Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Monday ~ Randy Newman

His is a familiar name to anyone old enough in the 1970s to have been listening to radio and records....LPs in those days, not cds or mp3s.

Familiar name, yet easily forgotten. It's a frequent occurence, Chez Twilight, for Himself to say, while hearing music in a movie or TV show, "Oh - that was written know....that guy....erm...." I've grown wise to this and am now able to fill in the blank....Randy Newman !

Newman is one of those classy songwriters who writes beautiful poetry and puts it to music, then sings it himself in the kind of voice that only a mother would love. I see him in the same league as Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, oh, and Kris Kristofferson. He has a good pedigree, his uncles, Al, Lionel and Emil Newman all big names in the business of composing music for movies. His father was a physician, but also wrote songs as a sideline. So , doing what came naturally, Randy went into the family business.

His songs and music spring up all over the place - It's a Jungle Out There, theme song for the TV series Monk, for instance. You Can Keep Your Hat On from British movie The Full Monty. The theme from Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Cars, Seabiscuit and numerous other movies.

I Think it's Going to Rain Today, and Feels Like Home are two of my personal Randy Newman favourites. There are several interesting but rather downbeat, politically oriented, dark-ish ironic songs too, with which I'm not as familiar, but I've investigated some of the lyrics: Short People, Political Science, Mr President Have Pity On The Working Man , Good Old Boys and lots of others on the same satirical theme.

Randy Newman was born on 28 November 1943 at 8.02 pm in Los Angeles (some sources say New Orleans, but Astrodatabank reliably informs that he was born in LA, but early on moved with his parents to New Orleans where his mother's family lived.

Stand-out factor in his natal chart is a clump of oppositions. There are two groups of 3 planets lying opposite each other: Sun, Mercury and Moon at 6, 16 and 25 Sagittarius are opposite Uranus, Mars and Saturn at 6, 15 and 24 Gemini. Because the two signs involved are Sagittarius and Gemini, I doubt that this rather hefty see-saw configuration poses much of a problem for Newman himself, though it could pose a few problems for others. I'd say that of all the pairs of opposite signs in the zodiac, these two have the best chance of blending easily.

Venus, planet of the arts and Neptune (creativity) both sit in Libra, where Venus is comfortably at home in its sign of rulership.

Jupiter, representing publication and luck lies at at 26 Leo, harmoniously trines Moon and sextiles Saturn - two very helpful placings for a guy who relies on the publication of his work (Saturn) for its success.

His Sun Mercury and Moon in Sagittarius indicate a gernerally positive character, outspoken, sense of fun, generosity of spirit etc. Unruly Uranus directly opposite Sun reflects much in his songs that is political and ironic in content - a streak of rebellion there! But Moon and Saturn are closely opposite each other too, bringing in the more disciplined, straighter approach heard in his movie themes. Mercury, communications planet opposite Mars the energy planet signifies the driving force behind his prolific writing. There's a hint of the Sagittarian excess in Newman's nature at this quote from a Guardian UK article by Duncan Campbell (2003) here.

"My first wife and second wife and kids, they know I'm going to do what I have to do," he says. "I don't know how ruthless I am but it's so important to me that I don't care about anyone's feelings. I sometimes wonder whether that is a pose - 'The ruthless writer, he really doesn't care' - but I really do feel that way. If I can get a song out of it, I don't much care about myself or anyone else."

And from the same piece, a kind of echo of that see-saw-like mentality reflecting the oppositions in his natal chart:
"I've never seen anyone whose goal was to make money be happy because of that," says Newman. "They are never satisfied, never. I find myself not liking rich people, even though I am one... well, I never liked myself that much either. All that talk about private planes and Air France first class and lasering their underarms. I hear it but I don't like it much. I like musicians, unless they get rich." He laughs. "And even when they do."

And from JAM Showbiz, more of the Newman see-saw effect here -
It's never a good idea to take Randy Newman at his word.
Mostly because the mordant satirist -- and Oscar-winning songwriter -- has built a career out of saying one thing and meaning the other, making it tough for casual listeners (or uninformed, as is more often the case) to know how seriously they should be taking him.
The answer to that one is, of course, "Very seriously," but only after considering the fact Newman's tongue may be stuck firmly in cheek.

I'm spoiled for choice as to which video to post. I cannot restrict myself to just one! Two songs then, but two versions of one of 'em. Here's Randy singing his own song I Think It's Going To Rain Today, then a version of the same song by Neil Diamond (my favourite). Last video features Randy Newman on piano with Bonnie Raitt singing "Feels Like Home" (this one always has me in tears). The song comes from his musical "Faust", later it was featured in the movie "The Notebook".


Wisewebwoman said...

Oh one of my favourites yet again, T. Randy does a weekly CBC show here called "Vinyl Tap" and I love it. Apart from his melodious speaking voice, he plays riffs on guitar and also talks about all the people he has met on his extensive career and often plays several versions of the same song.
He is genius.

Susan said...

I think you have Newman confused with Randy Bachman. Randy Newman's far too busy to have a weekly radio show.

Twilight said...

Susan ~~~ I'll leave that for Wisewebwoman. I wouldn't know. :-)

The Next President of the United States said...

Seldom gets his due as a lyricist or composer, but he's one of America's best - and has been for decades. And although the voice is one "only a mother can love," it's distinctive and emotive. Always put Randy Newman in the same vocal class as Dylan, Leon Russell, Woody Guthrie and those you mentioned: Tough to listen to at times, but the voice fits.

You probably know this tune, but when it comes to cryptic-but-thought-provoking lyrics, it's one of my favorite Randy Newman songs:

"God's Song (That's Why I Love Mankind)"
Cain slew Abel, Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:

Man means nothing he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest Yucca tree
He chases round this desert
'Cause he thinks that's where I'll be
That's why I love mankind

I recoil in horror fro the foulness of thee
>From the squalor and the filth and the misery
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me
That's why I love mankind

The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak
They said, "Lord, a plague is on the world
Lord, no man is free
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea
Lord, if you won't take care of us
Won't you please, please let us be?"
And the Lord said
And the Lord said

I burn down your cities-how blind you must be
I take from you your children and you say how blessed are we
You all must be crazy to put your faith in me
That's why I love mankind
You really need me
That's why I love mankind

Twilight said...

TNPOTUS ~~~ Hi! No, I'm not familiar with that song, but I tripped along to YouTube after reading those lyrics and found a few versions. Had to chuckle over some of the comments following a couple of the videos! I love it when people discuss song lyics and find different several meanings in them. :-D

Anyway, I'm very anti-religion at the moment, so I'm going along with the theory that Randy Newman and God had tongue very firmly in cheek saying "That's why I love mankind".

I liked this video with added images and texts - it highlights my own take on the lyrics

Thanks for featuring that one, TNPOTUS. It shows Newman's ironic side so well.

anyjazz said...

Okay, settle down now class. ...CLASS! Now, what did we learn today?

Yes. In order to appreciate music, you have to listen to it. Yes, and we learned that listening is NOT the same as hearing.

Class dismissed.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~~ You must stop giving me obtuse vintage references - I've no idea who Cheech & Chong and their "Class" thingie were/was ...I'm English, remember?

As for hearing and listening, yes, I get it! Agreed. You can casually hear a song on the radio or in a store and think it's nice, and can hum along with it - but until you actually take the trouble to listen to what the words are saying, and think about them, you aren't doing the songwriter justice.

Then again, (ahem) you often say to me that the music comes first for you, lyrics are

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