CFP: Special Issue of Popular Music and Society on Randy Newman

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Michael Borshuk (Texas Tech University)
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Special Issue:
Randy Newman's Work

Edited by Robert Brazeau and Michael Borshuk

The nephew of two studio film composers, and initially a paid composer for a California music publisher, Randy Newman, throughout his career, has offered a unique and enduring challenge to the popular music milieu into which he arrived. That is, despite making his eponymous solo recording debut in 1968, emerging as a singer-songwriter contemporary to personal artists like Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, Newman has always stepped away from the naked introspection or unmasked biographical tendencies of his generational peers. Ostensibly less "serious" than his contemporaries, Newman, instead, opts for wry social commentary and moving narrative exploration as sung through a series of voices that are variously poignant, self-effacing, and abject. (When Dylan was singing "Lay Lady Lay" and Mitchell, "Both Sides Now," for instance, Newman sang "Tickle Me" and told us of "Davy the Fat Boy.") Nor is his generational singularity any less obvious on a strictly musical level. Newman's sound extends far back historically, before rock and roll, blending Tin Pan Alley song patterns, ragtime arrangements, and orchestral flourishes to complement the theatricality of his lyrical content. A professional in the truest sense of the word, Newman and his musical effect emerge out of a workmanlike fusion of aesthetic influences, with enough of the artist's uniquely surreal humor to defy predictability.
This special issue of Popular Music and Society will consider the singularity of Newman's work from the late 1960s to the present, in all its diverse forms: his solo albums as a singer-songwriter; the innumerable covers of his work by other artists (a stable that includes Three Dog Night, Harry Nillson, Peggy Lee, Judy Collins, Ray Charles, Etta James, and Joe Cocker); his move into the "family business" of film soundtrack composition in the 1980s and beyond; and his writing for musical theater with the 1995 production, Randy Newman's Faust. Possible topics for investigation include:

• Newman's eclectic mix of influences, and the meanings this musical fusion engenders within popular music's increasing emphasis on categorization and genre.
• Newman's use of dramatic monologue in lyrics, and his comfort singing in character across historical, regional, gender, and ethnic boundaries.
• Newman's ongoing criticism of America's fraught history with bigotry and difference, most obviously with his biggest commercial hit, "Short People," but also as a ubiquitous topic throughout his songwriting, right up to 2012's "I'm Dreaming," in which his malcontent narrator dreams of a return to white presidents.
• The relationship of Newman's more lighthearted film work (such as his songwriting for animated films like Toy Story or Monsters, Inc.) to the often darker themes he explores in his solo recordings.
• The Newman performance persona, bespectacled and in casual clothes, with little of the glamour or affect of his rock and roll contemporaries.

Potential contributors are asked to submit abstracts of no more than 500 words and a brief CV before December 15, 2013. Those selected for inclusion will be invited to submit full articles (6,000 to 8,000 words) by April 15, 2014. Articles will be peer-reviewed. Inquiries regarding potential essay topics and their suitability for inclusion are welcome. Please include your professional/academic affiliations, a postal address, and preferred e-mail contact with your essay; for purposes of blind peer-review, please do not include your name within the body of the essay. Please submit all documents to: Robert Brazeau at or Michael Borshuk at