That Time of Year: Chapter One

THAT TIME OF YEAR: A MINNESOTA LIFE

Prologue

I grew up in a northern town

Ground was flat for miles around

We were fundamentalist

Underwear was in a twist

Aloof, avoiding those in sin

Expecting Jesus to drop in

I was staunch and rather pure

Riding on the Brethren bus

And then I read great literature

Lusty, longing, humorous

Telling us to seize the day

Before the flowers fade away

We were taught obedience

To the Word, God’s Holy Book

But Mother loved comedians

And that was the road I took

And so I bent and smelled the roses

Which God intended, one supposes

And now as life slips away

Just as Scripture said it would

I write this little book to say

Thank you. So far, so good.

Chapter 1: My Life

It’s been an easy life and when I think back, I wish it were a summer morning after a rain and I were loading my bags into the luggage hold of the bus and climbing aboard past Al, the driver, and the bench seats up front to the bunks in back and claiming a low bunk in the rear for myself. We’re about to set off on a twenty-eight-city tour of one-­nighters, two buses, the staff bus and the talent bus (though actually the tech guys, Sam and Thomas and Albert and Tony, have most of the talent and the rest of us just do the best we can). I kiss Jenny goodbye and she envies me, having been on opera and orchestra bus tours herself and loved them. The show band guys sit in front, Rich Dworsky, Chris, Pat and Pete, Andy, Gary or Larry, Richard, Joe, Arnie the drummer, Heather the duet partner on “Under African Skies” and “In My Life” and Greg Brown’s “Early.” Fred Newman is here, Mr. Sound Effects, and we’ll do the Bebopareebop commercial about the meteorite flying into Earth’s atmosphere about to wipe out an entire city when a beluga in heat sings a note that sets off a nuclear missile that deflects the meteorite to the Mojave Desert where it cracks the earth’s crust and hatches prehistoric eggs of pterodactyls, which rise screeching and galumphing toward a tiny town and a Boy Scout camp where a lone bagpiper plays the Lost Chord that pulverizes the pterodactyls’ tiny brains and sends them crashing and gibbering into an arroyo, and I say, “Wouldn’t this be a good time for a piece of rhubarb pie?” and we sing, One little thing can revive a guy, and that is a piece of rhubarb pie. Serve it up nice and hot, maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought.

At the table sits Janis or Jennifer, who has the cellphone that Sam or Kate or Deb will call if there is a crisis. If they called me about a crisis, then they’d have two crises. I sit at a table so I can write on a laptop, but the show is written, the Guy Noir sketch, the commercials, the news from Lake Wobegon about the pontoon boat with the twenty-four Lutheran pastors, the canceled wedding of the veterinary aromatherapist, the boy on the parasail who intends to drop Aunt Evelyn’s ashes in the lake when the boat towing him swerves to avoid the giant duck decoy and he is towed at high speed underwater, which tears his swim trunks off, then naked he rises on a collision course with a hot-air balloon.

The bus is home; everyone has a space. You can sit up front and listen to musicians reminisce and rag on each other or you can lie in your bunk and think your thoughts. The first show is the hardest, a long drive to Appleton, then sound check and show, breakdown, drive to Grand Rapids and arrive at 4 a.m., a long day, and then we get into rhythm, Cedar Rapids, Sioux Falls, Lincoln, Denver, Aspen, Spokane, Seattle, Portland, and on. The bus pulls into a town around 4 or 5 a.m. and you stumble out of your bunk and into a hotel room and sleep and have lunch and head to the venue midafternoon, and each show is mostly the same as the night before, you walk out and sing “Tishomingo Blues”—

O hear that old piano from down the avenue.
I smell the roses, I look around for you.
My sweet old someone coming through that door:
Another day ’n’ the band is playin’. Honey, could we ask for more?

And the show ends with the crowd singing “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” and “Auld Lang Syne” and “Good Night, Ladies” and whatever else comes to mind, and they go home happy, and the bus is sociable, and there is beer and tacos and ice cream bars. You belong to a family engaged in a daring enterprise and you’re on the road and all your troubles are behind you. Sometimes late at night, I imagine climbing on the bus at Tanglewood, past the band guys noodling and jamming and the game of Hearts, and I lie in the back bottom bunk and we pull away, headed for Chautauqua, near Jamestown, New York, and I fall asleep and wake up in Minneapolis and it’s years later.

I was not meant to ride around on a bus and do shows, I grew up Plymouth Brethren who shunned entertainment, Jesus being all-­sufficient for our needs and the Rapture imminent. (The Brethren originated in Plymouth, England, it had nothing to do with the automobile—we were Ford people.) God knew where to find us, on the upper Mississippi River smack dab in the middle of North America, in Minnesota, the icebox state, so narcissism was not available, I was a flatlander like everyone else. We bathed once a week, accepting that we were mammals and didn’t need to smell like vegetation. By the age of three I could spell M-i-ss-i-ss-i-pp-i—one hard word I’ll always get right—and that started me down the road to writing. I had eighteen aunts who praised what I wrote, and they prayed for me, and I have floated along on their prayers. I recited my verse in Sunday School and they praised me for speaking nice and loud and clear, which eventually led to radio. My parents didn’t hug me but my aunts did, Elsie and Jean and Margaret—I stood next to Ruby’s wheelchair and she clung to me, Ruth held me to her great bosom and pressed her wire-rimmed glasses to my head, Eleanor and Bessie hugged, Brethren men didn’t deal in affection but I was rich with aunts and never lacked for love. I was born in 1942, early enough to see the last Union Army veteran, Albert Woolson, in his blue forage cap riding in a parade, and in time to be moved by Jerry Lee Lewis who shook my nerves and rattled my brain. Gettysburg on one side, “Great Balls of Fire” on the other, half of American history in one swoop. I felt destined for good things, thanks to my aunts and because I was 1 person, the son of 2 parents, their 3rd child, born 4 years after my sister and 5 years after my brother, in ’42 (four and two equals 6), on the 7th day of the 8th month in 19—nine, ten—42. I never revealed this magical numerology to anyone; I held it close to my heart. It was a green light on the horizon.

I’m a Scot on my mother’s side, so I come from people who anticipate the worst. Rain is comforting to us, driven by a strong wind. My Grandpa Denham came from Glasgow and never drove a car lest he die in a flaming crash. Mother warned me as a child never to touch my tongue to a clothes pole in winter because I would freeze to it and nobody would hear my pitiful cries because the windows are all shut and I would die, hanging by my tongue. So I imagined I’d die young, which prodded me to make something of myself until now I’m too old to die young and can accept myself as I am, a tall clean-shaven man of 78 who escaped alcoholism, depression, the US Army, a life in academia, and death by hypothermia while hanging by my tongue. My people were Old Testament Christians who believed that God smites people when they’re having too good a time and so, doing shows, I was the stiffest person you ever saw on a stage, I looked intense, solemn, like a street evangelist or a pest exterminator. Laughter doesn’t come easily to me; it’s like bouncing a meatball. Strangers walk up to me and ask, “Is something wrong?” No, I’m a happy man but I come in a thick husk, like sweet corn.

From the age of nine or ten, I was determined to be a writer and didn’t waver from it. This is due to having grown up in a tiny utopian sect that due to its separatist tendencies kept getting smaller. Whatever the opposite of “ecumenical” is, we Brethren were that. We considered Lutherans to be loose. I grew up believing that the Creator of the universe, the solar system, the Milky Way and the Way beyond it had confided in a handful of us, the Faithful Remnant. The whole of Christendom had slid into a slough of error and our little flock of twenty-five or thirty in this room on 14th Avenue South in Minneapolis was in on the Secret. When you believe that, it is no problem to imagine you’ll grow up to write books and be on the radio. Most Brethren preaching sailed over my head but I loved the stories: Noah and his boatload of critters, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and Nebuchadnezzar, Bathsheba, the drunken Herod who is seduced by the young dancer who asks the head of a holy man as a favor, Thomas the doubter, Peter the denier. To all appearances, we were normal Midwestern Americans, we wore clean clothes, spoke proper English, took small bites and chewed with our mouths shut, mowed our lawn, played softball and Monopoly and shot baskets, read the paper, were polite to strangers, but in our hearts we anticipated the end of the world. Meanwhile supper was sloppy joes on Monday, spaghetti on Tuesday, chow mein on Wednesday, tuna casserole on Thursday, hamburgers on Friday, fish sticks on Saturday, pot roast on Sunday. We sat down to meals under a wall plaque, JESUS CHRIST IS THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE, THE UNSEEN GUEST AT EVERY MEAL, THE SILENT LISTENER TO EVERY CONVERSATION. This didn’t encourage loose talk at meals, so we didn’t: conversation was sparse. Philip, Dad, and I sat on one side, Judy, Mother, and the twins on the other, and baby Linda in a high chair at the end. I spooned oatmeal into her and she ate applesauce with her fingers off a plate. Please pass the potatoes and What’s for dessert? was about the extent of conversation. We certainly didn’t talk about bodily functions: diarrhea was “the trots.” We didn’t pee or poop, we “went to the bathroom.” We avoided the expression of personal preference, such as I want to watch TV tonight, and anyway we didn’t have a TV. We had a radio, a big Zenith floor model with stately columns in front and vacuum tubes that gave off heat and a tuning knob the size of a grapefruit. I lay on the floor and listened to Fred Allen and Jack Benny, and sometimes when nobody was around I stood in the hall closet among the winter coats and pretended I was on the radio, using the handle of the Hoover upright vacuum cleaner for a microphone. One day I took the Hoover behind the drapes in the picture window and imagined I was onstage, about to come through the curtain and say, “Hello, everybody, welcome to the Gary Keillor show,” and my older sister knocked on the window. She was outside, weeding the flower bed, laughing at my white Fruit of the Loom underwear. I was so excited about doing the show, I forgot to put on my pants.

My folks were Depression survivors, so they squeezed the toothpaste hard to get the last molecules out of the tube. Mother darned the holes in our socks. Dad was a farm boy and grew up with a big garden and loved fresh strawberries, tomatoes, and sweet corn and couldn’t imagine living on store-bought, and so he purchased an acre of farmland north of Minneapolis and built a house on it and kept a half-acre garden. Mother would’ve preferred a bungalow in south Minneapolis, but Dad got his way and so I grew up a country kid. I was a middle child and was left to my own devices and became secretive, devious, never confided in anyone. As a city kid, I would’ve adopted a gang and become socialized, but instead I was a loner, had very little adult supervision. Mother was busy with the little kids. I could leave the house unnoticed, sit by the river or ride my bike among the cornfields and potato farms, ride for miles into the city past warehouses and factories, penny arcades and cocktail lounges, independent at the age of ten. Nobody told me the city was too dangerous for a kid to ride around on a bike, so thanks to ignorance, I was fearless. I learned to smoke by the age of twelve.

My parents loved each other and stayed in the background as we children worked out our identities. There was no alcohol, no dark silences, no shouting, no slamming doors. I was never struck, though sometimes Mother said she wanted to. Once in a while she said, “You kids are driving me to a nervous breakdown.” And let it go at that. I don’t recall Mother or Dad praising me ever—that was left to Grandma and the aunts. I was a quiet, bookish kid who liked to stand off to the side and observe, which back then people took to mean I was gifted. Today they’d say “high-functioning end of the autism spectrum,” but autism hadn’t been thought up yet so I was free to imagine I was gifted. I was crazy about girls, they were all fascinating, the way they talked, their boldness. Once, when I was eleven, I walked past Julie Christensen’s house and she said, “Do you want to wrestle?” and so we did. She took hold of me and threw me down and pulled my shirt up over my head and sat on me. It was thrilling. She said, “Let’s see you try to get up.” I didn’t want to get up. She kissed me on the lips and said, “If you tell, I will beat the crap out of you.” She was a freethinker. She taught me to sing the Doxology to the tune of “Hernando’s Hideaway.” (Sometimes I look at my wife and think of Julie. I never was in therapy—you are the first person I’ve told this to.)

I was an indifferent student in high school and college, which served to limit my career possibilities, which were further limited by having no social skills thanks to growing up Plymouth Brethren, who taught us to avoid defilement by standing apart from those in Error, i.e., everyone on Earth. But I had good jobs—I washed dishes and I was a parking lot attendant and then a classical music announcer, which is like parking cars except you don’t yell at anybody. For a few weeks one summer I ran a manure spreader and did it about as well as a person could. The next summer I was a camp counselor and led three canoeloads of thirteen-year-olds across an enormous wilderness lake, a black sky above, lightning on the horizon, and I instilled confidence in them even as I was shitting in my shorts. Back then, a state university education was dirt cheap, and I incurred no debt so I could entertain the notion of becoming a writer. I wrote dark stories, Salingeristic, Kafkaesque, Orwellian, O’Connorly (Flannery, not Frank), exhaled cigarette smoke with authorly elegance and looked down upon engineers in their polyester plaid shirts with plastic pocket protectors who were busy designing the digital world we live in today. I was in the humanities, where existentialism was very big back then though nobody knew what it was exactly nor even approximately, which made it possible for even an ignorant twerp to expound upon it. At the U, I identified as a liberal Democrat for protective coloring but I had conservative leanings, was scornful of bureaucracies, unions, popular movements, and venerated the past and intended to make my own way and create work that would earn money on the free market, preferably satire that goes against the prevailing tide. I am still a Brethren boy. A little profanity I can tolerate but obscenity turns me away. I have agnostic friends but I don’t tolerate intolerance of religious faith. Scripture is clear about how to treat strangers and foreigners, any race or creed or gender, they are brothers and sisters. Life is a gift and we need be wise in the knowledge of death.

My true education was the deaths of four of my heroes, all four not much older than I, earthshaking deaths. My cousin Roger drowned at seventeen, a week before his high school graduation, diving into Lake Minnetonka to impress Susan whom he wanted to be his girlfriend, although surely he knew he couldn’t swim. I admired him, a sharp dresser, a cool guy, his slightly lopsided grin, his disregard for sports, his fondness for girls. Two years later, Buddy Holly crashed in a small plane in Iowa. I heard the news on the radio. It turned out that the young pilot was not qualified to fly by instrument at night, but, unable to say no to a rock ’n’ roll star, he took off into the dark and flew the plane into the ground and killed everyone in it. Two years later, Barry Halper, who hired me for my first radio job and became my good friend, who was smart, stylish, Jewish, had been to Las Vegas and met famous comedians, drove one afternoon east of St. Paul and crashed his convertible into the rear of a school bus and died at the age of twenty. And a year later, my classmate Leeds Cutter from Anoka, a year older than I, the smartest guy at our table in the lunchroom, who talked about why he loved Beethoven, how he’d go to law school but make a life as a farmer and raise a family, who was in love with my friend Corinne, who said, “I never do easy things right and I hardly ever do hard things wrong,” was killed by a drunk driver while riding home from the U. He was nineteen.

I felt the wrongness of their deaths, the goodness lost, the damage done to the world, and felt responsible to live my life on their behalf and embrace what they were denied, the chance to rise and shine and find a vocation. They didn’t know each other, but I see them as a foursome, Barry, Buddy, Leeds, and Roger. They were my elders and now they’re my grandsons. They each died in swift seconds of violence and the thought of them gives me peace. I promise to love this life I was given and do my best to deserve it. I carry you boys forever in my heart. You keep getting younger and I am still looking up to you. Life without end. Amen.

After college, I was hired by a rural radio station to do the 6 a.m. shift Monday to Friday, because nobody else wanted to get up so early. I worked alone in the dark and learned to be useful and clearly imagine the audience and do my best to amuse them. In my twenties I sent a story by US mail to a famous magazine in New York, as did every other writer in America, and mine was fished out of the soup by a kind soul named Mary D. Kierstead, who sent it up to the editors and they paid me $500 at a time when my rent was $80 a month and that was the clincher, that and the radio gig, my course in life was set, everything else is a footnote.

A few years later I went to see the famous Grand Ole Opry radio show in Nashville and decided to start something like it of my own. My boss, Bill Kling, against all common sense, approved of this. I had lost a short story about a town called Lake Wobegon in the men’s room of the Portland, Oregon, train station, and the loss of it made the story ever more beautiful in my mind, and, thinking I might recall it, I told stories about the town on the radio and also wrote books, including one, Pontoon, about which the New York Times said, “a tough-minded book . . . full of wistfulness and futility yet somehow spangled with hope,” which is no easy thing for an ex–Plymouth Brethrenist, to get the wistful futility and also spangle it, but evidently I did.

My great accomplishment was to gain competence at work for which I had no aptitude, a solitary guy with low affect who learned to stand in front of four million people and talk and enjoy it. I did this because the work I had aptitude for—lawn mowing, dishwashing, parking cars—I didn’t want to get old doing that. I preferred to tell stories. My first book, Happy to Be Here, published when I was forty, earned the money to buy a big green frame house on Goodrich Avenue in St. Paul. People noticed this. A renter for twenty years, I wrote a book and bought a house. In warm weather, I sat on the front porch and people walked by and looked. That era is over. Now you can get an unlimited Kindle subscription for pocket change and a successful book will buy you an umbrella tent. I am lucky I lived when I did.

I also became the founder and host and writer of a radio variety show of a sort that died when I was a child, for which I stood onstage every Saturday, no paper in hand, and talked about an imaginary town for twenty minutes. It was the easiest thing I ever did, easier than ­fatherhood, ­citizenship, home maintenance, vacationing in Florida, everything. I wrote five pages of story on Friday, looked it over on Saturday morning, went out onstage and remembered what was memorable and forgot the fancy stuff, the metaphors, the subjunctive, the irony, most of it at least.

Lake Wobegon was all about the ordinary, about birds and dogs, the unexpected appearance of a porcupine or a bear, the crankiness of old men, the heartache of parenthood, communal events, big holidays, the café and the tavern, ritual and ceremony, the mystery of God’s perfection watching over so much human cluelessness. The tragedy of success: you raise your kids to be ambitious strivers and succeed and they wind up independent, far away, hardly recognizable, your grandkids are strangers with new fashionable names. The small town is strict, authoritarian, and your children prefer urban laxity and anonymity. There was no overarching story, few relationships to keep track of; it was mostly impressionistic. The ordinariness of a Minnesota small town gave me freedom from political correctness, no need to check the right boxes. In Lake Wobegon society, ethnicity was mostly for amusement, and Catholic v. Lutheran was the rivalry of neighbors.

I did Lake Wobegon pretty well, as I could tell from the number of people who asked me, “Was that true?” The Tomato Butt story was true and the homecoming talent show. The stories about winter were true. The story about being French was not true. Or the orphanage story. But I did have an Uncle Jim who farmed with horses and I rode on Prince’s back to go help him with the haying as Grandma baked bread in a woodstove oven.

I never was a deckhand on an ore boat in a storm on the Great Lakes, the Old Man at the wheel, water crashing over the bow and smashing into the wheelhouse, running empty in thirty-foot seas, navigation equipment lost, and the Old Man said to me, “Get on the radio and stay on the radio so the Coast Guard can give us a location,” and I went on the radio and sang and told jokes for two hours and the ship made it safely to port, and that was how I got into radio. That was my invention, to demonstrate my facility. Hailstones the size of softballs smashed into my radio shack on the rear deck as I told Ole and Lena jokes. A story about a lonely guy in marital anguish wouldn’t have served the purpose.

One true story I never told was about Corinne Guntzel, whom I met when we were six years old and rode a toboggan down a steep hill and onto the frozen Mississippi River. It was thrilling. Later, she got the same excitement from beating up on me about politics. She was a college socialist and smarter and better-read and I argued innocently that art is what changes the world, which she scoffed at, of course. I loved her and thought about marrying her but feared rejection, so I married her cousin instead and then her best friend, after which Corinne killed herself. It’s not a story to be told at parties.

But the best story is about the day in New York I had lunch with a woman from my hometown of Anoka and had the good sense to fall in love with her. I was fifty, she was thirty-five. I am a Calvinist, she’s a violinist. We talked and talked, we laughed, we walked, we went to the opera, we married at St. Michael’s on 99th and Amsterdam, we begat a daughter. Now, twenty-five years later, she and I live in Minneapolis, near Loring Park, across from the old Eitel Hospital where my mother was a nurse, near the hotel where I worked as a dishwasher the summer after high school and learned to smoke Lucky Strikes, a block from Walker Art Center, where Suzanne Weil produced the first Prairie Home Companion shows. My old apartments are nearby and fancy neighborhoods I walked in back in my stringency days. I like having history around to help keep my head on straight and ward off delusion.

I had relatives who used outhouses and now I walk into a men’s room 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 daughter in London 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 world of progress.

When I go live in the Home for the Confused, I’ll sit in a sunny corner and tell stories to myself. When my time is up, they’ll wrap me in a sheet and truck me back to Anoka and the Keillor cemetery fifteen minutes north of where I was born and plant me with my aunts and uncles on whom the stories of Lake Wobegon were based. I got a lot of pleasure out of writing them up, and so it’s right I should lie down there in a cemetery where Aunt Jo used to send me over to mow the grass and trim around the gravestones. Dad’s cousin Joe Loucks is here, who drowned in the Rum River in 1927: a dozen boys formed a human chain into the river to rescue him and he slipped from their grasp. Now they are here too. Old farmers are here, also an astrophysicist, a banker, a few salesmen, a cousin who died of a botched abortion by a doctor in town. Some had more than their share of suffering. My cousins Shannon, Philip, William, and Alec are here, all younger than I. When I was young, I was eager to escape the family, but death is inescapable and I’ll be collected into their midst at last. A brief ceremony, no eulogy, no need to mourn a man who had an easy life. Lower him down and everybody grab a shovel. Either there will be a hereafter or I will be unaware that there is not. I believe there will be. I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, nor our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen and amen.

 

© Garrison Keillor, 2020


That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life is out December 1, 2020 via Arcade Publishing.

Order a hardcover copy →
Order the audiobook →
Order eBook from Amazon →


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 >>>

Purchase Boom Town Hardcover >>>

Download the audiobook as mp3s  >>>

Listen to the audiobook via Audible >>>

Read it on Kindle >>>

 

sign up for Garrison's newsletter here

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.

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.

We sat and watched the committal service, we who threw all this away in the 18th century, all the costumery, ribbonry, and titlery and iconic disciplines and endless dignity, in favor of the mess we know all too well. The mind goes back to the funeral of George H.W. Bush in 2018 at Washington Cathedral, four exes present, Carter, Clinton, George W., Obama, and, keeping his distance, avoiding eye contact, not concealing his wish to be elsewhere, anywhere, our then head of state stood and refused to say the Lord’s Prayer, didn’t sing, didn’t amen, scowling as he shook a few hands. A sovereign head of state would’ve been appropriate in the ways a real-estate mogul finds difficult.

We are Americans, we can’t help it. When one courtier lifts the silver orb from the casket and hands it carefully to another courtier, I want him to drop it and a great byoingyoingyoing fill the great chapel and let us see the Brits stifle their laughter and refuse to admit hearing any byoing. Same when the lone bagpiper fired up his drone and walked the long hallway playing a tune, I wanted to hear him squawk like a wounded ostrich, but he did not.

My mother, whose father came from Glasgow, was a great admirer of the Queen who was a few years younger, and she visited London and stood at the Buckingham gate looking in, as if she might be invited in for tea and scones. My London friends are ferocious republicans and we never mention monarchy in their presence, except if discussing butterflies, because it will lead to a length and learned lecture on the evils of aristocracy. The Queen met Mr. Trump and though his love of pageantry was clear and he lusted after a carriage and platoon of horsemen for himself, we shall never know what she thought of the fool, only that she was polite. She didn’t leave a memoir in which she revealed her inner qualms and anxieties: I doubt that she allowed herself the luxury of qualms. She accepted her role.

And then it was over. The coffin was lowered into the royal vault below St. George’s Chapel and people departed in an orderly fashion, each knowing whom they should follow and what they should do. As the Dean said, “The life of man is as dust,” but dusty as we are, we are capable of putting on a good pageant. By “we,” I mean “they.”

But after a couple hours of admiring tradition and ceremony and everyone knowing which foot to put where, it dawns on me that this elevation of bureaucracy to an art form is what America fortunately escaped and thus was better able to give the world the phenomenal techno advances of my lifetime, the laptop, cellphone, GPS, AI, drones, radical reductions in the cost of solar panels and wind energy, new vaccines. These things were not created by platoons of people marching in place but by brilliant gamblers and entrepreneurs, nerds of many stripes. (We also gave the world the blues and rock ’n’ roll, but that’s another story.)

An English major in college, I looked down on IT students because they all dressed alike and carried plastic pocket protectors for their ballpoint pens. I saw them as dullards. As it turns out they were at work on data technology that led to the internet, which changed my life and yours too. Meanwhile, the English department and other humanities march along beside the hearse and the horsemen.

I wanted to be eccentric and got my wish but the engineers in my family are more engaged with the real world. Thank God our president is committed to technological advance rather than cultural combat. He’s never spoken in defense of the 2020 election results. Either you can count or you can’t.

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.

Life throws a beanball at your head and you dig in at the plate and swing at the slider. Look at Columbus, whom we honor in October, the month he landed in the New World. Some dishonor him because he came uninvited but there was plenty of uninvited migrating and mooching around in the 15th century. You took your chances. And it was a bold venture to sail out on the ocean blue with no idea of where you’re going. No wonder he was paranoid. He stood at the helm — it hurt to sit because he had horrible hemorrhoids — and guessed he was near India whereas he was closer to Indiana. Still, some of us admire his courage.

October is a month that encourages courage. The languors of summer are finally dispersed and the chill of reality in the air tells you to get to business.

No wonder Brother Martin Luther on that October day in 1517 roused himself to nail his 95 theses to the church door at Wittenberg. Pounding nails into a door of any kind goes against a good German’s nature, but he did it, announcing that salvation is a gift of God’s grace, not available for purchase, for which he was outlawed but went on to lend his name to a major bunch of Prots. Whereas Pope Leo X is known for his diet of worms.

It was in October 1781, that Washington and Lafayette whipped Cornwallis’s ass at Yorktown and brought the American Revolution to a successful end. It had gone on long enough, Washington decided. Time to dispose of the foe and get down to the real problem, which was figuring out what sort of government would take the place of the Crown. So Washington pretended to be laying siege to British-occupied New York City but in fact was rushing his troops south where he caught the redcoats by surprise and made short work of them.

And Cornwallis surrendered. He didn’t claim the battle was fraudulent and that he was the true winner, nor did he slip out of Yorktown a day early to avoid having to hand over his sword. He handed it over.

Washington did this despite his terrible dental problems. False teeth made of wood and ivory that chewed his gums as he chewed his beans and mutton. We do not know for a fact that the Father of Our Country did not assign one of his slaves to chew his food for him. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But his bold move on Cornwallis did more to secure our independence than the Declaration of 1776 did. Anybody with a pen can declare independence; somebody has to get the job done.

And so it comes down to you and me, friend, as to what needs doing in October. Leaves must be raked, storm windows hung, and we must listen to candidates and distinguish hogwash from common sense. And I must climb up from my clobbering and be ready when the bell rings for the next round.

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. As you can see (to your horror) I am rather benign about the Union of Righteous Republican States (URRS) that the rising seas will create. I face the prospect with equanimity, same as I face the prospect of a monsoon or a ban on Pearson’s Salted Nut Rolls or my laptop computer being crushed under the wheels of a truck, because I am newly out of the OR with a beautiful scar on my chest, I’m walking with a cane, and to me everything is miraculous, walking, conversation, meatloaf, oatmeal, sunshine, prune juice, my daughter’s voice on the phone, even the voice of Tri my physical therapist telling me to stand on one foot with my eyes closed for fifteen seconds. It’s all good. It helps to be eighty, with a treasury of interesting regrets I can examine if I choose. It also helps to know that a pig saved my life, the donor of a mitral valve, mine having sprung a leak. I dreamed of her last night, singing to me from hog heaven: I gave you a new lease on life Gave you a brand-new start Other people are on your mind But I am there in your heart I gave you a piece of my heart, baby Enjoy the sweet sunshine Roll in the mud, it’s there in your blood, The part of your heart that’s mine. This mitral valve is working very well, according to the Mayo Clinic, and when a pig part is what keeps you going, it is an everyday miracle you never forget. It also helps to be married to my wife. I’m not a New Yorker, she is, though she was born in the same dinky hospital in Minnesota that I emerged from, but I grew up in a basement, which I took to mean abasement, and she grew up in a home with classics on the shelves and she played violin and listened to Sibelius and Brahms, all of which turned her head eastward. I only went there for the money: The New Yorker was a magazine that paid real dough. In 1974 they paid me $6,000 for a piece about the Grand Ole Opry and I took up a life of self-amusement. Meanwhile, she, a true artist, lived in poverty in tiny fifth-floor walk-ups with three roommates and two cats and heroin addicts sleeping in the entry so that she could play great music. She went for Bach, I went for the bucks. We are opposites who pair up well. And now, thinking of the life of Elizabeth II, a life of devotion to inherited duty, we see the merits of fidelity and soldiering on. The British Commonwealth shrank severely during her long reign and she remained the same gracious lady, riding in the carriage, waving. Brits of fiercely opposing views could look on her with affection and respect. And so if the oceans rise and mountains fall and we have mandatory prayer in schools and election of the president by state legislatures and there is a life-size portrait of Himself in every post office, I shall still pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republicans for whom it stands.  
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 9, 2022

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.

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

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 11, 2023

Saturday

7:00 p.m.

Bowlus Fine Arts Center, Iola, KS

Iola, KS

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

Radio

To sign up for the daily Writer’s Almanac e-newsletter, which includes unedited versions of previously aired TWA episodes, please click here.

To make a donation to support this archival project, please click here. You can also support us by buying a paid Substack subscription or mailing a check to Prairie Home Productions  PO Box 2090  Minneapolis, MN 55402

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 24, 2022

Muppets creator Jim Henson was born on this day in 1936. The author of “The Great Gatsby” F. Scott Fitzgerald was born on this day in 1986. And, poet Eavan Boland, born in Dublin in 1944.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for  Friday, September 23, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 23, 2022

It’s the birthday of Baroness Emmuska Orczy, born Baroness Emma Magdalena Rosália Mária Josefa Borbára Orczy at her family’s estate in Hungary (1865).

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Thursday, September 22, 2022

On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, a document that put the Confederacy on notice of his intention to free their slaves.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 21, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Wednesday, September 21, 2022

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” The words of H.G. Wells. He was born Herbert George Wells on this day in Bromley, England (1866).

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, September 20, 2022

It’s the birthday of reading pioneer Rebecca Smith Pollard, born Rebecca Harrington Smith in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania (1831). Pollard advised teachers. “Do not assist pupils in pronouncing words…Let them depend wholly upon their own efforts and thus lead them into independence of thought and action.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, September 19, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Monday, September 19, 2022

On this day in 1796, President George Washington’s farewell address was printed in the Daily American Advertiser as an open letter to American citizens. The most famous of all his “speeches,” it was never actually spoken; a week after its publication in this Philadelphia newspaper, it was reprinted in papers all over the country.

Read More
A Prairie Home Companion: September 24, 2005

A Prairie Home Companion: September 24, 2005

The 2005 season kickoff show includes performances from the High-Flyers, BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet, Prudence Johnson and Andy Stein

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, September 18, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Sunday, September 18, 2022

Samuel Johnston, the English essayist, poet, biographer, and lexicographer, was born on this day in 1709. His life was documented by his friend James Boswell, who wrote his biography “Life of Samuel Johnson” which is considered the finest biography in all of literature.

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 17, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Saturday, September 17, 2022

It’s the birthday of American poet and critic Brian Henry (1972). He has advice for aspiring poets: “”Create your own community, and forget about pedigrees and prizes. If the mainstream shifts to accommodate you — as it has done to accommodate so many non-mainstream communities of writers — then you at least arrived there on your own terms.”

Read More
The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 16, 2022

The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, September 16, 2022

On this date in 1620, the Mayflower set sail for America. It is also the birthday of H.H. Rey (Germany, 1898), Nancy Huston (Canada, 1953), and Justin Haythe (London, 1973).

Read More
Writing

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.”

Read More

It’s an age of innovation, praise the Lord

 One of the problems of living a long life is that you lose track of who is famous now. I, for example, have no idea who Adele is. I could mention other unknown celebs but I forget their names. Most of the famous people I know are dead, such as Abraham Lincoln, Al Kaline, A.J. Liebling, and Alexander Graham Bell, just to mention a few on the A list, and Adele is a complete blank. So is the famous singer-songwriter Taylor Speed. She is huge among young people with beautiful hair and I don’t know her from a waitress at White Castle. She could walk up to me on the street and say, “Hi, Garrison, it’s me, Taylor” and I’d have to stand there and feign familiarity and sneak out my phone and snap a picture of her and use my facial recognition app to give me the name. Swift. Not Speed. Swift.

On the other hand, growing old, you’re stunned by the beautiful innovations all around us — FaceTime and Shazam and MeTube and Google, the Dairy Queen Blizzard, the Unsubscribe function on junk email, and the defibrillator embedded in my chest, upper left, that makes me imagine I have a pack of Luckies in my pocket: these more than make up for being out of the celebrity loop.

Read More

Into the tunnel, thinking in the dark

Spending some time at Mayo, much of it ordinary, waiting, listening, doing as told, but some of it primal, such as the CAT scan in which I lay on a narrow platform, hands over my head, and was conveyed into a narrow tunnel in the dark and lay there, which made me imagine the vaginal tunnel that I descended from. Two siblings preceded me, three followed, and this descent bound us to our mother — we came out of her body — whereas our father, though contributing his fluid, was an onlooker. One could grow closer to him over time (I did not) but Mother was Mother. I hear about fabulous fathers in the two generations following mine and I believe what I hear, but Mother retains that physical sensation of us. In that tunnel, we experienced the trauma of leaving the uterus and thereafter found the delight of independence. I watched my mother closely and when I saw her delight reading Cedric Adams’s column in the evening Star, I set out on a course I’m still following seventy-some years later.

I had a phone consultation with a Mayo pharmacist and after I’d gone over my long list of medications and dosages, I heard a child’s voice and realized he was working from his home. It was his tiny daughter Airi. We talked and his joy in this child was clear as could be. For me, growing up in the Fifties, my father’s approval meant nothing, it simply wasn’t available, whereas my mother’s was. I did comedy on the radio because she loved comedy. When she was very old, I did sketches about her on the radio, in which she was a circus star, a sharpshooter like Annie Oakley, riding a galloping horse and shooting a cigarette out of my mouth as she passed. (Mother was horrified by my smoking habit.) She enjoyed that.

Read More

Life comes in focus as the day approaches

It’s odd how a man facing heart surgery hears from friends who seem to have more on their minds than they’re willing to say — “How are you?” they say and “Thinking about you” in a way that suggests maybe they asked me months ago for a blurb for their new novel (“Recklessly absurd but lyrically sensitive”) or I promised to talk to their creative writing class — and I want to say, “Get to the point,” but these are Minnesotans and we are point-avoiders.

The elephant in the room is mortality, of course, and if they’re calling to wish me well, okay, but the novel is unimpressive (“Where confusion collides with revulsion at over-writing”) and my advice to young writers is “Get a life, then think about writing” and that’s enough about that.

Read More

Email sign-up:

Sign up for the Garrison Keillor & Friends email newsletter here >>>

Sign up for the weekly A Prairie Home Companion email newsletter here >>>

Sign up for the daily The Writer’s Almanac email newsletter here >>>


Submit to The Writer’s Almanac:

We are not accepting new poetry at this time. For questions, please contact twa @ garrisonkeillor.com


ShopGarrisonKeillor.com Questions 

For questions related to items you have ordered from our store, please contact orders @ garrisonkeillor.com


Get In Touch
Send Message

Press Kit

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. 

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

To shop merchandise related to Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion, and The Writer’s Almanac, visit our new online store >>>

To make a donation to The Writer’s Almanac,            click here >>>