Monday, May 18, 2015

This Is Not About Todd Rundgren

Maybe you've seen it. It's been all over social media this week. But maybe you haven't, and that's where I come in.

David Letterman is down to three more shows before he hangs up his white socks and tie and retires to Montana. The last few weeks of shows have been stellar, with names big and not so big, making scheduled and unscheduled appearances to offer up love and farewells, many shedding tears in the process. Now, that's entertainment.

Tom Waits stopped by last week, and in one of television's more surreal moments, did five minutes of hilarity, while George Clooney sat behind his shoulder, handcuffed to Dave. That would have been enough. But then he performed a new song, just for Dave, and it was my turn to shed some tears.

I've been having a conversation with myself since that episode.  Part of the conversation dates back to a chat-turned-ugly with one of my oldest and very best friends. This was in the wake of Bruce & The E Street Band performing an impromptu version of AC/DC's "Highway To Hell" on the opening night of their Australian run a couple of years ago.  I, along with thousands of others including those in the arena, loved it. But my friend couldn't appreciate it, citing the many things he found wrong with it-wrong key, flubbed lyrics, altered melody. When I explained that this was probably just cooked up backstage as a tribute to the Australian fans, he just laughed and offered up the fact that "Highway To Hell" isn't a very difficult song to learn. I think he missed the point completely, but more importantly, I was made to feel foolish for loving something so imperfect.

The other part of the conversation was imaginary, one that I was predicting might happen. It was between me and those friends of mine who don't like Tom Waits. I thought about how much I was moved by Tom Waits new song, how I hoped it was written specifically for Dave Letterman and how the lyrics could also apply to all of us. I was excited by the prospect of seeing people I know and love and those I only know of, revel in the beauty and sincerity of "Take One Last Look." Then, the chat turned ugly, with me fending off those who will mock Waits' voice, hair and guitar-playing ability. Those who might miss the point again.

The last of my imaginary conversations with myself took place yesterday after an e-mail exchange with a bass player friend of mine. He intimated that he might be interested in jamming with me and some of the guys. I launched into the talk that might take place if I were to make the suggestion to my band members, how we have to loosen up, not be locked into note for note recreations of songs. I foresaw an argument over the definition of the word "jam," and how we don't. Of course, none of this took place and there's a good chance it won't. But this is what I do. I create the beginning, middle and outcome of things before they are played out. This can't be healthy, but it is sometimes useful.

When I finally stopped talking to myself, I decided, at least for a few hours, that I should stop allowing unavoidable events to diminish my emotion regarding the things I love. But that is no small task for a man of my personality. If you're still reading, you will have most likely experienced first hand my sarcasm, my excitement and my dismay and loss of composure, sometimes all regarding the same artist or song. And if you know me personally, you have definitely been on the receiving end of what can occasionally seem like endless attempts at trying to make you see me way. I won't apologize for that. As another dear friend likes to say, "There's nothing worse than indifference."

Things don't need to be perfect. Not in music, not in life. They just need to be sincere. You can fuck up along the way, just mean it and have a soul while doing it.

Here's Tom.

"All we ever need, we can get anywhere."


William Repsher said...

For the best Waits clip, go to youtube and search "Tom Waits Fernwood" for his appearance on Fernwood 2 Night. Never fails to make me laugh, particularly Martin Mull's facial expressions. His appearance on the Mike Douglas Show, with Marvlin Hamlisch's disapproval, is a close second.

Never been much of a Letterman fan. I guess the back story with how bitter, strange and twisted the late-night talk show ego wars are always soured the humor for me. Those guys take themselves extremely seriously! Frankly, youtube is a godsend for the genre, narrowing it down to the perfect few minutes of each show in one clip.

I don't get too worried about other people's opinions, whether it's about my opinion or something I've created. People aren't going to get it, that's fine. Those boxing class mix tapes I mentioned, some people love them, but I can tell, some people cringe at certain selections, probably hearing music from the 70 and 80s that might have been made before they were born. They have no idea how much work it takes to provide a wide enough field of music that people born in four different decades are going to "get" something. In the end, I'm only trying to please myself and hoping my senses of taste and art are strong enough that other people will get it. Goes for a lot more than iPod playlists!


Very nice!

As someone who finds the past not to be a place I visit comfortably this song cuts pretty close to the bone.

Ah ... the power of good music!

buzzbabyjesus said...

You can tell they didn't get any rehearsal, but it mattered not at all. Tom plays by his own rules. He's a treasure and it's not his fault if you don't "get" it.

Great song.

I'm still wrapping my mind around playing note for note covers with no improvising or spontaneity. The band I play in is the polar opposite. All we do is jam, and if we do a cover, I never try to replicate anything. Partially because I can't, and the rest is a lack of interest. Those notes played like that have already been claimed by someone else.

Gene Oberto said...

I saw Tom, George and Dave as well. Tom Waits may be one of the funniest guys on earth. I love the way he free associates and turns that into laughs, without the manic of the late Mr. Williams. Letterman has no patience with fools so he "gets" Waits.

The song,"Take One Last Look" if not written for, certainly fit the occasion. I have read that Dave is currently roaming his place of business as if to soak in the specialness of what he has accomplished. I like the fact that he is thanking these guests with sincerity and emotion, something he hasn't been known for.

I know that there will be another like him. I will miss him.

A walk in the woods said...

Nice post, Sal. First - the Tom Waits clip is just incredible. Like Dylan, he's become the old man he always wanted to be. The song is poignant and personal, I like it more than some of his more ironic or let's-throw-the-sink-in-this-one songs.

As for the argument about perfection vs. feeling, I've always fallen in the feeling camp and always will. I used to have the debates you're having with a recording engineer here in the ATL who said he cannot listen to Neil Young because he misses so many notes. I said... well, I guess I listen to him almost because he misses so many - while in the pursuit of that non-thinking slipstream of artistic creation.

hpunch said...

I've been meaning to reach out to you about the Waits song. I am in total agreement. Have you found out if it was indeed written for the occasion?
Let's just hope he records it one day.
His interview was stellar as well.

Equally moving was Norm MacDonald's ( or was that Steven Drew?) stand-up segment the other night.

I have a feeling Warren Zevon's Keep Me In Your Heart will be played at some point on the last night. You know Zevon's connection to the show. And the song never fails to move even the coldest of hearts. But then again, Letterman doesn't do sentimentality

rick said...

Just wonderful. . .love Waits, he's damn near our musical poet laureate

Clarence E. Jones III said...

I love the Waits performance. Close with feeling trumps "perfection" every time. And hpunch, that was Norm MacDonald with the best stand-up I've seen in a long time.

Elroy said...

In case you didn't see Waits' comment he posted on his website after the appearance on Late Night:

"I don't know when I will see Dave again," Waits said on his website. "I guess from now on we’ll have to settle for bumping into each other at pilates."

Also, Dave may select Zevon's "Searching For A Heart" - I remember him commenting specifically on how much he liked the lyrics "They say love conquers all, you can't start it like a car, you can't stop it with a gun".

Anonymous said...

Hello, please remain seated,

What a great coupla clips. A few laughs, then some art. Perfection? Nice concept.


Anonymous said...

Things don't need to be perfect. Not in music, not in life. They just need to be sincere.

Sal: Thanks for writing this piece. I tend to agree in large part due to my conversations over the years about people/places/things I love and support versus people/places/things other people (ahem) don’t. I believe the purpose of an artist(s) and of art itself (visual/music/written) is(are) not tied to financial rewards, popularity, or other concerns.

The purpose of an artist and art is to make us think, to challenge, to provoke, and to offend at times. To ask an artist to not do certain things because it might offend someone is to deny their art.

Therefore, when a musician like Springsteen writes “41 shots” or an artist does something similarly offensive to a certain crowd, my response is something like “that’s their job.”

Tom Waits, not a huge fan of, but he’s an artist. You’re either along for the ride or not. Neil Young sometimes disappoints me. I’m fine with that. He’s still Neil Young.

Some of our collective faves on this blog are long in the tooth, but still doing it. It’s what they do. I’d rather have them still doing it and disappointing me than have them stop. I think that’s what art is all about.

I will always support a sincere effort (even if it disappoints me). A fraudulent effort gets the Bronx cheer.

Michael D.

Lesley said...

Now so wishing I had watched the last few weeks of Lettermans instead of just the last three shows, which were incredible as much for their tone and barely contained emotion (Indiana style). I had stopped being a regular Letterman watcher a long time back, probly when I defected to Stewart and then Stewart/Colbert... I was kind of done with the talk show interview format after having watched it since Carson when I was a kid, and all the others (Tom Snyder, Mike Douglas and his occasionally wonderful musical guests, etc etc). In the years of my absence Letterman had grown from being a prickly, barely-contained-rage kind of guy to seemingly reasonably comfortable in his skin. It seems like a beautiful refinement of living and growing into himself. Those last shows were classy in a way pretty much unknown in media today. I am so glad to have witnessed it.

Now to your piece: Your writing is doing something like what I observed in Letterman. In this piece you've got your comic timing perfect, you make an aesthetic / philosophical point about perfection vs. spontaneity, and you turn that into observations about yourself, unobtrusively and elegantly. I've been reading you since... 2009 (having first met you at the Stamford AWATS show) and I gotta say, you just keep getting better.

So [fumbles for a clever line to deflect the actual sincerity of the previous]... umm... I've got nothing.

Great piece, Sal.

Michael Giltz said...

I was thinking Tom Waits could have easily been a ground-breaking standup comic, if he hadn't chosen to be such a great music figure. How do you have friends who don't like Tom Waits? Doesn't that immediately rule them out as friends? Do you have friends who think Dylan can't sing? Why? The Waits song was just lovely.