On the Beat

Why does Randy Newman name-drop RTP in his new song? Mystery solved.

Singer Randy Newman was inspired by the Duke Blue Devils’ national profile to mention Durham in lyrics on his new album “Dark Matter.”
Singer Randy Newman was inspired by the Duke Blue Devils’ national profile to mention Durham in lyrics on his new album “Dark Matter.”

Singer Randy Newman surprisingly name-checks Durham and the Research Triangle Park in the opening stanza of his new album, “Dark Matter.”

Since the album was released in August, it’s been a bit of a mystery why. He didn’t offer much explanation at the time. But in a phone interview this week, he explains the lyrics’ origins.

Newman’s songwriting eye wasn’t necessarily drawn to RTP, he said, as it was to Durham, a city where he’s spent very little time. Duke University’s basketball team can be thanked for that, he said.

“The Great Debate” begins the critically acclaimed album with an argument between science and faith. And Newman’s carnival-barker narrator sets the scene like this:

Welcome, welcome, welcome

To this great arena

Durham, North Carolina

The heart of the Research Triangle!

“At first that lyric actually went, ‘Home of the Duke Blue Devils, but no devils are here tonight,’” Newman said in a phone interview. “I’m a sports fan and already knew about Duke and Cameron (Indoor Stadium), and that just popped into my head –there it was. But I changed it to Research Triangle because it seemed fitting that it be in a place famous for science.

“That made it the perfect place for me to assault,” he added with a laugh.

Newman is best known for the 1978 hit “Short People” and his Oscar-winning Pixar cartoon scores.

He’s on the road this fall with a tour stop scheduled for Nov. 9 date at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. You’d expect “Debate” to have a prominent place in that night’s setlist – except the lavishly orchestrated studio version features strings and a gospel choir.

“I can’t do it!,” he said. “I’m coming with just a piano, doing the solo song and dance. So I can maybe do about the first three minutes of it. Maybe I’ll try that, see how far into it I can get.”

With “The Great Debate,” this makes at least two songs of 2017 inspired in part by Triangle basketball teams – following Steve Martin’s “Caroline,” with its reference to the UNC Tar Heels.

For ticket details on Newman’s Durham show, go to carolinatheatre.org.

David Menconi: 919-829-4759, @NCDavidMenconi

  Comments