November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
A sweet warm fall night, Sunday in New York, and my love and I stood outdoors with friends who, like us, had caught Paul Simon’s farewell show and were still in awe of it, a 76-year-old singer in peak form for two and one-half hours nonstop with his eminent folk orchestra. John Keats died at 25, Shelley at 29. Stephen Crane was 28. Franz Schubert was 31, and each of them had his triumphs, but Simon sustained a career as an adventurous artist and creator who touched millions of people and whose lyrics held up very well in a crowded marketplace.
When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know.
Between “The Boxer” and “America” to “René and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War” to “Questions for Angels” he covered a broad swath of artistic territory and then, to my surprise, he tossed in a moldy oldie, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and made it his own, as he ought to do since he wrote it. It’s a sweet anthem and he gave it some grit and feeling. He was onstage for two and-a-half hours and the spirit and emotion and sheer classiness of it were tangible. I’ve been to see him three times so you can’t call me a diehard fan, but I thought to myself, “I will never see the like of this kind of genius again.”
I am 76. Except for Paul McCartney and John Irving and a few painters, there are not many old guys still at work who are doing great things. Irving’s novel, Avenue of Mysteries, his fourteenth, came out three years ago, which the New York Times called “thoroughly modern, accessibly brainy, hilariously eccentric and beautifully human.” So was Paul Simon the other night.
If I were brainier I’d be envious, but I’m simply awestruck. And now we venture into October, when the maple trees remind us of mortality. We fight our petty battles for power and privilege and parking spaces, and then we die (yikes!) and people glance at the obit and if you’re young, like Keats and Shelley, they feel a twinge, and if you aren’t, they don’t and then they go back to telling their kids about the importance of correct grammar and good manners, as every parent should do.
In the great contest of autumn — Art & Adventure vs. Parenthood — I come down on the side of doing both all at once and accepting the consequences. My life is a series of mistakes interrupted by explosive good luck and how does one distinguish one from the other at the time? Twenty-six years ago I had lunch with the sister of a friend of my younger sister and as I write this, she is asleep in the next room. I know other people who married well, too, and they will admit, if you press hard, that this is blind luck. Meanwhile, one heeds the call of adventure.
I went into radio because I thought I had a lot to say, and maybe I did, but meanwhile it got me out of the house and into the company of amazing musicians and singers. I got a full life. I got to see Robert Altman make a movie. I got to meet Harry Blackmun for lunch, after which we walked around the block and came back to the Supreme Court and walked through a crowd of angry people protesting the decision he wrote in Roe v. Wade. None of them recognized him; his humility was his shield. His daughters asked me to sing the Whiffenpoof song at his funeral and I did, with the entire Supreme Court in black sitting before me. Everyone in the church sang along, Bill and Hillary and the Blackmun daughters, but not the Justices. They could not bring themselves to sing, “We are little black sheep who have gone astray, baa baa baa,” though they had in the Citizens United decision and others.
Paul Simon had an illustrious career but I doubt he ever sang to nine unsmiling people in black robes in the front row of a church. And then there was the live broadcast on the ball field in Lanesboro when a thunderstorm hit ten minutes before airtime and I walked into the crowd and we all sang the national anthem. Ask me about it sometime, I’ll tell you.