The new Randy Newman album, Harps and Angels, is growing on me the more I listen to it. I was unfamiliar with his prior work, with the exception of the over-played classic, I Love LA, but I’m increasingly intrigued by his non-film work.
In an apathetic age, only Neil Young among his original peers still consistently sounds any musical alarm against injustice and corruption. Browne agrees with Gore Vidal’s assessment that America’s largest political party is the “nonvoting party”, so such opinionated motivation is nothing short of admirable. Don’t ask me, ask Randy Newman. On the ever-laconic Newman’s new album, Harps and Angels, a song called A Piece of the Pie mischievously measures America’s collective languid self-interest against the undimmed commitment of one man. “The rich are getting richer, I should know,” he writes. “While we’re going up, you’re going down, and no one gives a shit but Jackson Browne.”
So, is Browne the last protest singer? “He didn’t really say that,” he says of Newman’s portrayal. “What he said was even funnier, that no one else gives a shit. Not true, of course, but very funny. My friend Don Henley referred to [the actor] Ed Asner, who’s active for social change, and Henley called it the Dreaded Asner Syndome. I guess I’ve contracted it, and am proud to be afflicted. I don’t think there’s any choice but to throw in with those people who are doing what they can to make the world inhabitable and beautiful. I’m a card-carrying member of hedonists for peace. I just don’t think peace and prosperity should only be for the wealthy.”
We had mentioned John McCain’s keen urge to steal from artists without compensating them previously, but here’s Jackson Browne’s direct response to the situation:
This is more than benign idealism, as John McCain recently discovered. Browne is suing the Republican campaign, seeking damages of $75,000, for using his 1977 song Running on Empty in an “attack” ad against Barack Obama, in the apparent belief that a lifelong liberal would either not mind or not notice. “They broke two very clear laws,” he says calmly. “That they can’t use your song without your permission, and that they can’t imply you endorse a candidate if you don’t. Either they don’t know the law or they think they’re above it. Either way, it speaks volumes about the style of governance.” Browne has given $2,300 in support of Obama’s presidential campaign, according to public record.
“McCain’s campaign [managers] are trying to say he knew nothing about the ad,” Browne adds. “Do we believe that? It may be that it plays well to his constituency to steal my song, unapologetically take whatever you feel like using, and work out the details later. I’m sure I’ll prevail, because the laws are clear-cut, but I think the Republicans have a culture of impunity.”
Now three weeks off his 60th birthday, a bearded Browne may be looking just a little older at last. As in a similarly long dialogue at the time of his 2002 album, The Naked Ride Home, however, he is likeably low-key. “The inspiration’s not a problem,” he says. “I’m not less inspired, I’m less free to shut myself away long enough to finish a song. I’m also not in a hurry. That’s the odd thing that’s happened, that there’s less and less time left, and I’m less in a hurry. Maybe I’ll get desperate towards the end. You want the things you sing about to be about life and other people’s lives, and if I shut myself away and tried to ramp up the output, it might limit the interest I take in things that are pretty universal.”