Saturday, November 03, 2007

Yo, Money...It Must Be The Shoes!

(I haven't seen the Spike Lee commercial in years, but I think that's how the line went.)

While Jordan and his Nikes turned out to be a pretty successful pair, I wonder if Spike would consider bringing back his tag line for, maybe...Garrison Keillor and his Sauconys.

Not the same allure, probably. But knowing what I know now, if I had to choose between going to see Michael Jordan or Garrison Keillor, I think I'd opt for the Sauconys.

Garrison Keillor: syndicated columnist, novelist, host of the Prairie Home Companion radio show on National Public Radio, proud Democrat, storyteller extraordinaire. And all-around odd duck.

I don't know what the significance of the red shoes and socks is, but in many of his photos online, and in this one taken by yours truly, there they are. They seem to be part of his trademark, along with a tie that he likes to tie a good four or five inches too long.

Several months ago, I barely knew who he was. I'd heard the name before, but that's about as much knowledge I had of him. A buddy of mine mentioned him several times in e-mails or in conversation: "I just read in Garrison Keillor's column this week that..."; or "Keillor told a great story about..."; or "You remind me so much of Garrison Keillor, except that you're a much better writer and should be way more famous than he is." (I may have stretched that last one a bit too far.)

My point is, I was bombarded with enough Keillor references that I started reading his columns, and when I found out that he was coming to Milwaukee as part of his promotional book tour, I found myself on the interstate, driving to see an author about whom I knew very little.

And I can't wait to go back.

Mr. Keillor has instantly vaulted up my list of favorites to somewhere near the top, and I now own two of his books, one called "Pontoon," a fourth book in his series of tales of Lake Wobegon, a fictitious town in his native Minnesota "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

I was forced to buy that book as part of admission to see him that night, a bad rule in principle...but in hindsight, so well worth it. It cost me $37 for the book and admission to spend an hour and a half in his presence, and I think I'd pay that next time, even without the book!

The other book on his table of goodies that I couldn't resist purchasing was "Homegrown Democrat." Suffice it to say he's not the biggest George W. Bush supporter in the nation, often referring to him as the Current Occupant in his columns and books.

The evening with Keillor was engaging, entertaining, and filled with more than the occasional burst of laughter from the 900-ish people in the theater. His dry wit and command of the English language have made me an instant fan, and regular reader.

He often stood in front of the crowd with his hands stuffed into his suitcoat pockets, or his eyes closed as he reflected on a story, or possibly invented it as he went along. He was unassuming, perhaps a bit frumpy, but addicting at the same time.

As he walked out onto the stage and got close enough to the mic, he said, "It's good to be in Milwaukee, home of...the full serving." As he peered down at his belly: "The stains down the front of my...shirt, are...frozen custard from Leon's."

His timing was part of what made him so engaging, I think. He inserted pauses in his conversation that made you hang on his last word, anxious to hear what he was going to follow it up with.

Much of his monologue included his thoughts on turning 65 earlier this year. He has a residence in New York as well as Minnesota, and he spent some time out east for a while, saying, "New York is a great place to walk around when you're brooding." So much activity and life whirring around you, but people leave you alone for the most part.

Another observation of getting older: "We used to talk about ideas, and now we talk about medications."

He focused on the different generations and how they viewed life as they went through it, because he's got a son who's 38, and a daughter who's 9, and he's trying to make sense of how their lives, and his own, too, are different.

Back when he was a child, he said, they could stand up on the seat of a car while it was in motion; they ate ground beef and ground pork; and my favorite...they always made it to school, no matter what the weather. "School never closed when I was a boy. That is why we know how to spell!"

Also reflecting on days gone by: "We typed on an Underwood, and hit the keys hard. You had to mean it when you wrote something."

He's been on the radio with his Prairie Home Companion show for 37 years, and he said, "That's why there has to be someone on the radio, someone who knows this stuff. So that you remember there was a time before your time."

I could have listened to him all night, skipped work the next morning, and not cared one bit.

In describing his newest book, he said he was anxious to get back to writing a comic novel again, talking about how much he enjoyed writing this one. "It's not too long of a book, because you can't be funny for very long. Or, you shouldn't try."

To close the night, he took more than a handful of questions from the audience (next time I'll ask him about the shoes and socks!), and then regaled us with an a cappella Gospel tune called, "Lord, Won't You Come Down Here?" to which several members of the crowd joined in singing.

For the record...with Keillor, it's so much more than the shoes.
It's the words.

(although I think with Jordan, it was probably more than the shoes, too.)

"Some luck lies in not getting what you
thought you wanted but getting what you have,
which once you have got it you may be
smart enough to see is what you would
have wanted had you known."
—Garrison Keillor

"The funniest line in English is, 'Get it?'
When you say that, everyone chortles."
—Garrison Keillor


  1. Wow. I had no idea we came THAT close to meeting each other.

    Or at least being in the same room with 900 other people.

    I discovered Keillor at a rather young-ish age when an episode of PHC was broadcast on Ch.38, good ole' WPNE, back in 1985 or so. It was around the time that his first "real" book, Lake Wobegon Days, was taking the nation by storm.

    His work, like King and Bradbury, has overshadowed and underscored every day of my life for years. I'm glad you've purchased two of his books but you might as well leave room for six more books or so in the "K" section of your shelf. You're gonna' need it. WLT, Wobegon Boy, and Love Me are required reading.

    I'm about halfway through Pontoon. I'm a fast reader but his work I take slowwwww - - GK's writing is like desert and who likes to rush through a mile high sundae?

    By the way, Pontoon may well be his finest work EVER. It at least has the BEST opening sentence I've ever read in a book:

    "Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that."

    An additional by the way...

    I opted not to go to Alverno that night and see him. It's the third time I've had the opportunity to see him live and all three times I declined. He's so damn iconinc in my life that no good could come of me being in the same room with him. I find idols are best kept a minimum of one or more zip codes away. This does not negate, or course, the extreme sadness I carry with me knowing I probably missed an incredible evening. The fact that i could have met one of my favortie bloggers face to face makes it worse yet....

  2. Ya know, Jeff...

    I remember reading something about Keillor on your old blog, and you mentioning his book tour. I was going to send you an e-mail about it, but I wasn't totally sure that I was going to go until the night before. That's when I looked online and found out it cost $37 to see him ("price includes book," as they said), and bought my ticket.

    While I totally understand your point of view on not wanting to get too close to your idols, for fear of them maybe not living up to their billing, I guess I have the opposite view. Any time writers like Dave Barry or Natalie Goldberg are anywhere in the state, I make every effort to go see them.

    And certain singer/songwriters get the same kind of attention. A night in the presence of those kinds of people carries me a long way.

    While some idols may disappoint in person, I can almost guarantee that a night with Keillor will make you just respect him even more. Although I know you've had a much much longer admiration for him than I've had.

    I'll be sure to let you know next time I'm going to head down that way for any kind of an authory/booky/writerly/bloggery kind of event.