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 The Simpsons 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.
(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.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
There’s a moment at the very beginning of “Sloop John B,” the closing track of the first side of the album but the first recorded for it, right after the initial glockenspiel tone, that acts as a sort of timeout, as if to give the listener a chance to breathe before launching into another lament. Critics have sometimes met the song, adapted from a Bahamian folk standard, with confusion, wondering where the tale of a doomed ship and its crew fits in alongside the other tracks on the album.
The album, of course, is the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, which was released fifty years ago today, originally to mixed reviews which have since gone almost entirely and overwhelmingly positive. Beyond critical reception, Pet Sounds has enjoyed the luxury of indelible influence, assuring its permanent place in the musical version of the United States’ Great books for its lush instrumentation, unthinkably cohesive vocals and relatively simple, ageless lyrics of hope, heartbreak, loyalty and alienation.
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Unlike His Royal Badness himself, it came suddenly. A text message, then two, a tweet here, a trending Facebook post there, and then it was clear: As TMZ first reported, Prince Rogers Nelson, the ageless king, and queen, of your favorite musical style, had passed away suddenly at the age of 57. As the man himself once sang, everybody wants salvation, but we here at Tuesdays With Horry can’t (knowingly) give you that, so we’ve pieced together a few memories and thoughts on this diminutive genius who was larger than us all. Dig, if you will, our picture.
Photo by Masayoshi Sukita
I started getting misty at the top of the stairs. Somewhere in between dehydration and Mick Ronson’s ending licks on “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide,” I decided: this really sucks.
At the same time, my friend Hannah was texting her boyfriend the news: David Bowie has died from cancer. Her boyfriend’s first question: “Is Tommy going to be okay?” Tommy was huddled against 10 million strangers, trudging through the 9/11 Memorial on the walk to work, and weeping over an androgynous guitarist older than his father. Tommy was not okay.
It’s hard to explain such a visceral reaction to someone I have never met yet have grown up with like a family member. So I’ll start with the beginning.
In case you haven’t heard – or are willfully ignoring it, like the group of people who attempt to avoid discovering the victor of the Super Bowl every year – one of the great mysteries of pop music has finally come undone, albeit partially. In an interview with PEOPLE magazine, singer-songwriter and proto-Taylor Swift Carly Simon has revealed that the second verse, at the very least, of her seminal hit “You’re So Vain” is, as many suspected, about Warren Beatty. With a great sigh of relief, I’m certain, James Taylor can rock himself to sleep, and Mick Jagger has finally achieved some level of satisfaction, depending on the geography of his egotism in 2015.
What Simon also did in revealing Beatty as her muse, however, was take some of the intimacy out of listening to music. To be frank, I’d really rather she wouldn’t have done that. It isn’t so much that she’s ruined “You’re So Vain” – the classic rock stations in Charlotte, North Carolina, that seem to think Simon only ever released one song already achieved that in my youth – but she did manage to remind us that, as much as we want to feel closer to the musicians we love, they are eternally out of reach, mingling with people more famous than we in parties on yachts, dressed in white clothing after Labor Day like the bourgeois bottles on the top shelf that they are.
To be clear, I’m only half-serious, but that half is deadly serious.
There was a moment when I just sat staring at the scene in Chicago’s Union Park. It was on Sunday, the last day of the 2015 Pitchfork Music Festival. Caribou was playing on the main stage, the smell of marijuana was pungent, and I was enjoying a hot dog. There were people everywhere. Most crowded at the front of the stage for Caribou, some standing idly talking with their friends, and others, like myself, nodding along to the bassline of “Can’t Do Without You.” It was a moment of clarity that I experienced in a festival (my first) marked by a rush of emotional states which played out like a roller coaster through a grueling three day plunge. There was CHVRCHES’ maelstrom of synth, Freddie Gibbs putting Pitchfork on blast for previous line-ups, an actual maelstrom that shutdown the festival for all of 20 minutes, the dirge of listening to Panda Bear and the rowdiness of A$AP Ferg’s energetic dorkiness. Yet, throughout all of it, festival goers noticed a fair amount of community throughout the throngs of festival goers. We weren’t inundated with a slew of corporate sponsors, distractions and a disorienting amount of people. That community created an atmosphere in which we could enjoy the acts, no matter how close or far away we were from each respective stage. It was a community I was glad to be part of for three days.
Over two years ago, my girlfriend came to me with a crazy dream she had. In it, I was Jay Z. I was still “me,” but I looked like Jay Z and had the platinum-selling rap mogul status of Jay Z. Meanwhile, my girlfriend had assumed the role of Beyoncé. She was still “herself,” but looked like Queen B and carried the empowering feminist aura that comes with being the most influential female artist alive. In her dream, we performed a concert in tandem and then rode off into the sunset on a motorcycle. That’s one hell of a dream.