On Thursday night, Conan O’Brien hosted what he has said would be his final late-night television episode, on his last late-night television program. He began on TV as a largely unknown 30-year-old in 1993 with exactly the kind of pedigree you would’ve expected then: Harvard-taught, an alumnus of both TheSimpsons and Saturday Night Live, an advocate for the weird and disruptive trends emerging in comedy to which, despite him being an Irish-Catholic Massachusetts native, he had a singular pulse.
My introduction to Conan’s work was via Late Night With Conan O’Brien, the show he hosted as the wedge between his beloved Johnny Carson and Jay Leno and which was repurposed as a day-after lead-in to The Daily Show on Comedy Central for a while. When it came time for Conan to assume his seat at the top of NBC’s hierarchy, it suffered from poor ratings and a shift back to late-night along with the Tonight Show name, which Conan would fundamentally not accept. A back-and-forth ensued, and Conan eventually ceded the seat, leaving us bereft of him for a time while he popped up on tour and at music festivals – more on that later.
I understand that his is mainly a slightly-older generation of an audience, the tweeners that both lived to experience Nevermind in real time, cognizant of it or not, and also know how to navigate social media without sparking fights at a dinner table, but my friends and I – white and well-off-ish enough as we were – liked Conan better than any of the others mostly because we never knew what to expect.
Below is a list, mostly off the top of my head, of my personal favorite Conan segments, recurring and otherwise. I know this isn’t the end, but HBOMax’s app is horrendous, and anyway, it isn’t as widely accessible as he has been for thirty years otherwise. Conan, we only wish you well, as you ever wished us.
Something leaving us at precisely the same rate as it always has, however, is time. An unhuman entity forced us into our homes and away from our loved ones for long stretches; for once, it seemed, there was a problem that throwing federal government-level amounts of money wouldn’t fix. Most of us were forced to adapt; some didn’t, and died; others did, and died anyway. Time kept on slipping, in all its finite utility.
Under the circumstances, and with nowhere to go, it was up to us to spend a lot of time with ourselves. Election-year news cycles are Ringling Brothers productions gone awry in normal times, but taking in the news, even in the simple pursuit of attempting to stay anything like informed, was an especially depressing exercise in 2020.
The value of things is not the time they last, but the intensity with which they occur.
If you watched the MotoGP season finale at Portimão in Portugal, you saw two titles decided by razor-thin margins in Moto3 and Moto2. Congratulations to Albert Arenas (who felt like an inevitability despite his tenuous grip on Moto3 all season) and Enea Bastianini (who never felt like an inevitability on his way out of Moto2 until he suddenly became one), two guys who had to fight every lap to manage not just their race positions but also their points gap over their respective pursuers. They were both enthralling races that ended with champions as worthy as any of the alternatives. Good for them.
Ever meet someone who’s really into a specific kind of furniture? I don’t mean the workaday influencer wannabe with a midcentury modern fetish or your friend who parrots pages from the latest Dwell, I’m talking lifers who while away hours trading Eames tables on eBay or people who can point out the choicest character lines of a Sauder desk drawer from across a crowded room. You know they’re out there somewhere, of course, but until you meet one, it might be difficult to grasp just how far down this (ultimately very practical) rabbit hole it’s possible to go.
I thought I knew tables and chairs pretty well. I’ve sat in plenty of different office chairs and even voted on one as part of a company initiative (my pick did not prevail). I’ve soaked up nuances simply by living with them. But I was wrong. I do not know tables and chairs. Scott does.
Looking at where basketball, particularly NBA basketball, was in 2010 likely would not have given you much insight into what the sport would look like at the turn of the following decade. Sure, LeBron James was the reigning MVP, with three more to follow. Yes, the Spurs would go on to make the playoffs in every year of the 2010s, just as they had in the aughts. The Lakers are, of course, one of the best teams in the league. And, of course, the Kings, Knicks and Warriors are three of the worst teams in the NBA.
But as in life, basketball constantly shows its capacity for change, no matter the source of inspiration nor drive. What began with the Celtics shooing LeBron off the floor in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and into the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club for the kickoff of the player empowerment movement has resulted in, among innumerable other things, Ray Allen’s greatest betrayal, the assembly of perhaps the greatest team in NBA history and definitely the greatest mercenary season from a single player ever.
It would be impossible to remember everything, but here are a few notes from each year, both league-related and otherwise.
Have you ever noticed that the snare drum never quite hits usually in “Sunshine Of Your Love”? Maybe you have; Ginger Baker never would have assumed that you would expect something like that, given the circumstances. Circumstance is everything, and what you don’t notice can alternately end up killing you, or being the very reason you feel love.
Baker, best known as the drummer of Cream, passed away on Sunday at the age of 80. Anger and belligerence are as key to his story as they are to those of his dairy bandmates’, and Baker was perhaps the most prominent person that enabled the expansion of what we thought a rock trio could be. Getting Jack Bruce to run through a fuzz box helped, sure; throwing Ginger Baker as many drums and cymbals as he could handle, though, was the key revelation to tying the British blues rock push together.
(Public domain, hopefully? Let us know if this is a problem)
After the fact, he would simply refer to the performance as “beautiful” in an attempt to deflect accusations of controversy in the face of a divided nation. A few months after that, around the change of the calendar, he would roll out his true protest, the finest electric guitar symphony ever conceived, in what would end up being the only showcase for his talents that were actually on his terms. He would be dead within the year, nobody the wiser.
But in this moment, at 9 am the morning after the damn thing was supposed to end on the saturated grounds that were never as good as they looked on film long after the fact to the millions upon millions who were nostalgic for something that never was, he was free. He hoped only for as much as that for everyone else. Fifty years ago today, at right around the time this post is publishing, Jimi Hendrix played the longest set of his career at Woodstock, a sloppy, convoluted mess which nevertheless gave us an interpretation of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that has confounded and inspired ever since.
You have options. Before the start of every new sporting season, dedicated fans take a step back to join casual onlookers just catching up in assessing offseason developments, visualizing the year ahead, prognosticating to pass the time. There are bland press releases to read, rehearsed transcripts to read into, social media posts to pick apart. Media sources both official and otherwise get paid to distill this pile of corporate-backed bollocks into coherent season previews with scripted narratives to follow for your benefit so you can regurgitate it to uninterested parties as the smartest, least likable person in the room when the topic of conversation finally comes around. I know what these previews will say. So do you. This is the ritual.
But there are alternatives. That’s why you’re here.
Another year down. Another year older, but perhaps none the wiser? Maybe that decision doesn’t belong to you alone. It felt like nothing did, most of the time. From Tide Pods to the Philly Special to countless acts of cruelty and many more of plain senselessness to the continued existence of the Golden State Warriors to having 12 years left to stop the sun to inexplicable blue lights over Astoria, everything that happened felt like it was going to happen anyway, sooner or later, and we were all left to bear it as best we could. Same as it ever was, but different.
Still: we would be equally bereft of sense to assume that darkness would drive out darkness. You may have heard that only light can do that. For all the bad and rot everywhere, urban, suburban and rural, at home and abroad, there were the moments in between that made everything we experience every day that kept us together, however briefly. If we experienced them together? All the better.
As Bootsy Collins said in 1972, “Balance is my thing/The snow, wind and rain must come.” With that, we delve into the year that was, with an eye toward the twelvemonth ahead.
The first time I internalized Aretha Franklin – not “heard,” because as an American growing up post-1966, you never hear her for the first time – I was playing a video game against my oldest, not older, brother, back in the relatively nascent console days when video game producers didn’t know what to do other than to license actual music to fill in gaps in gameplay.
Specifically, the first time I internalized Aretha Franklin, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 76, was during one of the marathon sessions of NFLGameDay 2000 that yours truly used to play against his older, wiser sibling. To give you an idea of how the games themselves usually went, I relied on the fake punt-pass as my go-to fourth down play, and it never worked, and the most memorable game we ever played rests on that guy using that play, my play, to beat me in the final seconds of a game in which I was already ahead. He kept a running log of this particular series, but that is neither here nor there. It’s in Chicago, if I had to guess.