Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Home, Home on the Stage

Just because I know the second verse of "America the Beautiful"--not to mention the entire George Carlin parody version--doesn't mean I want to sing either aloud, even with Garrison Keillor and 2000 fans trying to convince me my out-of-tuneness wouldn't matter. Keillor performed in Santa Barbara at the Arlington last night, with regular PHC (not to be confused with the PCH--that's some mighty different geography, if equally based on hopeful fictions, in a few dyselxic letters) musical cronies Richard Dworksy and Robin & Linda Williams, and offered up a standing, sing-a-long intermission that hinted at the heart of his project. Anybody who's done some reading up, or failed to miss his quick Dick Cheney hunting aside last night, knows Keillor is an old-fashioned Democrat, but that doesn't stop him from extolling small (if mythical) town virtue, letting loose with 3-part gospel harmony, and singing four, turns out there's four (even without the Carlin version) verses of "America the Beautiful." He wants his corn and to milk it, too, and you sort of have to mix metaphors for someone so eager to assert that liberals aren't heathens, aren't treasonous, and they're going to darn well sing about it. Perhaps with a radio-friendly full baritone like his it's impossible not to sing, but it's telling the Lutheran in him makes him more often than not sing songs with the lord lurking in them--you can't let yourself get too carried away, after all.

Of course, by focusing on the songs--often so rich with mortality's sting (all this going home, this crossing the bar) that they left me a bit damp-eyed, what with my mom's recent passing and me most decidedly not coming from stoic Midwest stock--I'm leaving out all the joy there is to hear a person tell a clever story well. So detail rich, he is, that you feel by the time he's done that you've seen the photo albums his characters most assuredly keep in attics. The woman downing Kahlua poured up to the third fish on the glass; the entrepeneur astounded she can sell pet aroma therapy; the Minnesota men shoveling their walks as a kind of marking, but ironically making it easier for others to come to their door and steal their women. There's nothing more universal than describing humans in their silly particularity.

It was quite a performance, in so many ways. And as for his enduring popularity, it's sort of like he's the Unitarian Church for the NPR set, offering us artless art just like the Unitarians have made church possible for those who can't quite sell themselves on god.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well-done George. You've caught the cultural tenor of Keillor's small town liberal nostalgia, with its finely detailed juxtaposition of the Woebegone hope of the gospels with the hilarious and mortal chaos that ensues when reality enters Woebegone. I don't have to blog about it now, except to caution: don't underestimate or deride the political import of hope, even small town corny nostalgia, since all our hopes are dreams are no less unreal and no less necessary.

8:03 AM  

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