My wife and I saw Randy Newman in concert last night. I must confess to not being much of a concert guy – they make me nervous, I don’t like crowds, I’m always concerned that despite the money I’ve spent I’m going have either a bad or an indifferent time. But most of my favorite musicians are dead or old or rarely tour, so now when the opportunity arises I tend to go for it (for example, I saw John Prine last year). Newman checked all the boxes.
On the way over, we acted like nerds by listening to Dark Matter, Newman’s new album. My wife hadn’t heard it before. It’s a really terrific piece of work. I’d been disappointed that his previous album, Harps & Angels, was far more blunt in its satire than I’m used to from Newman. Politically, he and I differ a bit, but his political art has always been sharper, more incisive, funnier, and self-aware than that of just about any other artist, of any medium, tilling similar ground in the 20th century. So I was pleased that “The Great Debate,” which opens Dark Matter, contains one of the most knowing comments on satire itself I’ve ever encountered. The album goes on from there to contain some of his most gorgeous tunes in years – “Lost Without You,” “She Chose Me,” and “Wandering Boy.” Plus other great shit. One song, “Brothers,” he played in concert, saying first that this would be the first time he’d ever played it in concert. As he said, it’s about Jack and Bobby Kennedy, the Cuban Missile Crisis, “the racial policies of the Washington Redskins,” and Celia Cruz. After he sang it, he said “I think that’s the best song on that topic.”
So the concert was great. We had great seats. It was scheduled to begin at 8:00 PM, and at 8:01 Randy Newman walked out to his piano – no accompanying musicians, and no opening act – sat down, and began playing “It’s Money That I Love.” He played for two hours (including intermission), and he covered everything, from the songs you’d expect (“Short People,” “Louisiana 1927”) to really deep cuts (“Jolly Coppers on Parade,” “Bad News from Home”) to some of his movie songs. Of the latter, he played “I Love to See You Smile” and “You Got a Friend in Me,” both of which I believe he performed out of a sense of obligation. If I remember correctly, he came out of “I Love to See You Smile” and said “If only they were all so friendly. This one’s about a murderer,” and then played “In Germany Before the War.”
All wonderful. What fucking sucked was all the shitheads who showed up after he started playing. I swear to Christ, I’ve seen audiences pay more respect to movie trailers than some concert-going pricks show to live performing humans on stage. At the John Prine concert, there were so many pockets of ill-behaved monsters that there was almost a riot – I know this because despite boiling quietly in my own blood, I almost started one. At the Newman concert, my wife and I, and our good and pure seat-neighbors, had to stand up at least three times after the show began to make way for latecomers, one of whom stayed off to the side and talked at full volume with the usher during “Birmingham.” The big phrase I took away from that exchange was “I’LL WAIT UNTIL THE SONG’S OVER!!!!!” That fucker, who ended up maybe five seats down from me, was very shortly thereafter busted for trying to record the concert. He wasn’t thrown out, but had representative of the venue asked me, I’d have done it. A lady in front of me crinkled the paper wrapping of a big pretzel. I suppose I should blame the venue for selling it to her, but I blame her for not controlling her desire for a snack.
Another latecomer made everybody get up again during intermission, which I suppose I’ll have to excuse, but as he passed everyone he said “Pardon pardon pardon pardon pardon,” very fast, because you see he’s funny, and as though he hadn’t done the same damn thing during an actual live performance by one of the great songwriting geniuses of our time. Doesn’t this guy know this experience is unrepeatable? Even if you see Newman live another time? I said to my wife that I was certain that in everyday life, this man is a breathtaking asshole. That’s the odor he gave off.
Otherwise, good concert .
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The only other thing I have to report on is Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth, which I finished earlier today. A funny, sharp jab with a stick at Gaelic self-romanticisation and the tendency to mythologize hardship and misery, especially when the upshot is that one believes one is unique, The Poor Mouth, which was written in Gaelic after O’Brien had published At Swim-Two-Birds, strikes me as also particularly esoteric. I mean, this thing is Irish. Anyway, it’s good stuff, with one joke – our/their “likes will never be there again” being said by the narrator about virtually everything from people to rock formations that will literally be “there” forever – being used over and over again, yet it only becomes funnier as the book goes along.