On Thursday evening, I boarded a bus that would eventually put me at a four-hour long Bruce Springsteen concert – just two days after seeing a just under four-hour Bruce Springsteen concert. (One note about this: It really is amazing to see. Bruce has had a reputation for long shows, but these are two of his longest of all time. He doesn’t take any breaks. He doesn’t even leave the stage for the encores. It defies all logic for a guy turning 67 next month, but here we are.) But the length of this particular show, or Springsteen in general, is not the point of any of this. (To be fair, there’s probably not much of a point at all. Hey, it’s Friday.)
Probably my favorite thing about seeing Springsteen (well, other than the show) are the characters you meet along the way. To get from New York City out across the Hudson to Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, there’s a fairly efficient shuttle bus service that runs from the Port Authority (which really is a dreadful place) to the stadium. On Thursday, I would be on this shuttle bus along with a friend of mine who was experiencing his first Springsteen show. As we left the Port Authority, things seemed normal.
In front of us sat a nice-enough, talkative man from Danbury, Connecticut who has seen Bruce Springsteen 138 times. (I know he’s from Danbury, Connecticut because every story he told included Danbury. I am now aware that Danbury, Connecticut could use some rain. I hope they get it.) Again, I want to stress that this seemed like a very nice man and I found his stories amusing – one of them involved how he was taking acting classes, including the exact location where these classes take place – but it was a little bewildering why he was telling these stories to really no one in particular. (There was a man sitting to this man’s left who got the brunt of these stories, but these two gentlemen did not come together.)
But then something magical happened. Like, seriously: pure magic. You have to understand, He was telling story after story about harmless nonsense. Again, fine. But then, after all of those, he says these magical words: “Have you ever heard of a comedian named Rodney Dangerfield?”
First of all, I love that he asked no one in particular if they had ever heard of one of the most famous comedians of the last 50 years. As if someone might answer back in that polite, “Hmmm, the name rings a bell, but I can’t place it,” kind of way. Anyway, he then somehow managed to say something even more magical: “I wrote a song for him called “Rappin’ Rodney.” (It’s at this point that my friend and myself looked at each other with jaw-dropping glee. I mean, seriously, this guy buried the lede. He really should start leading off with this story.)
In 1983, at the height of the music video craze, Rodney Dangerfield released a song called “Rappin’ Rodney” – a title that’s a little misleading because Rodney Dangerfield doesn’t really rap much in the song. Instead, it’s Rodney Dangerfield delivering one liners as a chorus behind him chants Dangerfield’s catchphrase, “No respect. No respect.” I honestly haven’t seen this video since it was released. In the story, Dangerfield is put on trial, sent to prison, executed by Pat Benatar (this is real), then goes to heaven where he still doesn’t get any respect. Then we find out it’s all been a nightmare. Yes.
Anyway, without prompting, we were then treated to the whole “Rappin’ Rodney” story. According to this man on the bus, after writing the song, they were given 15 minutes with Rodney himself at Dangerfield’s comedy club (which still exists on 1st Ave). After hearing the song, Rodney tells them, “Gentlemen, this will have commercial appeal!” But it still took Dangerfield three years after that meeting to finally record the song. (Which would put this meeting some time in 1980, around the release of Caddyshack.)
As I was writing this today, I tried to figure out who this man is. According to Wikipedia, the credited writers are: Rodney Dangerfield, J.B. Moore, Robert Ford Jr. Dennis Blair, Douglas Hoyt, and Scott Henry. Blair is a comedian who seems to have had a personal relationship with Dangerfield. Moore and Ford are both noteworthy producers who worked with Kurtis Blow. (And the beat to “Rappin’ Rodney” bears a pretty close resemblance to Blow’s “The Breaks.”) So that leaves the last two names — but even a search of Danbury, Connecticut didn’t really help me out (the names are a bit too common). There’s also the possibility this man made the whole thing up, which I kind of hope is true because it makes the story much, much funnier.
“Rappin’ Rodney” actually did get some radio airplay and would hit number 83 on Billboard’s Hot 100 – so it got some respect.
We were told the song is still in print on Dangerfield’s Greatest Bits album (a quick search of Amazon tells me you can purchase it for $8.99, which was less than my bus ticket to the Meadowlands), but he’s disappointed with the paltry amount of residuals he receives for the song. (I’m honestly not sure if he was complaining about the fact that no one buys “Rappin’ Rodney” any longer or if he thinks it’s being purchased in mass quantities and he’s not getting his fair shake.) It’s at this point I finally chime in and say, “Sounds like you’re not getting any respect.”
This got a laugh from the people around us. Now, I hate taking credit for a maybe halfway clever thing. I almost wrote this up with a version in which my friend said that. But, whatever, I said it and the man turned around, looked me in the eye, and with no hint of irony in his voice said, “That’s right. No respect!”
Later that night, Bruce Springsteen would play his second longest show of all time. I was kind of sad he didn’t play “Rappin’ Rodney.” Maybe next Tuesday.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.