Sometimes certain seminal events can inspire the imagination to consider what if...and it goes from there. When Paul McCartney visited the White House in 2010 to be awarded by President Obama, Kevin Courrier considered what that evening might have been like if the honoured guest had been someone like....Randy Newman.
Newman begins the opening chords of his song. "In America, you'll get food to eat." Of course, America feeds the starving Africans. This is a good message. People quickly perk up to the promise they hear in the song. But as he continues, Newman adds, "You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day. It's great to be an American." The President fidgets and looks at Michelle. "What did he just say about wine and Jesus?" Newman assures the gathered crowd in the following verse that they won't find lions, or tigers, or mamba snakes in America, but they'll get to eat watermelon and buckwheat cake. Then, softly, he implores, "Climb aboard, little wog, sail away with me." Before he can reach the chorus, which is so majestic that it arouses an eagerness to jump aboard in spite of the words being sung, the President suddenly looks around as if trying to find some way to tell Newman that the song is, ah, maybe somewhat inappropriate. But an aide, who is hip to Newman's work (in fact, he had a hand in getting him invited), whispers to Obama that the song is a parody of the slave trade. A parody? How can you joke about that?
The President realized upon reflection that the hideous joke of "Sail Away," with its intended irony, transcended the poisonous tree of slavery. Maybe the unease stirred by a song like "Sail Away" was actually better than showcasing a simple, more topical polemic about the evils of racism. He turned to Newman and thanked him for offering such a provocative and intelligent evening of songs. But he stopped short of saying that he had "helped to lay the soundtrack for an entire generation."
Check Out: Randy Newman's "Sail Away."