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The Old Scout
What You Don't Want, Throw Out
February 05, 2008


Only February and already it's a fine political year here in our great roisterous republic with a carnival cast of colorful drones and smiley eminences huffing and puffing across the field of battle and tumbling off the cliff, leaving two serious contenders in each party. Thanks to all the candidates for their nerve. Hurray for democracy, which has been so generous to keyboard wretches like me. And to all the soreheads who say the presidential campaign season is too long, a big Bronx cheer (pppppppppppppp). Not when it's this interesting, it isn't.

It is a wonderful system indeed that can take a long look at America's Mayor and hand him his hat. The man thought he could get by on symbolism, but the more people saw of him, the less they liked him. The more he spent on marketing, the better John McCain looked. And there, in a nutshell, is why you and I have sensibly stayed out of the race. Delusional grandiose self-absorption is not a qualification for high office. Goodbye, Rudy and Judy. Have a nice day somewhere.

Goodbye, John Edwards, whom friends of mine liked and who ran against the Current Occupant, which is a forlorn and fruitless endeavor, like yelling at a horse. If the Democrats run on anger and the urge to pay back the God, Guns & Capital Gains Party, they're likely to lose. Move on. That's my problem with Senator Clinton: If she becomes president, must we relive Renaissance Weekends and New Age narcissism, and then do we also get the return of Kenneth Starr and the Mellon man?

But here in my house, the race for the presidency is secondary; the urgent business is housecleaning. We are decent God-fearing people who somehow have Allowed Things To Slide and now we live among piles of books and paper, reams of driftage on the kitchen counter, boxes of mementos of a misspent life. Another month and we might go over the brink and become wild-eyed eccentrics living in rooms with narrow passages between the piles, cooking on a hotplate in the bathtub, the house reeking of cat dung. And so I am throwing away stuff, which is sort of exhilarating.

I go through shelves and drawers of CDs and toss everything I feel no strong urge to listen to right now, which is most of them. Stacks of promising young singer-songwriters go down the chute and I keep the Faure Requiem and Mahler's Fourth and the Louis Armstrong Hot Five sides from the Twenties and of course choirs singing hymns. The first verse of "Abide With Me" opens a door and all my family is in there, we've just buried a relative in the cold cold ground, and now we'll go have a lunch of ham salad sandwiches.

The American people are looking for change this year, and so am I, and yet my imagination is planted in the past. Is that sad or what? I wander through the museum and the art of 2007 strikes me as shallow and zany, and the modern art of the early 20th century — Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee, Chagall, Hopper — seems noble and full of tenderness. A Chopin etude is a porcelain bowl holding powerful affections, and if someone sits at the piano and plays Chopin, the house is filled with images of beautiful women in lamplight looking out at fields of snow, children asleep on a pile of coats at a party, quiet husbands starved for love, the dignity of dogs, the taste of caviar and onion on toast, the pleasure of the forbidden kiss, the feeling of silk. I listen to Sarah Songwriter's lines about the boyfriend who disappointed her and wonder if she is getting enough exercise. I listen to Mahler's Fourth and it seems to contain the lives of everyone I ever knew.

I think of when I was in college and owned about three cardboard boxes of stuff and a corduroy sportcoat and six pairs of jeans and a Webster's Third Unabridged and an Underwood typewriter. I can't be that guy again, but sometimes when life is too much, you want to walk out the front door and leave it all behind and start over. That's how I feel about this election. The White House is a vacuum. The man is a mistake on two legs, a national wrong turn. Stop the car and turn around.

© 2008 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.



From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

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