ASCAP, fans celebrate Newman's wit, wisdom

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Those who attended ASCAP's I Create Music Expo expecting to discover the secrets to songwriting success from special guest Randy Newman likely found inspiration and entertainment but few hard facts.

"Most of my stuff, I don't know where really it comes from," he told the crowd at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood last week. The multiple award-winning composer said his choice of subject and the sound of his songs is limited by his "three blues chord" range.

Newman, who spent an hour interspersing his performances with discussion about his process, said that if he had the vocal range of such musicians as Billy Joel or Sting, he might have been enabled to write about love. Although he doesn't write them, he admitted his appreciation for a good love song. "I admire people who can turn 'em out and find different things to say," he said.

And he found a way to transcend his amorous limitations. "If you don't write love songs, next stop is geography," he remarked after a rendition of "I Love L.A."

Fielding questions from music journalist and songwriter Paul Zollo, Newman discussed at length the humor in his songs.

"I don't know that the way I chose to go was the right way for this medium. I'm lucky that for the nature of the writing I've done, I've done so well," he noted, admitting it comforts him to evoke cheer. "You know you're OK when you make someone laugh," he said after a performance of "Davy the Fat Boy."

But Newman, who received several standing ovations from the packed house, also employs his ironic bent to the service of more serious topics, often to gripping effect.

His performance of the classic "Sail Away," a song about slavery, sparked the observation, "When you write about nuclear war, political science or the slave trade, you can't go at it correctly," said Newman, who has won an Academy Award, five Grammys, two Emmys and the Recording Academy's Governor's Award, as well as being inducted into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.

Newman concluded the evening with the audience request, "Louisiana," and admitted that there is something fulfilling in creating a unique popular song. There's satisfaction in that, he said, "and there's some satisfaction that I'm still around. If I think I'm getting worse, I won't do it anymore."
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