Thursday, October 1, 2015

More on the political songs of Randy Newman (Part 2)

'I feel the country is never going to be excused for slavery’
Randy Newman

'...used to worry about the poor/But I don't worry anymore"
Randy Newman, Its Money that I love

In Part 1 I wrote that the American singer-songwrite Randy Newman has written some of the sharpest critiques of US and European imperialism, capitalism and America’s treatment of its own people. 
Newman has mastered the use of irony and social and political satire as a mode of expression and a socio-political tool to illuminate complex social and political issues. 

Many of his songs echo Antonio Gramsci’s idea of ‘passionate sarcasm’, a form of irony that expresses dissent and challenges the hypocrisy and corruption of the powerful.

The World isn’t Fair engages a conversation with Karl Marx about Marxism, class, inequality and capitalist greed:

When Karl Marx was a boy/He took a hard look around/He saw people were starving all over the place/While others were painting the town (buh buh)/The public spirited boy/Became a public spirited man/So he worked very hard and read everything/Until he came up with a plan/There’ ll be no exploitation/Of the worker or his kin/No discrimination’ cause the color of your skin/No more private property/It would not be allowed/No one could raise too high/No one could sink so low/Or go under completely like some we all know/If Marx were living today/He’d be rolling around in his grave.

 In  A Piece of the Pie, from the 2008 album Harps and Angels, Newman crafts a rousing call to arms about continuing inequality in the US:
Jesus Christ it stinks here low and high/Some get rich/And others just get by/Bono's off in Africa - he's never around/The country turns its lonely eyes to who? Jackson Browne/A piece of the pie/That's all we're asking for/A piece of the pie

The Great Nations of Europe tells of the rapacious imperial ambitions and atrocities inflicted by the European nations on the people they colonized:
The great Nations of Europe/Had gathered on the shore/ They’d conquered what was behind them/But now they wanted more/So they looked to the mighty ocean/And took to the western sea/The great nations of Europe in the sixteenth century/Hide your wives and daughters/Hide the groceries too/Great Nations of Europe coming though………/Balboa found the Pacific/And on the trail one day/He met some friendly Indians/Whom he was told were gay/So he had them torn apart by dogs on religious grounds they say/ The great nations of Europe were quite holy in their way

Newman has made his name composing movie scores, especially scores for children's movies such as the Toy Stories series, Cars and Monsters Inc.

Even songs that appear in children’s movies engage political themes. The song Our Town from the movie Cars is sung by James Taylor, but Newman’s song ponders the destructive effects of large scale economic forces on the fictional town of Radiator Springs.

His deployment of the term ‘main street’ is telling, reflecting the belief in the US at the time that the economic interests of ordinary people (main street) were being sacrificed to benefit corporate and financial capitalism (Wall St):

Long ago, but not so very long ago/The world was different, oh yes it was/You settled down and you built a town and made it live/And you watched it grow/It was your town/Time goes by, time brings changes, you change, too/Nothing comes that you can't handle, so on you go/Never see it coming, the world caves in on you/On your town/Nothing you can do/Main street isn't main street anymore/No one seems to need us like they did before/It's hard to find a reason left to stay/But it's our town/Love it anyway/Come what may, it's our town.

Part 1 of this blog is here. Part 3  explores Newman's ballads and more personal songs.

Randy Newman's website is here. Some informative articles about Newman are herehere, here, and here.

No comments: