Friday, October 2, 2015

Randy Newman Part 3: Love songs and ballads

Part 1 and Part 2 of this long article explored Randy Newman's political songs and discussed how Newman's use of irony and social and political satire, as a mode of expression, exemplifies how irony and satire can be a socio-political tool to illuminate complex social and political issues.  

This third instalment focuses on his more personal songs and the songs which tend to define his work- ballads and love songs. Many are breathtakingly  beautiful and tender songs, that unlike Newman’s other songs, offer no protective irony, but bear the weight of human experience, pathos and melancholia. However, in a 2003 interview in Uncut Magazine, Newman claims, 'every time I write one, it's somehow fudged'.

Losing You is a song inspired by a family’s loss of their 23 year old son to brain cancer.

Do you know how much you mean to me?/Should've told you 'cause it's true/I'd get over losing anything/But I'll never get over losing you/When you're young and there's time you forget the past/You don't think that you will but you do/But I know that I don't have time enough/And I'll never get over losing you
Listen to the beauty of the images in I Think it’s Going to Rain Today, written when Newman was just 22:

Broken windows and empty hallways/A pale dead moon in sky streaked with grey/ Human kindness is over flowing/ And I think its going to rain today/……./Lonely, lonely/Tin can at my feet/Think I’ll kick it down the street/That’s the way to treat a friend/Bright before me the signs implore me/Help the needy and show them the way/ Human kindness is overflowing/And I think its going to rain today'

In an interview in the music magazine Uncut, Newman is characteristically understated about  I Think its Going to Rain Today, one of his best known songs:

'You know I've changed my mind a little about that song. I used to think it was just sophomore college- boy romantic misery, sort of generalised young-man depression. I mean I was 21, 22. But it's not bad. You know 'Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles...' Just the fact that the song uses the word 'implore'-it's almost outside the vocabulary you use for pop music nowadays. So I have a higher opinion of that song than I used to.'

Feels like Home is a characteristically beautiful Newman piano ballad.  A love song.

With your embrace down a long dark street/And a sigh of wind in the night/But I'm alright 'cause I have you here with me/ And I can almost see the dark feels light/If you knew how much this moment means to me/And how long I've waited for your touch/If you knew how I wanted someone to come along/I never thought I'd love anyone so much/Feels like home to me, feels like home to me/Feels like I'm on my way to where I come from/Feels like home to me, feels like home to me/Feels like I'm on my way back to where I belong/Feels like I'm on my way back to where I belong

In Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father, Newman creates a poignant and beautiful ballad of a daughter at her father’s funeral on the plains of Texas. In just 12 lines Newman crafts an environment of profound sadness, melancholia and humanity and a daughter's lament for her dead father.
Here I am lost in the wind/'Round in circles sailing/Like a ship that never comes in/Standing by myself/Sing a sad song for a good man/Sing a sad song for me/Sing a sad song for the sailor/A thousand miles from the sea/Here I am alone on the plain/Sun's going down/It's starting to rain/Papa, we'll go sailing

With a few exceptions-I Miss You and Dixie Flyer are examples-Newman rarely does autobiographical songs.

I Miss You is a regretful and wistful love song, written to his first wife whilst married to his second wife. 
Still in my heart after all these years/separated by time now by distance/I couldn't allow myself to feel the loss that I feel right now/you're far away and happy I know/it's a little bit late... twenty years or so/it's a little bit cold for all those concerned/but I'd sell my soul and your soul for a song/so I'll pour my heart out/ I miss you/ I miss you, I'm sorry but I do/I want to thank you for the good years/and apologize for the rough ones/you must be laughing yourself sick/but I wanted to write you one before I quit/and this one's it/I miss you, I wanted you to know/I miss you, and I still love you so.'
In Dixie Flyer, perhaps Newman's most autobiographical song, he describes his birth in Los Angeles during WW2 and his mother’s return to her family on the Dixie Flyer, the train from Los Angeles to New Orleans, where Newman lived till aged 11, when his family returned to Los Angeles:

I was born right here/November 43/Dad was a captain in the army/fighting the Germans in Sicily/My poor little mumma/Didn’t know a soul in LA/Went down to the Union Station made a getaway/got on the Dixie Flyer/bound for New Orleans/cross the State of Texas to the land of dreams/on the Dixie Flyer/bound for New Orleans/back to her friends and family/in the land of the dreams

Like Tom Waits, Newman has the gravitas and mastery of his craft to write songs with beautiful melodies that tell stories that shock. He conjures up lives that exist outside most songs. He creates characters unlike himself and gives these characters a voice, often to speak unpleasant things.

I Want You to Hurt Like I Do closes his 1988 album Land of Dreams  and is a ballad about a man who emotionally damages his family without meaning to:

I ran out on my children/And I ran out on my wife/Gonna run out on you too, baby/I done it all my life/Everybody cried the night I left/Well, almost everybody did/My little boy just hung his head/And I put my arm, put my arm around his little shoulder/And this is what I said:/"Sonny I just want you to hurt like I do/I just want you to hurt like I do/I just want you to hurt like I do/Honest I do, honest I do, honest I do'/If I had one wish/One dream I knew would come true/I'd want to speak to all the people of the world/I'd get up there, I'd get up there on that platform/First I'd sing a song or two you know I would/Then I'll tell you what I'd do/I'd talk to the people and I'd say/"It's a rough rough world, it's a tough tough world/Well, you know/And things don't always, things don't always go the way we plan/But there's one thing, one thing we all have in common/ And it's something everyone can understand/All over the world sing along/ I just want you to hurt like I do

In Germany Before the War, based on Fritz Lang's M, the song’s character is a child murderer:
In Germany before the war/There was a man who owned a store/And every day at five-o-nine/He’d cross the park down to the Rhine/And there he’ d sit by the shore……../A little girl has lost her way/With hair of gold and eyes of gray/Reflected in his glasses/As he watches her/A little girl has lost her way/

Then in the last three lines of the song Newman tells a shattering end to the story:
We lie beneath the autumn sky/My little golden girl and I/And she lies very still.
Randy Newman's website is here. Some informative articles about Newman are herehere, here, and here.

No comments: