Dylan’s favourite songs: Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927”

By Tony Attwood, based on research by Aaron Galbraith

We are now at number 12 in the list of Dylan’s favourite songs and so far we have had two from Randy Newman: Sail Away and “Burn down the cornfield”.  The third and final Newman song is  ‘Louisiana 1927’.

And I would urge you, if at all possible to leave the video running because there is a second version of the song, this by Martin Simpson which follows it.  That second recording starts with a couple of minutes of Martin chatting, so if you want to avoid that move on to the 2 minute mark.   I do think it is worth it.

And here are the lyrics

What has happened down here is the wind have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it start to rain
It rained real hard and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

The river rose all day--The river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood
Some people got away alright
The river has busted through clear down to Plaquemine
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline

Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away
They're tryin' to wash us away
Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away
They're tryin' to wash us away

President Coolidge come down in a railroad train
With a little fat man with a notepad in his hand
President say, "Little Fat Man, ain't it a shame
What the river has done to this poor cracker's land"

Louisiana, Louisiana
They're tryin' to wash us away

If ever there was a song where the music and the lyrics fit together perfectly, surely this is it – although as noted below the music is not original.  But the music rolls reflecting not just the storm and flood itself but the aftermath.

And, for myself, being English, I had to look up “cracker”, although I could guess it was an insult.  In case you are not familiar with the term, Cracker, “sometimes white cracker or cracka, is a racial slur directed towards white people, used especially with regard to poor rural whites in the Southern United States,” according to the definition I found.

This recording by the composer gives some illustrations and information about the event.

Randy Newman was brought up in Louisiana, and wrote the song in 1974. But 31 years later another, and after Hurricane Katrina hit the Deep South, the song was used as a fundraiser and is now permanently associated with the two tragedies.

In an interview in 2008 Newman was asked if he would be playing it at every show until he retired. He replied: “I wouldn’t have, because it’s the same tune as ‘Sail Away’ and it’s not quite as good a song maybe… But yeah I do.”

Which is as good a cue as any for Sail Away – and I am sure you can hear that what  the composer admits, is quite true.

He added later, “I wanted to write a song about North and South again. I’ve written a number of them, about the guy in the song, sort of, complains about the whole treatment, not quite trusting the president coming down. And it kind of did that.   I have the clouds coming in from the north, which they really never do. I mean, as if the North had sent these clouds down.”

The article continues… “In the chorus, when Newman sings, “Louisiana… They’re tryin’ to wash us away,” he’s referring to the North, and the feeling that those states were indifferent to Louisiana and bordering states. It’s a similar sentiment heard in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

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