Bill Holm was a great man and unlike most great men he really looked like one. Six-foot-eight, big frame, and a big white beard and a shock of white hair, a booming voice, so he loomed over you like a prophet and a preacher, which is what he was. He was an only child, adored by his mother, and she protected him from bullies, and he grew up free to follow his own bent and become the sage of Minneota, a colleague of Whitman though born a hundred years too late, a champion of Mozart and Bach, playing his harpsichord on summer nights, telling stories about the Icelanders, and thundering about how the young have lost their way and abandoned learning and culture in favor of grease and noise.
He thundered with the best of them though he had a gentle heart. He was an English prof who really loved literature, and he could buttonhole you and tell you he'd just finished reading Dickens again and how wonderful it was. He got himself into print pretty well, and anyone picking up his "Windows of Brimnes" or "The Music of Failure" or "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere On Earth" will get the real Holm.
He hated Minnesota winters and maybe that's what killed him, flying back from beautiful Patagonia to the windswept tundra and thinking about having to shovel out his house in Minneota.
I'm glad he got to see Barack elected, which restored some of his faith in his countrymen. I wish I'd been there to catch him as he fell. I hope his Icelandic ancestors are waiting to welcome him to their rocky corner of heaven. I hope his piano goes to someone who will love it as much as he did. I hope that people all across Minnesota will pick up one of his books and see what the man had to say.
Bill Holm on A Prairie Home Companion
August 11, 2007 (rebroadcast)
May 20, 2006
November 30, 1996
Bill Holm's poems on The Writer's Almanac
"Wedding Poem for Schele and Phil"
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).