(GK: Garrison Keillor; TK: Tom Keith; SS: Sue Scott: TR: Tim Russell, GW: Gillian Welch)


GK: I go back farther than any of you people, so you have to listen to me when I tell you how things used to be, cause you don't know, you weren't there.

SS (OLD WAITRESS): Whaddaya mean? Whaddaya talking about? I was there.

GK: Doris. She used to wait on tables here. Back when this was a little jazz joint. Up there in the balconies, that was a bowling alley. Down here was the bar and the stage here, and I used to sit and knock their socks off, five nights a week, thirty-three years, right, Doris?

SS: Right. And the name isn't Doris, it's Queen Elizabeth. Listen to my dogs, they're barking.

GK: Right. It was hard work back then. Now, it's nothing. Back then, when we had four, five people in here on a Tuesday night, and you're starting the third set ---- there's this feeling of meaninglessness, like, what am I doing, singing about finding someone and being in love to an audience of four people who have done serious damage to themselves, why don't we bring the lights up and send them out into the starry night? And then you look out and there's Doris. Like Florence Nightingale making her rounds. Still on her feet. How does she do it?

SS: The antidepressants sure help.

GK: And I'd sing----for her-----

Love walked right in and drove the shadows away.
Love walked right in and brought my sunniest day.
One magic moment and my heart seemed to know
That love said hello
Though not a word was spoken----

SS: Hey, I didn't know you cared.

GK: Nowadays it's nothing. You go into performing, in a year you're rich and famous. It's easy. Back then you had to work. I had a pig I worked with named Larry. A dancing pig. It wasn't my idea, but people seemed to go for it, and I don't know if you ever worked with swine before, but it's no picnic. When I brought him up on stage for his big number, he danced and he also peed on my leg. Every time.


Tiptoe to the window
By the window
That is where I'll be
Tiptoe through the tulips with me
Tiptoe from your pillow
To the shadow
Of a willow tree
And tiptoe through the tulips with me.

Here's Larry, ladies and gentlemen.


Hey, cut that out! (MUSIC STOPS) How many times do I have to tell you?? You can't do that on stage!! (MUSIC UNDER) I'll never forget the day I met Gillian Welch. This was fifteen years ago. I came to work ---- Doris was here. ----

SS: Hey, Carson.

GK: You like my hair like this?

SS: Like what?

GK: Short. It looks younger short. Doesn't it?

SS: Beats me.

GK: I've gotta do something about this lighting in here. Get some backlighting. More magenta, less green. Somebody said I looked ill last night.

SS: I said that. You did.

GK: Well, I'm not. It's a lighting problem. Where's Johnny? I gotta talk to him about that. I mean, thirty-three years I been singing here, I ought to get some consideration, right?

SS: Right. You and me both.

GK: So I went looking for Johnny, and that's when I ran into Gillian Welch's mother, Lillian. She was standing backstage. (DOOR OPEN, FOOTSTEPS, CLOSE) Yeah? You looking for somebody?

GW: Are you Johnny?

GK: No. I'm looking for Johnny.

GW: You and me both. I got my kid in the car, she's supposed to audition for him.

GK: Audition for what?

GW: She's a singer.

GK: So?

GW: He said he wanted to hear her.

GK: Lady, there's just one club here and I'm the singer, and I don't work as a double, I'm a single, and I especially don't work with kids.

GW: You're a singer? Really?

GK: Yes----

GW: I saw the photo in the lobby of the club singer and he didn't look like you.

GK: It's a retouched photograph. It's a publicity shot. I don't photograph well.

GW: My daughter's a very nice girl. Strange but nice. Her father and I, we love Rodgers & Hart. Johnny Mercer. Cole Porter. Our daughter for some reason grew up wanting to sing country.

GK: With a guitar?

GW: Right.

GK: Love songs?

GW: Not so much. More about poverty. Life at the bottom. Depression. Hopelessness. Losing your job. Losing your teeth. Your truck won't start. Your lover runs off with somebody else whose truck does start. Drug addiction. Tuberculosis. Spiritual uncertainty. Bad hair.

GK: Bad hair.

GW: Incredibly bad hair. Big bad hair.

GK: Well, this isn't a country music club, lady. It's a jazz club.

GW: I saw a pig back here.

GK: A pig?

GW: He's got little pink tassels and he seems to be sleeping off a bad drunk.

GK: He's here now?

GW: Right over here. Look. (FOOTSTEPS. PIG SNORING.) That your pig?

GK: He must belong to one of the stagehands. I never saw it before.

GW: The nametag says, Larry.

GK: I wouldn't know anything about it. (BRIDGE) So I went downstairs, looking for Johnny, and there was Gillian Welch, in my dressing room.

SS (GIRL): Hi mister.

GK: You the singer?

SS (GIRL): Yeah.

GK: You looking for Johnny?

SS (GIRL): Found him already.

GK: When is your audition?

SS (GIRL): Did it already.

GK: Oh. What'd you sing?

SS (GIRL): Song I wrote, called "Sinus On My Mind".

GK: How'd he like it?

SS (GIRL): He liked it.

GK: Great. Congratulations.

SS (GIRL): Is that your pig upstairs?

GK: No, it's not. Okay? It's not my pig. (KNOCKS ON DOOR) Yeah? Come in. (DOOR OPEN) Oh, hi, Johnny.

TR: Can I speak to you for a minute, Carson? Outside? In the hall?

GK: Sure. Of course. Excuse me. (FOOTSTEPS, DOOR CLOSE) Yeah----
What is it?

TR: I take it you didn't get my message.

GK: No. What was your message?

TR: The message was: stay home, don't come in tonight.

GK: Don't come? I've been coming for thirty-three years, Johnny.

TR: That's the point.

GK: I don't get it.

TR: You're not pulling in the customers. Simple as that, Carson. People don't want you anymore. That's the bottom line. It's nothing personal. Tastes change, Carson. Times change. It's one of those inexorable things. Life moves on. Your audience ---- they have grandkids now, Carson. They go to bed early. They don't go out after dark. I don't know what the problem is. It's not up to me. The fact is that you're done. You're over. You're burnt toast, Carson. Last night was your last night.

GK: But this is my world, Johnny. Me in the spotlight, singing, the microphone, the cigarette smoke drifting through the
air, the people sitting there in the dark----

TR: They're not there. Just the dark is there. Take a look.

GK: So she's your new act? The kid?

TR: Right.

GK: People want to hear about misery and heartache?

TR: People want something different. (PAUSE) I'm sorry, Carson. It's not how I wish it could be. It's just business.

GK: How am I going to explain this to Larry? It'll kill him, Johnny. He lives for this. He's just a pig. He doesn't have that much going on in his life. This is it. This and the gin.

TR: Have I ever lied to you, Carson?

GK: Yes. Often.

TR: But you knew I was lying. Right? Did I ever lie to you when
you didn't know I was lying?

GK: No.

TR: Good. Then believe me when I say that I need you to get your stuff out of the dressing room. Right away.

GK: Thirty-three years and you just throw me away like an old shoe?

TR: It's time to go, Carson.

GK: One more night, Johnny. That's all I'm asking. One last night. One farewell performance. Me and Larry. I'll get him sobered up. One more show. Please.

TR: Okay, but it's going to be a double bill.

GK: I always was a single, Johnny. I don't work double. Especially not with kids.

TR: Try it, you'll like it.

GK: But she's country.

TR: My last offer. Take it or leave it. (FOOTSTEPS AWAY, DOWN HALL)


GK: He's a great guy, Johnny. You're gonna love working for him, kid, just as much as I do. There's nobody like him, Lillian.

SS (GIRL): Gillian. My mom is Lillian. I'm Gillian.

GK: Gillian, once you know how to handle him, he's a powderpuff. A pushover. The guy has a big heart. That's the thing. But you gotta understand him. Anyway ---- I want to wish you the best, Lillian. I neglected to mention it to you, but I'm retiring.

SS (GIRL): Oh really. You seem so young.

GK: Thanks. I want to quit while I'm still on top----- And I want to get into the business end. I got all these contacts ---- I mean, thirty-three years in the business ---- you come to know people, right?

SS (GIRL): I suppose.

GK: Record execs, TV people, radio ---- Hollywood studio people ---- I mean, I got a Rolodex the size of a Volkswagen. So I'm going to take advantage of certain opportunities I have to get into artistic management ---- hey----- wait a minute ---- you got a manager, Miss Welch?

SS (GIRL): No, come to think of it, I don't.

GK: I'm glad to hear that, kid. Cause country music is the next new thing. It's hot, and you're going to be hot right along with it. I see you in pictures, soundtrack albums, big tours, Nashville, the whole works. But listen. You let me worry about that. I just want you to focus on your art---- (SCRATCH AT DOOR) Excuse me. (OPEN DOOR. PIG SNORTS, WALKS IN.) Hi Larry. You're late. (PIG)

SS (GIRL): So that really is your pig----

GK: We've worked together from time to time, yes.

SS (GIRL): How can you lower yourself that way?

GK: Well, it's show business.

SS (GIRL): I was talking to the pig.

GK: Oh. Okay.

SS (GIRL): Are those taps on his hooves?

GK: Right.

SS (GIRL): He's a dancing pig?

GK: Right. And tonight is his farewell performance, Miss Welch. Do you happen to know "Tiptoe Through The Tulips"?

SS (GIRL): One of my grandma's favorite songs.

GK: Never mind that. It's Larry's big number. Here---- you sing the melody. (PIANO)

SS & GK:

Tiptoe to the window
By the window
That is where I'll be
Tiptoe through the tulips with me
Tiptoe from your pillow
To the shadow
Of a willow tree
And tiptoe through the tulips with me.

GK: Okay, Larry---- big smile now----


GK: And that's how I met Gillian Welch. I was on my way down, she was on her way up, and we met there, in mid air, with a dancing pig. She was a big success and that's when we tore out the bowling alley upstairs and made this theater. So all the people who want to hear her could come.

GW: And it's great to be here.

GK: You're going to be a big star, kid, and I'm nothing but a has-been.

GW: That's not true, Mr. Wyler. I need you.

GK: I'd only hold you back, kid. (DISTANT TRAIN WHISTLE) That's the highball freight coming in from Chicago, heading for the coast. I'm gonna be on it.

GW: Please don't. I'll be worried sick about you.

GK: You'll forget about me, kid. But I'll never forget you. And in some old railroad shack somewhere between here and Spokane, I'll see a newspaper stuffed in a crack and I'll see your picture and take it out and read all about you. (DISTANT TRAIN WHISTLE)

GW: Are you taking the pig with you?

GK: I thought I'd leave him here. He's become attached to you.

GW: He's your pig.

GK: Used to be. He's yours now. ---- Come on. Big finish now. For old times' sake.

GW & GK:
Knee-deep in flowers we'll stray
We'll keep the showers away
And if I kiss you in the garden
In the moonlight
Will you pardon me?
Come tiptoe through the tulips with me. (AND MUSIC OUT)

© Garrison Keillor 2001