If you’re around my age (twenty-two), then Randy Newman has single-handedly defined your childhood, and if you’re the parent of a twenty-something, then Newman has defined your post-adolescence. Think for a minute about your favorite films as a child, and when you’re finished, think about the music that accompanied it.
When I was little, ¡Three Amigos! was one of my favorite movies, mainly because of this scene:
Watching Martin Short and Steve Martin jangling around in mariachi garb is already enough to make you smile, but “My Little Buttercup” is what makes the scene work, and Newman wrote it. If you’re a fan of MADtv, then you may already know that Newman is famous for his ability to churn out songs at the snap of a finger, and “Buttercup” is most-likely a throwaway song, but the simplicity of the melody, and the hilarity of the scene, leaves the song burned in your mind. Songs like that stay with you.
However, ¡Three Amigos! may be a bit too far out of range for my generation, so I’ll help those who are still unsure: Toy Story. Yes. Newman scored that too, and if anybody remembers him, that’s why. When Newman dies, his epigraph will read, “The Toy Story guy.”
“You’ve Got A Friend In Me” is a song everyone knows. And like “Buttercup,” it’s incredibly simple, but poignant enough to conjure up childhood memories, or apply to our waking lives. When the song is played, everyone around has a story to tell. Everyone has friends, and since the song is directed between a child and his toy, the song stretches beyond human relationships, and makes you realize your friendships with other objects, whether they’re toys, books, or instruments, ultimately increasing your awareness of mortality, and that you’re aging. It’s not only a frightening reminder that nothing stays the same, but a comforting suggestion that we must enjoy what we have while it’s here.
Since Toy Story, it seems like Newman has scored every Disney or Pixar film ever made. Of course, he scored Toy Story 2 and 3, but also James and the Giant Peach, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc., Cars, and The Princess and the Frog. As young adults who grew up watching most of these films, these films shaped us, which means Randy Newman will forever live through us.
But he didn’t just make his impact through film scoring. Not in my life at least.
As I continue to get older, Randy Newman continues to define my world. He was there after Hurricane Katrina. Aaron Neville sang a version of Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” becoming an anthem for New Orleans, and helping me realize how important my hometown really was. He was there at the first Dodgers game I got to experience. The Dodgers and the Mets went into extra innings, and when first baseman James Loney hit a walk off homer after thirteen grueling innings of sitting in the sun, Newman’s “I Love L.A.” blasted through the stadium speakers. Everybody was hollering along when Newman sang, “We love it!” And even though the sun nearly burned off my face, I did love it. He was there for my relationships. Songs for living with women, and songs for living without them. Through satirical lyrics, he provided insight on subjects like racism, religion, history, foreign policy, death, friendship, and acceptance. Randy Newman has provided a lesson for every subject I’ve ever contemplated. He was there for me when I was young, and he’s here for me now. Throughout the good times he’s made me laugh, and during the bad times we’ve stuck together and seen it through. Out of all my friends, Randy Newman is closest to me.