“We’ll Be Here For The Rest Of Our Lives” is one extended smile, first page to last. It’s light, frothy, meaty, beaty, hip and groovy. Bouncy too. It’s a fast tour of music from crooning lounge singers to blues, from pop to R&B as told from a man who was there, at the center for very close to it. Who wouldn’t want to be Paul Shaffer—either for the artists he’s met (and worked with) or the sheer number of songs he knows.
“We’ll Be Here For The Rest Of Our Lives” is the story of a musical talent who stuck with it, followed his dream, never panicked (at least, that’s what we’re led to believe), survived a near-fatal car accident, found his love and slowly moved toward his spot on the national stage. He spent a long time in the background, refining his chops and paying his dues and you wonder if that didn’t shape his ego, give him a sense of relativity about it all.
Shaffer’s memoir is about music and musicians, comedy and comedians. It’s about show business and how to go with the flow, to work with a group. It’s about being raised as a Canadian Jew and also learning to enjoy all cultures and styles. It’s about going from topless bars to national television (five nights a week) and enjoying every step of the career path. I don’t see how you could read this book and not, in the end, like Paul Shaffer.
Forty-five chapters in 300 pages? The bites will come quick—and they do. It’s breezy. The name dropping is ferocious—and who cares? From Mel Gibson to Julia Roberts to Don Kirshner to Phil Spector. There’s James Brown and Bob Dylan and a zillion more. The index is printed in tiny type and it runs for six pages—mostly just a list of names. If you grew up in the 1960’s as a Beatle fan, as I did, you are right in sync with Shaffer’s musical awareness. (He’s five years old than me.) Only Shaffer’s tastes no know bounds. (Except maybe punk—not a whole lot of references to punk.) Shaffer’s tastes are expansive. It’s fun to learn about his adoration for The Rat Pack, Jerry Lewis, heavy jazz, deep blues and tasteful R&B. Shaffer loves The Temptations but also The Dave Clark Five, Eartha Kitt and Paul Butterfield.
Throughout, Shaffer’s relentlessly upbeat approach shines through.
“…I’m a happy pianist. I’m happy to be the guy who backs up singers, the strippers, the rockers, and the rollers. I’m happy when I’m pumping the organ and Bruce Springsteen jumps on top of it while whipping up a frenzied ‘Glory Days.’ I still hear myself telling my mother, just as I told her when I was a kid falling in love with music, ‘Ma, it’s rock and roll.’ “
Shaffer doesn’t just admire other musicians, he bows at their feet. It doesn’t feel forced or over-the-top. Consider when Shaffer recalls first hearing Wayne Cochran at El Mocambo in Toronto. “The show was masterful. It opened with just a three-piece rhythm section—bass, guitar and drums. No Wayne in sight. It was the bass player who killed me. He carved out a groove that could have made Richard Nixon boogaloo. He was the funkiest bass player I’d ever heard. (Later I’d learn he was the great Jaco Pastorius.) This groove kept grooving. The groove got groovier, and groovier and so goddamn groovy that people were up and dancing while the horns came marching in from the back of the club.”
Along the way, Shaffer recounts his up-and-down relationship with Cathy, who would become his wife, and the many shenanigans in and around the early days of Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers phenomena and filming Spinal Tap.
Seriously, what a career.
This is, indeed, a swingin’ showbiz saga.