I’ve been buying Randy Newman albums since 1968.
Or at least trying to.
I recall visiting Toronto’s A & A Records on Yonge Street and saying, “Do you have the Randy Newman album?” and them replying,
“We’ve got Randy Bachman.” (Of “Bachman-Turner Overdrive.” More successful at that juncture and, more significantly, from Winnipeg.)
Somehow I got it, and I listened and loved it. “Davy, The Fat Boy?’’ The guy wrote what he wanted, warbling in a unique songwriter’s voice.
A true and talented “Original.”
I like talented “Originals.”
The first time I saw Randy Newman in person was at…
Wait. I’ll save that for tomorrow. It’s a good story, and deserves its own post. (And has probably already enjoyed one. But it fits the moment so “Welcome back.”)
The next time I saw Randy Newman “live” was at the Universal Amphitheatre in L.A. It was then (in the late 70’s) an outdooramphitheater when I saw him, which, my research tells me was enclosed it 1982 and finally demolished in 2013, making room for Universal Tour’s Harry Potter attraction. (Apparently nothing lasts forever. Stay humble, Harry Potter.)
That Universal concert is seared unforgettably in my brain because I heard Randy Newman introduce two songs: “Short People” and “Rednecks.”
“Short people have no reason to live…”
“We’re rednecks, we’re rednecks,
We don’t know our ass from a hole in the ground…”
The audience reaction to both those debuting ditties was – as close to literally without actually beingliterally – explosive. It’s like, “Did he just saythat?” If you were chewing gum at the time, you’d have swallowed it.
More recently, we saw Randy Newman in Costa Mesa, a hour’s drive south of Los Angeles. The enjoyable concert was well worth the commute, although at one point after completing a number, he asked the audience,
“Did I leave out a verse?”
The forgiving audience said, “Yes.”
So there was that… sense of geriatric “foreshadowing.”
And there were last weekend, Randy Newman, backed by an accompanying band and, for some numbers including Randy’s overture for the The Natural, a full symphony orchestra.
It was at the Hollywood Bowl, hardly our favorite performance venue because of its frustrating difficulty getting into and out of. But it was Randy Newman.
We had to go.
Randy plodded onstage, vigorously swinging his arms, as if his depleted lower body, needing arm-pumping assistance, was unable to convey him across Hollywood Bowl’sexpansive stage to his grand piano destination on its own.
His first words after he sat down were, “Randy Newman. You know who it is?”, sounding like an uncertain uncle at a family Chanukah party. But, of course, teasing. The near-capacity audience well knew who they had come to see. Nobody there thought he was Randy Bachman.
Still, those early moments felt troublingly ominous. I had come there to turn back the clock, not hear it inexorably ticking.
For both of us. (Our advancing age difference being a single year.)
But then it began.
And the songs washed over me.
It’s interesting. Some songs seemed emotionally enrichedby the inevitable woundings of time. (“Marie” and “She Chose Me.”) The political ones (“Let’s drop ‘The Big One’ and see what happens…") retained their insidious bite. On the other hand, considering his now iconic status, “It’s Lonely At The Top” makes no satirical sense anymore. When he first performed it, he was nowhere near the top. Who knows? Maybe he’s lonely anyway.
Randy’s virtuoso piano playing seemed undamaged by the passing half-century. It sounded exactly the same. As did many of the songs, the delighted listener, eyes closed, steeped in auditorial nostalgia.
The actual performance itself?
The voice was growlier, and grew growlier still as the evening progressed. A couple of high notes – on my particular favorite, “Cowboy” – had been repossessed by whoever takes stuff away who originally gave stuff out in the first place. And he fluffed the lyrics on the anthemic “I Love L.A.”
Overall, I am happy I went. (Especially when his exiting encore was “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today” (perhaps my favorite Randy Newman confection. And it looked till the end like he was not going to sing it.)
But I think that’ll be it for the live Randy Newman concerts.
Sparing himself none of his trademark incisiveness, Randy Newman responded to the unanswered question, “How come you’re still doing this?” with a song about “gray-haired rockers” who continue to tour (“You’re Dead But You Don’t Know It”) and the accompanying observation,
“No one’s applauding at home. So why not keep going?”
I enjoyed the music and the memories. And if he wants to keep shuffling out there doing the best he can, God bless him. I’m just not certain I need to watch.