One doesn’t come across many artists who respect their audience like Randy Newman. In some ways, most music today is very simplistic. Let’s be honest. Poetry is deep and avoidable. Music is (not too deep) unavoidable. Think about it. You know or heard of someone who has “doo wop bop bop doo wop’ed,” “mama mia’ed,” and “oops I did it again,” and they’re probably still blackmailing you over it. Please. We all know the ugly truth. Music is unavoidable. Now, Randy Newman has a gift for composing and writing satirically, dark; yet, wittingly compelling music from “short people [who] got nobody to love” to “drop[ping] the big one [to] see what happens.” And, he has been doing it all since the 1960s. His type of musical witticism creates songs that are easily digestible. Creating a musical experience which the listener starts to wonder if Newman is being serious, rhetorical, or mean (It doesn’t matter he’s brilliant at it!). Then, creating a fan base who finally realize, through years of faithful listening, that Newman’s reasons for liking mankind are parallel to God’s reasons for liking mankind (see “God’s Song” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEKuGcmW70I ).
Newman’s “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” is by far, one of the most angular songs I’ve heard (a song with an angle of angles). There are many twists to this song’s meaning. The song has a dark yet beautiful way of expressing how we have failed to reach our potential (our potential to be kind). Now, potential dates back to high school; and, is a word no one wants to engage with since it’s the most self-agonizing word to cross the human tongue. And, if you have ever heard the word potential you were probably hung over, out on parole, or unemployed. Unleashed potential in areas of human kindness starts to make sense when you come to terms with how you raised a big, fat ball of entitled crap. Then, this song comes back to you and you start to remember:
Broken windows and empty hallways, / a pale dead moon in a sky streaked with gray. / Human kindness is overflowing, / and I think it’s going to rain today.
It’s a fact most people talk about the weather. People are more likely to engage in talking about the weather than engage in conflict (believe me this is a fact). The common phrase asking “How’s the weather?” spans culture. Everyone gets involved. The answer always depends on how the weather is. Simple right? But, what if you are caught in a Newman song trying to figure out what “and I think it’s going to rain today” means. Hell, are we still talking about the weather? For, there are several ways to deconstruct this cluster. One way is to examine lines 3 and 4 as a mental leap or a way to divert from said topic. For example, statement one is profound. Statement two follows, this encrypted haiku statement, with a generic statement to devalue or to divert. “I heard human kindness is overflowing.” “Oh yeah is that right?” “Yup. Overflowing.” “Well, look at that…I think it’s going to rain today” (end of conversation). This means the receiver changes topic because it either went over their head (like all phatic communication) or they’re not interested (i.e., selfish). I mean rain is rain (it’s only symbolic if we choose to give it a reason to be symbolic). There’s only so much a person can cope with and human kindness overflowing is not an entertaining topic of discussion.
Now, if lines 3 and 4 are treated as mutually inclusive then both lines influence each other. For example, (1.) human kindness is finally trending…human kindness is pouring down like rain! (2.) human kindness is actually there we need to tap into it, (3.) ahh, horse manure…I thought human kindness was pouring down not all this rain, (4.) ahh, it doesn’t look good out today…I’m staying inside, (5.) it can only get better before it gets worse, (6.) it can only get worse before it gets better, (7.) I think I’m ready to be kind…look at the tears! (8.) I think I’m ready to tell others to be nicer to me…look at my tears! (9.) I’m the only one out here (sniff)…I’ll make the best of it on my own, and (10.) hello hello hello (echo echo echo).
Scarecrows dressed in the latest styles, / with frozen smiles to chase love away.
The societal system is broken, detached, and empty–even a smile is fake. Dressing up the problem is not going to make it more palatable. The system is already flawed since Newman is talking about people who have no inward substance. People are being held together by superficial bindings i.e., the latest styles. They paste creepy smiles on and wonder why they’re lonely. The scarecrow that chases love away is of course a contradiction; but not a contradiction when dealing with actual crows. How many times did a scarecrow scare you away unless you were paranoid and thought someone was following you. If you thought the world was going to sod you probably unconsciously sang this song. But, in reality, nothing good has to happen to any of us. This ambiguity (this grey moon area) is again joined with a tone of sadness which connects us back to pondering the ecosystem’s doings (song link at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4c54PAzXrM).
Lonely, lonely. / Tin can at my feet, / think I’ll kick it down the street. / That’s the way to treat a friend.
Loneliness and ones ability, at the same time, to be selfish is still no surprise. (And if you have gotten to this portion of the song and have not laughed yet you’re doomed!) Think about it. Why don’t you have friends? Simple. You are selfish. Why do you have friends? Simple. You are more committed to putting up with people’s flaws and have no problem doing so because they put up with yours. But, in the song, we hurt the people we love. It’s more likely to happen on Facebook. The tin can represents the person who is in an advantageous position (aka foot height). This friend is in a very tempting position. Let’s face it. Tin cans don’t go around kicking themselves. And, if this song teaches you to place the burden of proof on others, then you probably didn’t get another good laugh out of this song. Shame on you!
Bright before me the signs implore me / to help the needy and show them the way. / Human kindness is overflowing, / and I think it’s going to rain today.
If there is one message this song promotes–it’s promoting one’s ego. People are needy and need to be controlled by un-needy people who see “signs implor[ing]” them to help those who are needy (i.e., those who haven’t tapped into their kindness potential). It’s a disaster waiting to happen. The act of charity is a sticky situation. Unless you’ve dug really deep into your own garbage and separated your recyclables from the other trash (which is a life long process); then, you’re probably not an expert in showing others “the way.” We all can vouch for an egotistical helping hand (in theory it’s called making attributions). It’s the helping hand that gives unsolicited advice. It’s the can kicker! Sound familiar? Don’t go around thinking people are so needy you were destined to help change their situation (because you can’t). Rain still falls. And, if you think you have that gift then more power to you! The rest of us are laughing because that line, my friend, was a trap.
Satire is all about shaming. And in some twisted/pleasurable way, we encounter it with a hearty laugh and a better attitude. Maybe one person sees it as a gospel. Maybe another person sees it as a warning. Maybe another person sees it as a way into reprogramming their life. All in all, Newman’s music challenges its audience to go beyond a catchy jingle and to embrace a new way of looking into the ugliness that is in us all. Human kindness is not always prevalent nor is it easily attainable. Remember it’s all potential. And who can disagree with “a little fall of rain” (Les Miserables, “A Little Fall of Rain”).