Our Sound Effects Guy, Tom Keith
Saturday, January 16, 1999
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(GK: Garrison Keillor, SS: Sue Scott, TK: Tom Keith, TR: Tim Russell)

(MUSIC)

Our sound-effects man, Mr. Tom Keith, looks forward to January because that's when the snow gets deep in his beloved North Woods, where he goes to escape the pressures of public adulation.

TK: That's correct.

GK: When you're the only sound-effects man left in live radio today, it means that a lot of people are trying to get a piece of you. (CELLPHONE RING) Tom's cellphone rings about every two minutes (RING AND PICKUP)-

TK: Yeah. (HIGH VOICE AT OTHER END) I see. (HIGH VOICE AT OTHER END) You want me to come, when? (HIGH VOICE AT OTHER END) Naw, I'll be up on the Gunflint Trail then. (CLICK)

GK: The Gunflint Trail in January (BLIZZARD WIND), that's when all the hikers are gone and the pack takes over (WOLF HOWL). Big silver timber wolves slipping across the packed snow, seeking their prey (WOLF HOWL), and Tom Keith aboard his 680 hp jet snowmobile (BIG ENGINE START UP AND TAKE OFF, LIKE JET PLANE, AND FAST PASS). When you work in public radio, you have to put up with a lot of tree-huggers and Sierra Club types, so on his weekends, Tom likes to snowmobile. (FAST PASS) And go through those pristine snowscapes at about 310 miles per hour (FAST PASS, BIRD FLIES UP IN ALARM) and in the heated soundproof cab of his jet snowmobile (LOW HUM OF INTERIOR, SOME SENSE OF TERRAIN UNDER SKIS) he likes to (POP TOP) pop open a cold one and listen to Rush on the radio (SARCASTIC MALE GIBBERISH ON RADIO) and do some target shooting with his twin wing-mounted 30 caliber rifles (TWO RIFLE SHOTS, THEN TWO MORE).

I know there are some who would condemn Tom for going up to a pristine wilderness, home to endangered species such as the giant snowy owl (SFX), the snowy gopher (SFX), and the great white ox (SFX) and driving through at 310 miles per hour (FAST PASS, OWL FLURRY IN PANIC), but those people don't understand the terrible pressures of success.

To stand alone in front of a microphone (SOME SLIGHT TK UNEASINESS) and know that in twenty-five seconds you're going to have to do the cry of a giant condor and it's got to be better than all the other giant condors you've done, people are taping this at home and they compare your performances, and now the script is coming toward your giant condor cue and suddenly you can't remember what a condor is supposed to sound like (HEART POUNDING), you've done this sound a hundred times and now you don't have the faintest clue what sound a condor makes, it's a big bird with a giant beak and red glinty eyes and a wingspread of fourteen feet, and now you've got to make its cry and nothing, absolutely nothing is coming to mind, you can't think, your chest is tight, you're perspiring, the actors are reading their lines, you're coming to your cue, in just another line or two, you think you're going to black out, and now here it is, here it is, it's your cue, they look at you, everybody is looking at you, the director points, your mouth is open (TK BIG CONDOR CRY) - you did it (TK RELIEF, HEART POUNDING) but now you've got a horse whinny (WHINNY) and a toilet flushing (TOILET) and gunshots (GUNSHOTS) and a man falling off a cliff (MAN FALLING, SPLASH) and some chickens (CHICKEN FLURRY) - it's a tough show and when you walk out the stage door (FOOTSTEPS, TK: Bye, Tommy. See ya, Al. See ya next week, Jack.) is it any wonder that you're in a mood to cut loose. You get in your Ferrari (SPORTS CAR REV UP) and you drive to Holman Field, get in your Lear jet (JET ENGINE), and you fly north, north to Duluth Air Base where your pals in the Air National Guard (CHOPPER) give you a lift up to the North Woods, and as the chopper disappears over the horizon (CHOPPER FADING), there you are at your secret hideaway (SLIGHT WIND), it's midnight, a billion stars above, fresh snow (FOOTSTEPS IN SNOW) - you walk over to your snowmobile, standing there eight feet high, sixteen feet long, enclosed cab, 680 horses, and you start her up. (START ATTEMPT) A little more choke. (START ATTEMPT) Funny, she always started up before. (START ATTEMPT) And now you realize, this is it, you're going to freeze to death on the Gunflint Trail in a quarter-million-dollar snowmobile! (TK CRY, BIG KONK, MOTOR STARTS, REVS) A good hit on the dashboard, that's all it takes. (MOTOR REVS) And you head off through the frozen muskeg, along the trail, at 80 (MOTOR)...110 (MOTOR)...140 (MOTOR)...160 (MOTOR) miles per hour, the trees whipping past, over hills (IMPACT, MOTOR), jumping ravines (MOTOR), down hills (MOTOR), the snowmobile skidding (SKID IN SNOW), and you get it under control and now - look out - (TK: Oh no!) it's a moose (TK: Oh no!) it's on the trail (IMPACT, GLASS), and now it's in the snowmobile with you (MOOSE), it's a 1200-pound moose (TK SQUEEZED), and when it puts its hoof down on the accelerator (MOOSE), nothing you can do (MOTOR REV), and now you're going 180 (MOTOR)...200 (MOTOR)...240 (MOTOR)...and you're heading straight for the cliff (TK PANIC)...and you try to pull his hoof off (MOOSE)...and over the cliff you go (GLIDING IN WIND)...sailing, sailing, sailing...down onto Lake Superior (SLIGHT IMPACT, MOTOR)...and out across the ice...(MOOSE) and here comes the edge of the ice (TK PANIC)...(WHOOSH OF WATER) and now you're snowmobiling on water....and what's that up ahead? (BOAT HORN)...An ore boat. It's dead ahead. (BOAT HORN) And you try to avoid it, and it's going to be close, it's going to be close, it's going to be close, turn left, turn left, left left left left left left, look out (DOPPLER HORN GOING BY), just missed it, and now you're angling in toward shore and (WHUMP) you're up on the ice again and heading for the beach and (MOTOR TONE CHANGES) you're up on land and heading across the snow and there's a log cabin straight ahead, turn left, turn left, left left left left left, look out, (CRASH, CRUNCH, MOOSE) and the moose is thrown from the snowmobile (he wasn't wearing a seatbelt) and he is flung through the door of the cabin (FLYING MOOSE) and a second later, out the back door of the cabin (DISTANT SHRIEKS, HIGH AND LOWER), two naked people dash out and across the snow. You walk in the cabin (DOOR CREAKS) and the moose is lying on the bed (MOOSE MISERY) and he's got a headache. You cover him with a quilt. (MOOSE) There's no telephone. Just a radio. The one-way kind. You could be here for weeks, you and your moose (MOOSE), and your only entertainment would be - TK: Oh no -- Oh yes, this show. With a substitute sound effects guy. A guy who doesn't quite have it down. (BAD WOOF SFX) You're going to have to get help. (TK: How?) Fire those cannons there. (ARTILLERY VOLLEY) And moments later -- (CHOPPER). Your pals. They land. (CHOPPER IDLING) You bid farewell. (MOOSE) And head for St. Paul. (CHOPPER UP AND AWAY) But hurry. Because it's coming to the place in the script where there's a sound effect only you can do - (CHOPPER) you see the roof of the Fitzgerald Theater, and you rappel down on a winch (WINCH), through the cold January wind (WIND) and you go through the skylight (GLASS BREAKAGE) and down to the stage (TK: Outta my way, amateur) just in time for the cue. (CONDOR)

Our sound effects guy, Tom Keith...

 

(c) 1999 by Garrison Keillor

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