I must have been doing a spectacularly poor job wasting time over the last week, because only today did I see Garrison Keillor’s Christmas rant:
Unitarians listen to the Inner Voice and so they have no creed that they all stand up and recite in unison, and that’s their perfect right, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong to rewrite “Silent Night.” If you don’t believe Jesus was God, OK, go write your own damn “Silent Night” and leave ours alone. This is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write “Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we’ll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah”? No, we didn’t.
Golly. For the record, he also says bad things about Lawrence Summers and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and unaccountably refers to the good people of Cambridge, MA, as “Cambridgeans.”
One has to wonder exactly how serious this is intended to be. On the one hand, Keillor is a professional humorist and satirist. He’s also an inveterate rewriter of lyrics, Christmas lyrics not excepted. On the other, well… it isn’t very funny, now is it?
I’m leaning towards thinking it’s satire, or at least thinking that he thinks it’s satire. I am hardly Garrison Keillor’s biggest fan1—I find A Prairie Home Companion both precious and grating, not to mention endlessly, mindlessly, numbingly repetitive—but I don’t think he’s stupid. I can easily imagine him being sufficiently egotistical to blast the UU’s for rewriting lyrics even as he does it himself (possibly by distinguishing “serious” and “humorous” rewrites). I can’t imagine him being so ignorant of musical tradition as to think that lyrics haven’t been rewritten continually since there were lyrics to rewrite. Or that Christmas music was universally wonderful and timeless until those Unitarians and Jews had to go and spoil it all.
I think he’s adopted a sort of vaguely anti-Semitic (and anti-Unitarian (and heck, while we’re at it, homophobic)) curmudgeonly Andy Rooney persona, full of misty nostalgia for those good old days that never existed. Perhaps he’s also kidding on the square.
And this wouldn’t be the first time Keillor’s attempted satire was taken more seriously than he claims to have intended. Here’s his apology, in the context of Dan Savage’s response to same, for the above-linked column.
FWIW, I looked up the offending Godless Silent Night. I’m not sure which of the two versions in the UU hymnal so offended Garrison. The first is just like the one he’s used to, except that it replaces “son of God” with “child of God” and ends each stanza with “Sleep in heavenly peace”—no Sons or Lords here. The second is a much more literal translation of two of the original German verses, very mildly Unitarianized so as to avoid the word “savior.”
Lots of responses to this on the internets, of course. Here‘s one from folk-singer-(pretty good folk singer, in fact)-turned-Unitarian-minister Fred Small, whose church it was that Keillor was talking about. This piece includes links to other Unitarian-Universalist responses (some of which seem angry and wounded—UUs, like “Cambridgeans,” are natural Keillor fans). Here‘s something pretty icky from Powerline, the gist of which is that Keillor must be sublimating his anger at the Jews (isn’t it really the atheists, and those who like the First Amendment?) who have so rudely driven Christmas from the Public Square.
1. Garrison Keillor’s biggest fan is Garrison Keillor.