Song of the Day #1,054: ‘Old Man’ – Randy Newman

Last week’s selection from Randy Newman’s classic 1972 album Sail Away was the charming and sweet ‘Memo to My Son,’ a song about how wonderful and exasperating it is to have a child.

This week’s track, nestled just a few spots away on the same album, takes a decidedly more cynical look at a father-son relationship at the other end of life. ‘Old Man’ is told from the perspective of a son at his father’s death bed. But this isn’t a heartfelt goodbye. This is the son’s opportunity to throw a lifetime of uncaring neglect back in the old guy’s face.

“No one cared enough to stay… no one came to cry,” he taunts.

The final verse is the most chilling, as the son dismisses any chance of a redemptive afterlife and reduces the old man’s death to just another fact of life.

Everyone has gone away
Can you hear me? Can you hear me?
No one cared enough to stay
Can you hear me? Can you hear me?

You must remember me, old man
I know that you can if you try
So just open up your eyes, old man
Look who’s come to say goodbye

The sun has left the sky, old man
The birds have flown away
And no one came to cry, old man
Goodbye, old man, goodbye

You want to stay, I know you do
But it ain’t no use to try
‘Cause I’ll be here and I’m just like you
Goodbye, old man, goodbye

Won’t be no God to comfort you
You taught me not to believe that lie
You don’t need anybody
Nobody needs you
Don’t cry, old man, don’t cry
Everybody dies

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,054: ‘Old Man’ – Randy Newman

  1. Dana says:

    The song clip is saying file not found. Not sure if the problem is on your end or mine.

  2. Clay says:

    It’s working for me now. Maybe a temporary glitch.

  3. Dana says:

    It’s working now.

    Great, tough song.

  4. Amy says:

    Hmmm… reading your post and Newman’s lyrics led me to expect something very different than the song that is currently coming from my speakers. I don’t find it chilling or taunting, though I agree that there is a matter-of-fact attitude that makes it somehow even more moving.

    In fact, I find the combination of Newman’s delivery and the soft, almost searching, music makes for a very touching song. The son has clearly been let down by this guy, but he isn’t bitter or angry. He IS there at the end, regardless of whether his father deserved him to be. And he seems almost appreciative that his father has given him the legacy of not believing in the “lie” that is an afterlife. The delivery of that final verse is far from taunting, so I hear a very different song than the one you described here.

    And I do love the Newman on display in today’s SOTD, though I don’t find him to be sarcastic or cynical.

  5. Clay says:

    I think you’re reaching in calling this a “touching” song. Telling a man on his death bed that nobody came to cry for him, that nobody needs him, that there will be no God to comfort him… those aren’t the words of somebody who is appreciative.

    Yes, he’s there, but I don’t think he’s there to make peace, but rather to see the old man off as coldly as he must have been treated by him his whole life.

  6. Amy says:

    I agree that the words on the page read as though they ought to be delivered that way. However, Newman does NOT sing them that way. He is almost tentative in his delivery, hardly spitting the words out at the old man. I don’t know that he’s there to make peace, but he’s there. It seems that he has already made peace, which is why he is able to so matter-of-factly send him off to the inevitable end.

  7. Dana says:

    I actually had a similar reaction to this song as Amy did. Obviously, the relationship between a parent and child can be complicated, particularly where the parent, father here, led a flawed life and may not have been a great parent or a great person. Still, as someone who had that type of father, there is something about the sentiment and experience here to which I can relate. The son being there to say goodbye shows a need to be there, a need to grieve, yet not to sugarcoat the person for whom he is grieving and, also, in this case, to recognize that the son has inherited some of the same flaws that the father possessed.

    I think the song is tough and frank, but not necessarily cold.

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