Two months ago I saw a production of Randy Newman's Faust at New York City Center. At the time I was enduring a summer cold and received the detail of my experience in a glacial melt. The sensation of touch felt extremely surgical. This is the ideal way to walk into a circumstance of theater, to feel at any moment as if you might flow out of your skeleton into the vast silvery red of Randy Newman's devil cape and blow your ghost nose in its moving gloss. It was this image that sustained me for two hours.
I had never seen or heard Faust before and despite viewing it from a compromised state I found it exhaustively funny and self-reflexive, as much a work of literary and music criticism as a musical itself. Newman stretched his sensibility to the aerodynamics of gospel for the songs sung by God and his angels, and shrank it back down to tidy, modest blues phrases for his own devil songs. He on more than one occasion eviscerated the limits of his own compositions, which beyond appearances are rich with chords that resolve gorgeously and intelligently. Faust, along with Newman's entire body of work, constructs an evocative nerve between Tin Pan Alley and Ray Charles, which he populates with characters that are variously grotesque and tender. There's a newborn quality to the most evil or deeply estranged of Newman's characters, as if they had just recovered the tools to properly articulate their perspectives.
"Feels Like Home," sung by Vonda Shepard in the City Center production and by Bonnie Raitt in the video above, is a love song the character Martha addresses to the Devil, whom she dates briefly in one of the story's many digressions. Even writing a straightforward love song Newman never loses his capacity for imagery and character; when Martha sings, "A window breaks / Down a long dark street / And a siren wails in the night," the seeming anonymity of her sentiment is itself broken up into vivid and gleaming fragments.
I've been thinking lately of the nature of "home" and what it takes to make one. I've never really felt at home anywhere in a geographic sense, Nevada too empty and shapeless to project anything onto, New York too dense with other projections. I've never successfully applied my interior design ambitions to an apartment; I either decorate too minimally or wildly overcompensate, creating an effect that is alternately lunar and mosaic. Regardless I've occasionally assembled the feeling of "home" among friends with whom I've shared histories, enthusiasms, musical silences. When Martha sings, "Something in your eyes / Makes me want to lose myself / In your arms," I remember home as mostly an expansion of the self, a bodiless place where the self can radiate and merge unconsciously with others. From my chair in the City Center, feeling like an exposed nerve, I heard this song and watched Shepard drift warmly across the stage toward Newman's piano, both of them meticulously assembling the feeling of the song, and I started to cry, sensing in my eyes in the hot gloss of fresh tears.