Randy Newman

Can we please stop abusing this poor can already?

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The fact that there was a good answer has nothing to do with the fact that the standard question about Phoebe Snow is a bad one. Snow, who died this week (at age 58, she would have said, or 60, as The New York Times reported), made eleven studio albums, as well as live records and compilations, from the time she started recording, in 1975, until 2010, when she had a devastating stroke and fell into a coma. Eleven albums is a solid body of work, exactly the same number of studio records Randy Newman has made.

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In the era of the last presidential administration, Randy Newman, the distinguished elder of pop-song irony, wrote a tune called “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” in which he gave George W. Bush credit for doing no more harm than the Caesars, Hitler, or Stalin. “Now, the leaders we have,” he sang, “while they’re the worst that we’ve had, are hardly the worst that this poor world has seen.” In the same spirit, I’d like to offer a defense of “We Belong Together,” the Newman song from Toy Story 3 that just won the Academy Award for Best Song.

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Rhetorical Reality

In “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country,” Randy Newman’s wistful, Bush-era song about the end of the American empire, there is a line about “the leaders we have/are the worst we’ve ever had/but they’re not the worst this poor world has ever seen.” Words to take to heart as we debate whether or not hate speech on the right—above all, on Fox News, in the blogosphere, and on talk radio—has made events like the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords more likely.

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Randy Newman sings of a flood that happened in 1927, but he might as well be describing Hurricane Katrina. Yet the city's held on for the last five years. The poverty rate in New Orleans as of 2008 was:   23 percent   The number, which comes from Brookings's The New Orleans Index at Five, is lower than it was both in 1999 and in 2005, just after Katrina. But that is only small cause for celebration.

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High Hopes

Yes We Can” “You and I” “Let’s Put a Woman in Charge” Among the things that happened in early February, when Barack Obama’s campaign for the Democratic nomination seemed suddenly to kick into a higher gear, was the emergence, through YouTube, of a new music video called “Yes We Can,” a mash-up of moments from the speech Obama gave after the New Hampshire primary, set to music by Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas.

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The Shaman

ONE EVENING LAST OCTOBER, Mark Fisher, a nineteen-year-old student at Fairfield University in Connecticut, who had gone into Manhattan with friends, met a girl in a bar on First Avenue on the Upper East Side, got separated from his group, and was found dead the next morning on a Brooklyn sidewalk, his body wrapped in a yellow blanket, five gunshot wounds in his chest. According to a long article in The New York Times, Fisher's case remains unsolved mostly because no one who was with him that night seemed to want to tell the police everything that they knew.

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