Randy Newman, 'Louisiana 1927'

Hundreds of songs have been written about New Orleans and Louisiana. One that's been played frequently in recent days has a special poignancy. Singer-songwriter Randy Newman talks about his song, "Louisiana 1927."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hundreds of songs have been written about New Orleans and Louisiana. One that's been played so often in recent days has a special poignancy.

(Soundbite of "Louisiana 1927")

Mr. RANDY NEWMAN (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) What has happened down here is the wind have changed. Clouds rolled in from the north and it started to rain. Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time. Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline.

MONTAGNE: This is Randy Newman. He wrote the song "Louisiana 1927," the story of another terrible flood. Randy Newman has close ties to New Orleans, and he joins us now.

Good morning.

Mr. NEWMAN: Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you. It is so sad and painful in a way suddenly to listen to this song. Tell us how you came to write it.

Mr. NEWMAN: Contrary to what is generally written, I was born in Los Angeles, but I went to New Orleans when I was, like, a week old. My mother is from there, her family is still there. I lived with her a few years when I was a baby, and I'd go back in the summers. And it was the other place that I knew, and I was interested in the history, and heard about this flood, and I wrote the song.

(Soundbite of "Louisiana 1927")

Mr. NEWMAN: (Singing) The river rose all day. The river rose all night. Some people got lost in the flood. Some people got away all right.

MONTAGNE: Your family--still in New Orleans. How did they fare in this hurricane?

Mr. NEWMAN: Cousins that are left now in the area are children. They're all gone. One of them's in Grenada, Mississippi. Another one is in Houston. They didn't stay a while. No one did.

MONTAGNE: What is it that makes Louisiana so much a part of the dreamscape of the American mind?

Mr. NEWMAN: New Orleans is truly different. There's a carefree quality to it, a careless quality to it. I mean, New Orleans is not a place to get your car fixed. You know? It's just famous for being inefficient and loveable because of it. And there's a good reason why, you know, we are the strongest from there. It's not like other places in the country.

(Soundbite of "Louisiana 1927")

Mr. NEWMAN: (Singing) Louisiana, Louisiana. They're trying to wash us away. They're trying to wash us away. They're trying to wash us away.

MONTAGNE: We just heard you singing your song, "Louisiana." There are other versions. So I kind of wonder if you have a favorite.

Mr. NEWMAN: I think my favorite is mine with the orchestra in some ways, but Aaron Neville did a great version of it.

MONTAGNE: Randy Newman, thank you for joining us.

Mr. NEWMAN: It's a great pleasure.

MONTAGNE: And here is Aaron Neville singing Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927."

(Soundbite of "Louisiana 1927")

Mr. AARON NEVILLE: (Singing) What has happened down here is the wind have changed. Clouds roll in from the north and it started 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 all right. The river have busted through clear down to Plaquemines...

MONTAGNE: This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STAMBERG: And I'm Susan Stamberg.

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