No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Michael Barrett

This week I’ve been looking at some pretty famous songwriters who achieved fame for their populist style of singing and their unusual songs, Leonard Cohen and Joan Baez for example. Today my choice is Randy Newman. He’s one of our great American songwriters, but what I most admire about him is his choice of subject matter.

 |  Naomi Louisa O'Connell

Steve first introduced me to the music of Randy Newman with the song Dayton Ohio, 1903 in the NYFOS ‘Roadtrip’ program and I have been a huge fan ever since. This song, written in the early 70s, is one of favorites. It pulls no punches. At a 2011 concert in London, Randy said about this song: “Funny how people don’t laugh at [it] anymore. We’re not actually that crazy. Not quite.”

 |  Jack Viertel

Among pop singer-songwriters Randy Newman stands out in many ways, but most especially in his ability to write for characters nothing like himself. The protagonists of his songs are a rogues’ gallery worthy of Charles Dickens or Ring Lardner. They don’t know who they are, but through Newman’s penetrating portraiture, we get to hear them reveal themselves without being aware of it – and they are by and large a frightening lot. Bigots, boobs, self-indulgent whiners, stoners, petty thieves, politically and ethically benighted – there is not a lot to admire in most of them, save their humanity, which also, in a strange and almost indefinable way always seems to come through somehow. It makes it difficult to judge them as harshly as we want to, because some part of them always manages to seem like us. There’s a kind of genius in that.