From the Desk of Garrison Keillor
A prolific writer, Garrison Keillor is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. To the right, you find a selection of articles published since 1989, and a few unpublished pieces.



Gasgate


From Time Magazine

November 10, 1997

Monday afternoon, I drove into town for gas and stopped at the self-service and the pump wouldn't work. Gas wouldn't come out. I flipped the switch a couple times and she came back on the squawk box and yelled at me to stop flipping it. So I drove down the hill to another self-service and it's pump wouldn't work. A man inside told me, over the squawk box, that perhaps the problem was due to my putting the nozzle too far into my gas tank line. This seemed to be the case. I got about a dollar's worth in when a heavyset woman with stringy blonde hair walked up and said, "You just come from the Auto Stop?" I said I had. "You drove away without paying for your gas," she said.

She was the manager of the station and she had chased me a half-mile in her car. She said I owed her $3.79. I told her that was wrong. The pump at her station didn't work. I would've been able to feel gas coming through the nozzle, and it did not come. Not a penny's worth. I had looked at the pump dial ---- it was all zeroes. "Check my gas gauge," I said. "The needle is way below Empty."

"How do I know your gas gauge works?" she said.

"You can watch it work as I fill it up with gas," I said.

"I don't have time for that," she said. "I need $3.79 from you, or I'm going to have to call the cops."

And then I thought of all of those aging film actresses who have gotten arrested for shoplifting and the item appeared in hundreds of newspapers ---- AGING ACTRESS NABBED WITH $3.79 HAIR COMB IN POCKET ---- and fifty million Americans thought, "How pitiful that this once glamorous performer has fallen into petty
thievery." And I did not want to be one of those pitiful persons. And $3.79 is a small price to pay to avoid it. And so I paid up. For the sake of my parents. Somebody is driving around today on gasoline purchased by me in order to avoid bringing shame to my elderly mother and father.

I don't mind the injury, it's the insult that hurts ---- particularly the look of triumph on the heavy-set woman's face, her moral hauteur, her sheer self-righteous pleasure in bringing a malefactor to heel. She stood and jabbed her finger at me and raised her voice so that she could be heard by passers-by ---- people fifty feet away stopped to
listen to her. She wasn't just collecting on a debt, she was testifying before a Senate committee. This hurt me. And the most painful part was that I recognized her bad behavior from having behaved that way myself.

As I drove home, feeling a little persecuted, it struck me that Gasgate was my penance for the "Solidarity Forever" affair on Labor Day weekend.

I did a concert in Chicago that Sunday evening, and a week before, sent the lyrics of "Solidarity Forever" to the sponsor to be printed in the concert program for the audience to sing. It was Labor Day, after all. The sponsor sent back a message: "Can't sing 'Solidarity Forever' ---- too political." I looked at that message and I heard the rattle of drums and the skirl of bagpipes. It was censorship, me lads. Would we take it lying down? Would we?

Being censored is a high privilege for any American writer and we experience it approximately zero times in our career. Our great fear is not censorship, it's getting remaindered, to see our brave writing stacked on the bookstore floor, marked down to $1.89 --- and nobody buying it at that price either. Writers today know that the nobility bestowed on Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence will never be ours, that nobody bothers with repression anymore because everyone knows that to crack down on an artist is to promote him. Even Jesse Helms, not the swiftest intellect in the U.S. Senate, knows this, having personally raised Robert Mapplethorpe from obscurity. Performance artists who languished for years, underwhelming tiny audiences for
practically no money, have been rescued by a ringing denunciation from the religious right and given a career.

The suppression of "Solidarity Forever" was the closest I'd ever come to being censored, and I was not about to pass up my chance --- I sat down and fired off an indignant letter about the meaning of Labor Day and labor unions being a part of the fabric of American life and so forth, and faxed it to Chicago, and was contemplating how to proceed further (WRITER PLANS SING-IN; POLICE CHIEF THREATENS ARRESTS; MAYOR PLEADS FOR CALM), and it was lovely to think about. I casually told a woman friend about the affair and how I planned to take a stand, and she threw her arms around me and told me she admired me. This is not an everyday
occurrence in my life.

And the very next day the sponsor called up and said, "Fine. We'll print the lyrics, if that's what you want," and my balloon went pffffffffffft. I did the concert and the words to "Solidarity Forever" were there in the program and the audience sang all four verses lustily, including:

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn. But without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel can turn. We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom, when we learn That the union makes us strong.

And that was that. I flew home and the next day I glanced at the fax I had whipped off to the sponsor and the tone of moral hauteur was a little embarrassing. More than a little. When you write a sanctimonious letter, it is hard to keep it under control; there is a tendency to rise to indecent heights of piety. You don't simply argue the facts at hand, you rise in defense of godliness and decency and the First Amendment and oppressed peoples everywhere. And six weeks later, a heavy-set woman jabs her finger at you and accuses you of having filched $3.79 worth of gas and says it in a shrill voice so that a woman at a nearby gas pump filling up her van can hear it
and look your way and think, "That poor man. I hope he gets the counselling he needs before it's too late."


Past Articles
  • Phil Keillor Benefit for the Tenney Park Shelter (04/17/09)
  • Bill Holm, 1943–2009 (02/26/09)
  • Happy New Year, Friends (12/29/08)
  • Talk of the Stacks (11/17/08)
  • What Makes St. Paul So Great? (09/03/08)
  • GK On Historic Preservation (10/05/07)
  • Welcome to St. Paul (09/23/06)
  • "Homegrown Democrat," Chapters 1-4 (08/10/04)
  • Sing the National Anthem—and Try it in the Key of G (07/02/04)
  • Holiday Greetings from Garrison Keillor (12/23/03)
  • Remembering Plimpton (10/01/03)
  • Crankiness in Decline, Says the Old Guy (04/19/02)
  • A Governor Works in Mysterious Ways (10/19/01)
  • In Praise of Laziness (09/10/01)
  • I Just Needed a Valve Job (09/13/01)
  • A Eulogy for Chet Atkins (07/03/01)
  • A Foot Soldier in God's Floating Orchestra (04/01)
  • Exile on Main Street (10/02/00)
  • Walking Down the Canyon (07/31/00)
  • The Mysteries of Prom Night (05/15/00)
  • How I Write (12/04/99)
  • The Christmas of the Great Flu (12/99)
  • Let Jesse Be Jesse (10/10/99)
  • The Rice, the Bat, the Baby (09/06/99)
  • Faith at the Speed of Life (06/14/99)
  • The Republicans Were Right, But (02/15/99)
  • Minnesota's Excellent Ventura (11/16/98)
  • The Dangers of Christmas (04/06/98)
  • Gasgate (11/10/97)
  • Talk Radio (10/97)
  • The Seven Principles of a Successful Christmas (09/08/97)
  • The Seven Deadly Sins—Envy (04/97)
  • You Say Potato (04/04/96)
  • The Poetry Judge (02/96)
  • With All the Trimmings (11/27/95)
  • In Autumn We Get Older (11/06/95)
  • Minnesota's Sensible Plan (09/11/95)
  • The Art of the Embrace (02/95)
  • The Voters are Angry (08/94)
  • Word Play (05/18/90)
  • We Are Still Married (12/18/89)
  • Elevator Tales
  • A Graduation Speech


  • 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).

    Available now»

    American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy