My love for the roadside drive-in is well-documented. I first learned of the Weenie Beenie in Arlington, Virginia while watching the Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways on HBO. And then, I remembered the song. I think it was a track I would skip over to get to hits like “Big Me.” Either way, something compelled me to wake up with the sun and drive to this place in the Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl’s home town.
A few friends familiar with the place told me to get the half smoke, to go for breakfast, to get a coffee, and to say “hi” to Jamaican John, which I did. But I messed up when ordering, and I forgot to get chili on my half smoke, egg, and cheese sandwich.
When I sat down with my breakfast at one of the picnic tables alongside the restaurant, a group of five or six men were gathered around their styrofoam cups of coffee and dirty backpacks or Igloo coolerssc. One of them, a tall African-American man with a mustache and a pack of Salems said, “I don’t want my picture in no Rolling Stone.” I assured him I was no Annie Leibovitz. He lamented aloud several times, “Man, I just hope I get a job today.” Looking across the street at a gas station’s parking lot where trucks would pull up, and one-by-one, the men sitting at the picnic tables would get picked off, hopping into the passenger side of a truck, an F-150 or a Silverado or a Tacoma, and heading to a job site of one kind or another.
“Man, last week, I loaded up carts of stuff for nine hours every day, all of them going to China.”
As I laid into my half smoke, egg, and cheese, he explained how happy he was to “retire to Louisiana. Gonna put a sign on my door that just says, ‘We gone.’ I gotta get my son through Virginia Tech. He’s in his last year for a Masters in Engineering. Then, I’m done.”
And just as I was enjoying my last bite, he grabbed a grocery bag filled with his lunch, we said our goodbyes and “good lucks,” and with the march of a soldier, he made his way across the street and into the passenger side of a green GMC truck.
I would’ve surely taken this man for granted had it not been for the Weenie Beenie.
Attention, Chicagoans: join me at the Patagonia Magnificent Mile a week from this Wednesday, September 9th, 2015 to celebrate thirty years of the iconic Snap-T pullover. We’ll have live music from one of my favorite musicians (I can’t say more at this point, but know that this will be a super-secret show from an iconic Chicagoan) tasty food provided by Piece Pizza topped with salmon from Patagonia Provisions, and a custom beer made especially for the event by Jared Rouben of Moody Tongue. Finish it all off with some Black Dog Gelato direct from their cart and you’re sure to have a good time. Bring in your old fleece or buy one or several gently used Snap-Ts curated from Patagonia’s Worn Wear collection and receive free customization (new pockets, patches, pouches) and repairs from Patagonia’s very own tailor, Alexis Fournier who is flying in from New York City especially for the party.
I encourage you to share my invitation with your friends. Please RSVP to let us know you’re coming. And I’d love it if you’d be so kind as to share with your friends and followers that you’re planning to come via your social channels. Tack on the hashtag #MySnapT and show off your own Snap-Ts (old or new). You can read about my own after the jump.
“Swimming after dark.” Just writing it down sends my heart a-reelin’. With Labor Day signaling summer’s unofficial end, we have exactly two weeks left to frolic, to feel the heat and above all else, to swim outside all hours of the day.
I’ve had it in my head to throw a big pool party outside after sunset, the kind of pool party I used to lifeguard, the kind of pool party I used to deejay, the kind of pool party that might have gotten a little out of hand, but thanks to those taught-and-tanned, time-and-a-half, after-regular-business-hours overly responsible teenage lifeguards somehow always managed to stay just on this side of any real danger.
In preparation for a recent live reading of my high school diary at an event called Mortified, I came across a ton of old photos from the Guard Party at the city pool where I guarded when I was 18. I maintain that the summer of 1999 will remain forever the best summer of my life.
Hoping to wrangle some of that summer’s lingering charm, I put together a mix of music that I would want to listen to while racing on the slides, while judging a Nestea Plunge competition, while duking it out during the greased watermelon contest, and mainly while dousing myself with every last drop of a summer night humanly possible.
This is called Friday Night Feels. Whether or not you’ve ever been to the beach or to the pool after dark, I’m sure you’ll find something in the next two-and-a-half hours to help you hold onto the feeling of a funky, muggy, late-summer night.
When the road calls, set aside the GPS, pull out the Road Atlas, and take the long way home. These three mixes are comprised of the tunes I reached for this year when I felt compelled to exit The Interstate and examine my inner-state. And while, admittedly, my road map was not always within arm’s reach, I did find myself clicking the “Avoid Highways” button on my directional gadget, rolling down the windows, and turning up the volume knob. These are tunes for strolling and for rolling, not for reeling, nor for speeding. This is the Carefree Highway.
The Air That I Breathe (Link)
This all came about on an early autumn drive up the coast of Cape Cod. I was listening to a local radio station when Gordon Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” came on, and it was all kinds of things. It made the air smell familiar. It made my heart pang for the singer. All at once, it brought me back to high school and flung me forty years into the future. I’m not sure what it is about Gordon Lightfoot’s rock solid voice, his steady tone, his classic imagery, but I find his songs so immensely enjoyable. What follows is a mix of tunes for that mid-morning clip along your favorite road, grassy pastures to one side, coastal waters to the other.
The Circling Sky (Link)
Were the skies telling the truth, you’d be squinting past your wipers. But every once in a while the skies lie. One of my favorite times of day is when the late sun hangs low in front of me, rushing past patches of dark clouds, Westward-bound like a prophet. “It should’ve been raining hours ago,” you think to yourself breathing in the thick air of a nearly missed storm as you slam a fist on the side of the steering wheel, like a hard-driving drum beat underneath the melancholy vocals of a good sad song. Look up, take in that mix of dark and light, and croon with best of them.
Anyway The Wind Blows (Link)
Trip’s ending. The road grows narrow. Your surroundings become more and more familiar. Destination’s breath is in the air. You just want to get there. You’re not quite white-knuckling it, but the thrill of the ride is couching itself with the thrill of arrival. These tunes comprise my favorites from the last year of taking the unbeaten path. Treat them well, and they’ll be in your life forever. I find myself reaching for them, driving or not. I hope you will, too.
Find the whole mix, all six hours’ worth, HERE.
For the full effect, you can find an eleven hour playlist of songs I added to make these mixes, nine months of songs I bookmarked for one reason or another, HERE.
Before I considered devoting a week’s worth of posts to David Letterman, I intended to share this story. For some time, I have been fascinated by the evolution of Dave’s relationship with a personal hero of mine, Paul Newman. For the uninitiated, I wrote a lengthy piece a couple years ago about Mr. Newman, and I have for many years prior and since emulated Paul. I read anything I can to learn more about the man’s many efforts, I revisit his incredible film career, and by that virtue I model aspects of my pursuits after those of his.
During the Writer’s Strike of 1988, in order to kill time, Dave told the stories of his first pair of encounters with Paul. In the first part of the clip, he tells it on his own show. In the second part, you’ll also see him tell the story to Johnny Carson. There’s nothing particularly special about this story, but it hints at Dave’s adulation of Paul. Though Newman shrugs as he passes Letterman in the stands at an auto race, Letterman is starstruck. It’s clear from his multiple retellings of the story that, like me, he too holds the “persona of Paul Newman” as he put it in retellings, in high regard.
At some point in time after running into Paul Newman at a couple auto races, the two developed a friendship, one centered around a love for cars — fast, fast cars. In certain circles, Paul was known for disguising immensely powerful engines in rather diminuitive bodies, “cue cars” as they’re known in England. His Volkswagen stuffed with a 300 horsepower Ford engine is the stuff of legend. In others, he was known as a champion race car driver. On the other hand, Dave is an Indiana boy thru-and-thru, and as co-owner of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing team, he is a fixture on the IndyCar circuit.
While Paul’s Volkswagen is inarguably cool, this is a post about my favorite of his cars, “The Paul Newman Volvo.” One day, seemingly out-of-the-blue, Paul called Dave, and asked if he wanted a specially built Volvo station wagon.
He retold his “Paul Newman Story” and introduced the world to the idea of the Paul Newman Volvo on Jon Stewart’s last-ever episode of his short-lived late night talk show. Then, he likely received a call from Paul, “Did you have to go and do that?” and revised the story, telling more of the car’s origin on Al Roker’s CNBC program, but he was careful not to name-drop, omitting any mention of Paul.
Without getting terribly personal, I’ve gone through some things this year that left me sideways, and this episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee [LINK] has been an immensely helpful bit of respite. I must have watched it a hundred times. If you watch no other clip in this post, take time to watch this one. It’s Dave — the Dave of present day — as unbuttoned as I can recall seeing him, and it’s just great. I love so many parts of this: the trip to the hardware store, the part where Dave asks Jerry with some seriousness, “are these people actors?” and the overall charming, humble, soft-spoken nature of their banter. Oh, and of course, I love the car, much as I love the men responsible for them.
As recently as 2013, Newman’s 960 Volvo station wagon was for sale.
“Where the hell are the singing cats?”
And again, one more time, I cannot say it enough, watch Dave’s segment of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
Thank you, all of you, for humoring me as I relive some of my favorite moments from Dave Letterman’s splendid career. And thank you, Dave, for stirring the enthusiasm in a twelve-year-old boy, one who — for the past twenty-two years — has unfailingly heeded your advice: “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.”
Like Letterman, Warren Zevon was an oft-misunderstood, feeling, thinking, snorting, spitting, mad man. Like Letterman, Zevon was born in the Midwest and found early success in Los Angeles. Like Letterman, Zevon threw it all out there.
Prior to a dive into his back catalog in college, I think I only owned Excitable Boy (likely thanks to you, dearly departed BMG Music Club), and I likely only listened to “Werewolves of London.” Fortunately, in the diving, I discovered an unheralded bard, classically trained by Igor Stravinsky and reared in the world of late 60s / early 70s Los Angeles (alongside contemporaries like Jackson Browne and David Geffen).
Around the time I was finishing up at school, Zevon announced he had cancer. I found myself in front of the television a few times over the course of the summer of 2003 where Zevon was showing up with greater regularity as he promoted a final album, a final tour, and a final round of performances on The Late Show.
Below, I’ve linked to all of Zevon’s known performances on Letterman-lead programs and the forty-five minute documentary focused on the recording of Zevon’s farewell album. Also, it’s worth checking out Enjoy Every Sandwich, a terrific Zevon tribute album.
“Excitable Boy” and “The Overdraft”, 1982.
“Boom Boom Mancini,” 1987.
“Trouble” and “Lawyers, Guns, & Money,” 1988 (Late Night’s Sixth Anniversary Show).
“Splendid Isolation,” 1989.
[In 1990, he appeared to perform a cover of "Raspberry Beret," which has been removed from all known sources for reasons obvious to those familiar with the author's recent spate of actions to further protect his work.]
“Searching for a Heart,” 1991.
“Finishing Touches,” 1991.
“Roland, The Headless Thompson Gunner,” 1992. “One of my heroes,” says Dave.
“Mr. Bad Example,” 1993. “We’re goin’ drivin’ later, right?”
“Seminole Bingo,” 1995.
Warren filled in for Paul Schaffer a few times over the years. This was one of my favorites, the spit take music.
Another one of Warren’s plate appearances in the role of designated hitter.
Third time’s a charm.
A supercut of all those Paul Shaffer stand-in jokes.
“Porcelain Monkey”, 2000. Come for the music, stay for the Tylenol PM bit.
“Hit Somebody (The Hockey Song)” Letterman appears on the album version of this song, penned by Mitch Albom, shouting, “Hit somebody!” as Paul Shaffer does in this performance.
If you’re not already a Warren Zevon fan, watch his four-part final appearance and become one.
Twenty years of complicity. Too many good moments to call out any one here.
Letterman announced Zevon’s death and replayed clips from his final appearance.
Warren’s son, Jordan, appeared on the program in 2007, performing his dad’s “Searching For a Heart.”
And finally, Inside Out, the VH1 documentary from the summer of 2003, which details the recording of Warren Zevon’s final album, The Wind.
“I think I’m just nervous all the time. I’m never really relaxed.”
Late in 1981, Dave Letterman was the age that I am now, 34. His nationally televised morning show, The David Letterman Show, had been cancelled by NBC. When he sat down for this intensely personal interview on a short-lived CBS Cable program called Signature, he was a few months away from taping the first episode of a brand new type of program, Late Night with David Letterman, displacing Tom Snyder’s 12:30AM Eastern time show, Tomorrow Coast to Coast.
Before Late Night would come to define the era, before the man who would finagle his way onto our TV sets night-in-and-night-out for an astounding thirty-three years, outlasting his mentor and all his competitors, hosting more guests for more years than anyone in television history, before repeatedly touching the zeitgeist with segments never-before-seen-on-television, segments groundbreaking in their strangeness, in their whimsy, in their stupidity, in their contribution to the art form, Dave Letterman sat down for a soft-spoken interview filmed in close-up and allowed himself to get as personal as the world would ever seen him.
Though he’d clearly been humbled by the loss of his first nationally-televised program, the elements of future versions of David Letterman are all there. He’s self-deprecating to a fault. He’s quick to speak, self-consciously explaining, ”Anything you hear that sounds like a set up, you feel obligated to fill in the punchline.” And yet, he’s clearly as nervous as he’d ever be. His hands cover his face for much of the interview.
This moment in his career is most inspiring to me. When he missed the opportunity in 1992 to host The Tonight Show, while many have correctly pointed to that debacle as character building, as the catalyst that turned Dave into the misunderstood underdog of late night, I don’t think it was as hard for Dave to dust himself off and charge forward following the seemingly massive missed opportunity thanks, in part, to his experiences a decade earlier. In losing his morning show in 1980 and going without work for most of 1981, Dave learned a valuable lesson in resilience. His toughness was formed in these early flounderings where good content failed in the wrong forum. And in watching this twenty minute clip, understanding this may well be a low point, I’ve drawn inspiration to find my own grit, to face life more fearlessly, and to understand that failure happens. It’s what we do with failure that defines us.
As Dave signs off tonight for the last time as the host of The Late Show, it’s my hope that in his ride at sunset, he glances back, if only for a moment and realizes how far he’s come, appreciates the endurance that got him here: a real American boy fully living out the American Dream.
It’s about a three hour drive on I-65 from Indianapolis to Chicago, but with brands of humor so similarly absurd, affable, and audacious, Bill Murray and Dave Letterman might as well have grown up in one another’s backyards. Over the past thirty-three years, before our very eyes, the two have developed an incredible rapport, one that inherently grew from an increasingly intrinsic relationship. Were there no Dave, all we’d have are Bill’s rather transactional appearance’s on Johnny’s show (sidenote: how about Akroyd and Murray’s cowboy boots)? And without the occasion of Bill’s appearances, Dave would have one fewer ally in the fight against sarcasm, one fewer friend to lean on in times of need, and many fewer nights where he’d give belly-filled laughs and allow a nation to overflow with glee. Lately, Bill has taken to appearing in one-or-another of Susan Hum’s wild costume designs, and we are all the better for it.
First, Paul and the band play “Chest Fever.” Then, Bill cakes the audience and hugs Dave, caking him in the process. If ever there was a better way to describe Bill Murray it would be, he’s the type of guy who can turn a noun like “dessert” into a verb.
“All we are saying is more Worldwide Pants.”
I love how Bill Riker’s the guest’s chair on his first-ever appearance on Dave’s morning talk show. Also, “It’s me, you jerk.”
Seeing as how Bill was Dave’s first guest on the old show, and his first guest on the new show, it’s appropriate that tonight, he should be his last guest. Let’s take a look at some of Bill’s best appearances.
Where it all began. From Chinese restaurant pandas named “Cancun” to Dave’s “So now that you’re well-known is it harder to be funny?” to Bill’s impromptu take on Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical,” it would soon prove to obvious to ignore: these two were made for each other.
About six minutes into this appearance to promote all-time classic Groundhog Day, Bill offers his unique vocal styling talents to belt a doozy of a theme song for Dave’s show. For the next several years, whenever something was a bust, my high school buddies and I would shake our heads and say to one another, “milkmen and snake charmers.” I’d forgotten it had come from Bill Murray.
“Stay out of it, Davey.” The Heckler. Classic.
My favorite of Sue’s costumes for Bill was this green velour Peter Pan audition number. I know it may upset some of you to read this, but Allison Williams has gotnothing on the Wildest Wings in Wilmette, Ol’ Twinkle Toes Murray himself. The best part about an appearance from Bill Murray is the breadth of things that can — and inevitably will — happen in a short span of time. In the middle of this, in an all-too intimate moment, Dave shaves Bill’s Aloha beard. “Well, we had special clearance from the FAA.”
Liberace. After the break, so much insanity ensues, ending with Bill’s take on Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Oh, Bill.
Paul Shaffer’s book makes a pretty hilarious mention of Bill. And then, there are leaf blowers.
Bill’s on crutches following a skiing accident while attending the Sundance Film Festival. Park City? More like Parka City. Wait for the leg elevation bit. Further proof that the Late Show staff really goes all out for Bill.
Here’s one for all you bourbon lovers.
Tom “Bones” Malone has quite the cannon on him.
And that does it. It goes without saying, I am incredibly excited for (and a bit stymied by) Bill’s forthcoming Christmas Special on Netflix.