In Defense, Randy Newman Has A Few Words
August 6, 2008 - On Harps and Angels, Randy Newman is back with his wonderfully sharp tongue. His songs over the decades have skewered rednecks, kingpins and heartless politicians. Newman may be the most misunderstood songwriter ever: The narrators of his songs say things about the slave trade or short people that he would never say, but that doesn't stop people from being angry with him. How many?
Newman puts the figure at "26,438,982."
He can now add Korean-American parents to that list. On "Korean Parents," he sings: "Korean parents for sale / You say you need a little discipline / Someone to whip you into shape / They'll be strict, but they'll be fair."
Yet another group to add includes Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" addresses the loss of empire, setting up a cast of characters who seem to say, "If you think things are bad now, think about the Spanish Inquisition."
"It's digging deep to defend, saying that the leaders we have — they may be the worst we've had, but they aren't the worst the world has seen," Newman says.
"The New York Times printed 'A Few Words in Defense of Our Country' in its Op-Ed page," he says. "And they made cuts in it, which didn't surprise me at all. They have an editor, they edit. But they took out a verse about the Caesars where I say, you know, they were sleeping with their sisters, stashing little boys in swimming pools and burning down the city.... What are they protecting, Tiberius? It's like, these people have been dead 2,000 years. I mean, they're not going to — you know, Kevin Caesar isn't going to come out of the woodwork and sue 'em. I mean, what difference does it make?"
Even with the biting wit of his song lyrics, Newman has never really been one to offer his opinions to the press.
"But you know what? I've been giving my opinions too much," Newman says. "In interviews I've been doing, all of a sudden I've turned into, like, Warren Beatty, like an activist or something. I used to hate it when show-biz people would be commenting on issues, but the way things have gone with this administration, it's in your face all the time. It's so noisy that you almost can't avoid talking about it with people."
Newman says he's surprised by the change. He's spent his whole career writing about characters, not situations.
"You know the old saying, 'It's a curse to live in interesting times.' Well, in a way, that applies in this situation. It's much more interesting to me to examine an individual character or something."
A FEW WORDS IN DEFENSE OF OUR COUNTRY
I’d like to say a few words
In defence of our country
Whose people aren’t bad nor are they mean
Now the leaders we have
While they’re the worst that we’ve had
Are hardly the worst this poor world has seen
Let’s turn history’s pages, shall we?
Take the Caesars for example
Why within the first few of them
They were sleeping with their sister
Stashing little boys in swimming pools
And burning down the City
And one of ‘em, one of 'em
Appointed his own horse Consul of the Empire
That’s like vice president or something
That’s not a very good example, is it?
But wait, here’s one, the Spanish Inquisition
They put people in a terrible position
I don’t even like to think about it
Well, sometimes I like to think about it
Just a few words in defence of our country
Whose time at the top
Could be coming to an end
Now we don’t want their love
And respect at this point is pretty much out of the question
But in times like these
We sure could use a friend
Men who need no introduction
King Leopold of Belgium. That’s right.
Everyone thinks he’s so great
Well he owned The Congo
He tore it up too
He took the diamonds, he took the gold
He took the silver
Know what he left them with?
A President once said,
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself"
Now it seems like we’re supposed to be afraid
It’s patriotic in fact and color coded
And what are we supposed to be afraid of?
Why, of being afraid
That’s what terror means, doesn’t it?
That’s what it used to mean
[To the first eight bars of "Columbia The Gem Of The Ocean"]
You know it pisses me off a little
That this Supreme Court is gonna outlive me
A couple of young Italian fellas and a brother on the Court now too
But I defy you, anywhere in the world
To find me two Italians as tightass as the two Italians we got
And as for the brother
Well, Pluto’s not a planet anymore either
The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.
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