Farewell David Letterman, and Your Amazing Off-the-Cuff Moments


Like many college students in my day, I would often watch David Letterman to at least see the top 10 list. And as a younger music fan than I am now, in the days before DVRs, I’d tune in to catch a singer or band I was keen to see perform. Then years went by when I didn’t see much of “The Late Show,” until I started doing some editing and writing for RollingStone.com in 2012.

Part of my job was to watch late-night performances from the day before, which was as much Letterman (and, for that matter, Conan, Fallon, Leno and Kimmel) as I’d ever seen. There have been a lot of excellent stories written about Letterman’s pending retirement after his last show tonight — this Q&A and this story in The New York Times, for example, and this article in The Guardian. But none of them so far have mentioned what has become my favorite thing about Letterman: the off-the-cuff cracks he would occasionally make when he want to greet the musical guest after their performance.

For example, after Jason Isbell performed “Stockholm” in July 2013, Letterman quipped, “I’ll tell you how much I love these people: I once drove all the way to Montana to see them play. It was tremendous.” Another that stands out even more came when Tyler, the Creator, performed “Rusty” with Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis in April of that year.

For starters, Letterman was clearly amused at the name “Earl Sweatshirt” — just look at his grin when he pauses after saying it. Then, when the song is over and Tyler drops the mic as the rappers bound offstage, Letterman is dismayed. “Oh, now wait a minute!” he says. “Come on! Hey, don’t be like that.” Then he turns to the audience and says, “Now we’ll never be able to open the teen center.” As the MCs return, and Tyler wraps an arm around Letterman for a selfie, the host says, “You guys ever been to Bend, Ore.?”

It’s a flash of vintage Letterman, the one who reflects in that Times Q&A on the balance between “the stupider things we did and the more traditional things we did” and concludes, “you want to do the weird thing.” I’ve watched this clip a dozen times now, and it’s weird enough that it still makes me laugh. Thanks, Dave, for the good times.

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