Randy Newman's Life is GOOD! (You old bag)

We all know Short People, and Rednecks, and I Love LA, all those wonderful Disney song, and a long list of beloved and troubling favorites (Sail Away, Marie, Guilty, You Can Leave Your Hat On...and on and on.) But Randy Newman has an amazingly deep body of work, with a lot of songs that few people seem to know about.  So I thought I'd turn you on to a couple of my faves... Then maybe we can have a little discussion about this strang, literate, ambiguous songwriter.  Here's one of his most difficult, but I think most powerful pieces of what might be called "Third person/First person" pieces of writing.  "My Life Is Good" from the 1983 album Trouble In Paradise...

© Randy Newman 

A couple of week ago
My wife and I
Took a little trip down to
Met this young girl there
We brought her back with us
Now she lives with us
In Our Home
She cleans the hallway
She cleans the stair
She cleans the livingroom
She wipes the baby's ass
She drives the kids to school
She does the laundry too
She wrote this song for me

The other afternoon
My wife and I
Took a little ride into
Beverly Hills
Went to the private school
Our oldest child attends
Many famous people send their children there
This teacher says to us
"We have a problem here
This child just will not do
A thing I tell him to
And he's such a big old thing
He hurts the other children
All the games they play, he plays so rough
Hold it teacher
Wait a minute
Maybe my ears are clogged or somethin'
Maybe I'm not understanding
The English language
Dear, you don't seem to realize

My Life Is Good My Life Is Good
My Life Is Good, you old bag
My Life

Just this evening
Some young associates of ours
Are flying to see us from
New York City
They're gonna stay with us
Oh, a couple of weeks or so
I'm gonna take 'em to
Restaurants and everything
Gonna get'em some
Real good cocaine
They don't get much
Where they come from
And this one's guy wife
Is such a pretty little brown thing
That I'm liable to give her a poke or two
Whaddaya think of that?

Teacher, let me tell you a little story
Just this morning
My wife and I
Went to this hotel in the hills
That's right
The Bel-Air Hotel
Where a very good friend of ours
Happens to be staying
And the name of this young man
Is Mr Bruce Springsteen
That's right, yeah
Oh, we talked about some kind of
woodblock or something
And this new guitar we like
And you know what he said to me
I'll tell you what he said to me
He said, "Rand, I'm tired
How would you like to be the Boss for awhile?"
Well, yeah
Blow, Big Man, blow

My Life Is Good
My Life Is Good
My Life Is Good
My Life, My Life Is Good

(He left out the "blow big man blow" in this performance) No song I can think of has captured the smugness of the hyper-privileged like that one.  Is it Randy describing his own life, the way so many songwriters do?  He says no, that he's employing a technique he calls "the untrustworthy narrator" which is pretty much unique to Randy.  I'm sure he's telling the truth. Or at least, mostly the truth.  Randy sees himself more as a songwriting John Updike, composing perfectly crafted snapshots of the many different kinds of characters and foibles around him.  But let him tell you in his own words...

It's important not to overlook Randy's brilliant and chilling piano stylings and arrangement.  Pay attention to them in this somewhat crowded video of his small, terrifying masterpiece In Germany Before The War.

© Randy Newman

In Germany Before The War
There was a man who owned a store
In nineteen hundred thirty four
In Dusselford
And every day at fine o nine
He'd cross the park down to the Rhine
And he'd sit there by the shore

I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea
I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea

A little girl has lost her way
With hair of gold and eyes of gray
Reflected in his glasses
As he watches her
A little girl has lost her way

I'm looking at the river
But I'm thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea
Thinking of the sea

We lie beneath the autumn sky
My little golden girl and I
And she lies very still

And here he is with a kind of sprach-sung number from his latest album Harps and Angels.   (In case you haven't figured it out, I like to point out that really good songwriters keep on going long after "youth" has been left far behnd.)  He's sort of dropped the melody angle here, but the words are as sharp, sad, biting and bitter as ever...