DATE September 5, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Garrison Keillor talks about his new book "Lake
Wobegon Summer 1956" and about his recent heart surgery
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Humorist and best-selling author Garrison Keillor has a new novel called
Wobegon Summer 1956." It's set in the fictional town he made famous on his
public radio program, "A Prairie Home Companion." The story revolves around
14-year-old named Gary who has discovered pornography and his own sexual
urges. He's often compelled to hide what he's reading and what he's
and worries that he's condemning himself to hell. At the same time he's
discovered that he loves to write. He's gotten his first typewriter and has
started writing about sports for the local paper and to think about the best
ways of describing the world around him.
The publication of Garrison Keillor's new novel was nearly upstaged by a
drama in his own life. Earlier this summer he had heart surgery to repair a
valve. We'll get to that a little later in the interview.
Let's start with a reading from "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956." I'll let
set it up.
Mr. GARRISON KEILLOR: Here's a boy who's 14 years old sitting on a porch in
the summer of 1956 in Lake Wobegon. He's holding a copy of "Fox's Book of
Martyrs," required reading among the fundamentalists. And tucked into the
book is a magazine, a gift from a classmate, High School Orgies, with
suggestive stories of people who suddenly fell in love and in the next
were naked, and some photographs of them. This pornographic magazine and
pictures of naked people makes the boy remember how he, himself, looks in
photographs and in a home movie that Daddy took last Christmas.
(Reading) `I look like a tree toad who has changed into a boy, but not
completely. There's still plenty of toadness there; the dark, amphibian
blinking, the pipe-stem arms and wrists, the high-water pants, the flappy
clown shoes, the Herkimer hairdo(ph), the steel-rimmed glasses. No sensible
woman would marry a guy this creepy. Take a look and you'll see this person
will never be a normal American. He will live alone and suffer from
and hemorrhoids and halitosis and earn dollars at home through taxidermy and
selling salve, and he will never have true friends, only other geeks who
remind him too painfully of himself. But what choice does he have, so he
meets them as the spastic center to compare stamp collections, play chess,
solve algebra problems, do geek-type things.
`He may never obtain a driver's license. He'll ride his Schwinn bike to and
from Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery, and his old classmates will zoom past in
their late-model cars and think, "Whatever happened to old Gary, the creepo,
the spaz? Haven't seen hide nor hair of him for years." Zoom, and there I
am, the old guy on a bike, the old galoot who totes his necessaries around
a plastic bag, a rubber band around his pants legs, reflective tape
on the sleeves and back of his plaid jacket, a reflector pinned to the back
his hunting cap.
`Eating a Little Debby's snack cake, "You thrill me so," she whispered, as
kissed him, her back arched, her luscious orbs glowing in the moonlight.
type of thing will not happen for that guy any more than he will sing and
dance in a Broadway musical. That guy's love stick will never be a love
that any babe thinks of with anything but mute disgust. The High School
Orgies story about the boy in home ec class; this will not happen for me.
girls are sewing dresses and the boy sews a tiny, leopard-skinned bathing
and models it for them. The girls inspect it closely, admiring the
And suddenly he bursts a seam and soon they're all naked. Their love juices
flowing. I find this tremendously exciting; those girlish fingers poking at
`I am going to hell. This is becoming increasingly clear. As Aunt Flo
"You don't get to be a Christian by sitting in church anymore than sleeping
a garage makes you a car." What sort of Christian can open up High School
Orgies to the picture of the home ec girls' breasts with pointy nipples and
feel that happy twitching in his shorts?'
GROSS: Garrison, thanks for reading that. And that's an excerpt of
Keillor's new novel, "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956." Is this a new turn for you
writing about a boy who's learning about sex and is constantly being aroused
by what he reads and is, of course, constantly guilty by reading it and by
being aroused by it?
Mr. KEILLOR: Why don't we just sit here and cry for a while, I think. That
passage was--that passage that you made me read was much too personal and
makes me feel terrible. But that's why I went into radio. And, yes, it is
a new turn and it all started back the last time we talked. And you asked
a question, which you then sort of withdrew, about my sexual awakening. And
it was your withdrawal of the question, as if this might even be an
embarrassing thing to talk or too personal or something that made me think
maybe I ought to write about that. So I wrote a book about myself and then
surrounded myself with all of these fictional people.
GROSS: But did you have to like steal yourself to write about the
sexuality? Was it really difficult, painful, too personal?
Mr. KEILLOR: It was painful to think of how I looked at the age of 14. It
was very pleasant to write about this particular summer, a summer in which
the discovery of erotic feelings and a sweet romance with my own cousin was
all tied in with becoming a writer and experiencing life as best you can
you're 14 in a small town in the Midwest.
GROSS: Garrison, I'm still kind of thinking about what you said; that it
that question about awaking to your own sexuality that led you to think
writing this book. I mean, if that's true, I'm wondering like when you came
across something that seemed to personal to discuss, is that when you
thought, `Well, maybe if it makes me uncomfortable, I should go--I should
deeper into it'?
Mr. KEILLOR: I didn't make me uncomfortable. It made you uncomfortable.
GROSS: Oh, well, it made me uncomfortable...
Mr. KEILLOR: You were the one who was...
GROSS: ...because I thought it made you uncomfortable.
Mr. KEILLOR: You were the one who withdrew the question and that made me
think, `Maybe I've become to avuncular in my language...
GROSS: I see. I see.
Mr. KEILLOR: ...and people don't think that I am capable of this sort of
thing or that this never happened, perhaps, because I'm from Minnesota and
grew up in a small town, this the Philadelphia sophisticate who believes
I'm not capable of having had these experiences.
GROSS: I misinterpreted.
Mr. KEILLOR: We're used to being patronized out here on the prairie and so
that was the conclusion I came to.
GROSS: Well, I'm really interested. The book that the character in your
novel is reading, which I imagined is similar to the books that you were
reading when you were in your very early teens. And these are books that
describe breasts as orbs and men have their manhood or their joy stick. And
there are many, many other synonyms in there. What were some of the books
that you came across during that era of your life?
Mr. KEILLOR: Pornography, you mean?
Mr. KEILLOR: Oh, we didn't--I didn't have any. I think that when I was 14
came across--in a used bookstore I came across some nudist magazines. These
were blurry, black-and-white photographs of people on a distant hillside who
were not wearing clothes. It took a lot of imagine to be aroused by this
of thing, and when I was 14 I had an incredible imagination. So I found
exciting. But the sort of writing that you referred to, this antique
pornographic writing, I had to invent in the book. I was a very chaste
in most ways when I was 14.
GROSS: Now one of the magazines he's reading is Wild--is High School
And I think there's another one that's like Library Orgies, Orgy in the
Library. And, you know, I remember when I was a girl, one of my friends
a book hidden away in her father's dresser or something that was called
Orgy." And, of course, we didn't know what an orgy was, and I assumed that
this was about a wild guy named Orgy, kind of like Porgy.
Mr. KEILLOR: Mm-hmm. Yes.
GROSS: I mean, who--about this stuff, I was wondering if you had that
experience of ever like discovering literature that was really intriguing to
you but was at the same time, you know, like over your head, sexually?
Mr. KEILLOR: I discovered a manual in my parent's dresser drawer under some
clothing. I guess I must have been looking for it, right? Why else would I
have gone in there?
GROSS: Looking for Christmas gifts.
Mr. KEILLOR: I guess. I found a manual and it was for a manual back then,
it was fairly explicit. And it used those words which I found so exciting,
just the words themselves. I guess that's how you grow up to be a writer is
when simply the word `penis' and the word `coitus' and the word `vagina' are
thrilling to you.
GROSS: No one ever thinks that way about pornography, that it's a wonderful
thing for a young person to stumble on to learn a lot about language and the
power of writing. But do you think that there's actually some real truth to
Mr. KEILLOR: This writing has a big effect on you when you're young. And
then you quickly move beyond it--or you're supposed to--where you learn to
secretive about it. But it has a huge effect; the effects of secrets being
revealed and forbidden things talked about; a door opened onto a scene that
you were not meant to witness. This is a powerful tonic for a young reader
who has read acres of stuff that is pretty predictable and in which a
moral--a good moral is painstakingly laid out and you can see it coming a
GROSS: Let me say something else that your character is asking. And I'm
that he must be very confused, in a way, about books because he's thinking
that the family that he's (technical difficulties) isn't even comfortable
literature. He says, `We sanctified brethren are people of the word and the
great cadences of the King James Version of 1611. We don't hold with
literature and its godless drunks and wastrels, but we hold fast to God's
literal truth in Scripture.' Were you ever confused when you were growing
that, you know, the Bible should be read literally and that it was such an
important book; that there were a lot of other books that were evil and it
very dangerous, sinful to read them?
Mr. KEILLOR: Really? The things that you grow up with that are there from
the beginning of time, you are slow to question. They simply are part of
landscape that you are raised in. And, for me, literal interpretation of
Scripture is not a ridiculous idea, as it might be for somebody who came up
in middle age. This book is about a boy in the summer that he becomes a
writer. And I think that the route to becoming a writer by way of the King
James Bible is in some ways a more direct route than if he were to read
Hemingway and Faulkner and Fitzgerald and the other godless drunks and
wastrels that his family warns him against. I don't think the urge to be a
writer has much to do with reading great literature. It's something much
basic and primal than that. And if this book has a point, I think it's
that urge to be a writer.
GROSS: My guest is Garrison Keillor. His new novel is called "Lake Wobegon
Summer 1956." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Garrison Keillor's my guest. His new novel is called "Lake Wobegon
Well, your character decides in advance on some of the words that he wants
make sure he uses in the story; words like `auspicious,' `thwart,' `drowse,'
`entreaty,' `pliant,' `incipient.' Did you do that when you were writing
about sports; have lists of words you wanted to incorporate into the story?
Mr. KEILLOR: Oh, sure, because in the Reader's Digest, which we took in our
home, there was this regular monthly feature. What was it called?
Your Word Power.' And each month, they gave you a list with definitions, of
course, of 10 words of that sort; `auspicious,' `tarry,' `sortie.' And it
your task to work them into conversation; practice using them and thereby
build vocabulary and thereby become a successful and sophisticated person
have your own radio show and so forth. But, yes, I did that as a kid and,
know, it was odd to be a little guy sitting around the supper table with
parents and your siblings and trying to get the word `abstruse' in there
GROSS: And did you ever try to write soft-core porn yourself?
Mr. KEILLOR: I didn't because I knew that I didn't have any experience that
could be put down on paper and that I would be--would find exciting.
Mr. KEILLOR: That took a while. And then by the time I did have erotic
experience, I had become--I had gone down the road of writing humor. And
humor and eroticism don't work together.
Mr. KEILLOR: Did I just make a profound point or...
GROSS: No. I was thinking not necessarily...
Mr. KEILLOR: ...are we changing tapes?
GROSS: No. I was just kind of trying to think whether that was true or
And I was thinking they don't work together in an arousing kind of way, but
can be very funny. I mean, writing about sex can be very funny, as you
in the book.
Mr. KEILLOR: If it is funny, then it's not erotic.
GROSS: Right. It's not a turn-on. Right.
Mr. KEILLOR: If a woman having sex laughs out loud...
GROSS: This is not a good thing.
Mr. KEILLOR: ...how does the guy feel about this? Let's stop and think
about that. I've heard of this happening and laughter is not erotic.
GROSS: What did you write when you got your first typewriter? And I don't
mean the sports coverage for the local paper. What were some of the
of the stories you wrote for yourself at that point?
Mr. KEILLOR: I wrote--as this boy in the novel does, I wrote things for my
teacher, which were pious and polite and often about nature, about flowers
and trees and the beauties of nature. I also wrote vulgar things,
scatological things for the amusement of bigger boys who might want to beat
me up. And I--by amusing them, I disarmed them. But I discovered, as the
boy does, that the truest task of a writer is the simplest thing. And that
is to write it down, what happened, who said what to whom, what your family
talked about around the supper table, your mother's characteristic phrases,
what you thought, what you felt, but more than that, what was said and what
people look like and their clothing and how they walk and how they come into
a room. And all those these simple things, this is the fundamental basis of
writing. A writer is somebody who takes notes and who describes the world.
GROSS: Garrison Keillor. His new novel is called "Lake Wobegon Summer
He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Back with Garrison Keillor,
humorist; best-selling author; and host of the public radio program, a
"Prairie Home Companion." His new novel, "Lake Wobegon Summer: 1956," is
semi-autobiographical story of a 14-year-old boy who has discovered
pornography and his own urge to write.
Your character in the novel kind of falls in love with his slightly older
cousin. And you said you had a cousin who you actually had a relationship
like this with. What happened to her? Am I giving too much away if I say
what happens to the cousin in the novel?
Mr. KEILLOR: No, I don't think so.
GROSS: She has a boyfriend who's part of this, kind of, rebellious,
adventurous, ne'er-do-well-type family. And she gets pregnant out of
with her boyfriend and, of course, you know, the family is just terrified
devastated; and suddenly they're going to be like the kind of people they
about in the tabloids where something, you know, very awful, you know, has
Mr. KEILLOR: Except the boy's not terrified. The boy...
GROSS: No. No, he's not. It's a big adventure to him.
Mr. KEILLOR: ...the boy thinks to himself, `Go do whatever you're going to
do and I will write about it.'
GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Did your sister get pregnant like that--your
I mean, get pregnant like that?
Mr. KEILLOR: No, no, no.
GROSS: Why did you want this to happen to the character?
Mr. KEILLOR: It simply is what happened to the character. She comes into
the book--at the very beginning the boy is in love with her and he admires
her. She's a free spirit. She's a rebel. She's not afraid to get into
trouble at school. She enjoys being in trouble, whereas he finds it
humiliating. So he admires her courage; the courage to act up and to
misbehave and to express yourself in flamboyant ways, which she does.
For this girl, in this town, at that time, it seems--it seemed to me,
the book, the most natural thing in the world...
Mr. KEILLOR: ..that an older boy, who's 19, pitcher for the baseball team,
would fall in love with her, and that her next great adventure would be in
front seat of his Pontiac, and it would have the outcome that all young
feared back in the 1950s--women who were raised properly, of course.
GROSS: When you started writing and started writing stories based on people
you knew and what your family did and all of that, did you feel that, as a
writer, it kind of gave you permission to not engage as fully in life, but
rather, to stand back and be the recorder of life?
Mr. KEILLOR: If you look, as I looked when I was 14 years old, you have a
tendency to hang back anyway. I was terribly shy; just painfully,
excruciatingly shy as a boy. I had a terrible time just walking into a
opening a door and walking into a room in which I knew there were people,
painful for me. And I was related to those people; I mean, I knew them all.
They were not strangers. They were not a jury. So for a person who is
to be a part of social life, you may as well take notes, give yourself
something to do, and then you can go back and rewrite everything that
GROSS: Was the kind of self-consciousness you felt as a person--was that
self-consciousness an asset as a writer?
Mr. KEILLOR: No, I think it's terrible. I think it's painful. And it
limits a person's experience. No, I would think that the best preparation
life as a writer would be to have a great many experiences of all kinds, and
to travel and to fall in with crowds of odd people, and to get close enough
them to be able to absorb their language and their lives, and this simply
not possible for me. I was terribly, terribly cautious and fearful. But I
don't think it's any asset to a writer at all.
GROSS: Are you still close to your cousin?
Mr. KEILLOR: No. She went away and she had a whole life that I was not
privy to. We were not letter writers. I've seen her a few times since, and
enjoy being with her, but more than that, I enjoy the memory of having known
her so well years ago. But I'm not--I haven't been part of her life in so
long, so it's hard to know what to say.
GROSS: My guest is Garrison Keillor. His new novel is called "Lake Wobegon
Summer: 1956." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Garrison Keillor is my guest, and his new novel is called "Lake
Wobegon Summer: 1956."
I want to ask you about something that's very much in the present tense, and
that's your health. You had heart surgery over the summer, in late August.
What was the problem?
Mr. KEILLOR: I inherited from my father's side of the family, this sort of
clicky heart. It's called a mitral valve prolapse. And I've been aware
since--actually, since I was about 14 and wanted to go out for football and
the doctor wouldn't let me. He said I had a murmur. It was no problem
late in the spring, when the little flaps of the valves--it's like two
parachutes sitting together--a cord ruptured, and one of the flaps came
And suddenly your little prolapse turns into a major thing and you go from
being in your extremely late 40s to being in your mid-80s, and you breathe
hard if you even have to climb stairs. So that's what happened to me; my
came loose up there between the atrium and the ventricle.
GROSS: As somebody who's very subconscious, do you find yourself thinking
about your heart all the time now, and listening to it and always wondering,
you know, like, `Is it working right, right now?'?
Mr. KEILLOR: No, not at all. Not whatsoever. I found it to be a great
experience, really. I was impressed from the very beginning by the
and the quality of the hospital that I went to. And when you are reassured
that you are in good hands, you're able to take it as an experience and look
around you, and you're sort of a tourist, you know, right up until the
they slide you onto the big table and you look around at all the lamps and
people in blue and then, suddenly, it's eight hours later. I was intrigued
And then, of course, you know, to go through heart surgery--just the phrase
open-heart surgery--it still has a lot of moral clout to it, you know. So
people really respect you more than they need to and give you all sorts of
sympathy that you're not entitled to.
GROSS: Why not?
Mr. KEILLOR: Huh?
GROSS: Why not? Why aren't you entitled to it?
Mr. KEILLOR: Because it's an ideal medical situation. Unlike most
situations that people find themselves in, this is a problem that is crystal
clear and nobody has to work very hard to find out what is wrong. They know
what is wrong and there is no gray area here. There is one solution for
problem, and that is to operate and do this particular operation. You
very little pain and distress. And then, as a beautiful aftermath of the
operation, you get to go--you get to enjoy a long convalesce. I had a
convalescence of about five weeks. I could have stretched that to six, even
eight, I think. I mean, how often does a person have a chance to take five
GROSS: Well, it wasn't exactly a holiday, but I know what you mean.
Mr. KEILLOR: When you've had open-heart surgery, that is currency.
GROSS: Right, right.
Mr. KEILLOR: You can present that to everybody you ever promised you'd do
something and you're off the hook.
GROSS: Yeah, yeah.
Mr. KEILLOR: Any speech you have, any concert you were scheduled to do, any
benefit or anything, you just present that card--you know, it's the
get-off-the-hook card, and nobody questions it.
GROSS: You wrote a piece in Time magazine about your surgery and your
recovery, and you described yourself in the hospital in your weakened state,
shambling galoot in droopy pajamas. And you said, `This is not a guy whom
any woman longs to have sex with. She would be afraid of killing the old
bugger,' you know. And you were talking about like right after the surgery.
So I was thinking, you know, here you are having just published this book
is a novelistic version of your coming of age as a writer and your sexual
coming of age. And just as you're publishing this novel and talking about
this novel, you're connecting to a version of yourself that felt much older
than you really are because of this surgery; because of, you know, the
difficulty of recovering from it. So I was just thinking about that
disconnect of, you know, experiencing at the same time a version of
which is much older than you really are and a version of yourself which is
much younger than you really are.
Mr. KEILLOR: Was there a question mark there, or?
GROSS: Yeah. Yeah, the simultaneity. Yeah. The question is--thank you.
And the question is, Garrison Keillor, what is it like not be experiencing
simultaneously this young version of yourself and an elderly version of
Mr. KEILLOR: Each writer has but a few themes, if the truth be told.
Writers repeat themselves constantly. And we disguise it as best we can,
we keep coming back to them. And one of the themes in my writing, I think,
a craving for elegance that I suppose is a product of having grown up in the
country and to people who did not have much money, and to people whose
religious faith was really opposed to elegance and to show and to, you know,
sophistication. All my life I've been fascinated by elegance and seeing it
other people, and, of course, wanting to appropriate it for myself.
Elegance is a combination of wit and simplicity and a direct stylistic
that you spend your whole life learning, and then you lose it. You don't
it at the beginning when you're 14 years old and you're clomping around in
shoes and these pipe-stem arms and weird, home-cut hair, and then inevitably
you lose it again when you get older.
GROSS: Is that something you worry about, you know, that years from now you
might lose that sense of elegance in your life?
Mr. KEILLOR: Gosh, no. No, no, it doesn't worry me at all. Now that I've
had this five weeks off, now I can see what the rest of life is like, and
pretty good. Sitting in a sunny corner of the kitchen with no obligations
whatsoever and living a life of sheer, unbridled indolence is a fate to be
GROSS: Are you...
Mr. KEILLOR: It's a great life. It's a beautiful life, doing nothing.
Laziness--I can't recommend it highly enough.
GROSS: Are you too much the worker to have thought that you could be
comfortable with five weeks of not working?
Mr. KEILLOR: I've often thought about how beautiful it would be to have
weeks off. I've thought of this at various times when I looked at my
and my obligations and the lies I have told to people whom I owe things, you
know, about when I would finish them. I look at my calendar and it is the
briar patch. I've often thought about how wonderful it would be to have
off, and it is wonderful. It is absolutely great. I can't recommend it
GROSS: I suggest we all try to find ways of doing it without the heart
Mr. KEILLOR: If you need a cover, that's a good one.
GROSS: Thanks for the advice. Garrison Keillor, it was just terrific to
with you. Thank you so much.
Mr. KEILLOR: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: Garrison Keillor has written a new novel called "Lake Woebegone
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on Howard Tate, a soul singer
a comeback. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Comeback of singer Howard Tate with producer Jerry Ragovoy
TERRY GROSS, host:
The history of soul music is littered with collaborations which produced
magic, but for only a moment, as well as dozen performers who made a few
records and then vanished. The story of Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy has
both of those elements, but with Tate's recent comeback, it also has a happy
ending. Rock historian Ed Ward fills us in on the background.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. HOWARD TATE: (Singing) Every day, every day I have the blues. Every
day, every day I have the blues. When you see me worry, baby, baby, it's
I hate to lose. Nobody loves me. Nobody loves me...
ED WARD reporting:
The best piece of news I've gotten so far this year was when someone
me a story from The New York Times that said that not only had the great
singer Howard Tate resurfaced after decades, but that he had been reunited
with his old producer, Jerry Ragovoy. Neither of these guys is a household
name, but they both should be.
Tate was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1938, but moved to Philadelphia as a
child. As a teen-ager, he sang in a group called The Gainors, alongside
Garnet Mimms, who left them to start a group called The Enchanters. The
Enchanters, in turn, were produced by Jerry Ragovoy, who was, along with
Wexler, one of those great white producers with golden ears for black music.
(Soundbite of "Cry Baby")
THE ENCHANTERS: (Singing) Cry, cry, baby. Cry, baby. Cry, baby. Welcome
back home. Now he told you that he'd love you much more than I, but he left
WARD: "Cry Baby" was probably Garnet Mimms' and The Enchanters' most famous
moment, a moderate hit in 1963 and later the centerpiece of Janis Joplin's
show. Ragovoy also produced another record, which was associated with her.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. JANICE JOPLIN: (Singing) Didn't I make you feel like you were the only
man? Didn't I give you everything that a woman possibly can?
Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Oh, oh.
Ms. JOPLIN: (Singing) But with all the love I give you, it's never enough.
But I'm going to show you, baby, that a woman can be tough. So, come on.
Come on. Come on. Come on. And take another little piece of my heart now,
Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Break it.
Ms. JOPLIN: (Singing) Break another little bit of my heart now, honey.
Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Have a...
Ms. JOPLIN: (Singing) Have another little piece of my heart now, baby.
Unidentified Singers and Ms. JOPLIN: (Singing) You know you've got it if it
makes you feel good.
Ms. JOPLIN: (Singing) You're out...
WARD: Erma Franklin, one of Aretha's sisters, made that record in 1967, and
Janis snatched it right up. Around that same time, Ragovoy, who was based
Philadelphia, was listening to a demo tape of a song a vocal group had sent
him and a voice jumped right out at him. It took him months to find the
singer, who, it turned out, was driving a cab right there in Philly.
took him into the studio and before long he had a hit.
(Sounbite of "Ain't Nobody Home")
Mr. TATE: (Singing) One wintertime a long, long time ago, wherever you lead
me, I will surely follow. There you put me through some pain and misery.
you stand here on my doorstep telling me how much you need me. Ain't nobody
home. Girl, ain't nobody home. How...
WARD: "Ain't Nobody Home" was Tate's second single, and it did well enough
that the record company wanted more. The one they got is Tate's best-known
song, one which predicted the invention of Viagra and matched the last
(Soundbite of "Look at Granny Run, Run")
Mr. TATE: (Singing) Look at Granny run, run, and Grandpa running close
behind. Look at Granny run, run. There's something on Grandaddy's mind.
went to the doctor, got a brand-new pill. The doctor said, `Son, you ain't
over the hill.' Now he can't sit still. Granny, gosh all mighty won't you
look at Granny go, go, faster than a Greyhound bus.
WARD: Oddly, neither "Look at Granny, Run, Run" nor "Ain't Nobody Home" did
all that well on the pop charts, but that didn't mean the pop singers
listening to Howard Tate. Janis Joplin, that big Jerry Ragovoy fan,
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. TATE: (Singing) In this world where people are fighting with each
and nobody to care on, not even your own brother. So if someone comes along
who gives you genuine affection, get it while you can, get it while you can,
get it while you can. Don't turn your back on love.
WARD: There was one more hit for the collaboration before Tate decided to
look elsewhere for the fame which seemed to be eluding him, and this time it
was Jimi Hendrix who took it over to the pop audience.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. TATE: (Singing) Stop. Baby, can't you see that I can't take it no
Stop. If you keep it up, I'm going to go through the floor. That's what's
going to happen, baby. Never knew how good a love could be. Love is going
make a fool of me. Everything is hazy. One more kiss and you'll drive me
crazy. Baby, stop.
WARD: And it did stop. Tate went over to Lloyd Price's Turntable label and
Ragovoy went his own way. They reunited in the early '70s on Atlantic
Records, urged on by one of their biggest fans, Jerry Wexler, but the record
flopped. The two parted ways again, and, until recently, that was that.
Ragovoy was living in Georgia and Tate was presumed dead. He wasn't.
a remarkable series of connections, a soul deejay found him living in New
Jersey, and the tale of Tate's plunge into despair after his daughter died
a fire, his wife divorced him and he became homeless emerged. After
undergoing a spiritual experience in 1994, he became a minister. And he's
hoping the album he's just recorded with Ragovoy will earn him enough money
pay for a church to preach in. Reports from his comeback show were very
positive. It's an aspiring story. And I'd like to add my voice to the
welcoming Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy back to the music business.
GROSS: Rock historian Ed Ward lives in Berlin.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. TATE: (Singing) How come my bulldog don't bark, baby, when Big Jim
around? Well, all right. How come my bulldog don't bowwow, baby, when Big
Jim comes around--mm-hmm--when everybody knows I got the meanest bulldog in
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