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.
“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.