Tuesday, October 4, 2016

An Evening With Garrison Keillor

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a forgotten small town blog on the edge of the vast prairie of the internet.  I'm Dave-El and I'm strong, good-looking AND above average. Also delusional.

Last Thursday evening as an early anniversary present for my wife (22 years has of Sunday, October 2nd), the El family headed out from the Fortress of Ineptitude to the Carolina Theater in downtown Greensboro NC to attend "An Evening With Garrison Keillor".

The happy couple of 22 years, sweetly smiling Andrea and vaguely crazed David

In case you're not familiar with the work of Mr. Keillor, he was until this summer the long time host of the public radio program he created, A Prairie Home Companion, a mixture of music (mostly folk and country) and comedy. The comedy ranged from the very literate (it helps if you follow current news and perhaps have a degree in English literature) to the low brow (such as the annual joke show with knock-knock jokes, bad puns and "how many _____s does it take to screw in a light bulb?" zingers).  

At the core of the show was Keillor's recounting of the news of Lake Wobegon, a small town out on the edge of the prairie that was the place of Keillor's birth.

Except it's not.

Lake Wobegon was a construction of Keillor's imagination. Yet it's a testament to his gifts both as a writer and as a storyteller that this little town in Minnesota seemed as real as any place you may have grown up in.

Keillor began a Prairie Home Companion back in 1974 and except for a break of a few years where Garrison decided to follow his heart to Norway he's been associated with the show ever since as it's host until he stepped down in July 2016.  With this being the end of the his run on the show, the opportunity to see Keillor live in Greensboro was too good to pass up.

Click here for a brief touch base on his final show. 

Thursday night was a wonderful experience. The house was packed and the excitement to see Garrison Keillor in person was palpable. The show was supposed to be 90 minutes but it ran nearly 2 hours not that anyone minded or cared. The show itself was just Garrison on stage, sometimes standing, mostly walking about the stage. The show was bookended by Garrison leading the audience in a sing-a-long of songs we all know ("America the Beautiful", "Amazing Grace", etc). The bulk of the show was just Garrison Keillor... talking. Sharing stories of his life and the lessons he's learned. He shared the latest happenings in Lake Wobegon, all told with that melodic voice of his that would be put you to sleep except what he says his so funny, interesting and insightful. Garrison Keillor can simultaneously relax you AND demand your rapt attention.

I could go on but really, my skill with words is a pale shade of what Keillor can accomplish and I can only suggest you check out the man himself to truly understand the power of his gifts and the pleasure those gifts can bring. There are videos of Prairie Home Companion performances on You Tube and recordings on the PHC website.

Instead I'm going to tell my story or rather the story of my family and our meeting with Garrison Keillor after the show.

Before the show, I purchases a couple of books that were on sale in the lobby, a collection of Garrison Keillor's essays and a Guy Noir novel for my daughter who particularly enjoyed these segments on Keillor's show. After the show, Keillor would be in the lobby to sign autographs.

It was 10:00 when the show was over. My wife and I had to be at work the next day and my daughter had to go to school. And it was crowded in the lobby. The Els do not care for crowds. At all.

Still, we were gripped by a feeling of destiny, that we needed to do this. That we would regret more not doing this than we would regret doing it. So we got in line to meet Garrison Keillor and get his autograph.

My daughter Randie is not a big fan of meeting people which is quite a shame because she is quite an engaging conversationalist once she gets past any initial nervousness. I'm kind of the same way but in my many years, I've learned to cope. Well, cope slightly better. 

As we are standing in line, Randie is nervous, twitching and shaking. She's not sure what she's going to say. She's not sure she can say anything. Basically her plan is to hand her book to Garrison Keillor, get his autograph and beat a hasty retreat.

Me, I'm working out all sorts of clever things I want to share with this amazing talent.

"Yes, between the three of us, Mr. Keillor, my family is rather strong, good looking and above average but some of us more than others."

"Yes, Mr. Keillor, I'm just looking for the answers to life's persistent questions." (Using my Guy Noir narrator voice.) 

"When I was in high school, I was rather tall but also very shy so I would try to make myself look shorter. Did you do that, Mr. Keillor?" 

"Why, I too am a writer of sorts. Oh, it's just a silly little blog thing I call 'I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You' and...oh, thank you for saying that's clever, Mr. Keillor." 

I had a head full of clever things I was going to say. My daughter just wanted to get this over with involving as little contact and interaction as possible.

So my daughter approaches Garrison Keillor with her book in hand.

"Hi," she said nervously.

Garrison Keillor bent down and said warmly, "Well, hello. And what's your name?"

"Miranda," my daughter replied, giving her IRL name.

"Miranda, what a lovely name. Shakespeare had a character named Miranda." 


Garrison Keillor noticed a uniquely designed button that my daughter had on her shirt. "What is that?" he asked, indicating the button.

"Oh, that's from a video game." 

"Video game, huh?" Garrison gently took the book that Randie proffered and he asked, "So are you in college?"

"No, I'm high school," she answered. 

"High school?" Garrison seemed incredulous. "Really?"

"Yeah, sophomore year."

"Wow. Can I give you some advice about high school?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Get out of high school as fast as you can."

Randie chuckled at this as Garrison Keillor returned the signed book to her.

"Life gets so much better after high school," he added.

Randie nodded and smiled, replying, "Thank you."

"No, thank you, Miranda. It was a pleasure meeting you." 

"It was a pleasure meeting you too," Randie said as she moved away, not quickly out of fear but slowly, wrapped in the warm glow of a most gracious encounter with a most gentle and friendly man.

Then it was my turn as I handed my book to Garrison Keillor.


"Hello, Mr. Keillor, my name is David and this is my wife Andrea and that was my daughter Miranda you just met and we've been married for 22 years, I mean my wife Andrea and I have been married for 22 years, not my daughter, I'm pretty sure that's illegal and I, I mean we, that is myself Andrea my wife and Miranda my daughter are big fans of your work and I think of us as good, strong looking and average, looking for persistent answers to questions, and you know I was tall in high school and I have a blog and I didn't want to be tall in high school but you were tall in high school but you're tall now but you know that and it was an honor and a pleasure as well as an honor, oh, I've already said that, an honor and a pleasure to meet you, sir, Mr. Keillor, sir."

Garrison Keillor, looking completely lost, signed my book, handed it back to me and said, "Thank you."

Well, I suppose it could've gone worse.

Not by much but still...

Outside the theater, my daughter was happy about her encounter with a celebrity. I guess one might say I wasn't as content with my meeting with Garrison Keillor but as I reflected on it, I realized that the dichotomy between how my encounter with Keillor went versus my daughter's encounter with him imparted two things.

One was an invaluable lesson. Sometimes we over prepare ourselves for certain things in life that we miss out on the joy and wonder of the experience. For Randie, it was enough to be there, hand a book to Garrison Keillor and see what happened from there. Her nervousness about what to say actually worked to her advantage as she got more than just a quick meet up with the man but an actual conversation, a conversation he started with her. Me, I just overwhelmed the man. Keillor may have wondered at that moment, "What exactly are the provisions for security here at the Carolina Theater?" 

The other thing imparted by comparing these two encounters? A story to tell.  As Garrison Keillor himself once remarked, "There are no tragedies in life. Everything is material."

And that's the news from I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You where the my daughter is wiser than her years, my wife is exceedingly patient with me and I'm just weird.

Thank you for dropping by and remember to be good to one another.  

HE'S ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!

Today is April 24th. Art by Bill Watterson Happy birthday to me!   By the way, I got a birthday greeting from Bing!