Have you ever been listening to the Car Talk
show with those two wacky guys from up where Wharfinger lives
and caught a fragment of a piano song somewhere during a break? I have. I love that fragment, and I had always hoped it was a part of a longer piece by someone like Bruce Hornsby
. That's who it sounded like to me.
I never would have dreamed it was an instrumental intro and outro to a song by Randy Newman. It's the opening song on his album, Land of Dreams, from 1989. He has said that this song is as close to autobiography as his works get. In it, a young Jewish boy from California goes to Louisiana, falls in love with the whole atmosphere and longs to be a gentile, an "American Christian." He was born in Nawlins in 1943. You see, you can write about your own life and make it interesting if you try really, really hard.
And here's the price you have to pay: When folks write this sort of stuff and open their souls up, they make themselves easy targets. Did you ever see that episode of The Family Guy when the dog is walking by this outdoor scene where there's a guy playing the piano and singing? My daughter and I were watching this episode together a long time ago (it seems). The guy at the piano is singing something like, "There's a dog walking toward me / Now he's getting closer" and then the dog walks away and the guy is singing, "Now he's walking away / The dog is leaving now." I don't even know if I'm close with the lyrics here, but the idea is that this was their way of poking fun at Randy Newman's style. That was a cartoon version of Randy Newman playing the piano and singing, which I had to explain to my daughter (since she's never heard of him). But I can almost guarantee you that Randy Newman got as big a laugh out of that scene as I did. Being able to laugh at yourself is crucial to the aging process. Some of you folks need to learn that if you want be happy for the rest of your life.
Anyway, when I first heard the whole song, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a full-fledged instrumental. There is so much promise lying dormant in these few bars that start and end this song. I'll bet you a bag of dollars that someone, someday will turn these few bars into a version that'll make you misty.
But, the more I listen to this song, the more I like it just the way it is.
I was born right here, November '43
My dad was a Captain in the Army
Fighting the Germans in Sicily
My poor little momma
Didn't know a soul in LA
So we went down to the Union Station and made our getaway
Got on the Dixie Flyer bound for New Orleans
Across the state of Texas to the land of dreams
On the Dixie Flyer bound for New Orleans
Back to her friends and her family in the land of dreams
Her own mother came to meet us at the station
Her dress as black as a crow in a coal mine
She cried when her little girl got off the train
Her brothers and her sisters came down from Jackson, Mississippi
In a great green Hudson driven by a Gentile they knew
Drinkin' rye whiskey from a flask in the back seat
Tryin' to do like the Gentiles do
Christ, they wanted to be Gentiles, too
Who wouldn't down there, wouldn't you?
An American Christian, God damn!