Letterman: Paul Newman

paul-newmanBefore 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.

jerry-dave

Letterman Seinfeld 1

Dave on Comedians in CarsWithout 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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 4.28.49 PMDo you want a puffer on yours?

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This is a bit of inside baseball, but Stew Leonard’s which makes an appearance in Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was Newman’s local grocery store and the first retailer to carry Newman’s Own.

For more on the car itself, read Swedespeed’s delightfully detailed piece and Jalopnik’s republished version of the piece.

As recently as 2013, Newman’s 960 Volvo station wagon was for sale.

Newman/Haas Team Racer Sébastien Bourdais and Paul speak with Dave on The Late Show.

“Where the hell are the singing cats?”

“Would you like to buy a monkey?”

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.”

Thanks, Dave.

Letterman: Signature, circa 1981.

“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.

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A massive hat tip to Rolling Stone’s Josh Eells for referring to this interview in his May 13th cover story.

Letterman: Bill Murray

Letterman MurrayIt’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.

LOU PINELLA!

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.

Letterman: Kennedy Center Honors

“For David Letterman, this is unquestionably the single worst night of his life. Look at him, I know he’s smiling, but that medal hanging around his neck: there’s a 40% chance he’ll hang himself with it.” – Jimmy Kimmel

At the 35th Annual Kennedy Center Honors, David Letterman was honored for his Herculean television achievements. There are so many fat pitches in this seventeen minute clip (“Tina, does Dave talk to you?”), and it’s worth watching the entire thing, if only to watch Dave squirm sitting next to the Led Zeppelin boys.

And a selfish in-joke: for those who’ve met my mother, you’ll appreciate this. In the montage featured in this clip, look for the first Top Ten list entry with this story in mind: for the first time in the seven years I’ve been remiss in regularly updating All Plaidout, my mother recently called me and said, “I’m calling because I’m worried about you. I went to your blog the other day, and I thought you might be dead.” Thanks, Mom.

Letterman: Tom Waits

Before I knew anything about Tom Waits, I knew Dave was a massive fan. Waits has appeared on one or the other of Letterman’s shows ten times. It wasn’t until I saw Down By LawJim Jarmusch’s pulp fiction, jail break picture starring Waits, that I understood Dave’s fascination. From watching Jarmusch’s black-and-white, soupy bayou yarn about three escaped convicts, I could tell implicitly why Dave did everything he could for Tom. For Waits, like Dave, is this somewhat reclusive, creative, punkish American everyman, able to speak to the people of his time by needling together all that has come before, occasionally paying homage, but most of the time poking at it for effect. Here, I have compiled all-but-one of the ten known appearances available, with a sprinkling of notes on certain performances. Come for the music, stay for the interviews.

Tonight, Waits waves goodbye performing a new tune for Dave. According to his site, “I don’t know when I will see Dave again. I guess from now on we’ll have to settle for bumping into each other at pilates.”
[Read more...]

Letterman: Julia Roberts & The Roses

Who cares if this was staged? It is awesome to watch Julia Roberts flatly call him out for failing to send flowers, and then like clockwork, watch as Pat Farmer strolls in with roses. Then at 6:45, all hell breaks loose.

Part One of her first appearance on Late Night. Freshly turned 22, she was there to promote Steel Magnolias in 1989. And a pig. And a dog.

And my personal favorite: Roberts revealed in 1993, after the above appearance, she’d asked Dave to attend the premiere of Steel Magnolias with her.

Fallon and Kidman, eat your hearts out.

“And if it ever happens again, I’ll be happy to go with you anywhere you wanna go: you, me and Lyle, of course.”

David Letterman

Letterman NY TimesIn the summer of 1993, I was twelve years old. It was the last summer I played baseball. It was the summer before I started at a new school, an all-boys school, one that molded my worldview as much as anything. I was a member of a whopping three swim teams. It was the first and last summer I played on an organized roller hockey team on an actual sport court in a city park. After all, it was 1993. And late in that summer, I became the world’s biggest David Letterman fan.

As my last summer before becoming a teenager came to a close, on August 30th, 1993, CBS debuted The Late Show with David Letterman. Prior to that, rare was the occasion when my folks allowed me to stay up past the end of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny CarsonI did know that Dave dropped televisions, watermelons, and bowling balls from tall buildings, and he’d have controversial guests with whom he’d occasionally argue, and I knew about Stupid Pet Tricks and velcro suits, and because of all this, my mother did not like him, which obviously made me even more fond of him.

As of today, we have one more week with Dave, and I have been tapping into my early fondness for his show in a big way.

Facing Dave’s impending retirement, I’ve become more wistful. In retreading memories, it’s become clear to me that discovering Dave Letterman signaled my transition from a boy to a young man. For a little over three years, the three years I was old enough to be allowed to stay up until 11:30 and yet too young to drive, I was an avid fan, taping many of the episodes, rewinding and poring over the structure of his jokes, his cadence, developing a keen eye for his trademark folksy, Midwestern turn-of-phrase. I never liked the double-breasted suits, the grey socks, the tasseled Cole-Haans, but I liked his “Hee, hee!” I liked his good-natured self-denigration. And I especially liked that he rooted for the Midwest, land that I love.

When watching, I had a routine: push-ups during the monologue, sit-ups for the first commercial break and through the end of the Top Ten, and then, I’d do some pretty intense stretching while he interviewed his first guest. For a time, I remember being able to lay flat on my back, point my feet, and touch the carpet with my toes. Talk about Stupid Human Tricks, but at least my swim coaches were impressed.

Patrick gets Dave’s socks, January 16, 2009.

Grey Socks Dave Letterman

In thinking of how I — Max Wastler, lowly style blogger — might best pay tribute to this man whose efforts have meant so much to my understanding of the world, I had a thought: let’s all wear grey dress socks and tasseled loafers on Dave’s last day. We could call it #SocksForDave. I’m going to go ahead and pull the trigger on a pair of the Grey Russell Ribbed Dress Socks from Ledbury. Fingers-crossed, they will arrive just in time.

IMG_3250I filled out the online submission in attempt to attend the taping of one of his final shows, but because I was lucky enough to make my way into the front row of the taping of an episode last fall, I assume I’m on a “no fly” list. If you’re reading this, and you’re in New York, and able to take part of your day to wait in line for waitlist tickets, do so, and clap a little harder, cackle a little louder on my behalf.

Letterman MirrorYa got any cups?” Each one represents a completed show.

Speaking of attending a taping, it is precisely as its described at the beginning of this lovingly told profile from The New York Times, from which the black-and-white photography featured here was borrowed. He does wind this dented microphone around the stage like The Who’s Roger Daltry or like its Indiana Jones’ whip. His warm-ups often show up when he first sits down at the desk. The in-joke he’s able to craft and the cutaway to the darkened audience member with whom he shared the repartée still make me smile. Deep in the piece, when he’s approached today, he refers to feeling a sense of “artificial reverence.” Were I to agree with him would defeat my efforts here. I have utmost respect for Dave, and it’s my hope in reading the forthcoming posts, you’ll understand precisely why.

Letterman Rolling StoneI’ll end by saying, it’s also worth picking up the most recent issue of Rolling Stone with Dave on the cover. Josh Eells’ lengthy article is incredible in its scope: detailing scandals, his introversion, the early insecurities, and a beautiful portrait of Dave’s life in Montana.

Stay tuned to All Plaidout this week for more stories about Dave Letterman as only I can tell them.

Billy Reid on CBS Sunday Morning


“Man, we love a story about somebody who gets knocked down and gets back up.” – Charlie Rose, in regards to Billy Reid. Great to see him profiled on CBS This Morning.

Willie Nelson, New Balance, & Running

There are any number of adages about walking in another man’s shoes one could apply as a means of introducing the story of Willie Nelson’s New Balance shoes. I assure you Mr. Nelson himself has a handful of lyrics that would lend themselves nicely to such an introduction. Instead, I’d like to begin by explaining how I came upon this post.

My twin uncles Mark and Matt were two of the first guys I idolized as a little kid. My dad’s younger brothers were cool. Artists with a passion for hunting elk, there’s this story they tell of Hank Williams, Jr. offering to buy one of their bronze statues of an elk or of a cowboy on a bucking bronco or something like that. My first memories of Willie Nelson are wrapped around hearing his voice pour forth from factory-issued speakers while my legs dangled from the front bench of one of my uncles’ pick-up trucks.

Since then, Mr. Nelson’s music has been a part of mine and my family’s life — a part I largely disregarded until I re-discovered his brilliant songs in early adulthood.

Then there’s the running. Growing up, I recall sneaking around in my dad’s closet and finding this old pair of blue New Balance 320s which he told me he wore when he ran 5ks and 10ks in the 1970s. Around the time of my dad’s running exploits, Willie Nelson left Nashville in a cloud of dust (among other things) and returned to his home state of Texas, and threw his sizable, embellished ten-gallon-hat into the ring of the burgeoning singer-songwriter movement beginning to crest there. And underway was this massive running boom. The hippies were hitting the trails with nothing but a bandana around their heads, some fitted shorts and simple, synthetic and leather shoes on their feet. And with a relentless tour schedule (Mr. Nelson has a song about it. Maybe you’ve heard it.) taking its toll, Willie Nelson found running — or perhaps better stated, running found Willie Nelson.

“For a health kick, I ain’t on one. But… I find that running makes me feel better. It had gotten to the point where I was killing myself at night, so I had to do something in the daytime to make up for it. Now that I run, I don’t stay out as late as I did. I don’t drink much anymore, and I don’t even smoke cigarettes…. It’s not that I’m all that strong willed. It’s just that when you’re done running five miles you don’t want a drink or cigarette. All you want to do is flatten out,” courtesy of  Texas Girl, December, 1979.

“More than once, I’ve gone jogging in a town I don’t know and had to knock on a stranger’s door and ask directions to get back to where I started.” from the Tao of Willie.

Running became such an integral part of Mr. Nelson’s life that he began to run races. For a time, at his Pedernales Country Club outside Austin, he hosted the ”Willie Nelson Distance Classic.” I was lucky enough to find a vintage t-shirt online from the race that was held in June of 1980. According to one source at the time, “More than 1,000 runners entered the race which Nelson hopes to make an annual event.  Nelson (47) finished the hilly 6.2 mile course in one hour, seven minutes and 45 seconds.”

And I’m surprised his running/golf hybrid game has not as yet taken off.

“Willie is very big on fitness and the fact that he is still putting in the miles on the road and working around the clock lends some fact to this. He used to enter road races and I’m not sure if he invented a golf game for fitness folks, but it is different than the one we watch on television. The winner is the person that can run 18 holes the fastest and by adding the number of strokes and the running time determines the winner. Fastest runner with the fewest strokes is the winner and gets to buy the beer.” from Moe Johnson of the San Marcos Record.

And though, early on in his running life, Willie Nelson wore the same 320s my dad wore, as can be seen in this photo from inside the fold of the 1978 album Willie Nelson and the Family Live and on the cover of 1981′s Somewhere Over the Rainbow, at some point he discovered the unparalleled comfort and durability of the 496, a walking shoe. On a recent trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, I took an abundance of detailed photos of a pair of Mr. Nelson’s custom 496s currently on display in the lobby.

And earlier in the year, I reached out with some questions to the folks at New Balance, who were kind enough to humor me with the following statement.

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We make them at our Lawrence, Massachusetts manufacturing facility. We knew Willie was a New Balance fan so when we were presented with the chance to work with him on a running event in Austin, Texas with one of our retailers to benefit Farm Aid – it was a great opportunity.  I believe it might have also been timed to our newfound ability to do personalized embroidery at our factory in Lawrence when we added new machinery – which was around that same time. Our manufacturing team members have enjoyed making Willie his 496 New Balance shoes and over the years have added different special embroidery elements on them such as a guitar or his name or Farm Aid. - Amy Dow, New Balance

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Thanks to Ms. Dow at New Balance, to Linda Lee Banks, the author of the authoritative Willie Nelson fan site, Still is Still Moving, to my good friend Adam Geremia, author of the inspiring Tumblr which explores that early running boom, They Call Us The Seekers, and to those of you who found your way to the end of this lengthy headlong dive into the world of Willie Nelson’s footwear choice. I saw this as something of a tribute to this year’s running of the Boston Marathon and to Mr. Nelson as he approaches his 81st birthday at the end of this month. If you’re still hungry for more, there are plenty of photos in this Flickr album that didn’t make the cut. Let’s end it with some inspiring thoughts from the man himself.

“I just try to exercise. I try to do enough in the morning to make up for what I did, detrimentally, the night before. I try to make it even out, but you know, we don’t live the greatest lifestyles out here traveling on the road and eating whatever we can get a hold of. So, any kind of exercise we can do daily is good, and I try to get in a run or a bike ride or something every day.”

“I enjoy running around Austin. I enjoy going downtown and running on the rivers and lakes down there, and you see just loads and loads of people doing it every single day. There’s not a more beautiful place to run and Austin has so many great roads and trails.” – Willie Nelson, courtesy of Still is Still Moving.

 

The Johnny Cash Christmas Show, 1977

My newest holiday tradition: watching The Johnny Cash Christmas Show, circa 1977.