May 19, 2015

The Two Lettermans

Saw a New Yorker article on David Letterman;  he's an establishment figure now but...
  "…back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist. His manner suggested that TV could puncture the culture, rather than prop it up. My friends, particularly the guys, became his acolytes, quoting his catchphrases (“They pelted us with rocks and garbage”) and copying his deadpan affect."
I think now about how Letterman was appealing to me partially because he was the opposite of boring ol' local host Bob Braun and his 50-50 Clubbiness. I didn't appreciate Braun then and am likely being unfair to him now, but Letterman seemed a breath of fresh air:
 [Letterman and his head writer] shared an ironic mind-set, a suspicion of show-biz sycophancy, and a desire to break formulas, during a period when the medium had hardened, and taken on a Vegas-y, old-Hollywood heaviness.
The irony is, unbeknownst to me, I was only re-experiencing and sharing in my grandfather's taste (who liked Ernie Kovacks) proving there's nothing new under the sun:
 In 1980, Letterman pulled from earlier experimentalists, like Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen, they built a daytime talk show on NBC, full of oddball pranks…
Letterman, the article says, had a “distaste for back-patting and schmoozing”, which mirrored my own sensibilities. There was something in the early Letterman that seemed faintly radical, that of not wanting to go the well-trod way of Hollywood celeb:
And yet, even in 1982, when “Late Night with David Letterman” premièred, he presaged something else, an obsession with what was authentic, the kind of preoccupation that would dominate the nineties, inflecting figures like David Foster Wallace and Kurt Cobain, famous men who were desperate for rock-star fame and then flamboyantly and publicly hated the stuff once they got it. Like Holden Caulfield, Letterman was on the defense against looking like (or being) a phony, looking like (or being) a sellout, and curdling into a Hollywood jerk…Already, Letterman had a melancholy vision of what fame could turn you into, if you let your guard down: “I hate the notion that celebrities deserve to be treated with some kind of deference.”
That was certainly a lot of the appeal to me, the authenticity. Much like Bruce Springsteen in that regard, who vowed not to go the way of fat, Vegas Elvis.

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