The Writer’s Almanac for March 30, 2019


Untying the Knot: A Sonnenizio
by Diane Lockward

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
admit that what lies between us is not love
but merely something physical. No platonic knot
immaterially binds us, wedding mind to mind. Not for us

the lure of two eggheads nodding at breakfast,
The Times spread between us, coffee hot and laced
with hazelnut, our souls transcending last night’s tumble.
We grasp only what can be touched. Purity’s not for us.

We embrace the corporeal, admit nothing
of old age, no knuckles knobbed and arthritic,
nor our two ring fingers encircled with silly love knots.
We cherish each wild indiscretion, fear not the body’s

hungers, only its decline, and regret not
the broken promises, but seize the flesh and fret not.

“Untying the Knot: A Sonnezio” by Diane Lockward from The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement. © Wind Publications, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of novelist Jon Hassler, (books by this author) born in Minneapolis (1933). He grew up in Plainview, Minnesota, and began working at the local grocery store when he was 11 years old. He later said: “I’ve always thought of the Red Owl Grocery Store in Plainview, Minnesota, as my training ground, for it was there that I acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist, namely … the fun of picking the individual out of a crowd and the joy of finding the precise words to describe him. I dare say nobody ever got more nourishment than I did out of a grocery store.”

He taught at high schools and community colleges for 20 years before he began writing seriously. His first novel, Staggerford, came out in 1977, when Hassler was 42 years old. Jon Hassler died in 2008, 10 days before his 75th birthday, from a rare brain disease called progressive supranuclear palsy. His last novel was The New Woman (2005), set in his fictional town of Staggerford, about an 88-year-old woman named Agatha McGee.


It’s the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, born in Zundert, Holland (1853). As a young man, he was deeply religious and went off to do missionary work in a coal-mining region in Belgium. One day he decided to give away all of his worldly goods and live like a peasant. But his religious superiors thought he was having a nervous breakdown. They kicked him out of the mission and he had to go home. It was then that he started to draw and paint. He taught himself with art books and by studying the masters.


On this day in 1867, the United States agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for the sum of $7.2 million dollars. It had belonged to Russia for about 125 years, since Russians had been the first European explorers to get to the place and had proclaimed it their territory in 1741.

The American Civil War ended in 1865, and a couple years later, on this day in 1867, the deal to buy Alaska was negotiated and signed by President Andrew Johnson’s secretary of state, William Seward. He announced that someday this big chunk of land would be a U.S. state. The American public by and large was not sold on the purchase of frozen tundra. People thought it was a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a faraway place, which they alternately referred to as Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden” and “Seward’s Icebox.” In fact, the purchase became commonly known as “Seward’s Folly.”

But then gold was discovered there in the 1890s and the Klondike Gold Rush followed, with tens of thousands of people heading north to try to strike it rich. They settled in as fishers and miners and trappers and producers of minerals, and Alaska was granted territorial status in 1912. It became the 49th state of the union, the largest one (consisting of 663,268 square miles) and also the least densely populated state. In 1968, oil was discovered at the far northern part of the state, at Prudhoe Bay. A pipeline was built and began to pump oil in 1977, becoming one of the largest oil fields in the U.S.


On this day in 1858, Hymen Lipman of Philadelphia patented the first pencil to have an attached eraser. The eraser-tipped pencil is still something of an American phenomenon; most European pencils are still eraserless. The humble pencil has a long and storied history, going back to the Roman stylus, which was sometimes made of lead, and why we still call the business end of the pencil the “lead,” even though it’s been made of nontoxic graphite since 1564.

Pencils were first mass-produced in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1662, and the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century really allowed the manufacture to flourish. Before he became known for Walden and “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau and his father were famous for manufacturing the hardest, blackest pencils in the United States. Edison was fond of short pencils that fit neatly into a vest pocket, readily accessible for the jotting down of ideas. John Steinbeck loved the pencil and started every day with 24 freshly sharpened ones; it’s said that he went through 300 pencils in writing East of Eden (1952), and used 60 a day on The Grapes of Wrath (1939) and Cannery Row (1945).

Our common pencils are hexagonal to keep them from rolling off the table, and they’re yellow because the best graphite came from China, and yellow is traditionally associated with Chinese royalty. A single pencil can draw a line 35 miles long, or write around 45,000 words. And if you make a mistake, thanks to Hymen Lipman, you’ve probably got an eraser handy.


Today is the birthday of the French poet Paul Verlaine (books by this author), born in Metz, in the northeast of France, in 1844. He began writing as young as 14, when he sent his poem “La Mort” to Victor Hugo. He published his first volume of poetry when he was 22.

Verlaine wrote:
You must let your poems ride their luck
On the back of the sharp morning air
Touched with the fragrance of mint and thyme …
And everything else is Literature.

On the Road to Mandalay (click image)
That Time of Year softcover by Garrison Keillor!

That Time of Year coverThe "revised" softcover version of  Garrison Keillor's memoir, That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life will be available wherever you get your books on March 7, 2023.  It is available for pre-order in our shop now.

From the author:
I sat down and looked at my memoir THAT TIME OF YEAR when it came out and was put off by the sadness, the opening chapter about how much I missed doing “A Prairie Home Companion,” so I sat down to fix it. That’s why a writer shouldn’t read his own work. But I did and so I sat down to cheer it up a little and wrote a new first paragraph.

I am a Minnesotan, born, bred, well-fed, self-repressed, bombast averse, sprung from the middle of North America, raised along the Mississippi River, which we spelled in rhythm, M-i-ss-i-ss-i-pp-i, a sweet incantation along with the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 and our school fight song about v-i-c-t-o-r-y. We sang it with a sense of irony, knowing we weren’t winners in the eyes of New York or L.A. or even our football rivals, but we were proud of our North Star State, the flatness, the fertile fields, the culture of kindness and modesty, our ferocious winters, when white people become even whiter, and to top it all off, we were the origin of the Mighty Miss. Wisconsin wasn’t, nor North the

Dakota. It was us and strings of barges came up to St.Paul to haul our corn and beans to a hungry world.

I wrote a new preface and a cheerier first chapter, which came (literally) from the heart I having undergone heart surgery at Mayo to replace a leaky mitral valve and I felt good. I did this for readers who missed the hardcover edition, to give them a lift, and also myself. The revision led to SERENITY AT 70, GAIETY AT 80 and a new book in progress, CHEERFULNESS. It’s a happy phenomenon, an author still ambitious at 80, and I give credit to my wife Jenny. If I were teaching Creative Writing today, I’d teach my students the importance of marrying the right person.

Garrison Keillor

From the Publisher:
With the warmth and humor we've come to know, the creator and host of A Prairie Home Companion shares his own remarkable story.

In That Time of Year, Garrison Keillor looks back on his life and recounts how a Brethren boy with writerly ambitions grew up in a small town on the Mississippi in the 1950s and, seeing three good friends die young, turned to comedy and radio. Through a series of unreasonable lucky breaks, he founded A Prairie Home Companion and put himself in line for a good life, including mistakes, regrets, and a few medical adventures. PHC lasted forty years, 750 shows, and enjoyed the freedom to do as it pleased for three or four million listeners every Saturday at 5 p.m. Central. He got to sing with Emmylou Harris and Renee Fleming and once sang two songs to the U.S. Supreme Court. He played a private eye and a cowboy, gave the news from his hometown, Lake Wobegon, and met Somali cabdrivers who’d learned English from listening to the show. He wrote bestselling novels, won a Grammy and a National Humanities Medal, and made a movie with Robert Altman with an alarming amount of improvisation.

He says, “I was unemployable and managed to invent work for myself that I loved all my life, and on top of that I married well. That’s the secret, work and love. And I chose the right ancestors, impoverished Scots and Yorkshire farmers, good workers. I’m heading for eighty, and I still get up to write before dawn every day.”

 

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Music as a means of detecting a heart

At least once in your long and delicious life you owe it to yourself to go hear Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-symphonie” and don’t wait until you’re 80 as I did but finally last week went to hear the New York Philharmonic take us on this wild 90-minute roller-coaster ride in which Catholics are kidnapped and Baptists go Buddhist and you think in French and fly in a formation of geese and get a taste of molecular physics as horses go galloping down the aisles, and in the gorgeous slow passage “Garden of Sleeping Love” you will fall in love forever with the person next to you so be very careful where you sit. I sat next to my sweetheart and after years of thinking I was averse to modern music, here was a hymn to joy and time, movement, rhythm, life and death, with big Wagnerian chords, delicate intervals, a dozen percussionists, a genius pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and we’ve been happily married ever since. It’s not often a person gets to experience euphoria. For years I imagined alcohol could do the job if I could just find the right brand but eventually I gave up on that. Sometimes in church I’ve felt it. When I was 11 I got to go to the top of the Empire State Building. I sang the Dead’s “Attics of My Life” once with two women and got a little high from it. And one night before the Philharmonic I experienced it at the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street listening to Aoife O’Donovan and Hawktail and the phenom fiddler Brittany Haas and it made the big crowd go wild to see artists overcome gravity and simply float. Aoife and Messiaen, two transcendent tours on successive nights: it makes living in Manhattan worth the trouble and expense. You can eat expensive mediocre food in loud restaurants, almost get run over by e-scooters, deal with surly salesclerks, cabs stuck in dense traffic, extortionate rents, impenetrable bureaucracy, but the museums and trains and tulips in spring and the occasional transcendental experiences make up for it. Two nights of mind-blown beauty make me want to start my career all over again. But the world has changed, of course. Taylor Swift, the middle-aged 14-year-old, has kicked off another tour, taking self-absorption deeper than ever before in human history, standing on a stage in front of 70,000 fans who each identify deeply with her, saying, “Tonight is so special and you have led me to believe, by your being here, that it is special for you too and it’s so nice that this is mutual. I don’t know how to process this and the way that it’s making me feel right now.” Who in the entire history of show business has ever talked like this? A woman adoring her fans for their adoration. The iconic emptiness of it is phenomenal. How does she maintain her powerful insecurities despite being a billionaire? The mind is boggled. Did Elvis tell the crowd he was so overwhelmed by their coming to see him that he was confused by it? No, he was Elvis. But you walk out the door and across the street, into the park, and bubblegum disappears, and you’re among real people watching their kids, walking their dogs, jogging, looking at birds, reading the paper, enjoying city life. The city relieves you of the burden of narcissism. People look out for each other in the crowd, make way for the elderly, for people with kids, pay attention to the musicians playing under the trees. And then you remember that night at the Philharmonic, the moment the symphony ended, the maestro relaxed, and the crowd jumped to their feet to whoop and applaud. Messiaen is dead. He didn’t create a cult, he created a masterpiece, and it lives on. It can’t be played by any orchestra in town, it’s too ferocious, but in the right hands it is a priceless gift to the audience. Same with Brittany Haas. I’ve heard hundreds of fiddlers in my day, all with their virtues, and they strove hard to find something and she simply has got it in her pocket. She stands on their shoulders. She can do it all and a ballroom full of people got their socks knocked off. Messiaen and Haas, you hear the music, you don’t envy them or admire them, the music simply goes through you like radio waves and proves that you’re alive.

The longer you live, the better it gets

I went down to the Bowery one night last week to see Aoife O’Donovan sing to a ballroom packed with young people standing for two hours and whooping and yelling — I sat up in the balcony and whooped and yelled too — and what the woman could do with her voice and guitar was astonishing, utterly fabulous, and for a man my age to be astonished is remarkable, she was competing with my memory of Uncle Jim handing me the reins to his horse-drawn hayrack and my grandma chopping the head off a chicken and seeing Buster Keaton perform at the Minnesota State Fair and also Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden and Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, but there she is, Aoife, in my pantheon of wonderment.

I came home from the Bowery to learn that a dear friend, Christine Jacobson, had died — amazement and mortality in one evening, and it’s a rare privilege to be aware of both, the beauty of life and the brevity. I look down from my balcony seat on the heads of young people excited by an artist and in their behalf I am worried about our country, with so many of our countrymen in favor of resuming the Civil War, with our history of trillions spent on wars in Vietnam and Iraq from which no benefit whatever was gained, but the exhilaration of the young is better than bourbon, more wonderful than wine.

Two young people called my wife recently and she put the phone on Speaker and I could hear the quiet joy in their voices that told the story, no explanation needed: she was pregnant, a child is on the way, she can feel it moving. Someday, I trust, my grandson will call me and I’ll hear that joy in his voice, and the Keillor line will extend into the 22nd century.

I am descended, in part, from William Cox, a British seaman aboard a man-o’-war docked in Charleston harbor in the early 19th century, who jumped ship, which was a capital offense, and made his way to Pennsylvania and settled among Quakers who were unlikely to turn a man in for desertion, and married Elizabeth Boggs who bore a daughter, Martha Ann, who married David Powell from whom my paternal grandmother, the one who beheaded the chicken, was descended. I sat by her bedside when she died in 1964, tended by her daughters. She and her twin sister had been railroad telegraphers, a rare thing for women in 1900 — they had learned Morse code as kids to give each other the answers to tests in school — and she became a schoolteacher and married my grandfather, who was on the school board.

Having a grandma who’d taught school was a big factor in my childhood: I wrote her letters and was very careful about spelling and grammar. I write this sentence now and I am aware of Grandma Dora. If I came home with a poor grade, my mother said, “Grandma would be disappointed,” and her possible disappointment weighed very heavily on me. I became a professional journalist at age 14, writing sports for a weekly newspaper, and my grandma read them and approved. And so a man finds his career.

I wrote a magazine piece about a radio show, which led me to start my own, which is how I came to know Aoife and I’d sung with her before, and now, sitting in the balcony, I was dazed with admiration. Admiration of her artistry and also of the openhearted enthusiasm of the crowd below. To me it’s all connected somehow, the desertion of Mr. Cox from the cruelty of life below decks, my good penmanship writing to Grandma, the old radio show, and the woman on stage bestowing enormous gifts on us all.

Mortality is what makes the gifts enormous. That afternoon I got a phone call from my old pal George, who is 87 and who announced that he’d been bounced out of hospice because he’d failed to die and was feeling very chipper about it. He recalled eulogies I’d given at funerals for our friends Arvonne and Martin and he seemed to be angling for me to eulogize him. I said, “George, if I do it for you then everyone’s going to want it for them. I used to think death was a tragedy and now it’s a trend.”

A necessary trend. There are people standing in the crowd who will need to sit down and we in the balcony need to make room for them.

Marriage is a game and two can play it

BANK STOCKS SKID was the scary headline days ago sending shivers of 1929 and old newsreels of breadlines on Wall Street and Dorothea Lange photographs of migrant women and naturally the thought of a Crash makes me think we need to go out for entertainment, of which New York has plenty.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks are playing at Birdland, a 12-piece band reliving Twenties stomps and blues with Vince’s bass sax honking at the head of the formation. The New York Phil is playing Messiaen’s Turangalîla symphony. There’s an Emo Ball with DJs playing disco hits and an All-Night Singles Party at which ladies drink for free. (How do they make sure you’re single? Or a lady?)

The Met is doing “Lohengrin,” so you could sing along (“Here comes the bride, big, fat and wide”) and then go to a club that offers Afro-Caribbean dancing from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. on Friday night. Four hours of German mysticism followed by euphoric dancing and then go out for waffles and sausage: what better way to get financial distress off your mind?

The Missus and I will be going to the Phil for the Messiaen, which is 80 minutes long and has an enlarged orchestra with maybe eleven percussionists. I married up, she’s a professional musician, and she loves Messiaen, and I will sit quietly and write in my program:

The composer O. Messiaen
Caught the measles and almost was gone
But was saved by physicians
To compose compositions
That go on and on. And then on.

She also loves to look at art, which I can take or leave and mostly leave. I go to museums to overhear conversations between couples, usually the woman telling the man, “You don’t like it, do you” and he says, “It’s interesting,” and she seizes on his lack of enthusiasm for the splashy canvas he’s looking at, thinking “I could’ve done that,” and she says, “If you’d just take the time to learn something about art, you’d enjoy it more,” as if this is a personal failing on his part.

The guy majored in economics, he’s on track to become a vice president at Amalgamated Linguini, they vacation on the Cape, the kids are in private schools, and suddenly she wants him to be an art critic and talk about ambience, brushwork, and chiaroscuro? And she walks on to the next piece as he follows her like a dog on a leash.

I find this more interesting than anything on the walls, the competitive aspects of marriage. Women’s ace card is the eye roll; they learn this by the age of 14 and use it on their mothers, and then on the husbands.

My sweetie has an eye roll that makes the room spin. Due to the fact that I’m an author and have so much on my mind, I have a hard time finding my glasses and keys and phone, even shoes, and she rolls her eyes and I have to sit down and put my head between my knees until I can see straight.

I go to the Met and am naturally drawn toward sculptures of naked people, some of which the Met places near the entrance so as to pull in folks from the Dakotas and Wisconsin where nudity is rather rare, big Roman figures with proud buttocks and muscular thighs and naked women standing tall and proud, but I only give the statuary a sidelong glance as she leads me toward the Egyptian pottery exhibit. She is fascinated by it. I am fascinated by her and the fact that she is interested in things that bore me to tears. Such as myself.

I’m rather tired of myself, if you want to know the truth, I’ve heard all my good lines dozens of times, but a few days ago when I stepped out of the shower and had to go to the hall closet to get a towel, she walked in and saw me and smiled. This was a smile you could take to the bank and it showed interest on her part, maybe not 100 percent but more than 7.5. “You’re dripping water on the floor,” she said but she said it softly and she didn’t roll her eyes. She didn’t rip the towel off me and hurl me onto the bed but she was very nice to me the rest of the day. That’s all I can say for now. Wild horses couldn’t drag the rest out of me.

Thanks to Lutherans I skipped ballet

I talked to a friend last week whose Lutheran church in Minneapolis is trying to attract people of color. Lutherans have been white for centuries, coming as they did from Scandinavia and Germany, countries that were never great colonial powers and didn’t grab big chunks of Africa and Lutheranize the indigenous people. Some Lutherans are more gray than white, but if you go to a Lutheran church you sense a monochromaticism due to the fact that people in the pews tend to be descendants of Lutherans, the faith was handed down, it’s like farming — most farmers grew up on a farm — not many Manhattanites develop a passion for soybeans and head for North Dakota to buy 400 acres and a John Deere.

“I know that,” he said, “but still.”

It’s a complicated subject.

I grew up in Minnesota, which is a Lutheran culture. Even Catholics are Lutheran, they tone down the glitzier aspects of Romanism and speak in flat tones and don’t make big sweeping hand gestures and the incense is simply Glade air freshener. Even the atheists are Lutheran. It’s a Lutheran god they don’t believe in. Of course, one shouldn’t generalize but Lutherans without exception are very polite and never say anything harsh about anyone — “I don’t get it” is as harsh as they get — and if you take them to a dreadful play, “It was interesting” is as negative as they’ll go.

They are dutiful people who, if you put on a party they stand off to the side and discuss public education and infrastructure needs and around 9:45 p.m. they start to clean up the kitchen and put things away, even while other people are opening a third beer and singing “I Saw Her Standing There.” Personal charm is not high on their list, they associate it with insurance salesmen. They do not express personal preference, and when offered a choice of desserts, they say, “Either one is fine, whatever, makes no difference to me, I’m happy either way, whatever you have more of.” This refusal to make choices is responsible for the very high rate of Lutheran strangulations.

The low point of their year is the summer vacation. She wants to go to California and he prefers Washington, D.C., so they compromise by going to the Happy Bison Motel in Bismarck, a warehouse surrounded by forty acres of asphalt and semis going by all night, and the air conditioner sounds like a power lathe. They go because her cousin lives nearby whom neither of them likes. And they are good and glad to get back home.

The question I ask myself is, “Do people of color really and truly wish to enlist in this army?” It isn’t just a religious faith, it’s a culture.

I’m not putting down Lutherans. There are advantages to being one. I read a review last night of two books by ballet dancers, both women, about the cruelty of the Swan Lake world, the physical pain, the abusive ballet masters, the starvation required to attain impossible physical perfection, the endless mindless repetition, and it struck me that, growing up in Anoka, Minnesota, among Lutherans, we didn’t know a leg extension from a dining room table. Had I grown up in the Hamptons or Boston I might be writing my own miserable memoir about suffering at the hands of choreographers, leaping around in black tights and hoisting skinny women up over my head while standing tippy-toe, and as you can see it didn’t happen. I am a comfortable guy with a good appetite and no back problems.

Growing up among Lutherans also helped to deter me from committing tax fraud, soliciting state officials to commit election fraud, fomenting an insurrection, and perpetrating big lies, which means I’m not waiting for the phone to ring, someone calling to tell me I’m under indictment in several different jurisdictions all at once, facing a long summer in courtrooms, dreading the thought of being led away in an orange prison outfit.

Instead I went to church Sunday and said the prayer of contrition for my sins, which include pride, envy, and sloth — I seem to have gluttony and lust under control for now though maybe that’s pride speaking — and afterward I shook hands with people in the pews around me. We’re Episcopalians and it’s New York so there’s a variety of people around, but people are people. Some of them may be secretly Lutheran, I don’t know, we don’t ask. God loves them all.

 

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

March 28, 2023

Tuesday

7:30 p.m.

The Pace Center, Parker, CO

Parker, CO

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

March 30, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek, CO

Beaver Creek, CO

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

March 31, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Avalon Theater, Grand Junction, CO

Grand Junction, CO

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

April 27, 2023

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.

April 29, 2023

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.

April 30, 2023

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 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
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The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, March 15, 2023

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Today is the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by conspirators in 44 B.C.E. The Roman Senate felt Cesar was a threat to the Republic, and had tyrannical leanings. An assassination was planned where only senators were allowed to be present, knives easily concealed in the drapery of their togas. Despite warnings Caesar went to meet the Senate. Upon arrival he was set upon, and murdered. The assassination that was meant to save the Republic actually resulted, ultimately, in its downfall. It sparked a series of civil wars and led to Julius’ heir, Octavian, becoming Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor.

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Writing

The longer you live, the better it gets

I went down to the Bowery one night last week to see Aoife O’Donovan sing to a ballroom packed with young people standing for two hours and whooping and yelling — I sat up in the balcony and whooped and yelled too — and what the woman could do with her voice and guitar was astonishing, utterly fabulous, and for a man my age to be astonished is remarkable, she was competing with my memory of Uncle Jim handing me the reins to his horse-drawn hayrack and my grandma chopping the head off a chicken and seeing Buster Keaton perform at the Minnesota State Fair and also Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden and Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, but there she is, Aoife, in my pantheon of wonderment.

I came home from the Bowery to learn that a dear friend, Christine Jacobson, had died — amazement and mortality in one evening, and it’s a rare privilege to be aware of both, the beauty of life and the brevity. I look down from my balcony seat on the heads of young people excited by an artist and in their behalf I am worried about our country, with so many of our countrymen in favor of resuming the Civil War, with our history of trillions spent on wars in Vietnam and Iraq from which no benefit whatever was gained, but the exhilaration of the young is better than bourbon, more wonderful than wine.

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Marriage is a game and two can play it

BANK STOCKS SKID was the scary headline days ago sending shivers of 1929 and old newsreels of breadlines on Wall Street and Dorothea Lange photographs of migrant women and naturally the thought of a Crash makes me think we need to go out for entertainment, of which New York has plenty.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks are playing at Birdland, a 12-piece band reliving Twenties stomps and blues with Vince’s bass sax honking at the head of the formation. The New York Phil is playing Messiaen’s Turangalîla symphony. There’s an Emo Ball with DJs playing disco hits and an All-Night Singles Party at which ladies drink for free. (How do they make sure you’re single? Or a lady?)

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Thanks to Lutherans I skipped ballet

I talked to a friend last week whose Lutheran church in Minneapolis is trying to attract people of color. Lutherans have been white for centuries, coming as they did from Scandinavia and Germany, countries that were never great colonial powers and didn’t grab big chunks of Africa and Lutheranize the indigenous people. Some Lutherans are more gray than white, but if you go to a Lutheran church you sense a monochromaticism due to the fact that people in the pews tend to be descendants of Lutherans, the faith was handed down, it’s like farming — most farmers grew up on a farm — not many Manhattanites develop a passion for soybeans and head for North Dakota to buy 400 acres and a John Deere.

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The worst play I ever saw: a landmark

In case you’re wondering why I was not in church Sunday morning, I was in the Omaha airport at 6:30 a.m. waiting for a flight back to New York, listening to an announcement that unattended baggage would be confiscated, eating a breakfast croissant and blueberry yogurt, drinking coffee, which came to $19.74, which happens to be the year I started doing my old radio show.

I grew up Sanctified Brethren, so it was odd to wind up in comedy, but my mother loved Jack Benny and Lucille Ball, so there’s the hitch. I started the show to amuse her, and I succeeded. And the one Saturday night in Omaha did too. A tall woman and I sang love duets while a piano player with wild hair kept the beat and I did octogenarian stand-up and the audience accepted this pretty well.

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Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – The Family Car

Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – The Family Car

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The old man’s winter weekend

In case you’re wondering why I was not in church Sunday morning, I was in the Omaha airport at 6:30 a.m. waiting for a flight back to New York, listening to an announcement that unattended baggage would be confiscated, eating a breakfast croissant and blueberry yogurt, drinking coffee, which came to $19.74, which happens to be the year I started doing my old radio show.

I grew up Sanctified Brethren, so it was odd to wind up in comedy, but my mother loved Jack Benny and Lucille Ball, so there’s the hitch. I started the show to amuse her, and I succeeded. And the one Saturday night in Omaha did too. A tall woman and I sang love duets while a piano player with wild hair kept the beat and I did octogenarian stand-up and the audience accepted this pretty well.

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Thinking about that woman in Kentucky

I was down in Frankfort, Kentucky, last week and sat in a café one morning and a fortyish woman in a white uniform approached and said, “What can I get you, Hon?” and I, being a Northerner, was rather touched because female food service workers up North don’t go around Honning male customers. I’ve been Deared a few times but only by women older than I and they may have Deared me from dementia. Once a waitperson in Minneapolis Friended me and I almost spilled my coffee.

(Notice that I don’t refer to them as a “waitress.” The “-ess” is a diminutive, it’s a patronizing relic of male dominance; she is a Waitperson, even though that term could be mistaken as “Weight Person,” meaning “fat lady.” Anyway, female service personnel in Minnesota do not address a man as “hon” or any other term of affection and if he addressed her as Hon, he could be arrested, handcuffed, and taken downtown.

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I missed out on the big storm regretfully

I flew down to Florida for a few days and regret missing the blizzard in Minnesota. I love snow, but I’m afraid of slipping and falling and joining the Joint Replacement Society, whereas in Florida you’d only slip on a banana. I needed to walk and take long strides, which facilitates clear thinking. And what I think, after a brisk walk, is that Florida is a lovely place if you don’t have anything to do and want to be with other people who don’t either. The major industry is relaxation. The bars open at noon, people have a few screwdrivers and go home and take a two-hour nap and watch a golf tournament and then maybe read Instagram or hang out with their iguana. The air conditioning is so cold, you have to wear a parka indoors. There is background music everywhere. Every lobby has a television on that nobody’s watching, music that nobody’s listening to, an environmental drug to keep people from thinking.

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So much is known but mystery remains

We’ve learned something about privacy lately, namely that it doesn’t exactly exist. The case against the man accused of murdering four students in Idaho shows that cellphone tracking and ubiquitous surveillance cameras make it possible for law enforcement to learn a great deal about a person of interest. Spy satellites enable intelligence agencies to focus in on you as you park at the drive-up window and see how many Egg McMuffins you ordered and whether you take your coffee light or black. And a defamation lawsuit against Fox has subpoenaed internal memos showing that the network’s top stars managed to forget what is fact and what is not and why they should care.

There’s no getting around the fact that we’re more visible than we can imagine and if you care to be paranoid, you now have a reason to be, though in fact the spyware is gathering so much data, gazillions of gigabytes, more than anybody can analyze, and so there is safety in confusion.

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SING ALONG (July 2022)

The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
Ever since I put your picture in a frame

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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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