The Writer’s Almanac for June 19, 2019


Tenderness
by Ann Fisher-Wirth

When I wake, afraid,
the light on the deck next door
where the frat boys live
who have tumbled into sleep
after much beer
and after sprinting up and down
the street with their
black Labs, chasing frisbees,
calling, Yo, got it man––
the light they forgot to flick off
after grilling burgers
on the deck, just like they forget
to water their yard or take
their garbage cans off the street––
this random, ordinary light
shines among the inky trees
and through the thick
music of locusts and tree frogs
as if to call me home,

like a candle in the window
of a fairy tale cottage
at the heart of the dunkel,
dunkel Wald
––or the safety
I felt when I was small, when
my little sister and I would sleep,
legs curled around legs and heads
pillowed against the doors
in the back seat of the green
Chrysler, as our mother
rested her cheek on her hand
and hummed peacefully
out the side window,
and our father drove through
the cool September night from
the Tuscarora Mountains––
then I would wake groggy
to see the garage light
waiting for us, and one of them
would carry me up to bed.

 

“Tenderness” by Ann Fisher-Wirth from The Bones of Winter Birds. © Terrapin Books, 2019. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


Today is Juneteenth, also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.” It’s a holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It was on this date in 1865 that Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, to spread the word that slavery had been abolished. Of course, the Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect some two and a half years earlier, in January 1863; most Confederate states ignored it until they were forced to free their slaves by advancing Union troops.

From the balcony of Galveston’s Ashton Villa, General Gordon read the contents of General Order Number Three: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”


It’s the birthday of the film critic Pauline Kael (books by this author), born in Petaluma, California (1919). She was a film critic for The New Yorker for almost 25 years.

She said, “You have to be open to the idea of getting drunk on movies.”


 It’s the birthday of Salman Rushdie (books by this author), born in Mumbai, India (1947).


It’s the birthday of the short-story writer and memoirist Tobias Wolff (books by this author), born in Birmingham, Alabama (1945). He is best known for his memoir, This Boy’s Life.


It’s the birthday of mathematician, physicist, and theologian Blaise Pascal (books by this author), born in Clermont-Ferrand, France (1623). A child prodigy, by the time he was 19 he had already perfected the first mechanical calculator for sale to the public. In the field of physics, he discovered that air has weight, and he conducted experiments to prove that vacuums could exist, which led him to formulate the hydraulic principle that “pressure exerted on a fluid in a closed vessel is transmitted unchanged throughout the fluid.” This principle is used today in devices such as syringes, hydraulic presses, automobile brakes, and aircraft controls. In mathematics, he founded the theory of probabilities and developed an early form of integral calculus.

He spent much of his life in conflict between science and religion, and was one of the first philosophers to seriously question the existence of God. But in 1654, he experienced a revelation, the account of which he carried sewn into his coat lining until his death. He came to the conclusion that there was no science to prove God exists; instead, humans must rely on their faith. He produced two great works of religious philosophy, Lettres Provinciales (Provincial Letters, 1657) and Pensées (Thoughts, 1658).

Blaise Pascal, who wrote, “In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”


It’s the birthday of the music journalist and cultural critic Greil Marcus (books by this author), born in San Francisco (1945). He was named for his father, Greil Gerstley, who was killed in World War II before Marcus was born. Gerstley served on a Navy ship, one of three that were deliberately sent into a typhoon. Although the other officers urged him to mutiny, Gerstley refused, and all three ships sank. The incident inspired Herman Wouk’s novel The Caine Mutiny (1952). Gerstley’s son was born six months later, and when the boy was three years old, his mother married Gerald Marcus. Gerstley’s death was never discussed, and Marcus was an adult before he knew the full story of how his father died.

Greil Marcus said: “All our lives, from the time we became sentient beings and lost our lives to Little Richard and Elvis Presley, people were telling us ‘you’re going to outgrow this’…But when the Beatles showed up … suddenly we realized, ‘no, you don’t have to outgrow this.’ You can’t outgrow this, you shouldn’t outgrow this, and you won’t outgrow this.”


The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by the United States Senate on this date, 55 years ago. It’s often viewed as the most important United States civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction, and it prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in employment, voting, and the use of public facilities. It was first proposed in 1963 by President Kennedy, but failed to pass. Lyndon Johnson put forward a more robust version the following year, but it had faced a long battle in Congress, including a 57-day filibuster organized by Richard B. Russell. Eventually, the Senate voted to end the filibuster and passed the act, with a 71-29 vote.

CHEERFULNESS by Garrison Keillor!

Garrison Keillor's newest book, CHEERFULNESS, now available.

Drawing on personal anecdotes from his young adulthood into his eighties, Keillor sheds light on the immense good that can come from a deliberate work ethic and a buoyant demeanor. “Adopting cheerfulness as a strategy does not mean closing your eyes to evil,” he tells us; “it means resisting our drift toward compulsive dread and despond.” Funny, poignant, thought-provoking, and whimsical, this is a book that will inspire you to choose cheerfulness in your daily life.

1. CHEERFULNESS

It’s a great American virtue, the essence of who we are when we’re cooking with gas: enthusiasm, high spirits, rise and shine, qwitcher bellyaching, wake up and die right, pick up your feet, step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Smile, dammit. Dance like you mean it and give it some pizzazz, clap on the backbeat. Do your best and forget the rest, da doo ron ron ron da doo ron ron. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, hang by your thumbs and write when you get work, whoopitiyiyo git along little cowboys—and I am an American, I don’t eat my cheeseburger in a croissant, don’t look for a church that serves a French wine and a sourdough wafer for Communion, don’t use words like dodgy, bonkers, knackered, or chuffed. When my team scores, I don’t shout, Très bien!! I don’t indulge in dread and dismay. Yes, I can make a list of evils and perils and injustices in the world, but I believe in a positive attitude and I know that one can do only so much and one should do that much and do it cheerfully. Dread is communicable: healthy rats fed fecal matter from depressed humans demonstrated depressive behavior, including anhedonia and anxiety—crap is bad for the brain. Nothing good comes from this. Despair is surrender. Put your shoulder to the wheel. And wash your hands.

We live in an Age of Gloom, or so I read, and some people blame electronics, but I love my cellphone and laptop, and others blame the decline of Protestantism, but I grew up fundamentalist so I don’t, and others blame bad food. Too much grease and when there’s a potluck supper, busy people tend to stop at Walmart or a SuperAmerica station and pick up a potato salad that was manufactured a month ago and shipped in tanker trucks and it’s depressing compared to Grandma’s, which she devoted an hour to making fresh from chopped celery, chives, green onions, homemade mayonnaise, mustard, dill, and paprika. You ate it and knew that Grandma cared about you. The great potato salad creators are passing from the scene, replaced by numbskulls so busy online they’re willing to bring garbage to the communal table.

I take no position on that, since I like a Big Mac as well as anybody and I’ve bought food in plastic containers from refrigerated units at gas stations and never looked at the expiration date. And I am a cheerful man...

Read the first Chapter>>>

Purchase Cheerfulness Softcover >>>

 Listen to the audiobook via Audible (to come)

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BOB DOUGLAS (click image for audio tribute)

Bob Douglas (April 22, 1948 - December 1, 2022)

SONG LIST:
Irish Fiddle Tunes
Is It Time
Canaan's Land
Going Up Home to Live in Green Pastures
There's No Hiding Place Down Here
Anchored in Love

Bob Douglas was cheerful, the mandolinist in the Powdermilk Biscuit Band in the early days of A Prairie Home Companion, who loved gospel songs, having grown up with them, even “It’s G-L-O-R-Y to Know That I’m S-A-V-E-D,” and he dove into bluegrass and swing tunes and played a driving backbeat on the fiddle standards, a dedicated devotee and serious folkie, but audiences get restless and earnestness only goes so far, and Bob’s ace card was playing spoons. He kept them in his back pocket, ordinary kitchen spoons. No silver spoons, the tone was clanky. He held two spoons back to back an inch apart in his right hand, did elaborate rolls against the spread fingers of his left hand, and the rickety-tickety-bop glittery-flibbertigibbet shave-and-a-haircut drove the crowd wild. It never failed.

He worked hard to master a complicated instrument, the mandolin, but it was the parlor trick of spoonerism that blew them away—there’s a lesson in humility here.

Bob wasn’t eager to play the spoons, he was a mandolinist, not a clown, but he did it when it was needed and did it with a beautiful big smile, syncopating around, percussing hand-to-knee and off his forehead, bopping on the guitarist’s shoulder, rapping on the knees of a kid in the front row, then the kid’s father, he made solemn hippies whoop like third graders. Sometimes he’d switch to wooden spoons for the clackety tone. It was cheerfulness at work.

Garrison Keillor from Cheerfulness

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A bad play lets you see you have a good life 

I had my first bratwurst of the year Friday evening, during a thunderstorm on 48th Street and Seventh Avenue, heading for a play, rain pouring down, the Broadway marquees lit up, billboards flashing, lightning overhead, and I stopped at a hot dog stand on the sidewalk, my sweetie holding an umbrella over my head, eight bucks for the brat.

It was an impulse, triggered by my watching my Minnesota Twins on TV the night before beat the Cleveland Guardians in the bottom of the ninth and the Twins ballpark is where I always have a Kramarczuk’s brat and it was important we beat Cleveland because “Guardians” is the dumbest nickname in sports.

The New York guy sliced the brat lengthwise, flattened it under a flatiron on the grill, spritzed mustard on it and stuck it in a bun, and we walked in the downpour to the theater, and this, as it turned out, was the highlight of the evening, the Broadway bratwurst in a thunderstorm.

The play was set in the Sixties in New York and there was a great deal of shouting in it, about politics, psychotherapy, racism, economic injustice, and the actors get to emote and stride about and wave their arms and slam doors in ways that must be very satisfying for them, which New Yorkers did back in the Sixties, I guess, but I’m from the Midwest where we indicate intensity by getting very quiet. I didn’t care for it. When the lights came up for intermission, I was disappointed — I thought the play was over, but my sweetie liked it so we stayed.

Compared to the Broadway brat in the storm, it was not much pleasure, and what bothered me was the feeling that if I’d seen it in the Sixties, when I was in my twenties, I’d have liked it. But Friday was such a wonderful day that I couldn’t get into two hours of anguish.

We took a C train to Broadway and do you know what it’s like when you descend into the subway station and through the turnstiles and walk across the platform as the train slows and without breaking stride you walk aboard the train? It means that everything you did that day was perfect and perfectly timed, and actually that was true.

My love and I were reunited that day after a week apart, my injured knee felt good, and an ophthalmologist back in Minnesota had done a laser procedure on my left eye that cleared up the blurriness so I could now, for the first time in several years, read the paper and see the white baseball on TV as the Twins beat the Guardians (whoever thought up the name should be banned from baseball) in the bottom of the ninth, the game tied 6-6, when Jorge Polanco hit a double to deep right, advancing Christian Vázquez from first to third, and then Willi Castro hit a sacrifice fly to send him home and win. With my improved eyesight I could see that double fall in right. I bought the brat in celebration. The Broadway play did not make a big impression on me.

I’m 80, I remember the Sixties. I went away to college and gained independence, put myself through school, took up writing, married, had a child, and at the end of the decade, a woman at The New Yorker named Mary D. Kierstead, whose job it was to look through the slush pile of submissions from nobodies, picked a story of mine and that was enormous, like a knighthood. I got $600 for it, our rent was $80 a month. I felt lucky. I got into radio.

Walking out of the theater, I thought to myself, “I could write a better play than that,” and maybe I will. A play about an old man eating a magical brat that allows him to travel back to visit his younger self who is highly eager to succeed and the old guy tells the young man to chill out, enjoy life. “I’m you, you’re going to be okay, don’t do dumb things, be happy,” the old man says and he lists some dumb things he did. But young men don’t listen to old men and the young guy thinks he’s a lunatic. It’s a good idea. I need to come up with a title and a second act and of course songs, but I think I’m onto something.

 

A backward glance at the fatherland

Milady and I are trying to sell our apartment in Minneapolis and become full-time New Yorkers, which is hard for an old Minnesotan such as I, but so be it, time to delete and disperse and join the Minnesota diaspora in Manhattan. People have walked up to me there and said, “I’m from Minnesota, too!” and it’s instant friendship. This never happens to me in Minneapolis. It’s fascinating to come back home and observe the tides of change. Rural Minnesota is still Lake Wobegon except more fiercely so, more defensive, as they watch Democratic socialists take over Minneapolis, which Republicans call “woke” and dismiss out of hand, but it’s the young overthrowing the old, and there’s a sort of inevitability about it. They take a dim view of corporate interests just as I did when I was their age, back when I was broke and IRA to me meant “Irish Republican Army.” I was a writer and dressed like a revolutionary though I was, and still am, a confirmed coward, but then people bought my books and I was shoved into the middle class. So here I am. On Memorial Day, some relatives and I went up to the country graveyard north of Anoka where my dad’s family is buried, his parents James and Dora, the seven siblings and their spouses, and some young ones, tragic deaths, Alec and Shannon, and we put flowers on some graves and then went to Susie’s for rhubarb pie. Rhubarb pie is not found in Manhattan that I’m aware of and it was a staple in the Keillor family, a sour weed stalk sweetened by strawberries, a delicacy known to rural people of limited means. They were devout gardeners who loved the Lord and studied the Bible and knew something about hard times and I was lucky to know them. I spent time in homes with outhouses where cooking was done on a woodstove and you took a bath in a tin tub of hot water on the kitchen floor. A glimpse of the 19th century. I don’t need Memorial Day to remind me of my ancestors, I think of them all the time because there were storytellers in the family who loved to visit and talk about their great-grandfather who went to Colorado for the silver rush, a farmer with the urge to keep moving, a self-contradiction, and of his father-in-law, a British seaman who jumped ship and escaped hanging, and how James Keillor, a skilled carpenter left New Brunswick to help his sister Mary whose husband died of TB and took over the farm and raised her kids and then married Dora, the schoolteacher in the school across the road. I was a boy when I heard the stories and they stick with me. Uncle Lew and Aunt Ruth sat in our living room and talked and talked and I lay on the floor and hung on every word. They were circumspect and much was not mentioned — their cousin Berniece Keillor is in the cemetery, dead from a botched abortion, and there were some hasty marriages in which the woman was already pregnant. And I’m sure there’s more. As my mother, in her 90s, once said to me, “There’s so much I’d still like to know and there’s nobody left to ask.” It has nothing to do with pride, everything to do with sympathy and feeling our common humanity. They endured, they prayed for their children, they enjoyed their piece of pie. Grandpa James bought the first Model T in Ramsey township, drove it home and turned in at the yard and forgot what he was dealing with, and he pulled back hard on the wheel and shouted “Whoa!” and the car went in the ditch and he had to hitch up his horses and pull himself out. He was laughing when the car went into the ditch and he was laughing as he towed it out. Aunt Ruth told me. I want to imitate him. Crash and see it as a joke. Old age is just a continuous comedy. So I feel. I’ve done dumber things than you can imagine and someday if you’re nice I’ll tell you about them. But I’m off to New York. My dad took me to see it when I was 11 and I loved it then and it’s still pretty magnificent. Every day there’s a good chance you’ll see something that knocks your socks off. New Yorkers make a point of being cool and unimpressed: it takes a Minnesotan to show proper astonishment. So here I go, carrying an extra pair of socks.  

O Frabjous day! Callooh, Callay!

The debt limit deal takes an enormous load off my mind, weeks of worrying about what we’d do when the economy crashed and we lose everything and live on the street near a soup kitchen, but now apparently the ship will not sink, and as I understand the deal, the Republicans will raise the debt limit if the Ten Commandments are inscribed on every dollar bill, Disney will make no movies that portray fairies, the southern border will be sealed tight except for food deliveries and migrant farmworkers, all nouns will have the gender of the person speaking, and the word “gay” will simply go away.

I’m willing to give them that. I’m a lib they don’t own. There are other words for “gay” such as “frisky,” “vivacious,” “spiffy,” and “effervescent.” I’ll bet Governor DeSantis has had his effervescent days when he wore bright colors and said frolicsome things, though this has not been evident so far in his campaign for the White House. As for the Current Leading Candidate for the Republican nomination, gaiety seems quite alien. Fulmination is his style. I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of him petting a dog or hugging a small child or even holding hands with his current wife. So sad, but of course that’s his business, not mine.

Some libs wanted the White House to be renamed the Big House but I was not one of them. I simply feel that the nation should make good on its debts and if the Repubs want to tinker with American culture, good luck. It’s like trying to replace Tina Turner with Ted Turner: it ain’t gonna work, buddy. Making war against the culture is punching the air. We are a curious, lively, rambunctious people. Freedom has a big effect on people and it’s hard to squelch it, you pound on the bubbles and they pop up elsewhere.

I am not putting down the Repubs; some of my best friends, etc. I don’t hold myself up as a paragon of reason, certainly not an octagon or Oregon. Utter stupidity has been a recurrent fact in my life and now and then I find myself reviewing the Five Dumbest Things I’ve Done, which is brutal punishment but it does highlight the Five Luckiest, which take me into the realm of gratitude.

I was married twice before to women who were near total strangers, back when I imagined romance to be a mystery, the more mysterious the better, and in 1987 I did the No. 1 Dumbest when I gave up a radio show I dearly loved in order to make a woman happy — a woman who had married me imagining it would make her happy and it didn’t, of course, and I knew it was a mistake the night I announced my departure on the radio, and I sat in the kitchen with a friend and he said, “I think you should change your mind. You’d make a lot of people happy.” I didn’t do it. That was No. 2.

I’ve lost money on every real estate transaction I’ve done: if I told you the whole story you’d introduce legislation to put me under guardianship. I’ve thrown fistfuls of money into the wind but you can hire smart people to keep you away from the cliff. I am illiterate about the Christian faith that I subscribe to but I feel that God forgives this. Any third grader knows more about the natural world than I do and yet some very smart people are somewhat fond of me.

No, I’m referring to Dumbness in its pure form, when you walk with complete confidence into a brick wall and you don’t learn from this that bricks are solid, solider than flesh.

But stupidity has given me sympathy for other knuckleheads and also admiration for the beautiful competence of American medicine, which has extended my life dramatically, making it possible for me to beat myself up for my mistakes and not just take up space in a cemetery. And eventually it leads to this beautiful revelation: I will never be so dumb again. I’m too old and I adore the woman I married who is also my best-informed critic. This is an outcome devoutly to be wished for.

In the extra time that medical ingenuity has granted me, I intend to walk carefully, mind my manners, do my work, embrace friendship, sleep with my beloved critic, and put aside enmity and grudges and biases. Eighty is too old to be angry. Even seventy is.

 

Thou shalt not be dumber than dirt

The bill in the Texas legislature to require public schools to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom means that teachers may need to explain to small children what “adultery” means and also “take the Lord’s name in vain” but the real problem is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. A great many public schools send athletic teams to compete in weekend tournaments that make it hard for players to make it home for the Sabbath, especially if they’re Jewish. In Texas, a conflict between football and religious faith is not going to turn out well for religion. And taking the Lord’s name in vain is inextricably intertwined with sports. Golf, especially.

I grew up among devout Christians who did not say “gosh” or “darn it” because they took euphemisms seriously. My mother would say, “Oh fudge” but more likely, “Oh for pity’s sake.” I’m an old man and cursing still feels unnatural to me; I’ll bet plenty of Texas legislators who voted for the T.C. bill curse up a storm.

The tablets that God handed down to Moses did not constitute Ten Suggestions, they are Commandments. I don’t oppose posting the Ten Commandments, I only propose that they be taken seriously. And it’s hard to see how allowing people to shop on Sunday and order alcohol in restaurants is keeping the Sabbath holy. I am just saying it because it’s true.

I take Scripture seriously and so I eat beef as it tells us we can in Leviticus, and I also eat salads but not Caesar salads because he was a pagan emperor, but I admit to giving in to wrath, which goes against Scripture. I do it again and again. Like you, I am a bundle of contradictions.

Like many of my fellow Episcopalians, I maintain a progressive enlightened exterior while guarding my simple peasant biases such as my loathing of the use of fancy words like “ubiquitous” in simple conversation, it makes me want to give them a knuckle sandwich if it weren’t for the fact that I’m an author and must protect my hands. Or people who kill conversation by delivering extensive synopses of an article about political polarization that they’ve read recently — POW, right in the kisser.

I absolutely despise the little quiz that pops up on the screen when I finish a transaction online — “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your experience ordering from Goodwill? Have you been satisfied with the used clothing you’ve purchased? How likely are you to recommend Goodwill to your friends?” — this sort of thing makes me want to throw my laptop out the window even if it might mean hitting an e-biker on the noggin and he hits the pavement and is run over by a guy on an e-scooter. But the T.C. forbid murder so I simply click Delete and move on. Scripture is very much in favor of deletion; deletion is crucial in matters of faith. Love and kindness are fundamental and the acquisition of wealth and power are not.

The verse I would paint on the walls of the Texas legislature is “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” A good verse for me and you too. To put it another way, “We’re too old to be this stupid.”

I was having lunch not long ago with two guys I’ve known since grade school and one said, “I hope I haven’t offended you” and the other said, “We’re too old to take offense, we’re eighty for gosh sakes.” It’s true: we’ve reached the age of gratitude at last, no more time for anger.

I believe that in 2024 the American electorate will start to wise up to the sort of performance-art politics of the T.C. sort and decide that public servants should serve the public good by dealing with actual problems.

California, Nevada, and Arizona did not deal with the Colorado River emergency by painting a verse on the walls of the Grand Canyon, “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.” Nor did they curse the problem. They agreed on a (temporary) solution.

And if, on a scale of one to three, you give this column a two, I’m okay with that. Let’s go be wise and forgive Texas for its doggone stupidity and do unto others as we would have them do unto us. You kids stop hitting each other or I am going to send you to your rooms and I mean it.

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

June 22, 2023 (NEW)

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Cary Memorial Hall, Lexington, MA

Lexington, MA

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

buy tickets

June 24, 2023 (New date)

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Park Theatre, Jaffrey, NH

Jaffrey, NH

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

buy tickets

June 25, 2023 (NEW DATE)

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

July 5, 2023

Wednesday

8:00 p.m.

Ramshead Onstage, Annapolis, MD

Annapolis, MD

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

buy tickets

July 6, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville, PA

Sellersville, PA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to Sellersville, PA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon.

buy tickets

July 8, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Lime Kiln Theater, Lexington, VA

Lexington, VA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to the Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, VA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 8:00 PM

buy tickets

July 29, 2023

Saturday

7:00 p.m.

American Music Theatre, Lancaster, PA

Lancaster, PA

Celebrating 50 years of A Prairie Home Companion with a first stop at The American Theatre in Lancaster, PA.

August 4, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

The Opera House, Boothbay Harbor, ME

Boothbay Harbor, ME

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

buy tickets

August 6, 2023

Sunday

7:30 p.m.

Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Ctr, Old Saybrook, CT

Old Saybrook, CT

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

buy tickets

August 7, 2023

Monday

7:00 p.m.

Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Ctr, Old Saybrook, CT

Old Saybrook, CT (2nd show)

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

buy tickets
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It’s the birthday of Allen Ginsberg (1926), the poet who coined the term “flower power,” which became the catchphrase to describe the social and political revolution of the 1960s. He’s best known for his landmark poem, “Howl” (1956), which kick-started the youth revolution in America and gave voice to a group of writers known as the “Beat Generation.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 2, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, June 2, 2023

On this day in 1692, the Court of Oyer and Terminer convened in Salem Town, Massachusetts, beginning what would become known as the Salem Witch Trials. The hysteria had begun in Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts) in January of that year; a few preteen and teenage girls, including the daughter of Samuel Parris, the village’s minister, began acting strangely and having fits, insisting that they were being poked and pinched.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, June 1, 2023

On this day in 1974, Henry Jay Heimlich published his “Heimlich Maneuver” in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. The article was called “Pop Goes the Café Coronary.” Less than three weeks later, the maneuver was used successfully in a restaurant in Bellevue, Washington. As of 2006, the American Red Cross recommends the “five and five” approach: five sharp blows to the back, followed by five abdominal thrusts if the back blows are not effective.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, May 31, 2023

It’s the birthday of Walt Whitman, born in West Hills, Long Island, New York (1819). Whitman worked as a printing press typesetter, teacher, journalist, and newspaper editor. He was working as a carpenter, his father’s trade, and living with his mother in Brooklyn, when he read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The Poet,” which claimed the new United States needed a poet to properly capture its spirit. Whitman decided he was that poet. “I was simmering, simmering, simmering,” Whitman later said. “Emerson brought me to a boil.”

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The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, May 30, 2023

On this day in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated. The monument was first proposed in 1867, but construction didn’t begin until 1914; the cornerstone was set in 1915. Architect Henry Bacon designed it to resemble the Parthenon, believing that a defender of democracy should be memorialized in a building that pays homage to the birthplace of democracy.

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The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 29, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, May 29, 2023

It’s the birthday of comedian Bob Hope (1903), born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, near London. His family moved to the United States when he was four years old, and he grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1941, he performed his first show for soldiers, a group of airmen stationed in March Field, California. It was the beginning of nearly 60 years of shows at military bases at home and abroad

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A Prairie Home Companion: June 3, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion: June 3, 2006

Our Hollywood Bowl 2006 feature celebrating the release of our movie with guests Meryl Streep, Virginia Madsen, and John C. Reilly; Sally Dworsky, Shelby Lynne, and Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

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Writing

A backward glance at the fatherland

Milady and I are trying to sell our apartment in Minneapolis and become full-time New Yorkers, which is hard for an old Minnesotan such as I, but so be it, time to delete and disperse and join the Minnesota diaspora in Manhattan. People have walked up to me there and said, “I’m from Minnesota, too!” and it’s instant friendship. This never happens to me in Minneapolis.

It’s fascinating to come back home and observe the tides of change. Rural Minnesota is still Lake Wobegon except more fiercely so, more defensive, as they watch Democratic socialists take over Minneapolis, which Republicans call “woke” and dismiss out of hand, but it’s the young overthrowing the old, and there’s a sort of inevitability about it.
They take a dim view of corporate interests just as I did when I was their age, back when I was broke and IRA to me meant “Irish Republican Army.” I was a writer and dressed like a revolutionary though I was, and still am, a confirmed coward, but then people bought my books and I was shoved into the middle class. So here I am.

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O Frabjous Day! Callooh, Callay!

The debt limit deal takes an enormous load off my mind, weeks of worrying about what we’d do when the economy crashed and we lose everything and live on the street near a soup kitchen, but now apparently the ship will not sink, and as I understand the deal, the Republicans will raise the debt limit if the Ten Commandments are inscribed on every dollar bill, Disney will make no movies that portray fairies, the southern border will be sealed tight except for food deliveries and migrant farmworkers, all nouns will have the gender of the person speaking, and the word “gay” will simply go away.

I’m willing to give them that. I’m a lib they don’t own. There are other words for “gay” such as “frisky,” “vivacious,” “spiffy,” and “effervescent.” I’ll bet Governor DeSantis has had his effervescent days when he wore bright colors and said frolicsome things, though this has not been evident so far in his campaign for the White House. As for the Current Leading Candidate for the Republican nomination, gaiety seems quite alien. Fulmination is his style. I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of him petting a dog or hugging a small child or even holding hands with his current wife. So sad, but of course that’s his business, not mine.

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Thou shalt not be dumber than dirt

The bill in the Texas legislature to require public schools to post the Ten Commandments in every classroom means that teachers may need to explain to small children what “adultery” means and also “take the Lord’s name in vain” but the real problem is the commandment to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. A great many public schools send athletic teams to compete in weekend tournaments that make it hard for players to make it home for the Sabbath, especially if they’re Jewish. In Texas, a conflict between football and religious faith is not going to turn out well for religion. And taking the Lord’s name in vain is inextricably intertwined with sports. Golf, especially.

I grew up among devout Christians who did not say “gosh” or “darn it” because they took euphemisms seriously. My mother would say, “Oh fudge” but more likely, “Oh for pity’s sake.” I’m an old man and cursing still feels unnatural to me; I’ll bet plenty of Texas legislators who voted for the T.C. bill curse up a storm.

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Cheerfulness preview

Read the first chapter of Garrison’s newest book, CHEERFULNESS and find out where to purchase.

Read Chapter One here

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Manhattan man living in the past

I was a big shot at one time, which I knew because when I went to work at the office, twelve people suddenly got very busy. I had a popular radio show and I pulled the plug on it not wanting to become a living legend, a last connection to broadcasting’s past when music came on big black vinyl discs and everyone had an ashtray on their desk.

I left Minnesota because there were so many middle-aged people there who loathed the sight of me because they’d been forced by their parents to listen to my show on long car trips and I was afraid one of them might throttle me so I moved to Manhattan where I felt very safe. Now my office is my kitchen and it’s just me and the coffeemaker and the toaster, and eventually my sweetie walks in and says, “What are you doing up so early?”

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Spring once more, what a surprise

I hear from back home that the wretched winter has concluded and the trees blossom and people are allowing themselves to think about resuming normal life though of course Minnesotans know that winter, like COVID, can return at any time and as it says in Ecclesiastes, “What has been is what shall be. One generation comes as another departs. We shovel the walk and the wind blows the neighbor’s unshoveled snow over us, making our labor meaningless. It is what it is.”

It’s not a sunshiny view of life but it serves us well, the stoical It Could Be Worse perspective. Yes, we’re flabby, uncool, discouraged, not flossing regularly, our mental acuity is somewhat diminished from when we were in the eighth grade, we can’t remember passwords, we need a paring knife to try to pry NyQuil out of its tight plastic pods, but at least wild bears are not rampaging across Minneapolis, snarfling up small children. The Mississippi still flows south. We have not been invaded by Wisconsin. The yellow goldfinches come to the feeder. The ducks swim in the pond. The frogs are croaking at night. It stays light later and later. Nobody I know has been caught paying hush money to a porn star.

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What we don’t know we must invent

The past is so fascinating to me now that I have so much of it and last Monday night at a New York nightclub I listened to a big band of men in tuxedos playing 1920s jazz that I heard when I babysat the neighbors’ kids when I was 10, which I did for the chance to watch TV, which we, being Sanctified Brethren, did not have in our home, but these were Lutherans so they did, and after I wore the kids out and got them to bed, I watched old movies about sophisticated people dancing to syncopated rhythms just like what the band was playing. My Brethren considered this music wicked, apt to lead to gin, maybe fornication, but at the age of 10 I found it joyful and I still do.

Brethren music was draggy, even the hymns about joy were sung lamentfully, and the recognition of the happiness of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Tiger Rag” and “Shreveport Stomp” was a tiny step toward independent judgment.

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A day in May sitting in the Park

I go to the park because I don’t read the paper because there are too many celebrities to keep track of like Madonna, My Maia, Meghan Markle, Marla Maples, Mary Murray, Marilyn Manson, Marsha Mason, Marky Mark, Mike Marcus, Melissa McCarthy, Mo’Nique, Moses Maimonides, Lin-Manuel Miranda, not to mention Mitch McConnell and Miss Minnesota — the mind spins at the multiplicity of eminence and immortality that I’ve moved away from mass media and the megaworld and simply go walk in the park and admire the nameless walkers. benchwarmers, birdwatchers, ballplayers, and realize that celebrity being so widespread, it is anonymity that is special. Fame is an old story and the nameless are a delightful mystery.

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Why I am not joining the strike

I salute the Hollywood writers who went out on strike this past week but I can tell you that we essayists won’t be joining them. For one thing, the essay is deeply imbedded in our nation’s very identity (U.S.A.) but for another thing, a national essay strike would be like a National Husbands Day of Silence, most wives wouldn’t care and many wouldn’t notice.

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It’s a good time, there’s none better

I remember when I was six and was allowed to do dishes with my older brother and sister while Mother cleaned the kitchen with Lysol: it was a ceremony, a step into maturity, being entrusted to handle the family china, a mark of maturity for a little boy, and, busy, crowded around the sink, we talked a lot, a big pleasure in a family in which children were not encouraged to speak up. And I made my brother and sister laugh, describing my teacher’s upper arms that bounced as she wrote on the blackboard, that we named Hoppy and Bob, and also when I said that Washington looked like Lincoln’s wife. To think I could amuse my elders was a real spark of self-esteem.

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Whether solo or accompanied by Richard Dworsky, Heather Masse, Prudence Johnson, Dan Chouinard, Dean Magraw, or others, Garrison Keillor delivers an extraordinary, crowd-pleasing performance.

Garrison Keillor’s celebrated radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion ran for forty years. He wrote the comedy sketches and more, and he invented a “little town that time forgot and the decades could not improve.” These days, his shows are packed with humor and song, plus the audience-favorite News from Lake Wobegon. He has written dozens of books — recently, Boom Town (a Lake Wobegon novel), That Time of Year (a memoir), a book of limericks, and Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80 (reflections on why you should keep on getting older). Garrison and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, live in New York City.

Trained as a jazz singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of traditions — folk, pop, bluegrass, and more. As member of Billboard-charting group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both solo and with The Jennys. One reviewer rightly lauded her “lush velvety vocals, capable of melting butter in a Siberian winter.”

 Prudence Johnson‘s long and happy career as a singer, writer, and teacher has landed her on the musical theater stage, in two feature films (A River Runs Through It and A Prairie Home Companion), on a national radio show (several stints on A Prairie Home Companion) and on concert stages across North America and occasionally Europe. She has released more than a dozen recordings, including albums dedicated to the music of Hoagy Carmichael and Greg Brown, and a collection of international lullabies.

 For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as A Prairie Home Companion’s pianist and music director, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth.

 Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been writer and host of a number of live history-with-music shows broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companions plus a half dozen APHC cruises, and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan on the 2005 APHC movie. He’s featured on a number of recordings with Prairie Home regulars Peter Ostroushko, Prudence Johnson and Maria Jette.

 Composer/arranger/producer/guitarist Dean Magraw performed and recorded extensively with Ukrainian American virtuoso Peter Ostroushko over several decades, and he has worked with some of the finest musicians in the North America, Europe, and Japan. As one of his collaborators commented, “Dean Magraw’s guitar playing transcends, transports, and lifts the soul to a higher level as he weaves, cajoles, and entices every note from his instrument.”

Recent reviews:

“Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show” -Jeff Baenen, AP News

“His shows can, for a couple of hours, transform an audience of even so-called coastal elites into a small-town community with an intimacy only radio and its podcast descendants can achieve” -Chris Barton, LA Times

“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald

 

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