When the road looks rough ahead
And you're miles and miles from your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you've got a friend in me
Randy Newman has plenty of friends, but of course he can't get together with any of them these days. The Oscar-winning singer-songwriter and his wife, Gretchen Preece, are stuck at home, just the two of them.
He told correspondent John Blackstone, "During this, I volunteered. I said, 'Well, look, tell me something to do that I can help you to do.' And she said, 'What do you know how to do? What is there? How could you help me?' Vacuum? I said, 'I could vacuum.' And she says, 'No, I don't think you could.' So, I feel bad. I'm doing nothing!"
"Well, he does what he does so well," Preece said. "It's okay. I'll do the cleaning and cooking, and you write songs."
"And I'll play the piano while she works!" he laughed.
Blackstone asked, "He works at home a lot. How is this different?"
"It's different because I don't get to leave!" Preece laughed. "But you know, we're doing all right. You know, we've been together a long time. So, it's something we can handle, day in, day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week!"
"Relentless, yeah!" Newman chuckled.
Blackstone asked, "Does he still disappear into his room with the piano to compose for hours at a time?"
"He disappears into that room; I'm not certain he's composing," she replied.
"Sometimes," he grudgingly admitted.
Newman's most recent composition began as a simple coronavirus safety message for a Los Angeles public radio station, but it grew into a song: "I had an idea because I knew it had to say, 'Stay away from me.' And I sort of had that idea before I sat down."
By the time he had finished, it had also become a love song, dedicated to Gretchen, and to surviving the lockdown together:
Stay away from me
Baby, keep your distance, please
Stay away from me
Words of love in times like these
I'm gonna be with you 24 hours a day
A lot of people couldn't stand that
But you can
You'll be with me 24 hours a day
What a lucky man I am
Preece made the first recording of "Stay Away" on her phone: "When he said, 'I had written a song for you, it's a love song,' I thought, 'No, unh-uh. There's gonna be something not right about it," she laughed. "And it's beautiful! I have to say it's beautiful. But then there's the thing about my friends being stupid ..."
Venus in sweatpants
That's who you are
And when this mess is over
I'll buy you a car
We'll drive that car
So fast and so far
All your stupid friends
Will be left behind
"And I thought, 'How am I gonna explain to my friends?' You know, but they know him. And they know that's not him. And of course, none of them are stupid."
"Anything for a laugh," said Newman.
Randy Newman performs "Stay Away":
Probably Newman's best-known love song is the one he wrote to Los Angeles, "I Love L.A."
"L.A. is a much, much different city right now; do you see it at all?" Blackstone asked.
"No. I mean, we're in. We're just here. I don't see it. I'd love to see it now in a different way like that. It'd be kind of stunning. When you've been looking at 60 years of looking at Sunset Boulevard or Olympic Boulevard busy, it'd be nice to see it with nobody. Yeah, wow."
Newman's coronavirus song warning people to stay away is now available for download.
"The proceeds go to the Ellis Marsalis Center in the ninth ward of New Orleans, for music for children in the ninth ward. And I'm glad for that." he said.
Newman can be generous with a compliment as well, as he told Blackstone: "You know, watching you this way, close up, you know, and there we are, I really have a new appreciation for how difficult it is to interview someone! I tell you, I couldn't do it, at all. There's not a chance."
"Well, I can assure you," said Blackstone, "I couldn't write a note of music."
"Well, that's why we're such a good couple," Newman laughed.
For more info:
- "Stay Away" by Randy Newman (stream or download)
- Donate to the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, New Orleans
Story produced by John Goodwin. Editor: Ben McCormick.