A Decade After Katrina, Randy Newman's 'Louisiana 1927' Comes To Mind

Aug 12, 2015
Originally published on August 12, 2015 6:44 am
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This month, we're marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The storm devastated New Orleans, a city that's captured the imagination of so many musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: And as the bad news rolled in 10 years ago, one song came to be played over and over again. It became a touchstone and a source of solace, which is why at the end of one very long week, we reached the musician who wrote this song. Let's listen to that conversation from 2005.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOUISIANA 1927")

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

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

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.

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.

NEWMAN: Contrary to what is generally written, I was born in Los Angeles, but my - 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 SONG, "LOUISIANA 1927")

NEWMAN: (Singing) River rose all day, 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?

NEWMAN: It's cousins that are left now and their children. They're all gone. One of them is in Grenada, Miss. Another one is in Houston. They didn't fare well, but no one did.

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

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 famous for being inefficient and lovable because of it. There's a good reason why, you know, Louis Armstrong is from there. It's not like other places in the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOUISIANA 1927")

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've just heard you singing your song "Louisiana." There are other versions and I kind of wonder if you have a favorite.

NEWMAN: 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.

NEWMAN: It's a great pleasure.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOUISIANA 1927")

AARON NEVILLE: (Singing) 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. Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline. Louisiana, Louisiana, they're trying to wash us away. They're trying to wash us away. Oh, Louisiana...

MONTAGNE: We're listening to a conversation I had in 2005, marking 10 years since Hurricane Katrina.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOUISIANA 1927")

NEVILLE: (Singing) They're trying to wash us away. They're trying to wash us away. President Coolidge come down... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.