HomeNews Archive
About the FMS News & Events Membership Merchandise Resources & Links Contact Give Facebook
 
>Print this article  
FMS FEATURE...

January 24, 2005
SOMEONE IN A TREE
My view of Johnny Carson's last night by Marc Shaiman



Editor's note: Tony-winning, Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated composer/arranger Marc Shaiman considers his collaboration with Bette Midler on her Emmy-winning performance as the final guest of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to be one of the highlights of his career. The date was May 21, 1992.

With yesterday's passing of Johnny Carson – who was, without question, one of the most important cultural icons of the Twentieth Century – Shaiman wrote a personal reminiscence of the occasion to share with his close friends and colleagues. Having received this extraordinary account by email, I asked and was given permission by Shaiman to reprint his memories here.

Marc Shaiman (WARNING: I DON'T HAVE A BLOG OF MY OWN TO POST THIS ON. I KNOW THIS READS AS INCREDIBLY SELF-SERVING. AS USUAL, IT'S ALL ABOUT ME. SORRY!!)

As her musical director at the time, I co-wrote/conceived, arranged and played for Bette Midler on Johnny Carson's penultimate show.

As it has been played over and over and over today, I felt a lot like the young boy in a tree in Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures. The night had nothing to do with me, and yet I have my own unique perspective on it and feel inextricably a part of it.

When Bette called to ask me help her put together her performance as Johnny Carson's last guest, I was thrilled. The whole country at the time was watching every night, as star after star were making the final appearance to thank him. I knew it was an honor to be part of this final evening with guests (his last night was a monologue).

So, Bette, Bruce Vilanch and I got together and immediately thought of writing new lyrics to the Judy Garland version of "You Made Me Love You", which Judy has sung as a worshipful fan. It seemed perfect. We wrote:
    YOU MADE ME WATCH YOU
    I DIDN'T WANNA DO IT
    JACK PARR HAD PUT ME THROUGH IT

    YOU MADE ME WATCH YOU
    I LOVE THE JOKES YOU'RE FLOGGIN'
    WHEN YOU ARE MONOLOGUE-IN'

    I WATCHED YOUR HAIR TURN SLOWLY
    FROM DARK TO WHITE
    AND WHEN I CAN'T SLEEP
    I COUNT YOUR WIVES AT NIGHT
(That line got a huge reaction, especially from JC. It is very odd to write something like that, knowing it is going to be sung to the actual person, and then watch him crack up. Anyway, I digress...)
    I'D DROP MY DRAWERS FOR
    THE KIND OF BUCKS YOU'RE MAKING
    FOR SIMPLE DOUBLE-TAKING

    BEFORE YOU BID ADIEU
    DON'T BE CHEAP
    PUT DeCORDAVA TO SLEEP
(See above digression!)
    JUST THE THOUGHT YOU'RE LEAVING
    SURE GIVES ME THE SHIVERS
    ARSENIO IS AT THE GATE
    AND SO'S JOAN RIVERS!
    YOU KNOW THEY MADE ME WATCH YOU!
(big finish)
    HOW I'LL MISS THE SOCIAL INTERCOURSE SO VARIED
    NOW I'LL HAVE TO HAVE IT
    WITH THE GUY I MARRIED
    YOU KNOW I'D RATHER WATCH YOU!!

Well, that number was fantastic. I was over with the band, playing it and BEAMING with pride! I mean seriously, playing for Bette at anytime is beyond thrilling, but co-writing lyrics and watching her bat them out of the park like that is positively orgasmic.

So, after that, I am brought backstage to the piano on set, where she will, after talking, come to sing...the ballad.

Now, when she first called, I put my thinking cap on and tried to come up with the ultimate "I've talked to you for years and now you want to go home and I would just love to thank you" song. I jumped into the shower, started scrubbing, when "One for My Baby" popped into my head. I think I almost had an embolism. I called Bette dripping wet "I'VE GOT IT!! THE MOST PERFECT SONG!" I told her, and as she did pretty much with every idea I ever threw at her, she said "eh".

But I was like a dog with a bone. I could literally hear and see it in my head and I would NOT let her pooh-pooh it. Despite her moaning "I can't sing that song...I'll be too nervous to hit those notes", I persevered.

When she came over, we rehearsed it. She was frightened of it, but at least she sat with me and we even started to toy EVER so slightly with the final verse, to make it more specific to MR. CARSON. Now, that takes balls, to re-write Johnny Mercer!! But neither Bette nor I seem to lack chutzpah!

Ok, cut to the sound check at The Tonight Show. Earlier in the day, Bette started second-guessing "ONE FOR MY BABY" and asked the guys in the band what Carson's favorite song was. In unison, they all said "HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY".

I sensed "One for My Baby" was doomed.

Ok, so now, it is the segment after "You Made Me Love You". I am seated at the piano, behind the curtain. I have a monitor at the piano. Bette asks Johnny what his favorite song is and starts singing "Here's That Rainy Day" accapella

I think "NO!! She is sabotaging my musical director masterpiece!! They are gonna run out of time! AAIIIEEE!!!!!"

Meanwhile, Carson has started singing along with her, completely sincere and totally in tune! I wait to see if the band's piano player is gonna join in, since it is now clear they are gonna sing the whole song! When he doesn't, I plunk a high note to confirm the key and just jump in, hoping I am miked, but who even cares. I am a accompanist and I hear people singing...I HAVE TO PLAY FOR THEM!!

Well, I am having a schizophrenic discussion in my head "This is so exciting, you're PLAYING FOR JOHNNY CARSON/Stop playing, this moment is gonna spoil the one you fought so hard for!"

Anyhoo, they finish, they go to commercial and I am sure they are about to tell me the final song is cut for time.

GOD SMILES!! IT ISN'T!!

Bette takes her place. The entire staff of the show is huddled in the wings, watching her live and on the monitors. They are VERY emotional, this is THEIR final night also.

We come back from commercial and Johnny Carson intro's Bette and we start...
    IT'S QUARTER TO THREE
    THERE'S NO ONE IN THE PLACE EXCEPT YOU AND ME...

I have tried to play the song in the style of Bette's first two albums, where her original musical director and arranger Barry Manilow had created beautiful arrangements of standards using Laura Nyro type chords. To say you could hear a pin drop would be the understatement of the year. As I've listened to it today, I am reminded that there were little "licks" I meant to play between lyrics, but the moment was SO tender and I was on such pins and needles, my fingers didn't even attempt ANYTHING but the most simple accompaniment.

Then, right before the final verse, they cut to a new angle, one never used on the show. Over Bette's shoulder, we could see Johnny Carson, mesmerized as the rest of us by Bette's performance, his eyes locked with hers. She sings our "adapted" lyrics:
    FOR ALL OF THE YEARS
    FOR THE LAUGHS, FOR THE TEARS
    FOR THE CLASS THAT YOU SHOWED
    MAKE IT ONE FOR MY BABY
    AND ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD...
    THE LONG...LONG...ROAD

I swear, I felt like I was floating on a cloud. There is no other way to describe it.

On the final measures, I did what any other gay musical director would have done, I incorporated THE TONIGHT SHOW THEME into the final measures.

We finished, and the place went insane. Bette was so overcome that, after placing a lei around Johnny's neck (she is Hawaiian, ya know) she ran backstage so as to not be seen so overwhelmed.

I myself was in a daze, as I walked through the show's staff, all sobbing.

As we all "celebrated" backstage, Mr. Carson disappeared into the night.

Well, that's it. I just wanted to write this down. I hope no one is TOO disgusted by the self-serving perspective of this remembrance, but Sondheim (as always) put it best, when two witnesses to a historic event sing:

Shaiman & Midler on The Tonight Show
    I am hiding in a tree.
    I'm a fragment of the day.
    If I weren't, who's to say
    Things would happen here the way
    That they happened here?

    It's the pebble, not the stream.
    It's the ripple, not the sea
    That is happening.
    Carson & Midler

    "Not the building but the beam,
    Not the garden but the stone,
    Only cups of tea
    And history
    And someone in a tree."
    It's the fragment, not the day.
©2005 Marc Shaiman


Search
 
Past Features
 

06.30.2014
ASCAP Tributes Wendy & Lisa at Annual Film and TV Awards

Steven Price, Bear McCreary, Dave Porter receive Composers' Choice

06.04.2014
Scoring the Cosmos

Alan Silvestri's music soars through time and space

05.23.2014
Television Music Live in Concert

TV Academy presents small-screen music in a big way

05.19.2014
Pi composer Mychael Danna Receives BMI's Richard Kirk Award

Annual event tributes top grossing film and TV composers and songwriters

03.24.2014
In Person: Narnia, Shrek composer Harry Gregson-Williams

Sundance Institute presents workshop series on film scoring

03.03.2014
Oscar Music Scores The Power of Gravity

Sensation 'Let It Go' is Frozen in Hollywood song history

Feature Archives
 
>2014 Archive

>2013 Archive

>2012 Archive

>2011 Archive

>2010 Archive

>2009 Archive

>2008 Archive

>2007 Archive

>2006 Archive

>2005 Archive

>2004 Archive

>2003 Archive

>0201 Archive

>All Archives

Home Copyright © 2002-14 The Film Music Society, all rights reserved.
About the FMS News & Events Membership Merchandise Resources & Links Contact Facebook