The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, January 10, 2022


Hear My Prayer, O Lord…
by Barbara Hamby

Hear my prayer, O Lord, though all I do all day is watch
old black-and-white movies on TV. Speak to me
through William Powell or Myrna Loy, solve the mystery
of my sloth. Show me the way to take a walk or catch
a cold, anything but read another exposé
of the Kennedys. Teach me to sing or at least play
the piano. For ten years I took lessons, and all
I learned was to hate Bach. Shake me up or down. Call
me names. Break my ears with AC/DC—I deserve far
worse. Rebuke me in front of my ersatz friends. Who cares?
They don’t like me much anyway. Make me fat in lieu
of thin. Give me a break or don’t. I’m a hundred million
molecules in search of an author. If that’s you, thank you
for my skin. Without it I’d be in worse shape than I’m in.

 

Barbara Hamby, “Hear My Prayer, O Lord” from the poem cycle entitled “9 Sonnets from the Psalms” and from All-Night Lingo Tango. © 2009. Aired by permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. (buy now)


It was on this day in 1901 that the first oil gusher in the United States erupted at Spindletop, just outside Beaumont, Texas. It was considered the beginning of the oil age or petroleum age.

In 1901 all of America’s oil came from the East, mostly from Pennsylvania, and the experts were sure that Pennsylvania was the future of the nation’s oil. The president of Standard Oil, John Archbold, was amused when someone told him in 1885 that they had discovered oil in Oklahoma — he said, “I’ll drink every gallon of oil produced west of the Mississippi!” Ten years later Texas had started producing respectable amounts of oil, and some oil tycoons sent in people to drill. But the results were small compared to Pennsylvania, and they quickly gave up and left. At this point, Standard Oil controlled more than 80 percent of the oil in the country.

Not everyone was surprised that there was oil in Spindletop, which most people from Beaumont called the Big Hill. Native Americans had been using it medicinally for centuries. Spanish explorers used it to waterproof their boots. And one man who lived near Spindletop was convinced that there was enough oil there to shift the focus from Pennsylvania to Texas and even to replace coal as the primary energy source. His name was Patillo Higgins and most people thought he was crazy. He was a determined, wiry man who had lost one arm in a gunfight. He finally convinced some local entrepreneurs to invest by promising them millions, but when he tried to drill he came up totally dry. After that townspeople sarcastically called him “the millionaire” and stopped taking him seriously. So Higgins ran an ad in a trade journal in New York City promising the same thing. He only got one response, but that was all he needed. The Croatian-born oil explorer Anthony Lucas signed on and they started drilling in late 1900. Finally, on this day in 1901, they hit a depth of about 1,200 feet and natural gas started shooting out of the ground, followed by crude oil.

The oil gusher reached a height of 200 feet straight up in the air and produced about 4.2 million gallons of oil every day for nine days. Over the course of those nine days about 50,000 people observed the gusher. Within the year the town of Beaumont went from 8,000 people to 60,000. That first Spindletop well produced as much oil as 37,000 Eastern wells combined, and by the end of 1910 there were more than 100 wells on Spindletop. Before 1901 oil and petroleum had been mostly for lamps — suddenly it was the cheapest fuel, just three cents a barrel.


It was on this day in 49 B.C.E. that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and launched a civil war.

At the time of Caesar’s birth, in 100 B.C.E. the Roman Republic was falling into political chaos. It had only nominal control of its provinces which were really under the command of their powerful governors. A few wealthy individuals were becoming increasingly corrupt and they found it easier to settle political issues with the military than to try and honor Roman law. Caesar was born into a wealthy and well-known family, but one without much political clout. Caesar became the head of his family at the age of 16 after his father died and he worked his way up quickly through various official positions and appointments — he was an assistant to the consul, a chief priest, a governor of Spain, and then consul, the highest office in the Roman Republic. He formed the “first triumvirate” with Pompey and Crassus — Pompey was a military hero who was frustrated with the politics of the Republic and Crassus was one of the richest people in the Republic and is still considered one of the wealthiest people who has ever lived. Even though Pompey and Crassus hated each other, Caesar convinced them that it was worth getting over their differences because the power and wealth that the three men had together made them hugely influential. The Triumvirate was secured when Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, Julia.

Caesar was appointed governor of Gaul — what is now France and Belgium but at that point was part of the Roman Republic. There he recruited soldiers and conquered most of Western Europe, all the way to Britain. But back in Rome, his political alliances were falling apart. Crassus was killed in battle, hating Pompey until the end. Pompey turned against Caesar, and after Julia died Pompey got remarried to the daughter of one of Caesar’s enemies. Pompey had been appointed the temporary leader of the Senate and was turning the Senate against Caesar, declaring him an enemy of the state.

In 50 B.C.E. the Senate announced that Caesar’s term as a governor had ended and demanded that he disband his army and return to Rome. According to Roman law, if a general was accompanied by a standing army when he entered the official Roman Republic from one of the Roman provinces he would be considered a traitor. Caesar was afraid that if he obeyed Pompey’s orders and disbanded his army he would be prosecuted by the Senate for abusing power in the past and would have no one to defend him.

The Rubicon River formed the border between Gaul and the Roman Republic. According to legend, even when Caesar got to the river with his army, he had still not made up his mind about what he would do. With the famous phrase Alea iacta est, or “the die is cast,” he decided to cross.

The historian Suetonius was born around 70 C.E., more than a century after Caesar crossed the Rubicon. He published a history of 12 Roman emperors, beginning with Caesar. Suetonius wrote:

“Overtaking his cohorts at the river Rubicon, which was the boundary of his province, he paused for a while, and realizing what a step he was taking, he turned to those about him and said: ‘Even yet we may draw back; but once cross yon little bridge, and the whole issue is with the sword.’ As he stood in doubt, this sign was given him. On a sudden there appeared hard by a being of wondrous stature and beauty, who sat and played upon a reed; and when not only the shepherds flocked to hear him, but many of the soldiers left their posts, and among them some of the trumpeters, the apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river, and sounding the war-note with mighty blast, strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried: ‘Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast,’ said he. Accordingly, crossing with his army, and welcoming the tribunes of the commons, who had come to him after being driven from Rome, he harangued the soldiers with tears, and rending his robe from his breast besought their faithful service.”

With Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, the Roman Republic was thrown into civil war. Eventually, Caesar defeated Pompey and his allies and emerged as the winner. As emperor, he made some radical changes in government. He decreased the power of the provinces and centralized power in Rome. He eliminated much of the government’s debt, disbanded powerful guilds, and rewarded people for having children in an effort to increase Rome’s population. He set a term limit on governors, launched a huge rebuilding effort, established a police force, and modified the calendar. He made himself incredibly powerful and demanded that everyone revere him as part-deity.

Despite all he did and his huge legacy, Caesar’s reign as emperor was short. He crossed the Rubicon in 49 B.C.E. and he was assassinated in 44 B.C.E.

Because of Caesar, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” has entered popular culture, meaning “past the point of no return,” and it is used in all sorts of contexts. In various articles on Google it’s been written that “crossing the Rubicon” for the online shopping industry makes it possible for shoppers to see which local stores carry the products they want, in their store, at that very moment; Subaru was “crossing the Rubicon to sedan-hood” with its switch away from a hatchback for one of its models; Joe Biden said, “I crossed the Rubicon about not being president and being vice president when I decided to take this office.” Rubicon is the name of a recently terminated conspiracy thriller TV show, and Crossing the Rubicon is the title of an album by the Swedish band The Sounds. The Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said, “Sometimes you don’t know if you’re Caesar about to cross the Rubicon or Captain Queeg cutting your own tow line.”


It’s the birthday of best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose (books by this author), born in Lovington, Illinois (1936). Ambrose’s father was a Navy doctor during World War II and the family followed him from post to post around the country until he was shipped overseas. The war ended, Ambrose’s father came home and took up a private practice in Wisconsin, and Ambrose decided he’d take over when he grew up.

A pre-med student, he was annoyed when his state university requirements compelled him to take an American history class the second semester of his sophomore year. It was called “Representative Americans” and was based on biographies of individuals throughout the country’s history. The first class focused on George Washington. The professor said that the students would be completing their own biography of an unknown Wisconsinite, which they would have to use primary research from the state historical society to write. The result, the professor promised, would add to the sum of the world’s knowledge.

“And that just hit me like a sledgehammer,” Ambrose later said. “It had never before occurred to me that I could add to the sum of the world’s knowledge.” He changed his major to history and at the end of the term wrote a 10-page biography of a Civil War-era one-term Wisconsin Congressman named Charles Billinghurst. Ambrose marveled that he was now the world’s leading expert on Charles Billinghurst. “Now what I soon learned was, the reason for that was that nobody else cared about Charles A. Billinghurst,” Ambrose laughed. But his next epiphany was what transformed him from a historian to a world-class storyteller: “But I can make ’em care if I tell the story right.”

He became the biographer of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, he wrote a best-selling book about the Lewis & Clark expedition titled Undaunted Courage (1996), and wrote multiple books on WWII, like Citizen Soldiers (1997) and Band of Brothers (1992).

 

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®


Rest in Peace, Butch Thompson

 

The most elegant gentleman to come out of Minnesota, Mr. Butch Thompson, died yesterday in St. Paul. He picked up the New Orleans spirit listening to Jelly Roll Morton 78s and carried it through the 20th into the 21st century. He was a pianist and a clarinetist, the piano for the bounce, the clarinet for the blues, and if he could've he would've played both at the same time. We worked together for years, a quiet man, and I never knew him except through his music. God bless the memory, God preserve the music.

–GK

Born and raised in Marine-on-St. Croix, a small Minnesota river town, Butch Thompson was playing Christmas carols on his mother’s upright piano by age three, and began formal lessons at six. He picked up the clarinet in high school and led his first jazz group, “Shirt Thompson and His Sleeves,” as a senior.

After high school, he joined the Hall Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band of Minneapolis, and at 18 made his first visit to New Orleans, where he became one of the few non-New Orleanians to perform at Preservation Hall during the 1960s and ’70s.

In 1974, he joined the staff as the house pianist of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. By 1980, the show was nationally syndicated, and the Butch Thompson Trio was the house band, a position the group held for the next six years.

From the early days on APHC, Butch remembers, “It was pretty casual back then. Margaret or somebody would call me and ask if I was busy on Saturday. More than once I remember saying I couldn’t get there by showtime, and being told to show up as soon as I could. Sometimes I’d go onstage without remembering what key something was in. If Garrison was going to sing, I usually couldn’t go wrong with E major.”

By the late ’90s, Thompson was known as a leading authority on early jazz. He served as a development consultant on the 1992 Broadway hit Jelly’s Last Jam, which starred Gregory Hines. He also joined the touring company of the off-Broadway hit Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man, playing several runs with that show in New York and other cities through 1997.

The Village Voice described Butch’s music as “beguiling piano Americana from an interpreter who knows that Bix was more than an impressionist and Fats was more than a buffoon.”

 


 

 

Available Now: BOOM TOWN by Garrison Keillor!

In Garrison Keillor’s newest novel, Boom Town, we return to Lake Wobegon, famous from decades of monologues on the classic radio show A Prairie Home Companion.

**Available in Hardcover, Audiobook, and eReader formats**

Lake Wobegon is having a boom year thanks to millennial entrepreneurship—AuntMildred’s.com Gourmet Meatloaf, for example, or Universal Fire, makers of artisanal firewood seasoned with sea salt. Meanwhile, the author flies in to give eulogies at the funerals of five classmates, including a couple whom he disliked, and he finds a wave of narcissism crashing on the rocks of Lutheran stoicism. He is restored by the humor and grace of his old girlfriend Arlene and a visit from his wife, Giselle, who arrives from New York for a big love scene in an old lake cabin.

 

Praise for Boom Town:

“Wonderfully over-the-top. Blisteringly funny, acute, and true. Keillor’s speaking to us with encouragement and empathy about the American life. But at the same time, he’s got our number that way he’s always had it. This book is a tonic.” —Richard Ford

 

“You can’t go home again unless you’re Garrison Keillor and home is Lake Wobegon. Then, of course, it is imperative that you do so—and we are fortunate indeed to tag along and share in the final chapter of the most fascinating and compelling characters ever conjured from the most vivid imagination of America’s greatest storyteller!

In Boom Town, we are invited to catch up as Garrison gets caught up with all of those beautifully flawed human beings that populate and promulgate their mythical town where all the women are finally accounted for, all the men are self-realized or died trying, and all the children are still way above average.” —Martin Sheen

 

Read the first chapter for free >>>

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A new day dawns and we rise cheerfully to meet it

There is a magnificent Presbyterian church in New York being hassled by its neighbors who’re tired of the scaffolding that’s been standing for fifteen years. The scaffolding is there because the building is falling apart, and the little congregation is dwindling and can’t afford the repairs. They’d like to sell the property and let the buyers demolish the church and put up a 19-story condo tower. But the Landmark Commission doesn’t want this building, a landmarked 1890 Romanesque Revival masterpiece, to be replaced by a filing cabinet. Meanwhile attendance is fading because who wants to go to church and be struck by a fifty-pound chunk of sandstone?

I favor demolition. There is nothing holy about a building, the Holy Spirit moves freely in and out of buildings, people can feel God’s grace wherever they happen to be. If the building were preserved and sold to Pizza Hut and ovens placed where the altar used to be and the organ automated to play Metallica and Black Sabbath, how does this serve the common good?

Tear it down before it kills somebody. Time moves on, so move with it.

I say this as a very old man who is not landmarked but doing my best to avoid demolition. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, said the apostle Paul, and so far, the temple is intact. Some days I feel like sixty and sometimes I’m closer to fifteen. I have no idea what eighty would feel like. I use a cane only as an affectation: it makes me feel European.

I know I’m on the last stretch, but I intend it to be a cheerful stretch. I am married to the woman I love and after three years of pandemic isolation with her, I adore her. This desert island suits me. But she is more sociable, so we need to ease back into normal life and have people over for lunch, maybe take up cribbage, go bowling, attend lectures where you break up into discussion groups, those sorts of things. I sense her restlessness. Sometimes she goes into the back bedroom, and I hear peals of girlish laughter, shrieks of delight, as she talks to friends on the phone — does it make me jealous? Yes, of course.

We need to befriend younger people. I’ve gone to birthday parties for octos and heard all about someone’s prostate problems or kidney stones and hip replacements and of course colonoscopies. I’ve been colonoscopied and it was no big deal. Yes, the liquid you drink the day before tastes like used motor oil. But so what? I choose to be cheerful. Let’s talk about happy memories such as the narrow pews in my church, which, when I twist to kneel on the kneeler, reminds me of the girl I used to neck with in the back seat of her VW.

Sometimes I regret my old age but then I think of my dear friend who died when he and I were 17. He rented a boat and went out on a lake with a girl he was in love with and when she dove into the water, he dove after her, forgetting that he could not swim, and he drowned. He got only a slice of life, he missed out on sex and fatherhood and the pleasure of vocation, and I got the whole helping and await seconds.

So many heroes of my generation died young, Buddy Holly, James Dean, Jim Morrison, Janis, Jerry, Elvis. They were done in by celebrity and delusion and you and I outlived them to come to this point where we delight in the ordinary. I lie in bed and am awakened by the light and rise up to the new day and do my business and drink coffee and my wife tells me what’s in the morning paper and I go for a walk and people ask me how I’m doing, and I say, “Never better.” I sit in the evening drinking ginger tea and watching baseball with the sound off, two teams I don’t care about, and I edit whatever I wrote today while admiring the pitcher’s windup, the reflexive agility of infielders, the occasional long loping leaping outfield catch that steals a triple and kills the rally and the fielder casually tosses the ball into the stands and trots to the dugout.

Tear down the stone pile. Sell the lots for millions and give it to the poor. Let the faithful meet in someone’s home, as the disciples did. A new day dawns. Don’t look back.

 

I am an orphan and an officeless man

I miss having an office to go to. I had friendly colleagues and employees, and we were in the entertainment biz so we got to work with a lot of lulus and lunatics and we kept flexible hours and laughed a lot. I liked that we were in the business of making serious people split a gut. I also liked getting dressed up for work in a suit and tie, which you need to do when you’re involved with frivolity. Now I go to work in my pajamas at the dining room table. I don’t know if “clothes make the man” but I know that pajamas do not make the man. They make me feel like going back to bed.

I loved walking in the front door in the morning at 9 a.m., the way the receptionist straightened up and smiled, the electric anticipation among the minions that the captain was on deck, the ship was about to sail. I don’t sense that same excitement in my wife when I walk into the kitchen in my pajamas. She says, “Your hair is standing up like a rooster’s and I think you should check your left nostril.”

At the office, I was the Decider. I sat at the end of the table and I told the staff: “No more singing dogs on the show and the one tuba player who played ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ is enough: no more. I think we need a midget shot from a cannon and an acrobatic couple who work with two Percherons. And I say you can never have too many cat jugglers. The guy we booked who could keep six in the air simultaneously was a genius. Pay him whatever he asks.”

My staff was a bunch of college grads who thought in terms of jazz, folk, poetry, the arts, and didn’t understand the entertainment biz. They didn’t know raison d’être from a box of raisins. Art is art. You see a woman in a tutu swanning around, you think, “Everyone is so quiet, this must be good, I should be deeply moved.” You hear a folksinger do a traditional labor ballad, you feel like there’s going to be a quiz afterward. But you hear a man recite Allen Ginsberg backward while balancing a banana on his nose, and he finishes with “generation my of minds best the seen I’ve” and his pants fall down, you are stunned and delighted. And that’s entertainment. Now the biz has been taken over by angry millennials who’re out to use entertainment to make people feel wretched about themselves for the social injustices they failed to prevent. That’s why I left.

One of my favorite acts was a full-blooded Arapaho named Joe who danced and sang and twirled ropes and for a finale, he stood looking in a hand mirror at the stooge sitting fifty feet behind and he threw a tomahawk over his left shoulder and knocked the toupee off the stooge’s head without drawing blood. People protested this as stereotyping and we had to cancel the act. How could it be stereotyping when Joe was the only guy who could do it without mishap?

I produced the show every week, sitting in a little office, no credenza, a photograph on the wall of me and Marcel Marceau, the famous French mime, except he wasn’t French, he didn’t know a word of French, that’s why he was a mime, he was from Pittsburgh and he did great jokes about Unitarians but they attacked him as insensitive so he turned to mime, which was very sensitive to the deaf.

I could feel the biz changing when my staff booked a stand-up who walked out and said, “You came here to laugh and be entertained, right? Well, guess again. I’m going to talk about the plastics you people use that are making this world uninhabitable.” He spoke for twenty minutes, no laughs, and got a standing ovation at the end. I resigned the next week.

So now I sit at my kitchen table, still in pajamas at noon, and the other day I found my talent as a musical flatulenteur. I ate an onion, grabbed my ankles, and farted “Malagueña” with enough left over for a few bars of “Chopsticks,” which you could never do today because it’d be insensitive to Hispanics and Chinese, but still, it’s a gift and I’m grateful for it.

 

Suddenly it's clear why I wanted to be old

I look at the Great Milky Way While inhaling the autumn bouquet At eventide And am mystified And simply don’t know what to say. I love this September chill in the air. I love sweaters. They hide the age wrinkles on my inner upper arms. A stocking cap means I don’t have to comb my hair. Delicate souls are yearning for Florida and maybe catch a temp job as a consumer influence consultant, enough to pay for a condo with a pool, but not me, I’m not into influence and Florida brings out the bad taste in people and nobody wants to see an old man in a thong bikini. So here I am. I like the coffee here. I’ve figured out how the shower works and no longer stand under scalding water because I turned the wrong knob; I don’t want to go to Florida and stay in a motel with a crank for a shower knob and be burned alive while naked. So I’ll stay up North. Here I take a shower, wrap a towel around me, walk into the bedroom and sing, “O my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch.” In Florida, I’d go to the ER. The air is golden, smelling of wine and apples and woodsmoke. It takes me back to when I was 15, sitting in the press box and covering the football games for the Anoka Herald, my first paid writing job. And when I was 18 and a girl and I lay in a pile of leaves and made free with each other. Now I’m 80, the sky so clear I can see vast constellations, standing in the yard, aware of the universe and also smelling the rich spongy earth below my feet. An eternity of stars above, including stars that no longer exist but their light still comes to us, and I stand here in mystification, having unlearned so much of what I thought I knew about life, achieving this plain peasant life. It’s a second childhood. Someone told me the other day that “racecar” spelled backward is “racecar.” Amazing. This is why I quit drinking and got my mitral valve replaced, so I could see beyond the average life expectancy and it’s quite worth the wait, to live in a state of wonder. Writing prose is a form of gardening, which my dad was good at, especially strawberries and asparagus and tomatoes. Store-bought tomatoes tasted like cardboard to him. (Now they taste the same to me.) My aunts Josephine and Eleanor were passionate gardeners. If my essays were as good as their cucumbers and lettuce, I’d be a major success, but frankly I like being a struggling octogenarian up-and-comer. People show me deference because I walk with a cane, and that’s okay, but I live in a very small world. My heroes are dead, my ambition is quite awake, I don’t believe in tragedy anymore, I believe in mystery. I am mystified by my grandson and what an excellent human being he has become. He is a bulwark and an inspiration. I had two grandsons but the other one took his own life one afternoon after school. He was a lively inquisitive boy in love with all of nature, especially animals, and had the ability to retain practically everything he ever read, and he’s been gone for five years and I haven’t accepted his death. I will always be mystified by it, as I am by my childhood friend Corinne who paddled a canoe out onto Lake Cayuga one moonlit night in 1986, her pockets full of rocks, and overturned it and drowned. It was thirty-six years ago but still vivid to me, especially tonight. Memory is tied to smell and on a September night chapters of life return to mind, unbidden. I’ve forgotten most of the books I ever read. Theology is of no use to me. I’m a child; I believe “All things work together for good to them that love God.” As a boy I used outhouses and now I walk into a men’s toilet and pee in a urinal and step back and it automatically flushes. I walk around with a device in my pocket the size of a half-slice of bread and I can call my grandson for a report on Gen Z or read the Times or do a search for “Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed. To comprehend a nectar requires sorest need.” It’s a sweet world. My beloved sent me out for a walk and here I am, going nowhere, looking at everything all at once.

Tempted to give up politics for Parcheesi

My mom admired FDR and Eleanor because they cared about the poor. My dad felt there was no such thing as a Depression, that anyone who wanted work could find it, that the WPA was relief for the lazy, We Poke Along. He maintained this view even after we pointed out that his first real job came from his uncle Lew who owned the Pure Oil station in town. Their difference of opinion never got in the way of their love for each other. Politics was far away; real life was up close and was all about family. Sometimes I’d find her sitting in his lap, the parents of six kissing. He was a little sheepish, she was not.

Sometimes I envy my parents’ close-up life. I sit every morning, a hard-hearted man scanning my email inbox, fending off the pitiful pleas of political candidates in tight races, falling behind with the fate of democracy itself in the balance, the future of the planet, but we’re losing (unthinkable!) to a weird opponent who believes COVID is a covert conspiracy of drug companies and is financed by tycoons who plan to relocate on Mars, the good candidate is only asking for a $10 contribution, he pleads, and I snip them off one by one, along with the fabulous 50% OFF THIS WEEK ONLY offers, and an African orphanage asking me to buy a $500 Apple gift certificate and forward it to this address to save kids from starvation. Out they go.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

October 21, 2022

Friday

8:00 p.m.

The Anthem, Washington D.C.

The Anthem, Washington D.C.

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to The Anthem in Washington D.C. with Ellie Dehn, Billy Collins, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher, Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue, Fred Newman, Tim Russell and the Friendly String Quartet.

November 6, 2022

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

The Bend Theatre, West Bend, WI

West Bend, WI

Garrison Keillor brings his show to West Bend, WI for a performance of sing-a-longs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

November 12, 2022

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

The Tabernacle, Mount Tabor, NJ

Mount Tabor, NJ

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Mount Tabor, NJ. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

November 19, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, Clinton Township, MI

Clinton Township, MI

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to the Macomb Center for the Performing Arts in Clinton Township, MI for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 7:30 PM

buy tickets

November 26, 2022

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Town Hall, New York City

Town Hall, New York City

A Prairie Home Companion American Revival comes to Town Hall in New York City with Christine DiGiallonardo, Heather Masse, Rob Fisher and the Demitasse Orchestra, Rich Dworsky, Walter Bobbie, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

November 28, 2022

Monday

8:00 p.m.

McCallum Theatre, Palm Desert, CA

Palm Desert, CA

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Palm Desert, CA for a performance of holiday songs, humor and The News from Lake Wobegon.

December 4, 2022

Sunday

8:00 p.m.

Broward Center for Performing Arts, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Fort Lauderdale, FL

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

December 15, 2022

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

The Fabulous Fox Theatre, St. Louis, MO

St. Louis, MO

A Prairie Home Companion Christmas Show comes to the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis, MO with Heather Masse, Rich Dworsky, Pat Donohue, Dean Magraw, Sue Scott, Fred Newman and Tim Russell.

January 7, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation, Torrance, CA

Torrance, CA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Torrance, CA. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

February 3, 2023

Friday

7:00 p.m.

The Holland Theatre, Bellefontaine, OH

Bellefontaine, OH

Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard bring their show to Bellefontaine, OH for a performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Today is the birthday of French philosopher and writer Denis Diderot, born in Langres (1713). Diderot, who said, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, October 4, 2022

1941 marked the birth of Anne Rice, author of “Interview with a Vampire.” Rice died in October 2021 at the age of 80.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, October 3, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, October 3, 2022

Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” – The works of Emily Post, born on this day in 1873.

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A Prairie Home Companion: October 8, 2005

A Prairie Home Companion: October 8, 2005

This 2005 classic from the Fitzgerald features the legendary Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers, Prudence Johnson, and guest actor Lee Lynch.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, October 2, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, October 2, 2022

On this day in 1950, the comic strip Peanuts, written and illustrated by Twin Cities native Charles M. Schulz, was first published. The series and its creator won award after award, and Peanuts was lauded for its deft social commentary, wry wisdom, and the satirical eye.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, October 1, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, October 1, 2022

It’s the birthday of Ernest Haycox, 1899, who said to become a successful writer. “First, one must break in to print somewhere, anywhere, with anything, and get money for it.” Second, “consolidate in that field … to such a point that your stories will be good enough to sell whenever written.” and Third “to do something permanent, something at least bordering on the field of literature. The first two stages can be accomplished by sheer muscle and sweat. The third is an entirely different problem.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 30, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 30, 2022

On this day in 1452, the first section of the Gutenberg Bible was finished in Mainz, Germany, by the printer Johannes Gutenberg. On this day in 1791, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s two-act opera The Magic Flute premiered at the Freihaus Theater in the composer’s hometown of Vienna, Austria. And, it’s the birthday of author Truman Capote, born in 1924 and best known for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 29, 2022

Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell was born in London on this day in 1810. Elizabeth Gaskell was close friends with novelist Charlotte Brontë, the author of Jane Eyre. After Brontë died, Gaskell wrote the biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), which many scholars now consider a definitive work.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Today is the birthday of scrivener and alchemist Nicholas Flamel, who was born on the outskirts of Paris in the year 1300 to a poor but respectable family. He and his wife Pernelle were thought to have discovered an elixir of life. He has been enshrined in modern memory by the Harry Potter books, which feature the Flamel’s as friends of Albus Dumbledore in the book “The Sorcerer’s Stone.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 27, 2022

“Artists are nourished more by each other than by fame or by the public. To give one’s work to the world is an experience of peculiar emptiness. The work goes away from the artist into a void, like a message stuck into a bottle and flung into the sea.” – writer Joyce Johnson, born on this day in 1935.

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Writing

A new day dawns and we rise cheerfully to meet it

There is a magnificent Presbyterian church in New York being hassled by its neighbors who’re tired of the scaffolding that’s been standing for fifteen years. The scaffolding is there because the building is falling apart, and the little congregation is dwindling and can’t afford the repairs. They’d like to sell the property and let the buyers demolish the church and put up a 19-story condo tower. But the Landmark Commission doesn’t want this building, a landmarked 1890 Romanesque Revival masterpiece, to be replaced by a filing cabinet. Meanwhile attendance is fading because who wants to go to church and be struck by a fifty-pound chunk of sandstone?

I favor demolition. There is nothing holy about a building, the Holy Spirit moves freely in and out of buildings, people can feel God’s grace wherever they happen to be. If the building were preserved and sold to Pizza Hut and ovens placed where the altar used to be and the organ automated to play Metallica and Black Sabbath, how does this serve the common good?

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I am an orphan and an officeless man

I miss having an office to go to. I had friendly colleagues and employees, and we were in the entertainment biz so we got to work with a lot of lulus and lunatics and we kept flexible hours and laughed a lot. I liked that we were in the business of making serious people split a gut. I also liked getting dressed up for work in a suit and tie, which you need to do when you’re involved with frivolity. Now I go to work in my pajamas at the dining room table. I don’t know if “clothes make the man” but I know that pajamas do not make the man. They make me feel like going back to bed.

I loved walking in the front door in the morning at 9 a.m., the way the receptionist straightened up and smiled, the electric anticipation among the minions that the captain was on deck, the ship was about to sail. I don’t sense that same excitement in my wife when I walk into the kitchen in my pajamas. She says, “Your hair is standing up like a rooster’s and I think you should check your left nostril.”

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Suddenly it’s clear why I wanted to be old

I love this September chill in the air. I love sweaters. They hide the age wrinkles on my inner upper arms. A stocking cap means I don’t have to comb my hair. Delicate souls are yearning for Florida and maybe catch a temp job as a consumer influence consultant, enough to pay for a condo with a pool, but not me, I’m not into influence and Florida brings out the bad taste in people and nobody wants to see an old man in a thong bikini. So here I am. I like the coffee here. I’ve figured out how the shower works and no longer stand under scalding water because I turned the wrong knob; I don’t want to go to Florida and stay in a motel with a crank for a shower knob and be burned alive while naked. So I’ll stay up North. Here I take a shower, wrap a towel around me, walk into the bedroom and sing, “O my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch.” In Florida, I’d go to the ER.

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Tempted to give up politics for Parcheesi

My mom admired FDR and Eleanor because they cared about the poor. My dad felt there was no such thing as a Depression, that anyone who wanted work could find it, that the WPA was relief for the lazy, We Poke Along. He maintained this view even after we pointed out that his first real job came from his uncle Lew who owned the Pure Oil station in town. Their difference of opinion never got in the way of their love for each other. Politics was far away; real life was up close and was all about family. Sometimes I’d find her sitting in his lap, the parents of six kissing. He was a little sheepish, she was not.

Sometimes I envy my parents’ close-up life. I sit every morning, a hard-hearted man scanning my email inbox, fending off the pitiful pleas of political candidates in tight races, falling behind with the fate of democracy itself in the balance, the future of the planet, but we’re losing (unthinkable!) to a weird opponent who believes COVID is a covert conspiracy of drug companies and is financed by tycoons who plan to relocate on Mars, the good candidate is only asking for a $10 contribution, he pleads, and I snip them off one by one, along with the fabulous 50% OFF THIS WEEK ONLY offers, and an African orphanage asking me to buy a $500 Apple gift certificate and forward it to this address to save kids from starvation. Out they go.

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What was so remarkable about Monday

Nobody does royal funerals so beautifully as the Brits and an American watches with awe the long procession toward the chapel at Windsor Castle, the precision left/right stroll of the Grenadiers alongside the hearse, the horsemen behind, the bemedaled notaries and royal descendants and then, having come through narrow arches into the courtyard, the hearse stops, the rear door opens, and the eight uniformed pallbearers do a side-shuffle march to take hold of the coffin and lift it to their shoulders and take it up the steps. No simple task but they do it precisely and a stately silence prevails except on TV where American reporters venture speculation about a woman whose job was to be a mystery and who did it very well.

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October is coming, prepare to be bold

She told me out of the blue that she adores me. I was there, in a chair, listening; she was standing by the grandfather clock. She didn’t sing it but she said it clearly. This should answer any remaining questions. But Mister Malaise and Madam Miasma are ever on our trail, skulking in woodlands and meadows, waylaying the vulnerable, requiring us to drink discouragement and despair, and they got me a few days ago, two weeks after mitral valve replacement, walking tall in Transitional Care, transitioning back to normal life when I was hit (in the time it takes to tell it) by abject weakness, dizziness, nausea, and had to be locked up in hospital and tubes put in my arms for blood and antibiotics, and then released in a weakened semi-invalid state. It’s a lousy feeling. I look out at Minneapolis and imagine it’s Odessa, which it is not. I worry the Swiss banks will fail. Water mains will burst. Bacon will be banned, leaving us with vegan substitute.

The body wants to heal and it has felicitous intuitions how to go about doing it but meanwhile I ache and shuffle around like an old grampa and hike the hallways and work at maintaining a cheerful outlook (false). My wife is a worrier and when we promised to love and honor each other 27 years ago, diarrhea and vomiting weren’t mentioned in detail, so I walk carefully.

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What if it does and they do?

Sea levels are rising as the polar ice caps melt and now it’s clear why Republicans are in favor of global warming, it’s a form of gerrymandering. It destroys the Democratic coasts and drives disheartened Manhattanites westward to wander lost and confused in Ohio, their sophistication shredded, their street smarts useless. The Obamas will lose their place on Cape Cod and move to Omaha. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez will wind up in Topeka and go back to bartending. The fashion industry will move to Des Moines and polyester plaids will make a big comeback. Broadway will, of course, settle in Oklahoma –– where else?

My love and I live on the 12th floor of a building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which won’t be so upper much longer and so we’re thinking of buying a kayak so we can still make it to Zabar’s when the streets are flooded. We’ll paddle around the little islands that used to be Central Park and the Belvedere Castle to look in the Guggenheim, which will be turned into a water slide, and when Zabar’s closes with its fabulous cheese section where a shopper gains weight simply by inhaling, then we’ll order a chopper to lift us off the roof and wave goodbye to the old life and be flown to Pittsburgh to fly back to Minnesota. One chapter ends, another begins.

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Never been such times as these before, I swear

It’s good for your breathing, the deep breaths you must draw at the systemic shamelessness of Mar-il-Legal, the casual heist of government stuff, the FBI arriving to take away the top-secret documents and all, the refusal by the Former to acknowledge error, his wholesale abuse of the FBI, and then the weaselish dictum by the Trump judge to hold the DOJ at bay, it was breathtaking, like watching a hippo climb a tree.

The sorting of material, separating articles of clothing from top-secret documents into their own piles, seems to be a problem for DJT, according to the FBI. Surely the man’s valet puts the socks in the sock drawer and not with the golf balls and cheeseburgers, but in his official dealings DJT seems prone to chaos.

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Lying in bed, grateful for it all

A week in hospital has brought me back to an appreciation of Jell-O, scrambled eggs, mac and cheese, the banana, food that is beyond criticism. There is no such thing as a deluxe banana. The best mac and cheese you ever had was not significantly better than the worst. My beloved disagrees. She is somehow repelled by Jell-O, perhaps she thinks if you eat it you’ll wind up living in a trailer park. To me, Jell-O is what it is, Jell-O. My dad lived in a trailer park and loved it; I think it gave him a sense of imminent mobility. Hitch up the tow, let’s go to Orlando.

My beloved has some Swedish ruminants in her ancestry whereas I have coyotes in mine. The ruminants had a taste for savory weeds and the coyotes only ate weeds to get the taste of chicken feather out of their mouths. Somehow we’ve made a happy marriage out of this.

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What was done for me back in Minnesota

There is vast kindness in this world and right now I am resting in it, astonished by it, a man who in the space of 48 hours went through an ablation procedure to calm wild heart arrhythmia and then a heart valve replacement and a valve repair. I climbed aboard the gurney for the first procedure, an adult male of 80, and was borne away from the second in an infantile state, helpless, somewhat hallucinatory, a disastrous life change for a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and through it all I was aware of the young women and men in blue scrubs who were at my side, making friendly small talk while checking tubes and adjusting pillows. They asked me to squeeze their hands, wiggle my fingers, look into a bright light, push up against their hand pulling my foot down, smile, raise my eyebrows, follow their finger with my eyes, and when I did they said, “Awesome,” “Fantastic,” “Excellent.” I said, “A person doesn’t have to do much to win praise around here” and they laughed. It was the only useful thing I could do, make them laugh, so I became a lie-down comedian, interpreting literally what they said: “Oh, we are going to have a bowel movement now? Fine, you go first and I’ll watch and see how it’s done.”

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If you are hosting a show with Garrison, please feel free to use the below press photos for marketing, as well as the below short biography. Promo video for purpose of booking is available here.

Garrison Keillor did “A Prairie Home Companion” for forty years, wrote fiction and comedy, invented a town called Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, even though he himself grew up evangelical in a small separatist flock where all the children expected the imminent end of the world. He’s busy in retirement, having written a memoir and a book of limericks and is at work on a musical and a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and he continues to do “The Writers Almanac” sent out daily to Internet subscribers (free). 

He and his wife Jenny Lind Nilsson live in Minneapolis, not far from the YMCA where he was sent for swimming lessons at age 12 after his cousin drowned, and he skipped the lessons and went to the public library instead and to a radio studio to watch a noontime show with singers and a band. Thus, our course in life is set. 

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