Garrison Keillor's unique retrospective is really about what America was; but somehow, it doesn't end there. His profound entertainment does not get hung up in the past. It always seems to cultivate, in the back of our minds, an appreciation of Americana that is timeless, enduring.
You see, there is something deeply therapeutic about elaborating on a precious national heritage that we share together. And I declare that there is nothing morose or counterproductive about looking back, even though Mr. Keillor's Brand-New Retrospective road show is tinged with a note of vintage melancholy.
Last Tuesday night here in Boone, North Carolina, he demonstrated to us that it is healthy, and helpful, to find inspiration for the future in recollecting the best of what has gone before-- remembering the way things used to be when we were young and foolish. Back in the day.
Nothing wrong with identifying what it was that characterized our baby-boom g-generation, then celebrating it with an evening of poetry, prose and singalong, orchestrated by the bard of the Prairie Home. At one point, Garrison started singing:
"Oh, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean."
And the way she looked was way beyond compare. . ."
We boomers in the arena instinctively joined along. He knew we would, because, together, we remember. . . I clearly remember the first time I heard those lines sung, laying in bed one night listening to my transistor radio, probably about 1963 or so. The Beatles sailed into our young collective consciousness, via the airwaves, during that rarified time of our youth.
My g-generation remembers that moment of the Fab Four's arrival from England, shaking their hairy heads on Ed Sullivan and all that, My generation-- who grew up under the strong leadership of Ike and the dubious example of Elvis--my g-generation, mourning JFK and Dallas, and believing in Walter Cronkite and Annette Funicello. All these personality vectors framed our shared experience as the first-ever TV generation.
Oh what a time it was! Never be another like it.
But the first singalong we did with Mr. Keillor on Tuesday night was not that Beatles' tune; it was an anthem much more sacred than anything the irreverent Liverpudlians would ever compose. All of us gray heads remembered, from school, the refrain:
"America, America, God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea."
Then the bard of the Prairie Home crooned us into Home on the Range. The words just come back, you know, like riding a bicycle. Most every boomer remembers the tune, accompanied by memories of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Howdy Doody, Dan'l Boone, Woody in Toy Story. Say what? Woody?
Anyway, after those two national hymns, somewhere in there was when Garrison evoked the Beatles contribution to our collective Boomer memory:
"Well, my heart went boom, when I crossed that room,
and I held her hand in mine. . ."
This is what it's all about! But hey, it seems this kind of thing doesn't happen any more.
A decade or so before the Beatles, when Garrison Keillor was about the age that I was when I first heard Lennon-McCartney, there was Buddy Holly. He was a little before my time. But Buddy was not before Garrison Keillor's time; Buddy was right square in the middle of Garrison Keillor's sensitive prairie-home experience, which had been birthed about nine years before mine had popped out down in Louisiana, but on the same River, the Mississippi.
At his retrospective concert last Tuesday night, Garrison mentioned Buddy as he spun his web of preciously memorable treasures. I had a feeling he might mention Buddy Holly, because I knew the importance of the deceased singer's legacy in Mr. Keillor's mind.
I knew, because many years ago, it was Garrison Keillor's tenderly shared recollection of Buddy's small-plane-crash death that first drew my attention to the rare, provocative experience of listening, on Saturday nights, to a Prairie Home Companion radio show. 'T'was then I heard the Minnesota bard's poignant, homespun yarns about Lake Wobegone, which is a quintessential small-town somewhere out there in the mythical, archetypical, Prairie Home that we all seem to remember, even if we didn't grow up in Minnesota.
There is so much I could say about our tender evening with Garrison Keillor, but I will not dwell on it, because you are, after all, reading this online, with the attendant post-Boomer short attention span and so forth. You would. . .ah. . .you'd have to be there. But I will say this: just to hear Rich Dworsky's piano playin' was better than nirvana.
And know this: America's resilient character lives on and on, despite what soulless fanatics may do to maim and kill innocent bystanders in Boston, or in Texas or in Oklahoma or New York, or in any other place in these United States.
Garrison Keillor's shared music and monologue continues to reinforce preservation of our precious Americana cultural legacy in every venue he addresses. He is a man garrisoning the best of what America has been, is, and will be.