Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
by Dorianne Laux
Emily said she heard a fly buzz
when she died, heard it whizz
over her head, troubling her frizzed
hair. What will I hear? Showbiz
tunes on the radio, the megahertz
fuzz when the station picks up Yaz,
not the Hall-of-Famer or the Pez
of contraceptives, but the jazzy
flash-in-the-pan 8o’s techno-pop star, peach fuzz
on her rouged cheeks singing Pul-ease
Don’t Go through a kazoo. Will my old love spritz
the air with the perfume of old roses,
buy me the white satin Mercedes-Benz
of pillows, string a rainbow blitz
of crystals in the window—quartz, topaz—
or will I die wheezing, listening to a quiz
show: What year is this? Who was the 44th Prez
of the United States? Where is the Suez
Canal? Are you too hot? Cold? Freezing?
“Emily Said” by Dorianne Laux from Only as the Day is Long: New and Selected Poems. W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. (buy now)
It’s the birthday of filmmaker Martin Scorsese, born 1942 in the Flushing section of Queens (1942), who went to seminary school with plans of becoming a priest, but he was expelled for roughhousing during prayers and went to NYU and majored in film instead.
He got a lot of attention for early films like Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi Driver (1976), but they didn’t make much money, and his musical New York, New York (1977) was a complete flop. Scorsese thought his career might be over. He began drinking too much and wound up in the hospital. Robert DeNiro came to visit him there and told him to get his act together and make the movie they’d been talking about for years, about the boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese agreed, and he poured the next few years of his life into that movie, trying to get every detail exactly right. When the studio finally demanded that he send the picture to the labs for printing, Scorsese almost took his name off the project because in a minor scene in a bar he couldn’t hear one of the characters order a Cutty Sark. He knew that was exactly the kind of drink that character would have ordered, and he wanted people to be able to hear it. He got his way, and Raging Bull was a big success when it came out in 1980. It’s now considered one of the best films of the decade.
His other films include Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), and The Departed (2006). Martin Scorsese said, “Movies … fulfill a spiritual need that people have to share a common memory.”
It’s the birthday of a young man whose books have sold more than 20 million copies. That’s fantasy novelist Christopher Paolini, (books by this author) born in Southern California (1983). He was homeschooled in Montana by his Montessori-trained mom, who gave him homework specifically designed to stimulate creativity. He first fell in love with books after reading a children’s mystery novel where tomato sauce was mistaken for blood. Soon after that, he was reading a lot of Teutonic, Scandinavian, and Old Norse folklore.
He finished coursework for high school at age 15 and decided he would write the book that he had always wanted to read. It would be an archetypal quest story, he knew, a “pure, dyed-in-the-wool hero story,” as he called it, one with elves and magic and romance and a secret kingdom and special sword. He started writing the book and was stumped. He decided to take a step back and study the mechanics of writing and the structure of stories. He read all sorts of manuals about plot and characters and scenes. Then he sat down and outlined the entire plot for a trilogy of books. And then he began to write.
The first draft took him a year, and revising the first draft took a second year. His family decided to self-publish the book, entitled Eragon, and when it first came out in 2002 they toured the country to promote it. During one year, they showed up at 135 events, book fairs, bookstores, libraries, schools, places where the teenage Paolini would stand behind a table in a medieval costume, which he described as “red shirt, billowy black pants, lace-up boots, and a jaunty black cap.” If he sold 40 books in the course of eight hours, it felt like a good day. The whole experience was really stressful, since his family was risking all their financial future to promote the book, and the book was not selling. They thought they were going to have to sell their house in Paradise Valley, Montana, and move to the city and work regular jobs.
But then the stepson of novelist Carl Hiaasen read the book, loved it, and showed it to Hiaasen, who sent in on to his publishers. Soon, Paolini had huge offers from major U.S. and UK publishers. But first, the book had to go through major revisions, which he called “real torture.” He said: “I discovered that editing is really another word for someone ruthlessly tearing apart your work with a big smile, all the while telling you that it will make the book so much better. And it did, though it felt like splinters of hot bamboo being driven into my tender eyeballs.”
When his 500-page book appeared in 2003, when Paolini was 19, it went straight to No. 3 on the New York Times best-seller list. And some weeks, it outsold Harry Potter books. He also wrote three best-selling sequels, Eldest (2005), Brisingr (2008), and Inheritance (2011). His short story collection, The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm, set in the same world as Eragon, will be released on December 31st.
Paolini said about the composition process: “For me, the time spent plotting out a novel is more important than the actual writing. If you don’t have a good story, it’s exceedingly unlikely that a good book can be pulled from the morass of ideas floating around in your brain. Typing out Eragon was a rather straightforward affair once I had the plot firmly in hand.”
It’s the birthday of the man who created Saturday Night Live — Lorne Michaels, born in Toronto, Canada (1944). He formed a comedy duo with Hart Pomerantz. In the early ’70s, they had their own television variety show, The Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour, on Canadian television. They also contracted their talents to comedic acts in the United States, writing for Phyllis Diller, Lily Tomlin, Joan Rivers, and Woody Allen. They wrote for the NBC show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and then NBC asked Michaels to come up with a comedy show to replace the Johnny Carson reruns that aired Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m.
Michaels recruited talent from all sorts of places. Dan Aykroyd was a fellow Canadian, and Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner had worked on the National Lampoon show. Muppet creator Jim Henson created sketches for the show, and recent Harvard grad Al Franken was signed on as a writer. Michaels put together the first season, 1975-1976, and won an Emmy for it.
He said: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.”
It’s the birthday of American novelist and historian Shelby Foote (books by this author), born in Greenville, Mississippi (1916). Foote grew up on the Mississippi-Yazoo Delta, once a great swamp filled with alligators and water moccasin snakes. About his childhood, Foote said: “My father died just before I turned six years old, so I’ve been to a considerable degree on my own. I was a latchkey kid before there were any latchkey kids, and I liked it. Cast on my own resources, I began to read very early and with great pleasure. […] Getting close to books, and spending time by myself, I was obliged to think about things I would never have thought about if I was busy romping around with a brother and sister.”
He had already published several novels, including Tournament (1949), Follow Me Down (1950), and Love in a Dry Season (1951), when in 1952 an editor asked him if he would try writing a narrative history of the Civil War. Foote said he thought it would take about four years, but it wound up taking two decades, and the result was almost 3,000 pages long when published.
He spent the last 25 years of his life working on an epic novel about Mississippi called Two Gates to the City. It remained unfinished when he died in 2006.
It was on this day in 1558 that Queen Elizabeth I acceded to the English throne. Her father, King Henry VIII, had broken with the Catholic Church to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boleyn, in hopes of producing a male heir. But when Elizabeth was born, he had Anne Boleyn beheaded and declared Elizabeth an illegitimate child. She grew up in a world of conspiracies and assassinations. Because she was a potential heir to the throne, her life was constantly in danger.
England almost broke out in civil war when Elizabeth’s half-sister, Mary Tudor, came to power and tried to turn England back into a Catholic nation. But Mary died just five years after becoming queen, leaving behind a debt-ridden, divided country. Elizabeth took the throne on this day in 1558. She was 25 years old. One of her first acts as queen was to restore England to Protestantism. Militant Protestants wanted her to seek out secret Catholics and prosecute them, but Elizabeth decided that she wasn’t going to police anyone’s private beliefs. She required everyone to go to the Church of England on Sunday and that they all use the same prayer book, but aside from that they could believe whatever they wanted.
She also eased the restrictions on the legal operation of theaters, and the result was a new career for writers such as Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson, and William Shakespeare. Part of the reason so many great writers came out of the Elizabethan era was simply that it was a time of relative peace and prosperity, in which people had the luxury to read books and go to the theater. But Elizabeth also helped encourage the English to have pride in themselves, in their history, and especially their language.
She reigned for 45 years, one of the great eras in English history. Near the end of her reign, she said to her subjects: “Though God hath raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown: that I have reigned with your loves. And though you have had, and may have, many mightier and wiser princes sitting in this seat; yet you never had, nor shall have any that will love you better.”