Thursday, May 1, 2008

City Songs: Birmingham

Randy Newman: Birmingham


Off of his album about the South, Birmingham has a lot less bite and bile than Rednecks or Guilty. If he's criticizing the city, the song itself is so subtle than many thing this is an ode to his home town (he's from L.A.). If you learned enough history in junior high though, you'll remember Birmingham was often a key player in the civil rights movement, and rarely in a good way. So, if it really is the "greatest city in Alabam,'" I don't think that says a lot in Randy's view. Though this was written in '74, so let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they've probably improved since.


Matt said...

I'll have to give the lyrics a better listening to, to decide what's what... but... Isn't Randy a known provacator? Like, wouldn't he be just the guy to say something to kick up a dust?
I hope so, because I live for them fly's in ointment.
Thanks for the tune, yo! Nice one!

boyhowdy said...

Hi, Ray! Welcome aboard!

Del McCoury does a great version of this one. Different, but great.

Randy is indeed known for unreliable narrative voices, sometimes at an extreme -- but as you say, Ray, there's nothing really extreme about these lyrics unless we make some damn wild assumptions about the purpose of that dog named Dan. But Randy isn't usually half that oblique.

If anything, I'd assume this is a not-terribly-deep commentary on provincialism from an album which was, overall, a survey of issues affecting the american south at the time. And even then, it's a light uppercut, not the slam dunk that most of the rest of the album is. Nice call.

Anonymous said...

But why wouldn't he write an affectionate song about Birmingham, Alabama? After all, the killer put down at the end of 'Rednecks' was directed at the smug hypocrisy of supposedly more right on people in northern towns like NewYork who loved to sneer at Southern racism whilst sweeping local tensions under the carpet.

LD said...

I love that Randy Newman isn't afraid to complicate the issue, so much so that you can't really say who he's rooting for. If anything, his best songs remind us that humans are deeply flawed, but ultimately redeemable, like a sing-along Kurt Vonnegut. Anyway, "Birmingham" is a great song and one that makes me think fondly of my 2 years in Tuscaloosa. Which reminds me ... ROLL TIDE!!!