Paul Shaffer: The Pressure of The Time

Paul Shaffer's recent memoir, We'll Be Here For The Rest of Our Lives, is a must-read for anyone who, like me, loves show business.  And not just their own part of it (I have many theatre friends who are total theatre snobs, for example), but, as Teller calls it, "The Show Business"--every bit of it, from the opera to the midway, from the Broadway stage to the outdoor summer pageant.

Shaffer's book is a heartfelt tribute to his heroes, told through the course of his own fascinating life, from growing up in a small town, where all the cool stuff seemed to be happening somewhere else like NYC (something I can certainly relate to), to being literally right in the heart of it, in the coolest job in the world, playing with a remarkable "who's who" of show business history. Along the way, Shaffer worked with nearly every one of his idols, and collected a remarkable array of well known friends (as I get older, I realize that this is something that happens only to people who do what they love for a long time.)

In addition, in the book Shaffer is open and honest about feeling nervous or unworthy at times. But this is something that rarely shows to the audience, because, like most great performers, Shaffer's talent and motivation always gets him through. Fortunately, there's no "behind the music"-style descent into drugs or poverty or madness here, and this it's gratifying to discover that this tired cliche doesn't apply to all the great stars.  Instead Shaffer seems to genuinely love the business and is grateful for the opportunity to do what he loves and get paid for it.

Shaffer never seems to take himself too seriously, and his acerbic wit is a prime example of my favorite kind of humor, which honors something while simultaneously making fun of it. It can be harsh, but the harshness is a sign of love and respect (Richard Cheese is another prime example).  And this kind of humor only works coming from those with real talent, and when it comes truly from the heart, as it clearly does with Shaffer (as you can hear on his "Day in Rock" radio segments).

One other thing that Shaffer talks about is when, after playing with James Brown, Shaffer's hero tells him after a Letterman show, "...you have the pressure of the time.  You got to do what you do in a flash.  You got to turn on a dime.  The pressure of the time is a bitch, and you handle it well, my brother."   Shaffer uses that phrase throughout the book to describe a constant feeling of pressure (whether it exists or not), which drives him to constantly move on to whatever's next.  That's another thing I can definitely relate to--in fact, that's all I have time for here, because I've got the pressure of the time...