While never a chart topper save for his novelty hit, “Short People,” Randy Newman has been sadly confined to the collections of music critics and “tasteful” NPR listeners. A pity, for although Newman’s lyrics wrestle with tribalism, superficiality, racism, he more significantly gives voice to those who are always on the wrong end of power’s hypocrisy.
“Harps and Angels,” is a theatrical retrospective of Newman’s best work. While the arc of songs is constructed loosely around Newman’s life cycle, it is not lost on theater goers that Newman is describing the decline of America.
In the final acts, the lovely and underrated Katey Sagal stands before a presumably well-heeled liberal Los Angeles audience while head shots of Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rice drop before the screen. Sagal belts out:
The end of an empire is messy at best
And this empire is ending
Like all the rest
Like the Spanish Armada adrift on the sea
We’re adrift in the land of the brave
And the home of the free
Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.*
Thunderous applause was inevitable, but tears rolled down my cheeks.
*All lyrics and music by Randy Newman.