Christmas
Saturday, December 7, 1996
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(BRASS QUINTET -- Brahms' Est Ist Ein Ros)

GK: Once again, the holidays surround us, with all of their rituals, and ritual is a great comfort in fast-paced times. The sameness of tradition from year to year. The Holidays have their high spiritual aspects---

RK (ANGLICAN VOICE, JOWLY, HIGH CHURCH, REVERB): Surely now is the time to say, as did the prophets of old.....Behold Him, O ye peoples. Let us look at that word: behold. Or rather two words: be....and hold. To be, or to exist, and to hold, or to have. The two sides of Christmas. Being--- that which we are --- and holding, that which we possess. And the great paradox that when we put together what we are and what we possess, we find that we can see. Or "behold".

GK: That's one side of it, and then of course there's the disgusting low carnal aspect of it....(DOGS)

TR (OLD BEERY ENGLISHMAN): Bring me another beer, you saucy wench! And cut me another side of that there beef too. And make sure there's plenty of fat on it too! (LICKS LIPS) (DOGS)

VC (WENCH): No beef for you, you drunken sot, until you get those filthy dogs down off of my table!

TR: These dogs ain't no filthier than I am! Haw haw haw haw haw! Are you? (DOGS)

GK: For me, the holiday ritual begins with my annual Christmas cold. I look forward to this every year: it's a wonderful cold. I crawl into bed and I hear my inner child weeping.

TK (SNIFFLING): I never got what other people got. Never. Nobody ever stopped to ask what I wanted. No. (HE PAUSES TO BLOW NOSE) I was the invisible child. The obedient child. They didn't care about my needs. I was just an ornament to them. (HE BLOWS NOSE AGAIN)

GK: And after a little bit of extravagant self-pity, my doctor comes.

TR (RUSSIAN, OLD, DEEP VOICE): Hmmmmm. There is a deathly pallor, a coldness in the extremities --- and your eyes have a very troubled expression, as if your soul is feverish.

GK: Being a Russian doctor, his diagnosis is different from that of most doctors.

TR (RUSSIAN): This is a spiritual disease. It is a longing that can never be satisfied. (HE BEGINS TO WEEP)

GK: I enjoy my cold. I'm from the Midwest. Suffering exhilarates us. Depression is our inspiration.

TK (WEEPING): I'll never get better. I'll be gone soon. Probably. (HE BLOWS NOSE)

(BRASS QUINTET -- Poulenc)

GK: I lie in bed with my cold, and I imagine scenes of violent destruction. I imagine all of the fruitcakes in America piled a half-mile high at a hazardous waste site in Nevada.

TK: Five, four, three, two, one. (PAUSE. THEN DISTANT IMMENSE EXPLOSION, AND FIREBALL)

GK: I imagine Tiny Tim sitting at the table with his father, Bob Cratchit, and Tim is twenty-five, his hair is purple and spiked, he has a paper clip in his forehead, and a tattoo on his upper arm that does not say God bless us everyone.

TK (CRATCHIT): Wish you'd go out and get yourself a job, Tiny Tim.

TR (TEEN): Oh boy, here we go again.

TK: You're not so tiny anymore, Tim. Time you went to work, I say. Used to be good as gold, you did. And now you're a pain in the butt, Tiny Tim.

TR (TEEN): Oh, go stuff it in your ear. (SLAP) You--- you hit me.

TK: I did indeed, Tiny Tim. Struck you with your own little crutch. And I'll do it again if you don't get yourself a job. Don't cry, Mrs. Cratchit.

TR: (EDITH) What happened to us Cratchits? We were happier when life was harder for us.

GK: She's got a good point there. We're northern people, we thrive on adversity, and thank goodness, life in Minnesota gives us plenty of chances to thrive. (BLIZZARD, WOLF) We struggle with winter and it does us nothing but good. Life is hardship. That's what makes it wonderful. Life isn't a tape recording, you can't just push a button. This is a real brass quintet, and you have to suffer to play brass, you have to blow so hard sometimes you forget your own Social Security number. You forget where your next gig is. You forget to pay your income taxes. Most brass players eventually wind up in minimum-security federal prisons. That's what gives their music its special poignance. (BRASS QUINTET -- Tannenbaum)

GK: This particular brass quintet came and parked themselves on the corner under the window of the apartment where I stay in New York and after they had played for awhile, I wished they'd go away. A little bit of brass goes a long way with me. I thought of calling the Music Police.

TR (NY COP): Okay. In the van. Watch your horns. And remember: remain silent. It's gonna be tacet for you guys for a long time to come.

GK: I imagined somebody coming along and committing a drive-by mooning. (TK RASPBERRY, IN MOTION) I imagined calling a priest.

RK (ANGLICAN): The prophet of old has said: Be still... and know... that I.... am God. Now what do we mean by "still" in this context? Don't we mean, after all, a sort of quiet? ? Let's go back to the word: behold. Does it say, "be loud"? No. It says: behold.

GK: But the longer they played, the more I was touched by it. Snow fell on the street corner, and the sun went down, and still they played, under the street light, five men in parkas and stocking caps, an open instrument case at their feet, with only a few quarters to show for it. Men who were probably only a few months away from being in a supervised rehabilitation program.

(BRASS QUINTET -- Hark the Herald Angels Sing)

GK: To be a brass quintet on a street corner playing in the snow and the cold for nickels and dimes a few months before you go to prison....that's the true spirit of Christmas. Poignance. That's the Christmas I love. I grew up in a family that enjoyed sad songs. Other people sang "Joy to The World"....we sang.... My friends, have you heard, how one Christmas Eve, Three little children, so young and naive,
Reached for the candy canes high on the tree
And it fell on them hard, causing head injuries.
Poor poor little kids.

VC (SINGS): Sweetly sang the Christmas minstrels
Wandering gaily door to door,
As the baby ate the tinsel
And lay gasping on the floor.

TR (SINGS): He was a department store Santa
And he tried so hard to ho-ho,
But he could not forget his darling Jeannette
Who was lost in the blizzard long ago.

GK: Little Jim was a trombonist
With a perfect embouchure
But like most trombonists
His family was dirt poor.
And so one year at Christmas
To earn a little dough
He played carols on the corner
When it was thirty-eight below.
His tongue froze to the mouthpiece
As he played O Little Town,
And he tried to call for help
But he could not make a sound.
They found him there at midnight,
Lying in the snow alone.
In the sky, a bright star twinkled.
God had found a new trombone.

TK (INNER CHILD): That's so sad. So true. So much like my own life. (HE BLOWS NOSE)

GK: I've known thousands of brass players and I've never known one who didn't have a tragic personal life. Some dark obsession. Some horrible secret from childhood. Some live in New Jersey. And to hear them play, knowing that soon their little children will be riding the bus to see Daddy on Visiting Day --- that's the beauty of Christmas.

(BRASS -- Once in Royal David's City)

TR (ENGLISH): Aye, good beef it is too. And gravy and potatoes. Eh? (DOGS) Aye, good beef and good beer and --- what? Where's me pig brains?

VC (WENCH): Pig brains! Aaaaoooooo....

RK (ENGLISH): Right. A nice big bowl of pig brains!

TK (ENGLISH): At's right! Wouldn't be Christmas wi'out pig brains!

VC: Aaaoooooooo. All right. How d' y' want yer pig brains? Y' want em poached or boiled?

TR: Poached or boiled???? Pig brains???

TK: Poached or boiled indeed!

RK: You don't poach pig brains!

TK: No sir.

TR: Not for Christmas.

RK: Christmas pig brains is always served raw in a big tin plate, they is.

TR: At's right! Big plate o' raw pig brains.

VC: Aaaooooooooooo. All right.

TR: An' you make sure them is fresh pig brains!

RK: At's right. Warm and fresh.

TK: Wouldn't be Christmas without fresh pig brains.

GK: Many people are disgusted by Christmas, and that's fine: that's their duty, to be disgusted. Disgust is a job, it needs to be done, and they're the ones to do it.

RK (ANGLICAN): Surely, the true Christmas is one that does not include the eating of pig brains....

GK: But Christmas is too complicated to be ruled by good taste. Christmas is a feast. It's exuberant. And exuberance often involves excess.

RK:(NYER): Hey hey hey hey. Is this a mistletoe I'm standing under or is it not? What do you say? Heh heh heh heh heh. Who's first!!! C'mon. (OFF) HEY! Where'd you go with that sherry!

GK: This is your uncle with the red vest and the green bowtie that when he squeezed the bulb in his pocket water squirted in your eye (SQUIRT. TK YELL)

RK: Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.....

GK: He'd put away a couple glasses of sherry and suddenly he was Frank Sinatra.

RK: Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Christmas songs being sung by a choir....
All dressed up like Eskimoes.....everybody knows...

GK: And his wife, your aunt, sat in the kitchen.

VC (FLAT): I hate Christmas. I shouldn't say it, but it's the truth. I always have. I did it for the children's sake, but it always depressed me. And frankly, so did they.

GK: She was the aunt who wasn't a very good cook, wasn't much fun to be with, didn't laugh at jokes, didn't like to sing....

VC: All those years I made Christmas for them. I did it for Mother, I did it for Dad, did it for Earl and the kids, did it for everyone in the family. Good old Eunice. That's me. And now, after all these years, do you know what? I don't know who I am anymore. I have no idea.

GK: She was part of Christmas too, and so was Gramps.

TR (OLD MAN): Boy, that unsweetened cranberry juice, that really cleans out your kidneys, I'd say. Yeah. That's good. Have a glass of that every morning. You ever have kidney stones? Oh boy. Let me tell you.

GK: And your cousin who was spoiled rotten....

RK: Mo-ther, this is so disgusting. I cannot believe you would give me this stupid sweater, this is so gross ---- did you imagine that I would actually wear this? I mean look at this? You expect me to put this on my body? What do you think I am? a homeless person?

GK: They're all part of the holidays...it wouldn't be Christmas without them.

(BRASS QUARTET -- Oh Come, All Ye Faithful)

GK: Happy Holidays everybody. If you don't have your Christmas cold yet, come see me after the show. Merry Christmas, Cratchits.

TK (CRATCHIT): Yes, sir. Merry Christmas. (ASIDE) Say Merry Christmas, Tiny Tim. C'mon, say it.

TR (TEEN): Leave me alone.

TK (CRATCHIT): Say it, you little twit, or I'll smack you one wi' your crutch.

TR (TEEN): Merry Christmas. There. Happy?

GK: Merry Christmas, Rector.

RK (ANGLICAN): Yes, of course. Indeed. Behold.

GK: Okay. We will. Merry Christmas, Gramps.

TR (GEEZER): What?

GK: Merry Christmas, gentlemen.

TK (ENGLISH): Aye, these are good pig brains, they are.

RK: These are beautiful pig brains. Fresh too.

TR (ENGLISH): Best pig brains I ever had, I know. (SLURPS)

GK: Merry Christmas, doctor.

TR (RUSSIAN): You must rest. Stay here in your bed. Let me draw the drapes. You must not exert yourself. Your heart is too weak.

GK: Nonsense. The heart is powerful. Especially at Christmas. Merry Christmas to our brass quintet and to all brass players everywhere. One more tune and that's it, back to the cellblock.

(BRASS -- Silent Night)

© 1996 BY GARRISON KEILLOR

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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