Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In Randy Newman's new satiric song, the narrator dreams about a white man for president

Nonesuch Records is offering a free download of Randy Newman's new song, "I'm Dreaming." I've always been a fan of Newman's songs is which an unidentified narrator is singing about a controversial topic. In "Sail Away," the narrator (a slave trader?) is urging black Africans to go to America:
In America, you get food to eat  
Won't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet 
You just sing about Jesus, drink wine all day  
It's great to be an American
Ain't no lions or tigers, ain't no mamba snake  

Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake 
Everybody is as happy as a man can be  
Climb aboard little wog, sail away with me
In "Short People," short people are singled out for ridicule by someone who may or may not be serious. In "Political Science," the right-wing Bircher narrator urges us to "drop the big one now" and "Boom goes London, boom Paree." In "Louisiana 1927," the rich and powerful are shown as oblivious to the plight of victims of natural disasters. This song received lots of airplay after Hurricane Katrina:
Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away
They're tryin' to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away
They're tryin' to wash us away

President Coolidge came down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a note-pad in his hand
The President say, "Little fat man isn't it a shame what the river has done
To this poor crackers land."

"I'm Dreaming" is also one of Newman's "character" songs. Here's an interview with him on the Nonesuch site (thanks to Meg Lanker-Simons in Laramie for the tip):
Randy Newman’s new song, “I’m Dreaming,” is available as a free download below, where you can also watch the accompanying video. 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. (The complete lyrics are below as well.) While the song, which Newman performs solo at the piano, is free, anyone wishing to contribute is encouraged to donate to the United Negro College Fund at

Newman explains, “No other Western industrialized nation would’ve elected a black president. I’m proud of this country for having elected Obama in 2008. But from the beginning of his term, I noticed a particular heat to conversations that wouldn’t ordinarily generate that kind of passion: The budget, appointments, health care.” He continues, “I think there are a lot of people who find it jarring to have a black man in the White House and they want him out. They just can’t believe that there’s not a more qualified white man. You won’t get anyone, and I do mean anyone, to admit it.

“I often write songs in character. You can’t always trust or believe the narrators in my songs. So why listen? Good question.

“Anyway the guy in this song may exist somewhere. Let’s hope not. Vote in November.”

No comments: