Garrison Keillor: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets but one guy is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions -- me. Guy Noir, Private Eye.
I was at Tanglewood, the big music park in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but of course Brahms and Beethoven don't pay the bills anymore, and so they do big pop concerts as well -- Willie Nelson (TR WILLIE: ON THE ROAD AGAIN) and Barry Manilow (
FN: I WRITE THE SONGS) and Bob Dylan (RD: POSITIVELY 4TH STREET) -- but of course with the success of that big TV show, what's the name of it, "American Ego" -- "American Bible" -- the amateur show -- there's a big amateur show craze and Tanglewood hired me to produce it -- they figure you need to detective to find the talent in some of these folks -- so I'm there with a clipboard listening to a steel band called "Rumble Drums" (STEEL BAND: YANKEE DOODLE DANDY) and a bagpiper doing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" (PIPER) and a man who plays "This Land Is Your Land" on a chainsaw (CHAINSAW) -- and you're looking for things that are bad in a particularly wonderful way.
Tim Russell (MEAN BRIT): Here's the inside dope, mate. There is no such thing as a "culture" anymore. This show is the future. There are no artists. There are just people we like and people we love to hate. We're looking for both. (STING)
GK: I'd finished auditions and I was sitting in the rehearsal room when three women walked in, carrying shopping bags.
Sue Scott: We're late and we know it--
GK: I am done.
Meryl Streep: If you could just give us ten minutes of your time--We came to audition for your show-- I forget the name of it-- American Midol?
GK: Close enough--
SS: Oh I'm sorry. I'm Rhonda Johnson and this is my sister Yolanda.
MS: And this is my daughter Mona.
Erica Rhodes: Hi.
MS: We're the Johnson Girls.
GK: The Johnson Girls. You singers?
SS: We're singers.
MS: Gospel, show tunes, standards, you name it.
SS: Mona dances.
ER: I don't either.
MS: Of course you do.
ER: I do not.
MS: You can. You have. Anyway--
ER: I am an actress. I am not a dancer.
MS: Darling, every girl your age is an actress. Playing to an audience of one. Her mother. Anyway--
SS: Remember that number we did on the Welk show? The bird medley--
MS: Yes. The bird medley!
GK: You were on the Lawrence Welk Show?
MS: We were small children. Very small. There was Wanda and Connie and Rhonda and me and --
SS: We went to California on the bus.
MS: It went through Las Vegas at 3 a.m. and we slept right through it.
SS: Which was good because there were bugs in the hotel room, so we couldn't sleep the next night.
MS: Went to tape the TV show and we did our bird medley --
SS: We were going to do "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus Is Calling"--
MS: "...calling for you and for me, see on the portals he's watching and waiting, waiting for you and for me" --
SS: But we decided it didn't show us off to advantage. So we did the bird medley instead, because it has dancing in it.
GK: Fine, but if we could get to the--
MS: We promised Mama we'd do "Softly and Tenderly" -- Mama thought dancing was the work of the devil -- but Mama was back in Oshkosh.
ER: You promised her you were going to do one song and you did another?
MS: Two of us promised, three of us sort of abstained. Anyway--
ER: What kind of dancing?
MS: It was very proper. Our blouses were buttoned. Our skirts covered our knees. The only cheeks you could see were the ones on our faces.
GK: Right, so how about we see some of that--
SS: Anyway, the TV studio was the size of our high-school gymnasium and Connie got so nervous she puked all over her dress --
MS: So we had to rechoreograph the number so she'd stand in back--
SS: It was a show-stopper. It started out with "When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin Along" which segued into "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" and then "Bluebird of Happiness" and then "Bye Bye Blackbird" --
MS: The audience went bananas. They were standing, clapping, waving hankies. And Mr. Lawrence Welk stood there and beamed and beamed and said, Aren't-a those-a girls-a something-a?
SS: And we could see the Lennon Sisters standing in the wings, just glaring at us --daggers in their eyes--
MS: They were peeved, that's for sure.
ER: Who are the Lennon Sisters?
MS: They were a very famous singing group.
ER: Oh. Like the Indigo Girls?
SS: Anyway. We went back to the hotel, we were full of hope.
ER: So what happened when the show went on the air?
MS: What happened? We weren't in it.
SS: They cut us out.
ER: But why?
SS: Envy. Pure envy. Certain powerful people could not bear the thought of four little girls from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, showing them up so we got dumped--
MS: Well, it was a good experience -- we learned a lot.....
SS: The Lennon Sisters were well-known Communists out to sell this country to the Reds. A man from the FBI told me--
MS: Ohhh-- who told you?
SS: I can't reveal his name.
MS: They were not Communists.
SS: Didn't you see how they all dressed the same?
MS: So what?
SS: In red. Communism. Anyway--
MS: They sang some stupid song about "I want to be your honeybee....
SS: .....and fly around your honey tree.....
MS: And buzz buzz buzz.
(GONG) (MS AND SS REACT)
GK: Sorry. Ladies, you came to audition for the amateur show, right-- I wonder if we could just get to it--
MS: Well, I wouldn't call us amateurs, we've been earning a living doing this for years--
SS: Playing county fairs, supermarket openings, some weddings -- not as many of those as we used to --
MS: Used to have more church jobs too until Wanda got arrested.
ER: Aunt Wanda?
MS: I told you about that.
ER: You never did--
MS: Of course I did.
SS: Yeah, that was one tragedy we didn't need. After getting shnookered out of the Welk show--
MS: She was sitting in a cafe and she ordered a glazed doughnut and started eating it.
SS: Sugar always affected Wanda oddly. Remember the time she climbed the tree?
MS: She was in the cafe, she got up, dazed from eating sugar--
SS: She got a sugar rush--
MS: She forgot she hadn't paid, and she walked out the door and two minutes later there were red lights flashing and she was in handcuffs. A photographer got a picture of her bawling, her hair a mess, and they put it on the front page of the paper, Oshkosh Woman Nabbed In Cafe. One glazed doughnut. A fifty-nine cent doughnut.
SS: That was what killed Daddy.
SS: It killed him. His little girl in the pokey. Behind bars.
ER: This may be a good time to tell you something I've been meaning to tell you--
MS: Oh honey--
ER: Remember that Halloween party I went to--
MS: Halloween!!!! Honey, it's July. You-- What happened?
GK: If I could interrupt for one minute--
MS: What happened?
MS: Don't you lady me, I am talking to my daughter. Do you understand?
GK: Yes, ma'am--
MS: You just sit there and shut up until I tell you to talk --What happened on Halloween? I want to hear it.
ER: I went to this party and they were serving what I thought was lemonade.
MS: Oh God.
ER: It was vodka.
MS: Oh Mona--
ER: I had a few glasses and the next thing I knew, I was being thrown up in the air on a blanket by these fraternity guys--
MS: God help us--
ER: I still had my underwear on.
MS: Oh Lord-- (FOOTSTEPS APPROACH)
TR: Excuse me, you Guy Noir-- I came to try out for the show--
GK: I'm not in charge here, this woman is.
MS: What sort of thing do you do? And what's the dog for?
TR: He sings "La Bamba"--
SS: The Chihuahua?
TR: His name is Pepe. (DOG)
GK: Go ahead. Let's see it--
TR: Okay. Come on, Pepe. Easy. (DOG BARKS) He gets nervous sometimes, I have to give him a treat to settle him down. (DOG GULPS) Okay, Pepe. La Bamba. (DOG BARKS "GUANTANAMERA")
GK: That's not "La Bamba" -- that's "Guantanamera" --
TR: So what's the difference to you?
GK: Get the dog out of here.
TR: A song is a song.
GK: Get him out of here before I tell the SPCA. (FOOTSTEPS, DOOR SLAM) So -- ladies-- let's get to the audition, okay? Your story is fascinating and I'd love to hear more, but I'm just a guy running a talent contest. So what do you want to do?
SS: Well, we're trying to decide between our Moon medley --
MS: We do "Moon River" and "Clair de Lune" and "When The Moon Comes Over The Mountains--"
SS: Or we're thinking we might do a Wanda medley.
ER: Poor Aunt Wanda--
MS: After she got out of jail --
SS: For the glazed doughnut.
MS: She quit the act and joined the Sisters of Abysmal Sorrow. They have a convent up in Minot. It's a penitential order. Eight hours a day on your knees, rocking back and forth and moaning. And on Sunday you crawl on your belly across the cold stone floor of the church, face pressed to the stones. Wanda was happy there, though. It satisfied something in her. Anyway--
GK: So what's in the Wanda medley?
SS: "This World Is Not My Home" and "Oh Death" and "Have Thine Own Way, Lord, Have Thine Own Way"
GK: Maybe the moon medley would work better for you--
MS: Your daddy sang "Have Thine Own Way, Lord" at grandma's memorial service at the Methodist Church. He sang a lovely duet with Ardell and then they ran off to Bakersfield together and got the divorce. That's how that happened.
ER: My dad?
MS: He had a beautiful voice.
SS: Your mother couldn't sing because she was all broken up over Mother.
MS: So he sang with Ardell. I could tell, just listening to them, there was something going on there.
ER: My father ran off with your best friend after singing a hymn at Grandma's funeral? Jesus. Mom--
MS: You were two years old. There was no reason to tell you.
SS: Good riddance to bad rubbish, I say.
GK: Could we think about a song to sing for an audition? I've got people waiting outside. If you don't mind--
MS: We're thinking.
SS: Okay? This is not easy for us. I would hope you can understand that.
MS: We're a little upset. There's a lot of history here.
ER: Just because we're in show business, doesn't mean we don't have feelings, you know.
GK: I'm only trying to get to the point here--
ER: The point is that my mother is a human being, she's not some performing animal you can crack your whip and make her jump up on a stool--
MS: Thank you.
ER: Just because we want to be in your show doesn't mean you can push us around--
SS: That's telling him.
GK: Look-- do you want to audition or--
ER: We're thinking about it. Okay? (DOOR OPEN, FOOTSTEPS)
FN: You got time for one more audition-- I know I'm late.
GK: What do you do?
FN: I play "Moon River" on this pneumatic drill--
MS: "Moon River" -- that's the song we do.
FN: Bet you don't do it like this, lady. (PNEUMATIC DRILL) And now I switch over to fire extinguisher. (FIRE EXTINGUISHER)
SS: That's it. We're out of here.
ER: Let's go, Mom.
SS: I hope your show goes in the toilet--
MS: I've been in this business for twenty years and I've never heard anyone play "Moon River" on fire extinguishers--
SS: You couldn't pay me enough to be on this show--
MS: I'm sort of curious how he does that.
SS: This way, Yolanda.
ER: This way, Mom.
GK: A dark night in a city that knows how to keep its secrets but one man is still trying to find the answers to life's persistent questions -- Guy Noir, Private Eye.