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The Observer, Jan. 26


A couple of years ago, Randy Newman stole our heart in Eureka Springs, sending us into a love-trance when he spoke-sang into the microphone, "I miss you." So of course The Observer headed to Fayetteville last weekend to see Newman perform in front of a full house at the Walton Arts Center. His voice didn't cooperate as usual, but hell, he's 67, and his hoarse "I miss you" did the trick anyway: We were his.

Now here's the thing. The Observer can't read music, doesn't know a flat from a sharp, but we love the piano, and boy do we love Randy Newman's piano. (Of course, we love his lyrics, too — if you don't cry to "Masterman and Baby J," you've got no soul.) We'd give anything to understand, and describe here, why his compositions are so remarkable.

Fortunately, afterward we heard a musical teen-ager we know who attended the concert observe, in awe, that Newman was playing in one key and singing in another. Her mother added that he was playing three against two (or was it four against three), which we think requires that you play faster with one hand than the other so the notes bump up against each other a certain way — she demonstrated later on her kitchen counter — and so we take her word for it that despite sounding easy, his piano playing isn't.

Frankly, we'd go see Randy Newman just sit in front of a piano while we listened to his music on an iPod, such are our feelings for him. Which made us think — why can't he come sit here? Why can't Little Rock have a stage that would fit the series of musicians and performers that the Walton Arts Center has? Robinson is far too big and the Rep stage too small. How delightful it would be. We'd let everybody see. ... Let's build a bigger one now.

The Observer was hanging around the opening ceremonies in the House chamber of the state Capitol a couple weeks ago. We did expect the pomp and circumstance, the much-ballyhooed speeches and all the political glad-handing that comes with such events. What we didn't expect was a performance by renowned singer-songwriter Billy Joe Shaver.

Standing in front of all the members of the Arkansas House of Representatives, Shaver treated those in attendance to the national anthem as well as a few tunes of his own.

With his long, wispy, gray hair tucked behind his ears and wearing a dusty brown leather jacket, white buttoned-down shirt and bolo tie, Shaver looked a little out of place but made every one feel right at home — and even got a few laughs — when he sang "The Get-Go," which included the lyrics, "Politicians make promises that they can't keep." After a couple of verses, Shaver stumbled and forgot a couple of the words. He stopped singing, telling the representatives, "You don't want to hear the rest of that one."

What is it about this time of year that gets us so blue? We guess it's because it's the in-between time, after the colored lights and tinsel of Christmas and the revelry of New Year's, but well before the first green of golden spring. We suspect it might be lack of sunlight, or maybe it's just the way the cold knifes through these old bones in a way that it never did when we were 20 or 30. Climate change must be for real, because our body tells us that winter is a lot more chilly than it was back in our ruddy youth. Or maybe it's just because we don't drink as much whiskey as we did back then. Still, short of moving to south Florida to warm up or north Minnesota to just go ahead and let Jack Frost put us out of our ever-lovin' misery, there's not a lot we can do except grin and bear it for the next few months as the days slowly get longer and the days get warmer, until finally the whole green world suddenly bursts forth in that riotous explosion that still manages to surprise and thrill the hell out of us, even though it happens every blessed year.

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