?uestlove: Michele Bachmann gag nearly got us kicked off Fallon
?uestlove performing at Bobby Z's Benefit 2 Celebrate Life in March
Photo by Steve Cohen
The Roots drummer and Late Night With Jimmy Fallon music guy Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson opens up about some of his darkest days as a performer in his new book, Mo' Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. One of which was a little stunt involving Michele Bachmann in 2011 that you might remember.
Basically, ?uestlove and the Roots played Fishbone's "Lyin' Ass Bitch" as the controversial Minnesota congresswoman walked onstage. This quickly went from an in-joke that felt "smug to the point of smugness" to almost getting the boot from NBC.
In an excerpt posted at Salon, ?uesto talks about the process that goes into each walk-on song that the band prepares and unpacks the entire episode that could've been the end of his career on TV. As the Roots prepare to shift over to The Tonight Show when Jimmy Fallon takes over for Jay Leno, this is a particularly big deal.
On November 21, 2011, Bachmann visited the show right at the height of the Republican primary season. As ?uestlove describes her, "Bachmann had been offending people left and right with her comments about gay rights and Muslims in America, and she also seemed to have a casual relationship with the truth." And thus, a song with lying in its title seemed apt.
The upbeat ska song played, and no one raised a fuss until ?uestlove's "smugness turned to ego." He headed to Twitter to confirm the title of the walk-on music that they played. Then the bottom dropped out. As it turns out, criticism came more heavily from feminists than it did from conservatives for the choice of "Lyin' Ass Bitch." And Thompson quickly realized that this thing had gotten away from him.
That's when things shifted into a whole new dimension of horrible. I had picked the song so that I didn't have to sing it, but the fact it could be seen as misogynistic just escaped me. The word is commonly used in certain music, and means something slightly different: it has as much to do with cowardice and slipperiness and unreliability as with gender. It wasn't that I wasn't thinking clearly. It was that I wasn't thinking at all. At least, not about that. I just wanted to hit a home run in the game.
It was more like a swing and a miss, and the things that saved them from imminent dismissal included some gaffes on Bachmann's part that required their own PR spin, and the fact that Fox News couldn't find a scrap of offensive material in the Roots' back catalog. Still, the experience changed Thompson for the better.
I have replayed that episode in my head hundreds of times, like Kennedy obsessives do with the Zapruder film. My drum set is up on a grassy knoll. Jimmy's desk is the book depository. The whole thing happens in terrible slow motion, though there's clearly only one shooter: me. In retrospect, I would have chosen Sam Cooke's "What a Wonderful World," with its "Don't know much about history" line.
So let's outro with Cooke.
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