Randy Newman is 70, tomorrow

For someone once best known for the misunderstood song Short People, Randy Newman has had a not bad career.

Did I ever tell my “I sorta met Randy Newman” story? Probably.

I was at the Poughkeepsie, NY train station in mid-May 2000, returning from a conference. There was a guy at the station, with a woman and two children, and he looked very much like Randy Newman. So I walked over to him, and said, “Excuse me.” And he said, “Randy Newman.”

This is what I wanted to say: “Wow, I’ve loved your music ever since [the #1 song, below.] I sure hope you get that Oscar you deserve [he has since gotten two, in twenty nominations]. You know, that damn song on Toy Story 2[When Somebody Loved Me [LISTEN], written by Newman, sung by Sarah McLaughlin] made me cry! I even like you in those Band-Aid commercials [he was appearing in at the time].”

But I was so thrown off by his response that all I said was, “Oh, OK.” Ah, a treppenwitz moment.

Not only did the prolific songwriter and film scorer finally get Oscars, both for songs he wrote for Pixar films, but he was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. He wrote, among MANY other songs, Mama Told Me Not to Come [LISTEN to his version], a big hit for Three Dog Night. Almost There [LISTEN] from the Disney animated film The Princess and the Frog, sung by Anika Noni Rose, is a recent song of his I’ve enjoyed.

For someone once best known for the misunderstood song Short People [LISTEN], not a bad career.

Here are 10 songs:

10. You Can Leave Your Hat On [LISTEN]– Sail Away (1972). It is a song that sounds sexy when performed by someone like Joe Cocker but seems somewhat sordid when Newman does it.

9. Feels Like Home [LISTEN] -Harps and Angels (2008). This was originally performed by Bonnie Raitt on his 1995 Faust album, but I’m glad he decided to perform it himself. He’s ambivalent about the tune becoming a wedding favorite.

8. Potholes[LISTEN] – Harps and Angels (2008). The song is based on an embarrassing true story told about Newman by one of his loved ones to another.

7. I’m Dreaming[LISTEN] -free download (2012). “With lyrics from the viewpoint of a voter who casts his ballot solely based on skin color, the song draws attention to something Newman has noticed and written about for 40 years: racism in America.”

6. Rednecks[LISTEN] -Good Old Boys (1974). Wikipedia describes this as “a simultaneous satire on institutional racism in the Deep South and the hypocrisy of the northern states in response.”

5. It’s Money I Love[LISTEN] – Born Again (1979). Bluesy tune that may have been the best song on that album.

4. I Love LA [LISTEN] – Trouble in Paradise (1983): Is this Newman’s affection for Los Angeles, or sarcasm? Maybe both.

3. Louisiana 1927[LISTEN] – Good Old Boys (1974). After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, this became an unofficial hymn of the disaster, covered by several artists.

2. Dixie Flyer[LISTEN] – Land of Dreams (1988). A look at his childhood, one of his early attempts at autobiography.

1. Political Science [LISTEN]– Sail Away (1972). 40 years after it was released, still a stinging indictment of American xenophobia, all in two minutes.

Groucho Wickedness

It’s peculiar that sometimes I THINK I’ve told a story, so I don’t. I’ve become particularly self-aware of repeating stories, so I tend not to, mostly out of fear of boring myself, more than boring others.

Somewhat along the lines of Sunday Stealing, Wednesday Wickedness offers quiz-things, but with a twist: the questions are inspired by quotes from famous people, such as Groucho Marx:

1. ‘A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”
What is a superstition that many have that you think is crazy?

I suppose that, by definition, most superstitions are crazy. The exceptions among the more popular ones are those about opening an umbrella inside and walking under a ladder, both of which I think are rather logical, I mean, I don’t want that paint bucket on the ladder landing on my head, do I? And saying “Bless you!” when people sneeze is more habit than superstition.

2. “A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running.”
What were you in the hospital for the last time that you were admitted?

As I certainly have mentioned, I was in a car accident in June of 1972 in Endicott, NY, near Binghamton. I was in a stopped car at a red light and was getting out of the vehicle when another car rammed into the car I was halfway out of. This car was pushed forward into the car in front of it, but it being heavier, knocked me back. I was unconscious and got taken in an ambulance to the local hospital, where I stayed for 36 hours or so. But my recovery took the bulk of the summer.

3. “Alimony is like buying hay for a dead horse.”
What payment do you make that seems ridiculous?

My cellphone, which I don’t use as much as the minutes I pay for; I mean I still HAVE them, but, barring unforeseen circumstances, I’ll never USE them. I should get another one, I suppose, but that would mean actually figuring out what plans/phones are the best for my wife and me, something for which I apparently have no capacity.

4. “Humor is reason gone mad.”
How would you describe your sense of humor?

I wouldn’t, but the meme has forced me to. Dry, I guess. I do like good puns.
But mostly, I like situational comedy; that is to say, the comedy that comes from the situation. Those early Bill Cosby albums that told a story, but there was seldom a joke to be found. The great thing about the Parking Garage episode of Seinfeld was the believable, though exaggerated, nature of the situation, getting lost in one of those concrete structures. There was an episode of the Dick van Dyke Show where Rob is convinced his and Laura’s son was switched at birth until the other couple shows up at the door.
I’m not much of an early Python fan, or Anglophile generally – those comedies on PBS on Saturday night usually leave me cold – yet The Meaning of Life, and especially Life of Brian I loved.
I adored the movie Airplane!, but the funniest movie I ever saw was Young Frankenstein. I can watch the last 20 minutes of Animal House, from the Belushi speech on, anytime.
Pearls Before Swine is probably the only newspaper strip I find funny. (There are others I enjoy, but not as humor.)

5. “I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it.”
Who was the last person that you wanted to beat with something or other?

As a pacifist, I tend to avoid actual violence. But metaphorically, it was surely some politician or pundit who said something really stupid. But I don’t remember, because they come at such regular intervals, it’s difficult to keep track.

6. “I never forget a face, but in your case, I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
Would you ever like to change something about your face?

As noted before, the vitiligo has made me several shades lighter, but in a splotchy way. I’m not pleased, but I’m sort of getting used to it. Or not.

7. “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”
I read an article recently that asked if marriage was still relevant. Other than raising children do you see the point?

Yes. I know it was 43 years ago, but when I think of Chief Justice Earl Warren in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia proclaiming that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man'”; I still believe it.

8. “If you’ve heard this story before, don’t stop me, because I’d like to hear it again.”
Do you find that you tend to repeat your stories?

It’s peculiar that sometimes I THINK I’ve told a story, so I don’t. I’ve become particularly self-aware of repeating stories, so I tend not to, mostly out of fear of boring myself, more than boring others.

Though for perhaps two years after I appeared on JEOPARDY!, some third party would mention that I was on, which forced me to tell the tale over and over. This is why, starting the very first month of blogging, I started writing about the event. The primary reason that I was bored with telling it. Though I will give a very abbreviated version if asked, usually in response to specific questions, “How much did you make?” or the like.

This reminds me of the Randy Newman song Potholes in which he wrote:
I brought the woman who was to become my second wife-God bless her
To meet my father for the first time
They exchanged pleasantries
I left the room for a moment
It was the first time he had met her you understand
When I came back
He was telling her the [embarrassing] story…

And the next time they met, he told it. AGAIN.

9. “There’s one way to find out if a man is honest – ask him. If he says, “Yes,” you know he is a crook.”
Do you find most people that are in your life, to be honest?

Yes, but I select well. Actually, I’ve known dishonest people, and sometimes you have no control over this, but sometimes you do. Of course, none of us is perfectly honest, but I’m talking in the main.

10. “Wives are people who feel they don’t dance enough.”
Have you ever felt that your significant other did not go out with enough?

The whole notion of the monthly date with the Wife (movie, or dinner, or something) is, I must say, my idea, based on trying not to fall into a rut and having the opportunity to communicate sans the Daughter. When it doesn’t happen, it’s usually because she thinks we’re too busy; I contend that we’re NEVER too busy for that. Now maybe we can’t find a sitter or someone’s sick, and that’s legit but too busy? Nah.

My Randy Newman Story

When I heard When Somebody Loved Me [which he wrote] in Toy Story 2, I practically cried.

I made a cryptic comment about Randy Newman the other day. It was supposed to be something I’d bring up when I wrote about it at some future date, maybe in November, on Newman’s birthday. But my friend Rocco, who I’ve known since our FantaCo days in the early ’80s, asked about it, as well as confirming that I went with him to see that dismal Joe Jackson concert in ’89. And since today is Rocco’s birthday, I’ll tell the story now.

I was in the Poughkeepsie, New York train station, coming home from a conference c. 1999. Poughkeepsie’s about halfway between Albany and New York City, along the Hudson River.

I see walking into the ticket area a guy, a woman, and a couple of kids. That’s Randy Newman. Isn’t it Randy Newman? I LOVE Randy Newman!

If it’s Randy Newman, I know what I’m going to say to him.

I’m going to say, “I love your music! I’ve loved your stuff ever since I heard Political Science, and it’s as relevant today as ever. [I know all the words, but I wouldn’t have said THAT; too geeky]. When I heard When Somebody Loved Me [which he wrote] in Toy Story 2, I practically cried. [This is a lie; I actually did cry.] I have about a half dozen of your albums. I really like the I Love L.A. video. I even like the Band-Aid commercial you’re [then currently] in. I hope you get the Oscar one of these days. [He had been nominated about a dozen times, and wouldn’t win until 2001; see this timeline.]

So I walk over to him and I’m about to say something, but before I get a chance, he says, “Randy Newman,” answering a question I had not yet asked. But it felt like he was just having a long day the way he said it. So I said, “OK,” and left it at that, all my admiration left unstated.

If I get a chance in the future, I hope to say those things, except that I’ve gotten a couple more of his albums, I loved his music for The Princess and the Frog, and was hoping he’d win for one of his songs in that film.

So that’s the story, Rocco. Happy birthday, friend; go blog something, even if it’s to acknowledge your natal day.

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