Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Talk Show News Book Club: Paul Shaffer, "We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives"

photoA few years ago, I got a job transcribing tapes for an author who had been hired to ghostwrite the autobiography of a former teen idol and movie star. As I worked on the seemingly endless hours of recordings, I realized that the job of a ghostwriter is to convince readers that if the performer could write as well as he can act and sing, this is the book he would have produced. Of course, it's highly unlikely that Paul Shaffer can craft a sentence as well as he can play a Hammond B3 organ, but co-writer David Ritz has done an excellent job of channeling Shaffer's voice for this smooth-as-silk memoir.

If you sat down to recount your life story, chances are you wouldn't tell it all the way through in perfect chronological order -- there would be digressions and anecdotes told out of order. That's captured in We'll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives: A Swingin' Show-biz Saga, as, for instance, Paul interrupts a narrative of his college years to talk about his obsession "with the marvelous yearly telethons put on by Mr. Jerry Lewis." A reminiscence about the first time he heard James Brown turns into a story about how he bought "a number of choice items" from the late singer's estate in 2008. Shaffer's early infatuation with soul man Wayne Cochran leads to a story about "the first time I met David Letterman," who, it turns out, was also a fan.

Most of the chapters are short, making the book hard to put down ("just one more chapter!"). You'll read about Paul's boyhood in Thunder Bay, Ontario; his friendships with future stars like Gilda Radner and Martin Short in Toronto; his experiences on "Saturday Night Live" and working with Belushi & Aykroyd on "The Blues Brothers"; and, of course, his years on "Late Night" and "Late Show." The book is stuffed with celebrity anecdotes about everyone from Britney Spears to Don Ho.

Refreshingly, Shaffer isn't afraid to tell it like it is. He talks about times in his life that he goofed, recounting some embarrassing moments with Eric Clapton and Sammy Davis Jr., and shares an anecdote about how his temper got the best of him after a Christmas "Late Show" taping -- unbeknownst to him, his tantrum went out over a live microphone to the audience. Paul comes across as a pretty humble guy, someone who is happy to be a sideman and Letterman's foil. "I'm happy to be the guy who backs up the singers, the strippers, the rockers, and the rollers," he writes. If you've been watching this most swingin' of cats on TV for all these years, his autobiography will be a groovy treat.

If you've read the book, feel free to share your opinions in the comments.


  1. Joe said...

    This is a super-swingin' anecdote-fest guaranteed to make you chuckle all the way home, man! Are you ready for Hesh?