I thought David Letterman was one of the funniest men alive years before I first watched him.
When I was in the early years of elementary school, every mom who drove my carpool had their radios tuned to the same radio station: FM 100, playing the greatest hits of the ’70s, ’80s, and today. Owned by and bearing the same call sign as the local NBC affiliate, the station’s morning zoo frequently partnered with the TV station in all sorts of ways. To them, I’m sure it was all about corporate synergy or something like that, but to my young self, the most audible benefit for that partnership was that, every morning, they would replay the Top Ten List from the previous evening’s Late Night with David Letterman. As someone whose bedtime was hours before that show aired, it was a boon.
I can’t remember any specifics. I probably didn’t get half the jokes. But it was comedy—real, adult comedy, the kind I never would have been exposed to otherwise1.
By high school, I was watching Letterman’s Late Show with some regularity, and by the time I started college, it was appointment viewing. I’d been in college less than a month when 9/11 happened, and I remember anxiously tuning in to Letterman’s first show after, to see what he would say. Two weeks later, still healing, he invited Ryan Adams on to perform “New York, New York”, a love letter to the city whose video prominently featured the Twin Towers in the background, days before their destruction. It’s weird to say such a universal song became a personal anthem, but it did. It drove me to visit the city that New Year’s Eve, and that trip drove me to eventually live there.
In the interim, there was stuff. Feelings. The kind of thing that inspires a 19-year-old to keep a Livejournal, where he posts the lyrics to Ryan Adams’ “Starting to Hurt” at the start of a post that includes shit like this:
What it comes down to is despite all the thinking I’ve done over the past year-plus, despite all my changes in my attitude and philosophy, I’m still a shy idiot when it comes to girls. The biggest problem for me is always the first conversation. After that, I can coast on my momentum, in theory, but I can never come up with something decent to say to start things off. Or, as I told Danny earlier, “Physically and mentally, I’m well out of high school. But socially? That’s debatable.”
Case in point, and the justification for my previous post: a few posts ago, I mentioned a girl in my Logic class who also writes for the Daily who I have somewhat of a crush on. (At least I’m being honest with myself this time.) Today, she ended up sitting next to me in lecture, and for the whole 50 minutes, I sat there thinking to myself, “Say something. Start a conversation. Talk to her!!!.” But all that came out of my mouth that whole time was yawns, and those weren’t intentional.
I need to grow some balls. I need to start taking risks. I need to dig myself out of this God-damned rut I didn’t even realize I was in.
When I lived in New York, I got the chance to see a taping of The Late Show, one which featured Jimmy Carter, as well as John Mellencamp as the musical guest2. For an event that took less than two hours from arrival to leaving, it felt momentous. Even from the balcony of the Ed Sullivan theater, Dave had a presence.
I’ve been watching Dave’s farewell tour the last few weeks, and I imagine he’s resembled Nolan Ryan in his final year. The old flamethrower, whose arm isn’t nearly what it used to be, winding up and letting it all loose one last time. He’s sharp. He’s engaged. He’s reminded me what I’m going to miss so much, even after having barely watched the last few years, including the self-deprecation about how dull and disengaged he’s become.
The other night, Dave had Ryan Adams on, one last time. Instead of playing a newer song, Adams busted out “Starting to Hurt,” a track he’d played there before in 2002, and my favorite song from an LP that I loved deeply at the time. It sounded better than ever, and reminded me that Adams is an artist who I’ve slipped away from, but should give one more chance. He’s much younger than Dave, but he’s also tremendously mercurial. And while Dave was fortunate enough to give us ample warning before he walked away, you can rarely know when a special moment might be the last of its kind.