An Open Letter from Garrison Keillor|
THANK YOU, ST. PAUL
This letter appeared in the July 6, 1999 edition of the St. Paul Pioneer
On July 6, 1974, some friends and I did a radio show in front of a small audience
at Macalester College, and twenty-five years later, I want to thank St. Paul for
being the home of A Prairie Home Companion.
The show has played Radio City Music Hall, Town Hall, The Fox in Atlanta, Wolf
Trap, Hollywood Bowl, and Mark Twain's house in Hartford, but our home is here
at the Fitzgerald Theater on Exchange and Wabasha. The St. Paul Public Library
is our research arm. Cossetta's pizza fuels many a staff meeting. The St. Paul
Hotel ministers to our guests. Dayton's has provided red socks at the last minute
on Saturday. Mickey's Diner sent over a waiter to take orders on the air. St.
Paul Parks & Recreation helps put on our street dances and the St. Paul police
have made sure everything was cool.
The Fitzgerald Theater
The best St. Paul has given us is talent. Pure talent. Judy Larson was a Murray
High grad and the most moving blues singer I ever heard. Butch Thompson is from
Marine on St. Croix and lives on Crocus Hill; he's the best classic jazz pianist
in America, none better. We found Bob Douglas, the Powdermilk Biscuit Band leader
and mandolinist and spoon player, on Holly Avenue. There was the late George "Red"
Maddock, an old St. Paul nightclub drummer of whom Chet Atkins said he had the
steadiest beat and could propel a band better than anyone he ever heard. God bless
you, Red. And then there was the old railroad electrician from the East Side,
Ray Marklund, who became our volunteer stagehand and was backstage, with his tools,
at every show until he died a few years ago. He knew music from his youth spent
at the Coliseum ballroom on Lexington and University, where Duke Ellington and
Woody Herman and Count Basie played.
Ray was the salt of the earth and a big booster back when we had no confidence
in ourselves and from time to time he appointed himself the producer. "You can't
fire me, I'm a volunteer," he said.
Soundman Tom Keith
Along the way we found the best radio sound-effects
man in America over in West St. Paul, Tom Keith, a sound engineer who segued into
doing hoof clops, rockets, toilets, helicopters, and elk. A few years later, we
found a Highland Park guy for a musical director, Richard Dworsky, an ace studio
musician and recording artist and Children's Theatre composer, and the absolute
perfect pianist for our show. Nobody else in America can do what this guy does,
improvising, underscoring, arranging, playing great gospel piano and jazz and
blues. And then there is the girl from Holy Spirit Grade School (where she played
the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz") Christine Tschida, who has produced the show
for the past ten years and brought it into the black and extended its life. And
then we added a terrific guitarist, Pat Donohue, known to every acoustic guitarist
in America, who grew up on Summit and who is featured on the show every week.
You could take this guy anywhere.
St. Paul is a great city and what makes it so is its power to raise your spirits
when you feel discouraged and over-worked and misunderstood. I get inspired by
listening to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, their beautiful translucent sound
redolent of white Burgundy and fresh mown grass, or seeing the Minnesota Opera
put on Turandot or La Traviata in The Ordway. Or by hiking across the Wabasha
bridge and getting that magnificent river-level view of the city from Navy Island.
The St. Paul Saints (courtesy MN Historical Society)
A Saints ball game is a cheering experience and so is buying a large box of
buttered popcorn from Candyland. The existence of fresh popcorn is one thing that
makes a city livable. This city has many such distinctions. The Hungry Mind is
one of the best bookstores in America. The bar of the St. Paul Grill is everything
a bar should be. Eating on W.A. Frost's terrace on a summer night. A movie at
the Grandview. In August, there's the State Fair calling to us from North Snelling.
You can walk into Rice Park, a lively square that any city in America could envy,
and see The Ordway lit up and the James J. Hill Library and admire our great municipal
castle that Betty Musser and Georgia DeCoster and Frank Marzitelli saved from
the wrecking ball. You can walk up past the Cathedral to F. Scott's old neighborhood
on Ramsey Hill and stroll along Summit or Portland or Goodrich (where the big
white house stands where he wrote Winter Dreams) and know that there isn't another
place quite like it anywhere.
This is a good city and it's been good to me and to our show. It's almost all
the honor a person could want just to be able to live here.
The folks who put out this paper have been good to our show. When we were young
and raw and naive, the paper promoted us, and then when the show moved back here
in 1992, two guys from the paper, aware of bruised feelings in the past, took
me to lunch, simply to say, "The past is the past. If you're going to get mad
at us, it should be for something new." It was a good lunch, we laughed a lot,
and it was a classy thing for them to do.
A Prairie Home Companion is only a radio show, so it doesn't bear celebration
anymore than you'd celebrate fireflies. It's transitory. There is always the next
show to think about. I always wish it were better. I have a thousand regrets.
But I look forward to the start of our new season October 2. And thank you, St.
Paul, for all these sweet years.
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