I’ve been feeling the need to say some things about David Letterman, but I hadn’t done it yet. As you all know by now, the news broke last week that he will be retiring after 30 plus years. It actually hit me kind of hard. Admittedly, I don’t see his show to regularly anymore, but that wasn’t always the case.
I remember the first time ever seeing anything Dave ever did when I was very, very young. If I’m remembering correctly, I believe my dad used to record his early anniversary specials, and I would sit and watch with him. I’m sure I didn’t get everything, but it was silly enough that even a little guy like myself could get a case of the giggles from it. The first bit I remember actually seeing was his velcro suit. A perfect intro for a 7 year old.
I remember my dad always taping those anniversary specials, and when I knew there was I knew one, I was excited. Which, I have to assume was probably kind of odd for a child. That continued for years, and then in the summer of 1989, the summer before I went into 6th grade(yes, I am that old), I started staying up late at night. I actually watched a fairly large amount of Johnny Carson during the summer, but really that was just me waiting for Dave to start. It became my nightly summertime routine. I was only allowed to stay up that late in the summertime. You know, because I was a child. You don’t have a ton of nightlife as a kid. Sure, I played a lot of Nintendo, but once late night rolled around, I was watching Late Night. Every. Night.
I think I watched more late night talk shows than anyone else I know. It was a different time in televsion. There weren’t a billion different talk shows. Carson and Letterman were all you had. Maybe Arsenio was just starting up, but I never got too into him. I liked Johnny. I loved Dave. I loved him so much, I even bought this on cassette single.
My nightly watching continued, every summer. It was, in a way, the highlight of my summers back then. THAT’S how much I liked it. Then, in 1992, Johnny retired and it was announced Jay Leno was taking over. At the time, I thought nothing of it. It made sense to me, Jay was already the permanent guest host for Johnny, and Dave already had his own show. Why would he leave his own show to go have another one? I didn’t know how important it was to him. As we all know now, Dave wanted The Tonight Show. Badly. And thought(and was even told at one point) he was getting it. NBC and this guy took it away from him.
Dave was pissed. So, he left Late Night after 11 years to head to CBS. I remember watching both the Late Night finale and the Late Show premiere with my dad. I remember those nights really well. I was somewhat sad that Late Night was ending, but I was excited about the new show, CBS’s The Late Show. My family had recently relocated to Richmond, Virginia, and I can be kind of shy and not be the best at making new friends. I was in high school now, and I was the new kid. But Dave was my trusty old friend, and we hung out a lot at night, he just didn’t know it. I was slow to like my new school. I still wasn’t allowed to stay up late on weeknights during the school year so I started taping the new Late Show every night, and then I would wake up early and watch it before school. As I’m typing it, it’s hard to believe, but I really did. I woke up for school earlier than I had to, so that I could watch Dave before school. Even as I came around on how I felt about living in Virginia, and started making friends, Dave was still my constant. I often found myself wanting to talk about things that happened on the show to my friends, but no one knew what the hell I was talking about.
Then I graduated. I could stay up as late as I wanted! My Dave watching habit went up several notches. Every night for years. I actually have a vague memory of an old girlfriend mentioning that I talked about the show too much. My go to line was “last night on Dave…” when I didn’t have much to talk about. Which was often.
In 1999, I was asked to play drums on my friend’s band’s record. They were recording in Jersey, just outside of NYC. I hadn’t ever been to Jersey or New York at that point in my life. I was pretty exctied to be recording a record, and then to be taking my first trip to NYC. After we finished the record, the band’s guitarist and myself decided to stay an extra day and go into the city. One of my “must do’s” was find the Ed Sullivan theater, where Dave taped. We found it. I got my picture in front of the theater. I bought a t shirt. I even went to the Hello Deli next door and got my picture with Rupert Jee. Then, I also got my mind blown. As we were wandering around the theater, a guy was outside with a Late Show jacket and a clipboard. He caught my eye, so I went up to him(something I NEVER do…approach strangers). He asked if we were interested in going to the show that night. OF COURSE I WAS. So, he said if we could answer a question about the show, proving we’re fans, we could go. I don’t remember what he asked, BUT OF COURSE I NAILED IT. I couldn’t believe my luck. Just like that, I’m going to see Dave. The guests weren’t anything great, but I was just beyond thrilled to be there. I was seeing the guy I was obsessed with and made me laugh since I was just a kid.
I have to admit that, years later, once I started touring regurlarly, I fell out of my nightly viewing habit. My nights were either onstage, or traveling in the van. But I still had such a big fondness for Dave. His show was definitely a “bucket list” thing for me, thought I don’t know I had heard the term “bucket list” at that point.
In 2005, things started going really well for the band. Our second record was selling fairly well, and our audience was growing quite a bit. That summer, we found out that we were going to be playing Late Night With Conan O’Brien, which I was also a big fan of. I loved Conan, but also, he took over Dave’s old show…so that made it doubly cool. I’ll never forget finding out we were playing Conan. I actually cried a little bit. I was a guy who grew up watching so much late night tv, and now I was going to be a part of it for a night. It was such an unforgettable experience, yet, a total blur at the same time. The whole day felt surreal. (If anyone can find this performance online, please send it to me, I only have a VHS!) A few months later, we got asked to do Jimmy Kimmel Live. Is this happening? Another talk show? I was thrilled, but I wanted to do Dave’s show.
Sadly, that call never came(thought we did get to play the next incarnation of Late Night, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Watch that performance here. We even threw in a jab at Leno!) I can’t really complain. I’m a lucky guy. I got to go so many amazing places over the years, meet so many amazing people.
As you probably know, a year ago, I gave up my touring life. Life on the road was wearing me down. I accomplished way more than I ever imagined I would get to. But there was that one thing, never playing on Letterman, that felt like a disappointment to me. I left the band knowing I’d never get to play his show. I was done with band life. But then, last week, Dave announced his retirement. Now, while I still don’t want to be back out on the road, it reminded me how disappointed I was that we never got to play his show. I’ve been joking, yet being 100% serious, on Twitter lately about someone hiring me to play drums for them on Letterman before he goes. I keep hashtagging #ThaxtonOnDave. Like I said, I’m joking…but I’m not. I don’t actually expect this to happen, but hey, why not? So, feel free to spread this around. Or don’t. I’m “joking”, remember?
I will leave you with two of my favorite, and earliest Dave memories…
And this one.
Thank you, Dave! (I know you’re reading)