The problem with irony is nobody gets it; they get it in conversation, on TV, but not in songs.
I know this from personal experience – there’s something about singing which everyone believes is personal, autobiographical and that can be great, but it’s not always what is happening, it can be interesting to pretend to be someone else, or to give yourself licence to say stuff you don’t believe to make a point. A while ago I posted a song called ‘Can I just Explain?’ for example, where I imagine I’m a man explaining his affair and partially blaming his wife. ‘You were acting like a stranger, turning your back in the dark’ etc. then I wonder why people are asking me if my marriage is OK 😉 Anyway believe it or not this blog isn’t about me…
‘Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear’
Despite being covered by the Muppets (whose version I love) it’s actually a pretty bleak song. Simon Smith is poor ‘I may go out tomorrow if I can borrow a coat to wear’ (wonder if Morrissy nicked that line for ‘This Charming Man’?) What’s Simon doing? Well he’s off to entertain rich people ‘well fed faces’ by poking a bear with a stick. Yes, sorry Fonzie that’s how they used to make the bear ‘dance.’ So two layers of cruelty the laughing rich cruel to Simon, making Simon cruel to the bear. ‘It’s just amazing how fair people can be.’
There’s probably another meaning too as Randy Neman was struggling himself to make entertainment pay ‘Who needs money , when you’re funny?’ Well the song is funny but I think better for the darkness underneath. I like it when an up-beat melody is undercut by a lyric, I suppose I’ve done it myself with a song like ‘he paid to have himself murdered’
Anyway, Now by the Muppets!
Randy Newman went on to write so many great songs and was often misunderstood.
In ‘Sail Away’ he breathtakingly plays a slave trader luring Africans on to his ship with the promise of a wonderful new land.
In ‘Political Science’ he seems confused as to why everyone hates America and suggests they blow the rest of the world up (except maybe Australia ‘don’t wanna hurt no kangaroo.’ )
Then there’s the hit ‘Short People’ which ridicules discrimination but which got him sued. I still have a relatively short friend who can’t stand him because of it.
One more? ‘You can leave your hat on’ seems to me it’s a song about a darkly manipulative man; but then it had the meaning sucked out of it by vocal vacuum cleaner Tom Jones and is now mostly danced to by strippers. Ho hum – Randy did his best! All good tunes!
Catch up soon (and sorry if you like Tom Jones). Another song soon – stay in touch!