Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Poor Randy Newman...

He got a really bad review of his concert at Carnegie Hall by Ben Ratliff of the New York Times.
It was a bad review, badly written and really incoherent, mean spirited and ugly.
To wit:
The best way to hear Randy Newman is alone. Hearing him at home with someone else snickering along to his jokes isn’t much pleasure. Hearing him live, with other people around you, is peculiar torture. He’s an excellent torturer. Not that that he’s a bad performer, or that he makes bad art. It’s the opposite of bad art — done in fine strokes, with unreliable narrators, several kinds of irony and proud resistance to musical trends.
Huh? What is the opposite of bad art? Good art? Good bad art?
Mr. Ratliff apparently cringed all night long. The audience's laughter made him cringe, the songs made him cringe. I don't know what hair he had up his ass, because as much as I love Randy Newman I can tell a bad concert or a bad audience when I see it, and in this case neither was it. Newman was not his usual ornery self and the audience were not a bunch of adoring monkeys either. It was a classy affair. Newman's songs, it's true, resemble one another a lot. He does use a relatively limited repertoire of mostly old fashioned pop styles. But his lyrics are sharp and funny and many of the melodies are wonderful. More venom:
The other songs, like “Marie” or “Feels Like Home,” were professionally guileless songs of pathetic love, friendship or regret, perfect for movies: beautiful melodies engineered to elicit sloppy tears. A few communicated a standardized pathos about American poverty — snapshot properties with place names: “Baltimore,” “Louisiana, 1927.”
It just shows the bad blood of the review that Ratliff takes a song like "Louisiana, 1927", that has become the de facto Katrina anthem because of its accurate and haunting description of the situation, as if it was just another song in the Newman catalog of songs about cities ("Baltimore", "Birmingham", "I Love LA"). You have to have a heart of barbed wire not to be moved by some of the love songs. And I am the greatest despiser of sentimentality there is. Pathetic? Standardized pathos? Sloppy tears?
Was Ratliff under the effects of PMS? Drug deprivation? A toothache?

But the piece de resistance:

The audience did what all crowds do: it laughed and cheered. But even that felt icky. Any crowd’s approving reactions to songs like “Rednecks” (about the moral haughtiness of Northern liberals sung from the standpoint of a Southern racist) or “A Piece of the Pie” (a lazy, pessimistic observation of class inequality in America) are slightly embarrassing. It’s clubbish agreement, in-on-the-joke smugness. The only good reaction would be silence and an honest attempt to figure out how many layers of irony he might be applying.

Who does this pisher think he is?
Yeah, we were your run of the mill Celine Dion/Hannah Montana audience. The audience, in fact, was comprised mostly of people Newman's age. From the looks and sounds of it, I can tell you it was not the bunch of morons that Ratliff describes. The lazy writing, the smugness and the pissy, contemptuous superiority are far more evident in the reviewer than in the reviewed and they're way below the standards of the New York Times.

1 comment:

  1. Newman chose to start his Friday night concert at Carnegie Hall with "It's Money That I Love," something I predicted that morning in an e-mail to a Wall Street Journal reporter. My prediction was based less on the warm September weather, less on the audience, and more on the Treasury Secretary's brand-new proposal. Paulson first proposed -- scant hours before Newman went on stage and to the tune of seven-hundred billion dollars -- bailing out Wall Street. Newman's box office receipts that night were, in comparison, chump change.