he got? Every song that guy has ever written has been a novelty song. At least Weird Al revels in it rather than run away from it.

2) God, I can't stand NPR. I can't stand the way their announcers talk (is there an NPR style of announcing? They all sound the same). The funny thing that that I have people telling me about how listening to the news makes them angry and that they're angry all the time. I want to say, "Have you tried not listening to NPR 24 hours a day?" Bad things happen every second of every day somewhere in the world, and if you've resolved to be outraged by all of it, then, yes you're going to be ticked off most of the time. And NPR has that pseudo-intellectual "If I listen to this report on yak ranchers in outer Mongolia and nod appreciatively, then that must mean I'm intelligent, sensitive, intellectually curious and connected to the world around me! Aren't I a special person?" vibe going for it.

So, my plan to get terrorists to talk is to make them listen to NPR all day, except when Car Talk or music is on, then they get Randy Newman.

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Posted by Bryan Francoeur at June 11, 2008 8:45 AM

There is no accounting for taste, good or bad, but I cannot recall reading a less insightful essay on songwriting.

"His lyrics are all standard liberalism."--Wow, that statement departs from reality in ways I cannot begin to address.

"If you want music with funny, interesting, liberal lyrics, check out the Dead Kennedys." Now that Randy Newman's wit has been compared unfavorably to Jello Biafra's, I can retire to bedlam.

All religions suck
All religions make me wanna throw up
All religions suck
All religions make me wanna BLEAH

They really make me sick
They really make me sick

Ah, greatness. It combines the sly, bon vivant lyricism of Cole Porter with the straightforward lyrical power of early Dylan.

Posted by: K. Bowman at June 11, 2008 10:03 AM

It wasn't meant to be an essay (and it isn't - maybe you should know what an essay is before you shoot your mouth off) it was just me venting on being exposed to eight hours of NPR and Randy Newman. As you said, there's no accounting for taste and if you think Randy Newman is some kind of songwriting genius you're adequate proof of the concept.
I didn't say the Dead Kennedys are Cole Porter, I just said they were better than Randy Newman.
And so they are. I notice that you couldn't come up with any Randy Newman lyrics that don't suck. I also notice that you cannot come up with an example of how Newman's lyrics aren't standard liberalism. You say it's wrong but are apparently too smart to say WHY it's wrong. And, since anyone can pick and choose lyrics to prove a point (you proved that well enough by your choice of one of the more forgettable DK songs) here you go:

We're rednecks, rednecks
And we don't know our ass from a hole in the ground
We're rednecks, we're rednecks
And we're keeping the niggers down

Oh, yeah all rednecks suck. Wow, way to sock it to the man, Randy! Nobody's ever made such a bold statement as that.
I know, you like Randy Newman and I said something bad about him so now I'm the devil. Again, pretty much standard issue liberalism.

Posted by: Bryan at June 11, 2008 10:47 AM

The songs Randy Newman did for the Toy Story movies are good.

Posted by: Brandon at June 11, 2008 10:54 AM

Don't forget those other Dr.Demento staples: "Burn On" and "Political Science". Look, he's being ironic! Irony being the subsititute for wit among the pretentious and semi-talented.

On, and there's "I Love LA"., which would actually makes sense if it were ironic.

If you want conventional liberalism, try "It's Money That Matters." (Get rid of Randy's voice and lyrics, and you've got a rockin' Mark Knoffler song.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at June 11, 2008 10:59 AM

Randy Newman's recent work sucks like an eight-pound Oreck XL, but much of his older work is quite good--a bit too cynical, perhaps, but I'd rate "Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father" and "Baltimore" among the best songwriting of the last fifty years.

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 11, 2008 11:19 AM

Bryan, Thank you for this excellent jewel. I haven't listened to NPR more than once or twice in over a decade. Concerning your observation regarding the way the announcers sound, you're very much onto something (there might be a book in there; I'd certainly buy it.) I sent your commment to my brother, whose wife has worked at NPR for 20 years (not as an announcer, I'm pleased to tell you). He asked me to convey his deepest gratitude for understanding. I myself always admired NPR and its announcers for their creative skills that allowed me to imagine and even feel what listening to the radio must have been like in the Soviet Union.

Posted by: Qiao Yang at June 11, 2008 11:26 AM

NPR announcers? "The Perfectly Modulated Voice of Reason".


Posted by: Mikey at June 11, 2008 12:10 PM

I live near Cleveland; we think "Burn On" is hilarious.

"Political Science" isn't ironic, it's a manifesto.

Posted by: Mike Morley at June 11, 2008 12:16 PM

Essay: "a. A short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author." I think the term was apt, but whatever. Heaven forbid I should "shoot my mouth off" in the comments section of a blog.

I actually don't dislike the Dead Kennedys. I just think Jello Biafra is more strident then "funny, interesting, liberal." Jello's political statements have always been laughably self-parodic (which is, perhaps, intentional).

But the song you pick, "Rednecks," is the uber example of how Randy Newman is NOT an ordinary liberal:
"Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
"With some smart-ass New York Jew
"And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
"And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too
"Well, he may be a fool but he's our fool
"If they think they're better than him they're "wrong
"So I went to the park and I took some paper along
"And that's where I made this song

Randy's from Louisiana and was actually taking the side of Rednecks (like himself) against the kind of people who look down on them. The lyrics are not particularly subtle, but you have to have a tin ear to actually hear them as an attack on rednecks. Randy actually faced, and still faces, a lot of criticism for the the blunt anti-p.c. force of those lyrics.

Raoul, "I Love L.A." is intended to be ironic. Really. It's a parody of songs like New York, New York and Chicago (My Kind of Town). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Love_L.A. I mean, "look at that bum, baby, he's down on his knees." If you are looking for more subtle irony, look at a song like "Dayton, Ohio 1903."

Look. I'm not saying you must like Randy Newman. There is no accounting for taste, and Randy's music is quirky and has closer affinities to tin-pan alley than rock-and-roll. I perfectly understand how frustrating it must be to be stuck in a car for 8 hours, forced to listen to stuff you hate.

But, if you are going to attack something others appreciate, as "bad," you are saying, in effect, "you must not like." Which, again, is fine. I enjoy a good critical panning when they are well done. But, your attack on Randy Newman just exhibits a failure to appreciate based on lack of understanding, in my view. I agree with Mike Morley. I think Randy is a genuinely great songwriter, (I am obviously not alone in that view in light of the artists who have covered him and the awards he has received.) And, I don't know that it would do much good to pick out particular lyrics as examples. Start with Mike's examples.

Or, have you heard Sarah Mclaughlin's cut "When She Loved Me" from the Toy Story 2 soundtrack. I don't know how any human could dismiss that song as unlovely.

Posted by: K.Bowman at June 11, 2008 4:47 PM

Oh, and I don't disagree with your attack on NPR. NPR, with its unreflective bias and its snobbery and its "everybody lives on the upper west side" world-view, makes me nuts.

But, I still listen, mostly because I am too cheap to buy X-M radio, and contemporary music on the radio is mostly dreadful, and Rush isn't on all the time.

Posted by: K.Bowman at June 11, 2008 5:03 PM

K.Bowman - I use CDs in the car. And when the top is down it is early sixties pop. A lot of good driving music there.

NPR - "All is lost."

Posted by: Mikey at June 11, 2008 5:52 PM

mikey: the Micheal Kelly piece is lol funny. Thank you. What a shame he won't be writing more.

Posted by: ed at June 11, 2008 7:05 PM

I'm truly astonished that nobody has yet mentioned Randy Newman's "guest appearance" on Family Guy (scroll down). Let's just say you'll like how it ends.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 11, 2008 10:43 PM

Anyone who thinks Newman's "Rednecks" is actually an assault on the South, doesn't know how to listen and isn't smart enough to understand the rest of his music. You could always ask yourself why every freakin' musical giant in any interview mentions Newman as an influence and acknowledges him as the genius he most assuredly is, but mulling that over might make your brain explode-- so, if I were you, I'd avoid that sort of introspection, which just might indicate you're wrong about something, and don't know as much about music as you think you do.

Posted by: Susan at June 14, 2008 12:36 PM


Posted by: oj at June 14, 2008 1:52 PM