September is here. That used to be when school started, but not anymore. (Nor does school close for the summer in mid-May. There’s probably a reason for the changes, but I do not know what it is.)
It doesn’t matter. September is a melancholy time. The die was cast for me when I was young and heard the song “Try To Remember,” from The Fantasticks. (You might not know this, but the song was originally sung, beautifully, by Jerry Orbach, whom many might know from his starring role in early seasons of “Law & Order.” He was great in that show, but his brilliance was especially apparent when he did musical comedy.)
Of course, when I was young I didn’t have much to remember in the way of Septembers of any kind. But the song suggested that there would come a time when I would look wistfully upon Septembers past. The song was right.
In late September 1985, for instance, I stood on a sodden and wind-whipped yacht-club porch and watched my little Rhodes 19 sailboat bravely face the western edges of Hurricane-turned-Tropical-Storm Gloria. The storm had weakened and was far away, but it was enough to send wind and water down Long Island Sound and do a lot of damage where I was. (My little boat survived unharmed – we even sailed it later that day, and salvaged a lot of equipment that had been blown from the wreckage of other boats less prepared than mine.)
September was when the college town where I grew up awakened from its summer siesta as thousands and thousands of students returned, football season started, and the autumnal sap started running.
September can bring endings. It was five years ago this Sunday that my best friend ever died and I learned that in such situations the feeling of loss doesn’t diminish, though one does get used to it.
And we mustn’t forget, mustn’t everforget, what took place 18 years ago yesterday. Or the fact that when we have financial panics and market crashes, they tend to be in September or October.
Some things begin in September. That’s when we moved to the little horse farm in Connecticut; autumn is when the region’s many shortcomings can most readily be overlooked, and if one squints a little he can almost see the New England he imagined from a distance and from Norman Rockwell paintings.
It was in September, coinciding with the move to Connecticut, that I became a regular listener to the wonderful radio program, “A Prairie Home Companion,” with the unsurpassed teller of stories Garrison Keillor. (Most of the people I know have some political problem or other with Keillor. I’m exempt from this, because I do not believe that everything must be viewed through a political prism.)
We would on Saturday nights have a fine dinner with our friends Kim and Bruce at their horse barn, where we kept one of the horses. “A Prairie Home Companion” would be on the radio, and it kept us company, contributed to the conversation, and set the mood. It was a friend, to the extent a radio program could be. Later, it was a constant when I moved to Ohio. Having moved to a new place, it was – is “comforting” the word? – a connection as I got settled here.
It was in early summer, not September, that Keillor left the show. That was three years ago; it re-emerged in October with a new cast. It was a different show. (It’s now called “Live From Here,” and I have no interest in it, though I’m sure it has its fans.) Yet it is in September, a melancholic month, that I especially miss the original, because it was a sure recipe to bring one out of a mood that could turn sour.
Which is why I went looking for it last week. I knew that the archives were online, but they were in the old (and in my view dead or as good as dead) RealAudio format, which made listening to them more involved than it should have been. I hoped they were now more accessible.
And happy day! The archives of Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” are where they’ve always been, at prairiehome.org, But now no software hoops must be jumped through in order to listen. Click on ’em and out of your speakers they come. As I write this I’m listening to one (which is unfair to the show and perhaps to the writing, because each deserves my full attention), in this case from November 2001.
And like many of the other episodes, this one is transformative. It’s great company.
As always, Keillor believed he could sing and, as always, he couldn’t. As always, the humor was not just funny but clever, which is welcome in our modern day, when profanity is thought sufficient to make a thing hilarious. As always, the guests were great, in this case both Rhonda Vincent and the Rage and Gillian Welch with David Rawlings.
I haven’t yet found any of the annual joke shows. They weren’t as homespun and warm as the regular program, but they made up for it in mirth. I’m sure they’re in there somewhere. My favorite clean joke is from one of those shows, and I shall now steal it so as to brighten your day:
A man walks into a bar. He’s smiling broadly. “Drinks for everyone!” he shouts.
“You’re in a good mood,” says the bartender. “Are you celebrating something?”
“In fact, I am,” the man replies. “I just finished a jigsaw puzzle in record time.”
“Well, congratulations,” says the bartender. “How long did it take you?”
Editor’s note: Dennis E. Powell’s column appears every Thursday in The Athens NEWS. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.