Pollvanna crooning (courtesy of the Eaglesrn—as befits a song-and-dance man,rnhe’s learned to make the sound signifyrnand entertain as much as the words):rn”Short people are just the same as yournand I / A fool such as I / All men arernbrothers until the day they die / What arnwonderful world.” What any sensitive listenerrnis left with is pure discomfort—thernknee-jerk, anh-bigotr)’ reaction seems asrnfoolish as the bigotr’, and the bigotr’, sorngleefully expressed, seems almost, well,rnfun. Newman doesn’t usually give listenersrnan easy way out. Laughing at a Newmanrnsong is more of a self-implicationrnthan a jolly relief—whenexer he appearsrnto be mocking the character he’s singingrnas, he is also mocking the t’pc of personrnwho would mock that t)’pe of jierson, asrnwell as the listener who laughs along.rnHis song cycle about the AmericanrnSouth, Good Old Boys, is perhaps thernbest example of this. Newman spentrnsome formative childhood years in NewrnOrleans; in his misty autobiographicalrnnostalgia number, “New Orleans Winsrnthe War,” he remembers the parh-hearts’rnpoltroons of that loablc cit not realizingrnWorid War II was oer until m48 —andrnthen thinking that the ictor was overrnthe Yankees. His father realizes he’s gotrnto get the kid out of there:rnPeople have fun herernI think that diey shouldrnBut nobody from here ever comesrnto no goodrn’I’hey’re gonna pickle him inrnbrandyrn’I’ell liim that he’s savedrnThrow firecrackers ’round hisrngrave.rnThus Newman grew up in Los Angeles,rnbut his vocal style is a Southern bluesrndrawl. He’s got the South in his blood.rnGood Old Boys can be heard as a ringingrnindictment of Southern foolishnessrn—as most of Newman’s liberal rockrncritic fans hear it. But as the emblemahcrnopening number, “Rednecks,” demonstrates,rnNewman’s humor isn’t at the expensernof the low-status, unappreciatedrnpeople in whose voice he so often speaks.rnThe song’s chorus — “We’re rednecks /rnWe don’t know our a – – from a hole in thernground /We’re rednecks / Kcepin’ thernniggers down” —seems like an overly obviousrnattack on the stupidity of rednecks.rnBut it’s really about the attitude of NorthernrnsophisHcates toward rednecks, sincernthe opening verse establishes that thernsong is written by a Southerner angryrnwhen he sees a “smart-a – – New YorkrnJew” (give or take a major metropolis,rnthat’s Newman himself) making fun ofrnLester Maddox on TV. The narratorrngoes on to lay out all the h’pical Northernrnintellectual complaints about the South,rnmixing with them some of his own bluntrnassaults on the racial troubles of thernNorth while listing all of its strife-filledrnghettoes.rnThe rest of the album is similarlyrnscabrous tov’ard the patronizing hand ofrnNorthern sympathy for benighted, troubled,rndirt-poor Southerners. Good OldrnBoys mosth presents scenes and charactersrnfrom Southern life that, while sometimesrnhilarious, show people trying tornmaintain dignit)’ and individuality’ in thernface of a world full of powerful, successful,rninfluential people from far away whorn”place themselves high above us.”rnThe most vivid description of thernnumb indifference of the professionalrnhelper toward the helped is found inrn”Louisiana 1927,” a song about a tragicrnflood which causes the Southern narratorrnto darkh suspect that “The’re trying tornwash us awa.” Here’s how he regardsrnNorthern benexolcncc: “President Coolidgerncome down in a railroad train /rnWirii a little fat man witli a notepad in hisrnhand /The president say. Tittle fat manrnisn’t it a shame what the river had done tornthis poor crackers’ land.'” The real sympath’rnin Newman’s Good Old Boys is forrnunsophisticated Southerners who don’trnbelieve that the movers and shakers of thernwodd are realK’ any better dian they. Asrntlie narrator of “Rednecks” sas of thern”smart-a – – New ^ ork Jew,” “If he thinksrnhe’s better than us, he’s wrong.” A chikbrnish truism, perhaps, but also the basis ofrnall civilized politics.rnA similar tiiread of understanding canrnbe traced tiirough all oi Newman’s songsrnabout lovv-stahis freaks, ignorant bigots,rndrunken do-nothings, small-time grifters.rnAs a cosmopolitan liberal Jewish writerrnfrom Los Angeles, Newman is almost arntraitor to his class. But he’s a cleer one,rnbecause his songs are almost all deeplyrnironic—the- arc not speaking his trutiis,rnbut die truths of his subjects.rnSuch irony has undoubtedly hurtrnNewman’s career. As he once lamentedrnin a Playboy interview, people don’t likernto work for tiieir entertainment. Newmanrncares about these things. I le is, andrnloves being, a popular entertainer, andrndespite his one-time hit, he likes to complainrnabout not selling enough records.rnAs Newman’s pop song output dwindlesrn(in the past 17 years, he’s onlrnrecorded three regular LPs), like a goodrnAmerican hustler, he is eagerly trying outrnnew entrepreneurial configurations,rnfrom show-tune writer (for the vvav-off-rnBroadway pla- Faust) to composer andrnsongwriter for kids movies {Toy Story,rnAntz). Film music is a family tradition:rnHis uncle Alfred composed the 20thrnCentury Fox theme, plus dozens ofrnmovie scores.rnThe simultaneous tawdriness andrncharm of typical American entertainmentrnhas been a perennial Newmanrntheme, and he ties it in with what couldrnbe seen as his one grand theme, tiie kcrnthat explains how this smart Hollywoodrnliberal can speak with such understandingrnabout a panoply of American life sorndifferent from his own experience: thernAmerican romance with the Other.rnThat’s what entertainment is all about,rnNewman seems to suggest, in his songsrnabout old-fashioned traveling freak showsrnsuch as “Simon Smith and the AmazingrnDancing Bear,” set to a gendv bouncingrnmusic hall nielodx’, or the painfull} sadrnand hilarious “Da’y the Fat Bo” (“Irnthink we can persuade him to do /’I he famousrnFat Bo- Dance for you”) or BadrnLove’s opening track, “My Coimtrv,” arnstately, lilting tune about how Americanrnftimilies bond, or don’t, over television.rnThis foscination witii tiic Otiier .streamsrnthrough Newman’s American histor’,rnbeginning when the first Europeansrncaused the death of the first American native.rnIt influenced the esents that filledrnthe West and made the dream factoriesrnwhich make irs want to watch Daw thernFat Bow and to reach out to otherrnlands—and bomb them when we feel rebuffed.rnWitii television, this fascinationrnwith the Other has been domesticatedrnand broadcast to us in the comfort, or discomfort,rnof our own home.rnRandy Newman loves it, he hates it, hernlaughs at it, and perhaps, sometimes,rneven sheds the tears of a clown. At hisrnbest, which he reaches a respectable percentagernof die time, he’s both funnierrnand more empathctic than his reputationrnas a sneering Tom Lehreresque pianornpounder would suggest. “‘Ibis is mrncountrs’, these are my people,” he keensrnproudlv on Bad Love, “and I know ‘cmrnlike the back ol my own hand.”rnBrian Dohert}’ is the Warren BrookesrnFellow at the Goiupetitive FnterprisernInstitute.rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn