Moring Music: Rednecks by Randy Newman

Good Old Boys - RednecksWhen I started this week of offensive Randy Newman songs, I knew I had a lot to choose from. But I had one song in particular in mind: “Rednecks” off his Good Old Boys album. The narrator is a redneck and he shows himself to be bigoted in the most offensive way. It starts talking about how the segregationist Lester Maddox was on television with “some smart-ass New York Jew.” As he’s discussing his own people, he notes that men go to LSU, “Went in dumb — come out dumb too.” And then there is the refrain, “We are keeping the niggers down.”

Now this is presented in the context of it being the way that northerners think of southerners. But he isn’t saying it’s wrong. He isn’t saying that the south isn’t like that. He’s saying that the north is hypocritical. The bridge is devastating. He says that the north has “set the nigger free.” And he provides a long list of how the African American is free, “Yes he’s free to be put in a cage in Harlem in New York City.” And it goes on that way. The song could be a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, if the song weren’t such a muddle with every offensive word that was handy.

The Problem Isn’t the Rednecks

“Rednecks” was released in 1974. Since that time, the kind of overt, impolite, racism of the singer exhibits has mostly become a thing of the past. It is so much a thing of the past that even Sean Hannity finds it unacceptable. At the same time, mass incarceration of African Americans has become a far bigger issue. Words do matter. But they only go so far. We’ve created a society that is largely polite to African Americans. But not one that offers them opportunity.

We should have spent less time worrying about the rednecks and more time worrying about the system of racism our society is built upon.

4 thoughts on “Moring Music: Rednecks by Randy Newman

  1. Yeah. Thanks for sharing, Sir. Had missed that song in our RN days. Brings to mind Lou Reed doing “I wanna be black” (off Street Hassle?) which goes pretty far over the line too…….not sure how kidding LR was….but our only black friend of the times thought it was damn funny and requested I play it all the time.

    • They are similar in that they are attacking the other side. I already discussed it in “Rednecks,” but Reed gives it away in the line, “Don’t wanna be a fucked up, middle class college student anymore.” It works well. And there is a lot to that. It’s a primitive kind of empathy, but it’s a start. Would the singer add to that, “And live without all the advantages I’ve had since before I was born”? Probably not.

  2. ……….And, late in his career, Lou Reed took a shot at being lyrically leftist in songs like Straw Man, which history teacher Marty Bennett thought poignant enough to use as class material at Santa Rosa Junior College. (On that LP Reed uses phrases like “does anyone really need a billion dollar rocket” and “raise a little liberal army in the woods” in taking pot shots at Right Wing America, crass consumerism and the military industrial complex) Admittedly, Reeds writing was never quite as charming as Newman (to the point of being vulgar) and the main reason I associate them is that we were listening to them in the same period, or thereabouts.

    • I think Reed was always a leftist. It just goes to show that you can be a leftist and still be a jerk. And vise verse. It’s like the George W Bush being a good neighbor thing. I’m not sure how good a neighbor I am, but I am willing to pay taxes to get the potholes filled.

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