Saturday, January 18, 2014

Backstory: How The Boss & The Not-Boss Created A Smash Hit

Governor BigBoy (R-NJ) has experienced what LBJ experienced when CBS News achor, Walter Cronkite, editorialized in 1968 against U.S. military activity in Vietnam. LBJ wailed that the war was lost. BigBoy is a lifelong fan of The Boss and BigBoy's musical hero sang a parody of "Born To Run" as the "Governor Christie Traffic Jam" early this week on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." BigBoy's White House hopes for 2016 are toast. If this is (fair & balanced) singing truth to power, so be it.

[x VF]
A Brief History Of The Performing Duo “Springsteen & Fallon”
By David Kamp

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Tuesday night’s bravura, news-making, two-Bruce, Bridgegate-driven rewrite of “Born to Run” on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" is just the tip of the iceberg. As I learned from profiling Fallon for this month’s VF cover story, Fallon has been a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan since childhood. Thus, the first time Springsteen appeared on "Late Night," in 2010, Fallon and his writers were overflowing with ideas on how best to turn the Boss’s visit into event television.

Fallon had recently launched his recurring “Neil Young” bit, in which, dressed as circa-1970 Young, he reinterprets contemporary pop hits as plaintive acoustic ballads. Prior to Springsteen’s 2010 appearance, Fallon came up with the idea of turning Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair” into a “Young”-Springsteen duet. He made a demo CD in which he performed both parts—a doleful “All my ladies, caaan you feel meee?” from Neil, a guttural “Whip your hairrrr!” from Bruce—and sent it along to Springsteen’s longtime manager, Jon Landau.

Landau didn’t think Springsteen would go for it. “I told Jimmy’s music booker, Jonathan Cohen, ‘This just doesn’t sound like Bruce,’” Landau told me. But, to Landau’s surprise, he got a call from Springsteen himself, who had just listened to the demo and loved it. “We’ve go to do that!,” Springsteen told his manager.

Fallon told me that, when it came time to rehearse the bit, Springsteen offered a comedic suggestion of his own. “He was like [raspy ‘Bruce’ voice] ‘If you’re gonna come out as 70s Neil, why don’t I come out as 70s me?’” So "Late Night’s" staff set out to recreate Springsteen’s appearance circa 1973’s The Wild, the Innocent, & the E Street Shuffle—unruly hair, scraggly beard, leather jacket, and aviator shades. Bruce, for his part, brought in his own floppy newsboy cap, the very one that he wore in that era.

As Fallon and Springsteen sat in hair and makeup, the former told me, Bruce was initially reluctant to incorporate the curly wig into his ensemble, finding it a costumey step too far. But when the hair and makeup people left, clearing the room, Fallon persuaded Springsteen to give the wig a try, just to see how it looked. “He put it on with the cap and it was amazing. Bruce thought it was hilarious,” Fallon said. Springsteen was so amused by his retro appearance that he bounded down the hallway—and Fallon is expert at mimicking Springsteen’s distinctive walk, “which I don’t know if it’s that way because his jeans are tight or he’s bowlegged”—and presented himself to Landau, who admits that he was momentarily stunned by the time-travel sight of the Bruce he had first met almost four decades earlier.

[x YouTube/JimmyFallonShow]
Governor Christie Traffic Jam
By B. Springsteen & J. Fallon

The “Whip My Hair” bit was a roaring success, leading to a reprise of the “Neil”-Bruce pairing in 2012, this time to acoustify LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” and with Springsteen made up as his "Born in the U.S.A."-era self—the same look he and Fallon modeled for Tuesday night’s “Governor Christie Traffic Jam” number.

Fallon surmises that Springsteen is so game for fun on "Late Night" because he recognizes how immersed both Jimmy and the show’s house band, the Roots, are in his music. The first time Springsteen sat in "Late Night’s" guest chair, with guitarist Steven Van Zandt tagging along, Fallon said, they spent some time looking over some E Street Band set lists from the early 70s. “I just started asking fan questions,” Fallon said. “Like, ‘Here’s your old set list from 1974. What is “Wiggle Waggle”? What is that song?’ And he was like [Springsteen rasp] ‘Oh, “Wiggle Waggle” is a great song!’ And Little Steven’s saying, ‘Oh, great song.’ And Bruce looks at the Roots and says, ‘Roots, you know “Wiggle Waggle”?’ And they shake their heads no.” (Actually the song Fallon meant is “Wiggle Wobble” by Les Cooper and the Soul Rockers.)

But, as the talk continued, Questlove, the Roots’s drummer and musical director, called up a clip on YouTube of “Wiggle Wobble” and, furtively, worked up an arrangement on the fly. By the time Fallon cut to commercial break, the Roots were playing their ad-hoc version of “Wiggle Wobble.” “You look at Bruce Springsteen’s face,” Fallon said, “and he’s like a kid on Christmas.”

It’s now a given that, whenever Springsteen appears on a Fallon program (and, as of February 17, that program will be "The Tonight Show"), something memorable and viral and funny will happen—“funny” not heretofore a word that came to mind when describing Springsteen’s stage persona.

“That’s the thing with Jimmy,” Jon Landau told me. “There is no other setting, and no other person we work with, that would inspire Bruce to get that far out of his game.” Ω

[Over the last 20 years, David Kamp has carved out a dual career in "proper" journalism and humor writing: like Calvin Trillin's, only far less respected and lucrative. He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine and the author of national bestseller The United States of Arugula: The Sun-Dried, Cold-Pressed, Dark-Roasted Extra Virgin Story of the American Food Revolution (2006). Kamp got his start at Spy magazine, the seminal satirical New York monthly, while still a student at Brown University in 1987. He was later an editor and writer for GQ magazine, and, since 1996, has been writing full-time, with his work appearing in Vanity Fair, GQ, and the New York Times, among other publications.]

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