What's Up Doc?
Written by: Alex Sandell

For over a decade now I've wanted to see Doc Severinsen perform live. I've wanted to see Doc for so long, I was sure he'd be dead before I had the chance to see him on stage. For those of you too young or too forgetful to remember, Doc led Johnny Carson's band on The Tonight Show (the good Tonight Show, before Leno quit his job shilling Dorito's brand corn chips to take over). He was the dude in the wacky colored outfits that provided Johnny with a quick quip on a nightly basis. Basically, he dressed like Prince before dressing like Prince was cool (was dressing like Prince ever cool?). And he played a mean trumpet.


The word "mean" is usually reserved for bad ass guitarists, drummers and wife-beaters. But Severinsen proved that a trumpet could be mean. And by "mean" I mean "bad ass." Bad ass before Prince was bad ass (was Prince ever bad ass?). Regardless, if Johnny was the consummate showman, Ed (McMahon) the consummate kiss ass (IE - Sidekick), Doc was the consummate glue that held the whole thing together. The guy was always on and he was second only to Johnny in making The Tonight Show the defining show that it was. The show all other shows have strived to be ever since. Doc was such a big part, that without him, it's hard to imagine that defining show showing up nightly for 30 years.

So, knowing what an entertainment landmark the guy was (I hold back at "living legend"), I would ask friends and family, "Wanna go see Doc Severinsen? He's playing a Christmas show at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis!" They'd be all like, "You want to see the doctor about what in a hall where?" Really, it was all sort of frustrating. Then, last month, I find out the guy's retiring. Throwing in the towel. Tooting his last horn (pun intended). And I was desperate. I was offering to buy people's tickets. My aunt took the bait and she would even buy her own ticket.

Off we went. She didn't expect much. I expected magic. We got to Orchestra Hall, found our seats (row 23 on the main floor) and were handed our programs. When I saw the cover, I nearly orgasmed. Nearly orgasmed like some hot chick at a Prince show (do hot chicks orgasm at Prince shows?). Here's what I saw:

Not worthy of an orgasm? Hon, it's about the music, not the man. Plus, he's still looking mighty fine for an 80-year-old. Not that I'm gay. Did the use of the word "hon" make me sound all queer? It probably didn't help that I went all crushy on a senior citizen. I'm not homosexual. Really. You can ask all the guys I haven't had sex with.

So the orchestra started tuning their instruments. My aunt commented on how she loved that sound. I agreed, although I didn't know why, since the sound really is nothing more than people tuning their instruments. Like farts before a poop, without the bad odor. One time my brother said, "Why don't you go take a shit?" when I was farting a whole bunch. I asked, "Why?" and he said, "I fart a whole bunch when I have to take a shit." So I sat on a toilet and my butt pushed out a crap.

Yippee for my brother!!!

Once the tuning was done the show began. At first the orchestra played some classical stuff. But it was a tease (I'd say a "dick tease," but y'all already think that I'm gay). The traditional classical music cranked into the infamous theme song from The Tonight Show. Spotlights colored the stage. Doc stepped into one of the spotlights wearing sequined clothing, nearly as shiny as the spotlights themselves. The audience stood and applauded. Most of them were dressed in clothing worth more than I make in a year. Me and my aunt appeared to be the only people in the hall with a take-home income of less than $200,000.

That's why I can say "me and my aunt." Most of the crowd would probably talk all elite-y and type stuff like, "My Aunt and I." The bastards and their proper grammar. And where do they get off capitalizing Aunt? Is their aunt better than mine?

So Severinsen walked on stage in clothing that lit up the place. Johnny woulda had a field day commenting on what he was wearing. I even came up with my own Johnny line. Wanna hear it? Okay -- here it is (read it in Carson's voice): "Gee Doc, you look like a peacock caught in a diamond mine explosion."

Pathetic? My aunt thought it was funny, even asking me if Carson actually used the line. When I said I thought of it myself, she said, "Good one." We both chuckled like nerds.

Nerds chuckle a lot. Probably to forget that they're nerds.

Doc wasted no time kicking into some rocking number or another. Then he talked of Johnny speaking to him from the dead, claimed he was drinking Ed McMahon's bath water (massive guffaws emitted from the captive audience -- I may have even "guffawed" myself) and talked about the love he had for his wife, Emily. He then went into Johnny Mandel's Emily. It was absolutely beautiful and the guy beside me teared up.


It was the guy beside me.

What are you trying to say?

Severinsen wasted no time moving into my favorite part of the program, which was big band music. Some chick sang some awesome songs and then ................. the greatest thing ever happened! The drummer from the original Johnny Carson band went into the hottest, heaviest version of Sing, Sing, Sing ever performed before a live audience. The crowd went as wild as a crowd with an average income of $436,343 can go. I wanted to slamdance, but decided that probably wouldn't go over.

Although I did see some rich people banging their heads. The only other time you're going to see that, is if you're watching Metallica on stage pretending that they still matter.

Another notable pre-intermission moment happened when Doc sent the band into a convulsive version of Tchaikovsky's Finale, from Symphony No. 4 (people sucked with titles back then). He worked every member of that orchestra into a sweat. My favorite music is punk rock and this version of Tchaikovsky was as punk as you can get without a mohawk.

Sadly, this was also when Doc started showing his age. His breathing became labored and suddenly you knew why he was retiring. Still, he brought Tchaikovsky to life in a way that has never been done before. This was as lively as it was ever going to get. And then we got to intermission (actually, intermission came after Sing, Sing, Sing but I'm not sticking strictly to schedule).

During the 20 minute intermission I felt thirsty and went to get a glass of water. I asked the bartender how much a glass of water cost and he said, "Free." I heard him wrong and responded, "Three?" He said, "Free!" I repeated, "Three?" He nearly screamed, "FREE -- it's water!" I then gave him nothing in exchange for a glass of ice-water. As I left he said, "Thanks for the tip, bub." Being that I didn't give him a tip and my name isn't "bub," I assumed he was being sarcastic.

Just as I was finishing the free water that I didn't leave a tip for, an announcement came over the loudspeaker asking all the obscenely wealthy people and Alex and his aunt (with a small "a") to take their seats, as the second part of the show was about to begin. I had to pee, but my aunt wouldn't wait for me as she was scared the show would start and she'd be locked out of the rest. I lived dangerously and pissed my brains out with only a few seconds of intermission to spare.

I went back in with only a few seconds left on the clock and Doc talked about how he loved Italian Opera. Some guy came on stage and sang some pretty great Italian Opera songs. The dude beside me started crying again. I guess he speaks Italian. My aunt said, "What an amazing singer!" and I responded, "That's what I sound like when singing in the shower." My aunt laughed, but I think it was a courtesy chuckle.

After all the Italian stuff some choir sang a couple of songs from popular Broadway plays. This was the only part of the show that sort of bored me. Probably because of my raging heterosexuality. After that Doc ended the program with a Christmas song. A Christmas song in March (nearly April). Everyone started crying, like they would never experience Christmastime again. It was sort of moving. Sort of like at the end of Bambi when the singers all sing and make you feel both happy and sad that Bambi has grown up and is hanging with his dad, but yet you're reminded that his mom's gone forever.

I love Bambi.

After the show ended and my aunt and me and some friends of ours talked about how crazy amazing it was, we headed toward the lobby where Doc Severinsen was going to give a toast. With cake. Sadly, the cake was all gone before my aunt and myself got to the magical "cake spot." That cake could have fed us both for a month. Secretly, I just wanted Doc's autograph. I got within 3 feet of where he was standing but an impenetrable barricade of plastic garbage cans stopped me from approaching him.

Doc thanked everyone and talked about how the Minnesota Orchestra is one of the greatest in the world (which it is), how much he loves it and how much he hates saying "goodbye." So he said he wouldn't say goodbye, but admitted he wouldn't be coming back. I wanted an autograph then more than ever.

After his toast he was rushed off into the totally non-secured hallway. I approached him with a pen and the generic program given at the start of the show. The head of the Minnesota Orchestra said, "He's beat. He just can't sign autographs." I hung my head in misery. At the same time, I thought it was all groovy that I was closer to Doc than Johnny Carson ever was on The Tonight Show.

Then I saw Doc one door down. I could have approached him without any difficulty. But I didn't want to look like a dickhead. If he really was exhausted and didn't want to sign any autographs, why should I put him in an uncomfortable position? So I just asked, "What's up Doc?" and he nodded at me with a smile and shrugged his shoulders.

I guess nothing was up. And I guess that's all that I needed.

Autograph or not, it was a great show.

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2007 Alex Sandell/Cerebellum inc. [All Rights Reserved].  Copy this, without my permission, and I'll stare at you in a way that will make you feel funny.