“I talk quite a bit, as the spirit moves me. Some of the songs are a little strange, so I feel like I have to explain them,” he deadpanned.
One song in particular hits rather literally close to home: the tune “Dayton Ohio — 1903.”
When writing the song, Newman wasn’t trying to tell a story about Dayton in particular, but was trying to evoke a different time, before World War I.
“When I wrote it, all I had in my conscious mind was that it sounded like a beautiful time ... from about 1890 up through 1918 it was sort of a more innocent time. No one had any idea how horrible World War I would be,” he said.
Most of all, however, Newman looks to give and receive a positive feeling from his shows.
“I get a morale boost. The show is fueled by the crowd, just by them being there,” he said.
Howard Epstein, the director of Miami University’s Artist Series, said the show was about 80 percent sold as of Friday.
'Dayton, Ohio - 1903' singer to perform first-ever concert in Southwest Ohio
Randy Newman’s Feb. 19 concert at Dave Finkelman Auditorium comes at a fortuitous time.
Not only will Newman be performing at the Academy Awards the following weekend, but his concert here will be his first in a long while, if not his first in Southwest Ohio, period.
“We’re happy about it,” said Howard Epstein, the director of Miami University’s Artist Series that will bring the singer-songwriter here. “We also can’t recall him being in this area for a concert. It’s an opportunity to present somebody who hasn’t performed much here.”
Even if Newman hasn’t played here, the area is close to his heart, in a way, since he wrote the song “Dayton, Ohio - 1903.” It appeared on a reissue of his 1972 album “Sail Away” and will also figure in a compilation album called “The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 2, to be released in the late spring on Nonesuch Records.
Newman’s lyrics, evoking a simpler time, read, “Would you like to come over for tea with the missus and me? It’s a real nice way to spend the day in Dayton, Ohio, on a lazy Sunday afternoon in 1903.”
Newman said “I wasn’t even thinking about the Wright Brothers ... It felt right and sounded right. I was thinking about a town in the middle of America.
Newman’s songs often tend to be topical, like his song “Korean Parents,” from the “Harps and Angels” album. Education was on Newman’s mind this week, because he’ll be playing at a college campus, and because his daughter was looking into attending Oberlin College in northeast Ohio.
Newman wrote “Korean parents” about those moms and dads who particularly press their children to succeed in school. And Newman wishes that kind of commitment was more prevalent here.
“There hasn’t been enough realization that education is the number one priority. When we’re placing 17th and 18th in English and math, that’s wrong,” Newman said. “It’s hard to be called a great country when you’re not doing well in that.”
For his own part, Newman admitted “I was up and down (in school). The education I was offered was pretty good. I never learned to work the way I wished I would have,” he said.
Still, the way he does work has paid Newman a lot of dividends, He has won one Oscar, for the song “If Didn’t Have You” from “Monsters Inc.” and he just received his 20th Academy Award nomination for the song “We Belong Together” that plays over the end credits of “Toy Story 3.” Newman will perform it at the Oscar ceremony Feb. 27.
“I need to learn it better than I know it now,” he said.
But whether he’s performing in Hollywood or Middletown, one thing remains constant — he loves the audience.
“Some of the best times of my life have been on various stages. It is an affirmation in a very clear way, of what I do.”
Contact this reporter at (513) 705-2836 or email@example.com.