By Ian Bremner
We were going to New York in a couple of weeks to visit some friends when I got a call from an unknown New York area code. I didn’t answer because rarely do unknown calls result in positive conversations and I am overly paranoid apparently. A woman named Jamie left a voice mail claiming to be from The Late Show with David Letterman. Instantly, I remembered blindly registering for tickets several weeks earlier thinking, hell, I’ll be in the city, it can’t hurt to try. As quickly as possible, I called back, nervously fumbled over a few questions and secured the tickets. Suddenly, my trip to New York became my trip to a Letterman taping.
There was a time when every channel didn’t have 2 late night talk show hosts and Letterman was THE guy. Before that, Johnny Carson was THE guy. Since then, TV network disputes and the ever changing media climate has shifted the landscape of Late Night TV. As someone in my mid 20s, I wont pretend to know the ins and outs of its history or claim that any singular show shaped my history or manhood, but I will say that David Letterman has always been my favorite. His dry delivery and easing presence on the TV screen during hard times for him personally or during American tragedies has already influenced the next generation of Late Night talk show hosts.
The imprint Letterman has on show business is undeniable and a chance to see him live and experience what goes on behind the cameras at Ed Sullivan Theater will always be ingrained deep in the memory books. Just as my parents’ generation tell stories of watching Johnny Carson, George Carlin or Richard Pryor, I will tell stories about David Letterman.
Showing up to 53rd and Broadway that day with friend Will Denman, the guests slated to tape that night were almost a thing of fate. Another comedy icon, Jerry Seinfeld performed his exact routine from his first Letterman appearance and yucked it up with Dave and the band in an almost a presidential manner. He clearly knows his status and seemed to soak up the applause while handshaking everyone in the band and even taking a turn “interviewing” Dave. Somehow, the musical guest was what really brought it all home. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires (also Isbell’s wife), performed Warren Zevon‘s, Mutineer.
One of Letterman’s most profound moments, and my personal favorite episode of all time is in 2002, when Warren Zevon was the only guest for the full episode. Admittedly, I did not watch the show live and my fanhood for Zevon began well after 2002, but i’ve watched this episode in full over and over again. Warren Zevon had been a guest a several times over the years as an interviewee, performer and substitute band leader when Paul Shaffer was out. Dave was a big fan of his music and also a great friend. When Zevon was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he was not long for this earth and everyone knew it. Letterman took that opportunity to give Warren Zevon a public and proper, yet eerie sendoff that he deserved.
Warren Zevon talked openly about his disease and his frank sense of humor is crushing at times. He also poured what little energy he had left into 3 songs. Zevon had a way of dealing with his illness that not many people could handle. There are numerous soundbites and famous quotes that derived from this interview, but perhaps it can all be broken down to Warren’s straightforward advice; to “enjoy every sandwich.”
Handling a conversation like this, takes serious balls and most people wouldn’t have the heart to be able to laugh about Zevon’s literally titled album, “My Ride’s Here.”
Part 2: Mutineer
Part 3: Genius from the album, My Ride’s Here
Part 4: Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner
The man responsible for this emotional sendoff will get his own emotional sendoff, albeit much different circumstances. David Letterman may pop up again on your TV, but an era has ended and a generation has shifted.
“Enjoy every sandwich” . . . . . .
Below are 2 Warren Zevon covers performed on the Late Show in the past 2 weeks as a tribute to Dave.
Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires pay a visit to David Letterman on April 25th, 2015, just a few weeks before Dave’s final show. They covered Zevon’s Mutineer
Dawes perform Desperados Under The Eaves, a song that Dave would have loved to have seen played by Warren Zevon on his final appearance.