The beauty of competence

TV ratings for the Grammys were down 24% this year, which is no surprise whatsoever. About 19 million Americans watched the show, about the same number as resist the idea of renewable energy. Three-and-a-half hours is a long time to watch a bunch of extremely cool people in dark glasses shooting angry looks to the camera, and when the prize for Best Song goes to one that begins:

Hey, hey, hey
I got a condo in Manhattan.
Baby girl, what’s happenin?
You and your ass invited
So gon’ and get to clappin’

—I’d rather turn the thing off and dive into a good book. Having a condo in Manhattan is not in the same league with “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day” or “I’ve got my love to keep me warm,” and most men would not tell their love to get her ass over here. It isn’t going to happen, and if it did, there’d be some slappin’. Nor do most men go around bragging about the size of our junk, other than the president.

Sour grapes? Maybe so. I was up for Best Comedy Album once and they gave it to George Carlin. I was up for Best Spoken Word once and went to Madison Square Garden and saw all the plainclothesmen around and realized that, if the author of It Takes A Village had gone to the trouble of flying up from Washington, then she’d get the prize, and she did. She did not say, “It’s such an honor to be nominated along with such well-spoken people as Garrison Keillor.” Nope. And that’s okay.

I’m 75 and that is too old to be disgruntled. Some of my peers are in care centers, waiting for the girl to come with the meds. At any moment, I could join them. And so I am not going to do any whingeing about being overlooked in the parade of awards, I am going to be grateful for what I have—my desk, my gas fire, my laptop—lest my bad attitude attract the Evil Eye who is responsible for handing out thromboses.

I’m grateful for everything, even this cup of dandelion tea, a pleasant vegetal experience, drunk as I sit before the gas fire, gas that probably comes from the Koch Brothers who did so much to elect Jabba the Hut to the White House, but I don’t need to talk about that either.

My parents John and Grace knew nothing of dandelion tea. They regarded dandelions as a curse and a nuisance. Never mind that dandelions are God’s creation and God is incapable of error. They were loyal to Lipton’s tea because it sponsored Arthur Godfrey on radio every morning. Arthur was warm and amiable and when he spoke about Lipton’s, he made it sound like the source of true happiness. We knew that Jesus Christ, not Lipton’s, is the source, but we were human and not immune to commercial blandishments. So we dug up heaps of dandelions to throw away and paid good money for inferior tea.

Dandelion tea is evidence that a deadly enemy can become a friend and a comfort, which I wish were more generally true. I’ve been fighting infestations of millennials and now I wonder how they would taste if I boiled them in water. By “millennials,” I mean self-obsessed persons who make small occurrences into major crises. It’s no problem for me—my women friends are all over fifty and I love them all, we talk our heads off, nothing we say is a problem. We wouldn’t know how to piss each other off even if we wanted to. Seneca said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, then it doesn’t matter which way the wind blows.” In other words, Attitude without Smarts is a dead end. And Smarts without Humility is just Aggression by another name.

I was going to go have lunch with three of those friends on Monday and my car wouldn’t start. I called a tow truck and he came right away, a young guy who was eager to solve the problem, opened up the hood, put the cables on the battery, started her up. Calling a tow truck to jumpstart your car is embarrassing in Minnesota, it means that you don’t know your neighbors, nobody you could call up and say, “You got jumper cables in your trunk, could you come over?” My friends are writers, they turn their phones off during the day and write memoirs.

I drove the car to my neighborhood garage where, in short order, a mechanic discovered that a malfunctioning lock on the trunk was draining my battery. Amazing. It’s like a boil on your rear end being the cause of your migraine. But he fixed it. A friendly young man who took pleasure in solving a problem and did not make me feel stupid for needing his help.

It is inspiring to find competence and we are surrounded by it. I called 911 once and a gang of firemen EMTs were at my door within minutes and hustled in to deal with my semi-conscious young daughter and explain to me, the panicky father, that this was a febrile seizure and she would be just fine. I’ll never forget them. My ophthalmologist, who looks in my eyes with a scope and tells me they look fine and will see even better when I have a cataract removed, is a woman to whom I entrust my future as a writer. The trust is not misplaced.

I had a writing teacher in college, Bob Lindsay—an ex-Marine, bald, with a dent in the top of his head—who had a rule: every day, there was a writing assignment, and if you misspelled so much as one word, your grade would be an F. We were all writers, full of ourselves, eager to show off, and his rule was outrageous to us, but Bob was a Marine and believed that pain could change minds. We had a great deal of attitude but he gave us a competence. After Bob’s class, I was a copy editor for the rest of my life, able to look at my outpourings and catch misspellings, fix the grammar, cut out unnecessary verbiage, substitute the exact right word for its third cousin once removed.

I wanted to be thought gifted, but competence was within reach and so I took that. And now I am trying to be competent at the job of being a lighthearted old man. It never was my ambition before, but now the opportunity is upon me and I am slowly learning.

Firing 30 rounds at a wedding cake

We’re all waiting patiently for the Supreme Court to decide the Colorado wedding cake case, whether a baker can be required to bake one for Adam and Steve––as he’s baked them for Solomon and his 700 wives, though the baker says his religious beliefs tell him homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord.

As a legal issue, this ranks rather low. Most people I know are capable of purchasing a cake icing pen and writing “Congratulations, Adam and Steve” on a cake, rather than making a federal case of it. But okay. There it is.

Meanwhile, a kid walks into a high school in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 and shoots up the place. The same people who defend the baker’s right not to make the wedding cake argue that the kid was entitled to buy an assault weapon, no questions asked, and to carry it on his person as he waited for school to let out.

To most of us, this makes no sense at all. Those of us who mingle with the general population and use public transportation now and then are fairly well accustomed to the presence of gay persons in America. Gayness is no more remarkable than having brown eyes. What’s weird is to see someone carrying a gun who doesn’t have a badge.

The statistics are clear. Hunting used to be an ordinary ritual and it isn’t anymore: about 6 percent of the population hunts. This is about the same as the percentage of Christians who believe the Second Coming will occur in their lifetime.

If you believe that, then politics has no meaning to you. If the world is about to end, then what’s the point of higher education or scientific research or long-term investment? Why have babies?

About 3 percent of the population owns half the guns. Think on that for a moment. Now we are talking about true weirdness: men who are fascinated by weaponry and feel good about owning an arsenal. Deer hunting is about tracking an animal, getting in position for a good shot. You don’t fire 30 rounds to bring down the deer. You don’t go to a shooting range and fire a hundred rounds at a paper target. Now we’re talking about men who simply love to cradle a semi-automatic in their arms. They belong in Wyoming. Florida is too heavily populated for that.

To the overwhelming majority of Americans, it would feel exceedingly weird to be led down to the basement by a nephew or cousin and shown his armory of AR-15s and pistols. You would not feel good about coming back to that house, any more than if he had shown you his pornography collection or his secret shrine to the heroes of the Confederacy.

This tiny, tiny minority is what resists the idea of taking a closer look at young Mr. Cruz before he is sold an AR-15.

I’m not so concerned about Adam and Steve. Gay America has power in the marketplace. The baker who won’t make a cake for them is headed for unemployment. In Oklahoma and Texas, Adam and Steve can simply walk into a bakery with an AR-15 over their shoulder and ask for a cake and probably the baker will reconsider his religious objections.

I’m more concerned about schoolkids. Kindergarteners all over this country now know the meaning of “lockdown” and “active shooter” and have gone through drills to prepare for the eventuality. In the America I grew up in, school was unlocked, and we thought about history and poetry and didn’t listen for big boots in the hall. The horror visited upon the families of Parkland is a horror we have come to accept. The deaths of our young, due to the political cowardice of the middle-aged, is a slash of shame on the name of America.

I give up on my generation entirely and the one after us, but it’s encouraging to read about teenagers in Florida and elsewhere who are prepared to make an issue of this in November. Good! This is a way to learn something about democracy you won’t learn by reading about the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The younger generation has gotten a bad rap, going around with wires in their ears, tattoos on their necks, iPhones in their faces, but if they showed up at campaign rallies with signs that said, “Stop Killing Kids,” it would be a step toward maturity. The first rule of politics: stand up for yourself. Time for the 97 percent to make their feelings known.

Writing

Firing 30 rounds at a wedding cake

We’re all waiting patiently for the Supreme Court to decide the Colorado wedding cake case, whether a baker can be required to bake one for Adam and Steve–as he’s baked them for Solomon and his 700 wives, though the baker says his religious beliefs tell him homosexuality is an abomination unto the Lord.

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Time passes, lovers still welcome

Back at Benson School, Mrs. Moehlenbrock had us make valentines for everyone, no exceptions. You couldn’t just write them to Eloise and Marlys, you had to give them to Daryl and David too, the boys with red knuckles from pounding on other boys. In the fourth grade, love was universal, not selective, and nobody should feel less loved than anyone else, though of course we knew otherwise.

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Columnist recuses himself

A guy has got to sympathize with Congressman Devin Nunes, whose name will forever be on the secret Nunes memo released last week, claiming that the Mueller investigation is a Democratic plot. It reads like a very long tweet that someone wrote with his thumbs on a tiny keypad. It gives columnists one more 2×4 to whack him over the head with.

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Garrison’s response to Jon McTaggart’s letter of Jan. 23, 2018

Jon McTaggart’s letter was in response to a blizzard of listener anger, all of it richly deserved, after MPR expunged shows that people loved.

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The beauty of competence

TV ratings for the Grammys were down 24% this year, which is no surprise whatsoever. About 19 million Americans watched the show, about the same number as resist the idea of renewable energy. Three-and-a-half hours is a long time to watch a bunch of extremely cool people in dark glasses shooting angry looks to the camera, and when the prize for Best Song goes to one that begins:

Hey, hey, hey
I got a condo in Manhattan.
Baby girl, what’s happenin?
You and your ass invited
So gon’ and get to clappin’

–I’d rather turn the thing off and dive into a good book.

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It’s Thanksgiving. Be happy.

For evolution, the Constitution,

And the ATMs of banks,

The Times and Post and the whole West Coast,

I want to give sincerest thanks.

A Mozart sonata, my inamorata,

And a first-rate BLT.

For Silverman (Sarah) and the Obama era,

I give thanks most thankfully.

I’m a fraud, a fake, a big mistake, a creep.

I’m over a barrel but I care a lot for Meryl Streep.

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A trip to New York

Slight panic in the airport out in Texas. Waiting to check a bag, pull out my billfold, no driver’s license. Check pockets, briefcase. Credit cards, no license. The brain flutters. Hotel? Taxi? Pickpocket? A teen terrorist from Izvestistan perhaps, trying to persuade TSA he is 75 and from Anoka, Minnesota?

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An old man talking to himself again

I’ve been confused about politics ever since Republican states became red states, which to me, growing up in the era of Red China, suggested commissars and gulags and thought control, which of course Utah and Texas and Georgia do not have. You can believe in God in those states, same as in blue states. Blue makes me think of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, but that’s another matter.

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Donald Trump is done

When his old campaign manager was indicted Monday, Mr. Trump called me on the phone, crying like a baby, and begged me to endorse him. I said, “You’re already president, Mr. President. You were elected.” He said, “I’d still like your endorsement.” I have a recording of the phone call. It’s so sad. Donald Trump is done. He couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in New York, his hometown. I was very very nice about it. Very nice. But New Yorkers love dogs and he does not. There are 14 recorded instances of him kicking small dogs, and I have documentary proof of all but two of them.

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A man walks into a bar in Oregon

I hung out in Eugene, Ore., last week where it rains every day, so the air is fresh and clean. Old people my age don’t care for rain so Eugene is not a retirement mecca — more of a youth mecca, a real alt sort of town for hikers and bikers and vegans and people with multicolored hair. A lifestyle town, with not so many suit-and-tie guys like me. That’s fine. My former father-in-law was named Eugene, and so the town feels friendly to me. And the university is there, so there’s plenty of ambition in the air.

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Radio

JCCSF: O, What a Luxury

Garrison discussed limericks, free verse, life in St. Paul, and the book O, What a Luxury at a November 2013 lecture at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

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A Prairie Home Christmas — 1995

A Prairie Home Christmas — 1995

Originally broadcast on Christmas Eve 1994, A Prairie Home Christmas is a delightful compilation of all-time-favorite highlights from past holiday broadcasts of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

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The Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra — 1994

The Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra — 1994

Garrison Keillor and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra perform one of Keillor’s most-requested pieces, “A Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra,” along with other musical and humorous selections. Originally conceived as a local fundraiser, this collection will delight any fan of A Prairie Home Companion.

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Guy Noir: Radio Private Eye — 1994

Guy Noir: Radio Private Eye — 1994

The first collection of skits featuring Garrison Keillor’s intrepid detective featured on A Prairie Home Companion. It’s a dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets, but high above the mean streets, a light burns on the 12th floor of the Acme Building, where Guy Noir—hard boiled, world-weary, yet surprisingly articulate—is trying to find the answers to life’s questions.

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A Prairie Home Companion 20th Anniversary Collection — 1994

A Prairie Home Companion 20th Anniversary Collection — 1994

Filled with gentle humor, down-home truths, and amazing depths of tenderness and meaning, these tales of “the little town that time forgot and the decades could not improve” are classics of American storytelling.

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Lake Wobegon USA —1993

Lake Wobegon USA —1993

This collection contains 16 touching, exquisitely funny monologues from Garrison Keillor recorded during American Radio Company broadcasts from tour stops all over the country.

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The Book of Guys — 1993

The Book of Guys — 1993

In eight tales, the old storyteller plumbs the lives of various guys—an aging god, a fallen hero, a confused cowboy, a jealous husband, an old lecher, a teenage leper, and more—and locates the true nature of guyhood today.

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A Visit to Mark Twain’s House — 1992

A Visit to Mark Twain’s House — 1992

This classic performance of Garrison Keillor’s American Radio Company was broadcast live from the Mark Twain Memorial in Hartford, Connecticut. The Hartford house is where Twain wrote many of his works. Guests included Roy Blount Jr. the Gregg Smith Quartet and singer Pamela Warrick-Smith.

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Stories — 1992

Stories — 1992

This audio collection includes Keillor’s own favorite stories from his many years as a contributor to The New Yorker and from two of his best-selling books, Happy to Be Here and We Are Still Married.

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WLT: A Radio Romance — 1991

WLT: A Radio Romance — 1991

In 1926, brothers Ray and Roy Soderbjerg plunge into radio by founding Station WLT (With Lettuce and Tomato) in order to rescue their failing restaurant and become the Sandwich Kings of South Minneapolis. For the next 25 years, the “Friendly Neighbor” station produces a dazzling—not to mention, odd—array of shows and stars.

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A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Love & Comedy Tour Solo The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

February 28, 2018

Wednesday

7:30 p.m.

Prescott, AZ

Prescott, AZ

A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center

March 15, 2018

Thursday

7:00 p.m.

Mobile, AL

Mobile, AL

A live performance at the Saenger Theatre

March 17, 2018

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Long Beach, CA

Long Beach, CA

A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center

April 8, 2018

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Marietta, OH

Marietta, OH

A live performance at the Peoples Bank Theatre

April 10, 2018

Tuesday

8:00 p.m.

Tulsa, OK

Tulsa, OK

A live performance at the Brady Theater

May 7, 2018

Monday

8:00 p.m.

Glenside, PA

Glenside, PA

A live performance at the Bass Performance Hall

Press/Clips
Press photo #2

Press photo #2

Download a photo for press or media use

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Press photo #1

Press photo #1

Download a photo for press or media use

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CBS Sunday Morning — Garrison Keillor signs off — June 26, 2016

CBS Sunday Morning — Garrison Keillor signs off — June 26, 2016

A profile of Garrison as he prepares to retire from A Prairie Home Companion

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Poems of Gratitude: The Fourth Annual Common Good Books Poetry Contest

Garrison and Common Good Books are sponsoring a poetry contest! Pour your love onto the page, shape it well, and mail your love letter to Common Good Books before April 15 — fame and fortune could be yours.

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Blank on Blank — Garrison Keillor on Humor — December 15, 2015

Blank on Blank — Garrison Keillor on Humor — December 15, 2015

An animated short taken from Garrison’s 1994 interview with George Plimpton

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The National Press Club — 5/22/2015

The National Press Club — 5/22/2015

Garrison spoke at the National Press Club on May 22, 2015

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The Late Late Show — 6/4/2014

The Late Late Show — 6/4/2014

Garrison visits The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to discuss The Keillor Reader

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C-SPAN: 1999 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner

C-SPAN: 1999 Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner

Garrison talks about civility in an address to the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington D.C.

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CBS This Morning: 40 years of A Prairie Home Companion: Behind Garrison Keillor’s success

CBS This Morning: 40 years of A Prairie Home Companion: Behind Garrison Keillor’s success

Garrison chats with CBS This Morning about A Prairie Home Companion‘s 40th anniversary and his book The Keillor Reader

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AP: Keillor to celebrate 40 years on Lake Wobegon

AP: Keillor to celebrate 40 years on Lake Wobegon

Garrison discusses the 40th anniversary of A Prairie Home Companion in an interview with the Associated Press

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