Randy Newman laughs at the idea that his rare Long Island performance at The Space at Westbury on Wednesday is somehow connected to the star-studded Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in Brooklyn on Friday.
“No,” says Newman, 72, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer himself, calling from Santa Monica, California. “I didn’t really know about that. . . . It’s much like the ‘We Are the World’ video. The first thing I notice when I look at it is that I wasn’t in it.”
It turns out that Newman is coming because he wants to. “I like the city; I like Long Island,” he says. “I liked playing Jones Beach, and I remember playing My Father’s Place in Roslyn. It was a tough place to play, kind of noisy with the wooden floors and people were clomping along. But it was a sharp crowd.”
And at this point in his legendary career — which includes everything from the orchestral pop of “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” to lush movie scores like the theme from “The Natural” to catchy anthems like “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from “Toy Story” — why wouldn’t Newman just do what he wants?
With your vast catalog, how do you decide on a set list?
I prepare one, but I change it up while I’m up there if an audience is particularly receptive to a certain type of thing. Sometimes I play in a place that’s noisy and I don’t want to do ballads and wade through the 3 minutes with people mumbling and talking through it. . . . It varies by the part of the country. In the South, I’ll do more of my good ol’ boy kind of stuff. I’ll do “Kingfish” in Birmingham, Alabama, whereas I probably won’t do it in Madison, Wisconsin. . . . I’ve got some new songs that I want to play — at least three or four of them.
Is there an album in the works?
Yeah. I should finish it in the next few months, but it won’t be out until next year because I can’t go out on the road till then because I’m doing a picture [“Cars 3”].
Those movies really have introduced your voice and your work to new generations.
It’s a different audience. There’s a bunch of kids who come to my concerts, but I don’t really go too deep for them. My “normal” stuff is so abnormal, so far away from the type of stuff that the pictures require. “You’ve Got a Friend” compared to my ordinary persona would be like coming from a used-car salesman. It’s not a character that I would normally take on, but I’m glad that I get a chance to write stuff like that.
Is it easier for you to write in the voice of all the various unreliable narrators you’ve had in your career than to do something like “You’ve Got a Friend”?
No. The easiest thing I do is to get an assignment. If someone tells me, “Write a song about a Burmese tennis player who is an alcoholic,” I could do that fairly well and be satisfied with the product. That’s the thing I’d have the most confidence that I could do.
Is there a subject that you still want to tackle?
I won’t really know until I get to it. I certainly find that I’m writing more about death now. It’s peeking into my songs without me noticing. There’s a song on this record about a wife dying before her husband and how he feels about it. The kids will love it. [Laughs.]