Author Topic: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)  (Read 697 times)

I've never really given Randy Newman much thought before, but as is my way I recently had an arbitrary browse through his work using Spotify. The first song I listened to, Rednecks had an instant effect on me; the chords and the earnestness and conversational style of his lyrics made me instantly intrigued, despite not knowing what he was on about. About a minute later I began thinking "hang on, is the refrain of each verse "...and we're keeping the n**gers down?? Wtf Randy??"""

I googled the song and its concept and it took me a while to get my head round properly, hes singing in character as a redneck, and the song is meant to illuminate the hypocrisy of the redneck people getting frustrated at being discriminated against while also simultaneously maintaining an anti-black mentality. Problem is it's still very hard to swallow though; its sang in such a straight and earnest tone. Calling it 'parodical' would be the wrong word. It's not hard to see how it could either be taken at face value and become an anthem for racists (and rednecks) or at the least be understood to be sung in character but reappropriated regardless. I cannot enjoy the song as I would like, despite it being an amazing tune and it not being Newmans actual opinion. It definitely wouldn't fly today? He says the word n**ger about 12 times in the song or something. It's a weird one.

Same goes for Short People, which is laugh out loud funny in just how harsh the lyrics are at face value "short people got no reason to live" and They got little baby legs
And they stand so low
You got to pick 'em up
Just to say hello
They got little cars
That got beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' peep, peep, peep
They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time

It's apparently a joke song again written in character as a prejudiced twat, but it's how straight its delivered that makes it weird. Reading further Newman seemed genuinely surprised that people got upset with it. I think the thing is because (despite the cheeky chords etc) its put across so earnestly it's not hard to see why others might just perceive it in a detrimental way even if Randy didn't actually mean it to be.

Listening to more songs he seems to have a Gervais/Pilkington esque obsession with "little fat men" who appear prominently in his lyrics.

Sorry for prattling on; I guess what I'm getting at is despite clearly being sang from viewpoints that are intentionally challenging and sung in sarcasm/parody, it definitely tarnished the songs for me and makes them hard to fully enjoy. Are there other artists who have done likewise and has had anyone felt the same reaction? Or examples of songs being misunderstood and thence appropriated as anthems for idiots or bigots?

Lemme kno



PlanktonSideburns

  • be outta here in a jiffy
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2019, 11:40:26 PM »
Secret cunt innit.

Only joking - it's almost beyond post modern what he does, you can see he's a big influence on Tim heidecker


Ballad of Ballard Berkley

  • a hopeless vanity... a stupefyingly futile conceit
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2019, 12:44:14 AM »
Ray Davies used to do this too. Art Lover is sung from the perspective of a paedophile - or is he, as the twist suggests, just an estranged dad who misses his daughter? Or both? Aaaaah.

Sunny Afternoon is sung from the perspective of a morally and financially bankrupt, wife-beating toff.

The middle bit of Yes Sir, No Sir is sung from the perspective of hooting officers sending working-class soldiers to their deaths during World War One.

Give the scum a gun and make the bugger fight
And be sure to have deserters shot on sight
If he dies we'll send a medal to his wife


And so on.

Newman and Davies are satirists, they employ dark, deadpan humour to criticise values they oppose.

If bigots misunderstand the point of these songs, that's not the fault of the artists.


Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #3 on: November 28, 2019, 01:04:49 AM »
The line before the infamous one in the chorus of "Rednecks" is "We don't know our ass from a hole in the ground," so it would have to be a seriously self-loathing redneck indeed to take it as an unironic anthem. I think it's really intended to be a surprise thumb in the eye to well-meaning/smug liberals, who'll be smirking at the broad brushstrokes of the first couple of verses and the choruses, only to be blindsided by the end of the song...

Now your northern n*****'s a negro
You see he's got his dignity
Down here we're too ignorant to realize
That the North has set the n***** free
Yes he's free to be put in a cage
In Harlem in New York City
And he's free to be put in a cage
On the South Side of Chicago
And the West Side
And he's free to be put in a cage
In Hough in Cleveland
And he's free to be put in a cage
In East St. Louis
And he's free to be put in a cage
In Fillmore in San Francisco
And he's free to be put in a cage
In Roxbury in Boston
They're gatherin' 'em up from miles around
Keepin' the n*****s down

The real indictment's hidden in plain sight there. Randy Newman's one of the greatest satirists working in the pop form, ever. And if he makes you (or me) uncomfortable, good - that means it's working. Satire that doesn't make you shiver a bit isn't proper satire.

Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2019, 05:11:46 AM »
I googled the song and its concept and it took me a while to get my head round properly, hes singing in character as a redneck, and the song is meant to illuminate the hypocrisy of the redneck people getting frustrated at being discriminated against while also simultaneously maintaining an anti-black mentality. Problem is it's still very hard to swallow though; its sang in such a straight and earnest tone. Calling it 'parodical' would be the wrong word. It's not hard to see how it could either be taken at face value and become an anthem for racists (and rednecks) or at the least be understood to be sung in character but reappropriated regardless. I cannot enjoy the song as I would like, despite it being an amazing tune and it not being Newmans actual opinion. It definitely wouldn't fly today? He says the word n**ger about 12 times in the song or something. It's a weird one.

No it's not, it's a satire that is making fun of northern liberals who refuse to acknowledge their own racism.

Randy Newman is a genius and Good Old Boys is an all-time great album.

(Sail Away is also excellent, the title track is sung from the perspective of a slave trader coercing Africans into sailing for the Land of the Free)

Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2019, 05:15:45 AM »
Same goes for Short People, which is laugh out loud funny in just how harsh the lyrics are at face value "short people got no reason to live" and They got little baby legs
And they stand so low
You got to pick 'em up
Just to say hello
They got little cars
That got beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' peep, peep, peep
They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time

It's apparently a joke song again written in character as a prejudiced twat, but it's how straight its delivered that makes it weird. Reading further Newman seemed genuinely surprised that people got upset with it. I think the thing is because (despite the cheeky chords etc) its put across so earnestly it's not hard to see why others might just perceive it in a detrimental way even if Randy didn't actually mean it to be.

"Short People" is also great satire because you listen to it and it is comical and viscerally offensive how mad the narrator is about short people (why??), and thus it is critiquing racism or any form of arbitrary prejudice.

Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #6 on: November 28, 2019, 08:20:43 AM »
Randy Newman is a genius and Good Old Boys is an all-time great album.

Seconded. There's a CD version of it that comes with his "demo" of the whole LP that's just him and a piano. Inbetween songs he's explaining what each song is about and who's singing. At one point he stops himself and says "Who the fuck am I talking to?"

He's great live too. I don't think he did "Rednecks" when I saw him in 2012 (or 13) but he started with "It's Money That I Love" and then said "It's always a good idea to start a show with a spiritual" That song features the lines:

Quote
They say that's money
Can't buy love in this world
But it'll get you a half-pound of cocaine
And a sixteen-year-old girl

Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2019, 10:51:30 AM »
No it's not, it's a satire that is making fun of northern liberals who refuse to acknowledge their own racism.

This x100, although "making fun" is perhaps understating the intent. Randy Newman is a fucking genius and probably the only living artist for whom I would pay the extortionate money that I've paid to see him live. So many great satirical songs, so many great heartbreakers, so many that do both. Some of my favourite other "dodgy narrator" or otherwise ironic songs by him:

Sail Away
Political Science
Jolly Coppers on Parade
In Germany Before the War
It's Money That I Love
The World Isn't Fair
The Great Nations of Europe

He's the Randy that keeps on giving!

Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2019, 11:10:58 AM »
Has he recently wed/become involved with a younger woman? This haircut/glasses combo seems to imply such a thing happening:


Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #9 on: November 28, 2019, 11:32:58 AM »
Also, I think trying to nail down exactly what he's saying through his characters is mistaken, and their moral rectitude or otherwise is not really his focus. He inhabits them beyond serving up easy wins of "Aaah, The Character Is Actually Bad And A Conduit For An Ironic Point That I Agree With" which is about the extent of what we expect from satire in pop. Take for example Jolly Coppers on Parade, apparently a sentimental ode to the pureness of the police force and the allure of its paraphernalia as seen through the eyes of a child. The sting in the tail that a lesser writer would be building towards never comes, if you want to reframe it you have to do some work yourself, which hopefully leads you to some fruitful ponderings about what exactly you're bringing to the song. I may have explained it in a shit way but hopefully you know what I mean.

grassbath

  • But I feel better having screamed, don't you?
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2019, 05:44:34 PM »
Long story short, Randy Newman's songs require you to actually think and engage with what they're saying for more than a second to appreciate the controversial themes hes probing rather than write them off as 'problematic' in one sweeping, self-congratulatory gesture. 'Rednecks' condemns bigotry in all forms. The fact he sings the N-word is devotion to the realism of the characters he's playing and the story he's writing. I also think that people are weirdly more reactionary to this sort of thing in songs - you dont see people criticising Faulkner for it in his novels about the South.

grassbath

  • But I feel better having screamed, don't you?
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #11 on: November 28, 2019, 10:10:44 PM »
One of his most appalling cunt narrators is that of 'My Life is Good' - a totally amoral, entitled businessman, parent and resident of Los Angeles - 'Rand' - who hobnobs with celebrities, enjoys the occasional line and is essentially blind to anything outside of himself. As the piano takes a sparse, sad turn, desperation and hollowness surrounds the cunt's belligerent assertion in the chorus that 'my life is good.'

Stuff like this makes me love these stripped down versions from the Randy Newman Songbook as much as the album cuts, more in some cases. He's just such a fantastic musician, and for someone who can barely sing, can sell a song totally with just piano and vocal, atmosphere, arrangement, the whole thing. 'It's Money that I Love' - that right hand twinkling away in the chorus, you can hear the money falling, the malevolent glee of the guy dancing among raining bills.

'Dixie Flyer'
, a rare autobiographical composition, is still my most played or second most played song ever on Spotify, owing to an unstable afternoon in summer 2017 where I got smashed on white wine and played it over and over and over for a whole sweltering day, chasing and chasing the beauty. 'An American Christian - goddamn!'

DukeDeMondo

  • Member
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  • fuck sake
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #12 on: November 29, 2019, 02:05:22 AM »
I've recommended it before, but the Randy Newman Songbook, which runs to three volumes, is absolutely fucking brilliant, and it's fascinating for it's just him and his piano so you can hear how his voice subtly mutates between songs, how his characters emerge from other, shaking other off.

It's an incredible collection. I thought there was only one of them until recently, when I discovered that there are three of them on Spotify. They are remarkable things.

TheMonk

  • Hello folks
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #13 on: November 29, 2019, 03:18:00 AM »
Look at them yo-yos

H-O-W-L

  • Front Toward Enemy
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #14 on: November 29, 2019, 06:57:12 AM »
Roger Waters has famously been singing as an absolute fucking dreckfaced cunt since Money on Dark Side of the Moon (possibly before?) and has not stopped.

chveik

  • I will monetize your eyeballs
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #15 on: November 29, 2019, 01:50:54 PM »
Steve Albini

JUST FUCKING KILL HIM

Sin Agog

  • Dogs fucked the pope; no fault of mine
Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #16 on: November 29, 2019, 01:55:00 PM »
Think my favourite example is Phil Ochs' totally coruscating Outside of a Small Circle of Friends:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMeG6dAFqXw

You've gotta admire a track which begins with the lines: "Look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed/They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed/Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain/But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game"

Re: Randy Newman (and others who sing songs 'in character' as cunts)
« Reply #17 on: November 29, 2019, 03:16:03 PM »
Didn't Elvis Costello nick Newman's persona on Oliver's Army?