Randy Newman and Barack Obama

Pop Feminist has an insightful and fascinating post that uses Randy Newman’s “Sail Away” to help unlock the great political, historical, and emotional significance of Barack Obama’s nomination for president. The post explicates Newman’s song (an immensely powerful satirical ballad told from the perspective of a slave ship owner speaking to slaves about the virtues of America) in the context of Obama’s victory, and helps bring home the event’s deep cultural significance.

Of “Sail Away,” Pop Feminist writes, “The song depicts a faith in the idea of America so strong that even the violence on which it is founded comes to seem beautiful.” The hope that Barack Obama’s nomination inspires is inextricably linked to all the wonder, beauty, and horror of American history, just as the blues and gospel underpinnings of Newman’s song quietly and forcefully evoke both the atrocities of slavery and the strength and power of the African-American cultures that would one day become the lifeblood of American culture as a whole.

The post also brings to mind another Randy Newman song that’s all-too-relevant to today’s America: “Political Science,” also from 1972’s Sail Away. The song’s narrator offers the satirical suggestion that, since everybody hates America anyway, we might as well just nuke them all:

Asia’s crowded and Europe’s too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada’s too cold
And South America stole our name
Let’s drop the big one
There’ll be no one left to blame us

This strikes me as distressingly close to the logic and depth of thought that apparently went into some major foreign policy decisions over the past seven years or so. Anyway: both the Randy Newman album and the Pop Feminist posts are well worth your attention.

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2 Responses to “Randy Newman and Barack Obama”


  1. 1 Pop Feminist September 2, 2008 at 8:25 PM

    Thanks for the link, but I feel it’s incumbent upon me to clarify that the above quote,“The song depicts a faith in the idea of America so strong that even the violence on which it is founded comes to seem beautiful,” is Eric Lott’s, not mine. Alas. I’ll try to clarify that on my blog.

  2. 2 goodreadings September 3, 2008 at 7:18 AM

    Thanks for the clarification.


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