HomeUncategorizedRandy Newman: Political Science and the Gift of Prophecy

Randy Newman: Political Science and the Gift of Prophecy

(This is an extract from Caroline and David Stafford’s new biography ‘Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong – The Life & Music Of Randy Newman’ which you can purchase here.)
When, in 1972, Randy Newman recorded ‘Political Science’, he was worried that it was too topical to have any lasting value.   The song, in a not unreasonable summary of the assumptions underlying US foreign policy at that time, proposes that if America were to ‘drop the big one’ destroying Europe, Africa, Asia, Canada and South America (but not Australia “don’t want to hurt no kangaroos:), the natural order would be restored.
Nixon was president.  But not for much longer:  and when he was gone, Randy was sure, the song would be no more than a historical curiosity, as quaint as ‘Belgium Put The Kibosh On The Kaiser’.
“We’re never going to have an administration this bad again,” Randy said.  “We haven’t in 200-some years. I believe in numbers and the odds are against it.”
And yet somehow, the song has never lost it’s zing: and now, forty-odd years later, what do you know, it seems new-minted each time Donald Trump speaks out in the cause of Making America Great Again.
‘I’m never going to rule anything out.” said Donald, when asked whether he’d use nuclear weapons against ISIS.  “I wouldn’t want to say.  Even if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t want to tell you that because at a minimum, I want them to think maybe we would use them. We need unpredictability.  The enemy is watching and I have a very good chance of winning and I frankly don’t want the enemy to know how I’m thinking.  But with that being said, I don’t rule out anything.”
Indeed, if Trump was smart enough to listen to Randy Newman records, there’s a good chance he’d have adopted ‘Political Science’ as his campaign anthem.  Probably leaving out the bit about Australia.  If he’s smart enough to have heard of Australia.  And even if he hasn’t, he wouldn’t want to tell us that because that being said he doesn’t want them to know how he’s thinking.
The enduring – and in some respects growing – relevance of ‘Political Science’ isn’t the only example of Randy’s uncanny ability to predict the future.  Give him a beard and a judgmental scowl and, in the dark with the light behind him, he could pass as one of the Great Prophets of Our Age.
Newman, Petty, Reed, Dylan
“It’s Money That I Love”, his 1979 satire on the life-sucking depredations of greed could now serve as an informative summary of the neo-liberal consensus for GSCE politics students.  Same’s true of ‘The World Isn’t Fair’ from Bad Love.  Look in the high-end restaurants, clubs and bars of the business district of any city in the world and see the serried ranks of ‘countesses, empresses, movie stars and queens’ accompanied by ‘froggish men, unpleasant to see’.
Indeed, don’t bother with the restaurants and clubs; just open a paper, see a picture of Donald ‘Frogman’ Trump and his bride, ex-model Melania.  You get the idea.
The wilful ignorance and overt racism of the South and smug hypocrisy of the North have both got a good deal worse, or at least haven’t got any better, since Good Old Boys, Randy’s 1974 whole album exploration of the issue.   Unarmed black men are still seven times more likely to get shot by police than whites: and not just in Tallahassee, Arlington and Ferguson; it happens in Cleveland, Ohio, in Madison, Wisconsin, in Los Angeles, California.
The similarity between ‘Roll With The Punches’, from Randy’s 1988 Land Of Dreams, and the 2015 Conservative Party Manifesto is close enough for a copyright suit to be a goer.  “They say you got to feed the hungry.  They say you got to heal the sick.  I say we ain’t gotta do nothin’ for nobody, ‘cause they don’t work a lick.”  Randy Newman or George Osborne?  Who can tell?
Nearly half a century ago, Randy recorded ‘Lucinda’, a song, based on a true story, about a girl who after partying hard, lay down on a beach and got run over and killed by a beach-cleaning machine.  We’re still waiting for evidence of this song’s prescience, but all the same, if you find yourself this weekend having a few drinks in Blackpool or Frinton, mind how you go.
(by Caroline and David Stafford)
(This is an extract from Caroline and David Stafford’s new biography ‘Maybe I’m Doing It Wrong – The Life & Music Of Randy Newman’ which you can purchase here.)

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