David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 87: Randy Newman (Shame)

July 22, 2020

There have been so many great "shut ups" in rock lyrics over the years. As I mentioned a couple of days ago with Aimee Mann's "Deathly," she and Til Tuesday showed great vulnerability with the almost ad-libbed "He said, 'shut up,'" near the end of "Voices Carry." Holly Beth Vincent would never show such weakness and put right out in the title her attitude with Holly & The Italians' "Tell That Girl To Shut Up." The Chicks (I will respect their recent abolition of Dixieness) quoted an arrogant fan with "shut up and sing" in "Not Ready To Make Nice." The beauty of that last shut up is how well the Chicks incorporated the actual quote into the song.

On the other hand, we have Randy Newman's "shut up" incorporated into "Shame" as a declaration to his background singers. It is delicious in ways these other shut ups aren't as it blurs the line between the song's narrative and the song's delivery.

"Shame" is a song not truly sung by Newman, but spoken, as if by a creepy old dude calling out to the young former amour who has left him. He is bitter, nasty, pathetic, and outright sadistic. It's a narration worthy of a Russian novel or a bad reality show.

The background singers actually sing the title, "shame," as if they are voices in his head, or on his shoulders, overwhelming his thoughts, provoking his anger, needling his pain. At the end of the first verse, when Newman's narrator says "so what's the good of all this money I've got/if every night I'm left here alone/it's a gun that I need," this choir of female voices flood his head -- "shame, shame, shame, shame, shame" -- his fragile ego assailed by the humiliation of his lover's departure. "I ain't ashamed of nothing," Newman snarls, yet they continue to poke at his humiliation, so that he feigns ignorance: 'I don't know what you're talking about."

To the jaunty piano and New Orleans jazz backdrop, our despicable old man continues with his, presumably, drunken rant: "A man of my experience in life/don't expect a beautiful young woman like yourself/to come on over here every night/and have some old dude banging on her like a gypsy on a tambourine." (Even in 1999, when this song came out, Newman seems more able to pull off lines like this than anyone else.) Even he might believe he has gone too far, because as the second verse concludes, he's ready to accept the voices in his head, "you could be right/I sunk pretty low this time."

However, the bile rises in his voice, perhaps while the bottle empties in his hands, and he just gets uglier and uglier:

"Do you know what it feels like/to get up in the middle of the night/to have to take a piss?"

"Do you know what it feels like/to have to beg a little bum like you for love?"

As the chorus of shame swoops in, our curmudgeon cuts them short, "shut up," he yells.  A few seconds pass by, tinkled piano the only motion, before Newman begs for atonement: "forgive me/my unfocused words/I was flying blind/I lost my mind," which leads the chorus to very softly bring back the "shame, shame, shame." He begs forgiveness of the young lady but soon has to turn back to the damned voices in his head: "Will you stop that please/I'm trying to talk to someone." In the end, he tries to use his wealth to lure his young lover back: "I've got a Lexus now/I don't get out much/you know what I'm saying/come on home." The song ends, drunk and his voices passed out and silenced.

Bad Love, the 1999 cd with "Shame," came after Newman had dedicated a decade to scoring films, ranging from Parenthood to Toy Story to A Bug's Life. Frankly, "You've Got A Friend In Me" (off of Toy Story) made him relevant again in ways he hadn't been for 30 years since "I Love L.A."  You just knew that the guy who had written "Short People," "Rednecks," and "I Love L.A." all those years ago had to look in the mirror one day and tell Mr. Movie Newman, "shut up" with this "friends" stuff and get back to what you do best. Honestly, he came back even better. I don't care what those voices were telling him.

"Shame." Randy Newman. Bad Love. Dreamworks. 1999. Link here.

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Day 88: The Animals "House Of The Rising Sun." ->

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