Post to the Host

Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

Send GK Your Question »

December 11, 2006 | 23 Comments

Post to the Host:
We listened to your broadcast today and found the "Scratch your butt" song very long and quite disgusting. But we stayed with you, waiting to recover, and then....

We were shocked by your treatment of "Imagine," so close to the anniversary of John Lennon's death, so near to the place where it happened. Perhaps it was meant to cauterize, or to lighten the burden we have carried since that terrible day in 1980, or to tell us to just get on with our lives — as if we hadn't. But it just shocked us, and for the first time ever in all these years, we turned your program off.

I hope that you will not do a similar re-working of "Abraham, Martin, and John," should you find yourself in Washington, Memphis, Dallas, or Los Angeles, around the anniversaries of their deaths.

And sure, we'll be back... but with a saddened perspective now. In the meantime, please imagine all the people, holding on to a beautiful dream, and not needing to have it further tarnished.

Larry O.
Farmington, Iowa

I was doing an early morning show in St. Paul after the news came that John Lennon had been killed and sat there playing his songs on a classical-music station and taking phone calls from listeners. I think about him everytime I pass Central Park West and 72nd Street. Karan Casey and I had just sung "In My Life" on the broadcast and I did the parody of "Imagine" because it was funny. It was the sort of innocent song John Lennon enjoyed. "You may think I'm a weiner/But I'm not the only one./There are hundreds of hot dogs/Going around in big white buns." John Lennon died a tragic death but he is not a plaster saint and after twenty-six years I would think one could do a light-hearted parody of "Imagine" ("Imagine there's no smoking....."). How many years is someone supposed to be dead before you can make comic references to them?

We've done Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Hank Williams, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote, etc. — what's the rule here? As for "Abraham, Martin, and John," it is beyond parody. As for "the burden" you have carried since that terrible day in 1980 — I think you're being a little dramatic.


I have to agree with Garrison. From the footage I've seen and tapes I've listened to, John Lennon was a man accustomed to being self-deprecating, realistic and silly. We shouldn't burden ourselves with this loss, but carry on the philosophies that made Mr. Lennon such an important thinker and dreamer.

The fall-out reminds me of when John got spanked for comparing the Beatle's popularity to Jesus. I think their work was effected by being piled on during the height of their popularity and they went on to give us Revolver and Seargent Pepper and John went on to giving us "Imagine".

Man this cracked me up. I normally don't laugh out loud, and I nearly ran my car off the road Saturday when driving and listening to your this version. There is no bigger fanatic than me for John...stand-in-the-rain to catch-a-glimpse, koo-koo crazy fan. I didn't know him, but I think I know that parady would have drove him off the road too.

I have no more personal knowledge of John Lennon than the plaintiff, but knowing Lennon's work and his sense of humor, I think the man would have been horrified to be treated as such a sacred cow. I admire and appreciate the original song, enormously enjoyed your parody, and have no problem distinguishing the two.

This could all be summed up in a single word: sheesh.

Sorry, I think you've been taking too many liberties. The pre-pubescent boy humor is unfunny and using others' melodies for your lyrics is lazy. "Imagine" is a lovely song, with thoughtful lyrics, not appropriate for parody at all. No, John Lennon wouldn't have thought it was funny. Goofy lyrics to "Yellow Submarine" would have made him laugh, but not to "Imagine."

More to the point, "you may think me a weiner...big white buns" just isn't funny. It's broad, without wit. Not up to your standard at all. For those of us who've been listening to you for decades, the scratch-your-butt/weiner humor is a letdown.

I envy people like your critics, whose lives are apparently so trouble-free that they get worked up over some (slightly) ribald humor or a parody of Lennon. C'mon folks - get a life! There are so many things that are truly awful - global warming, destruction of the rain forest, our dependence on fossil fuels - that you should be venting your collective spleens about, instead of a harmless radio program. You really should be ashamed of yourselves. Put your pens (or fingers) to better use and complain about something important. Let Garrison entertain us. And if you truly find his humor so distasteful, you can always change the channel.

'Imagine' is one of the most cherished songs all over the world. The song speaks to our hearts, souls and minds longing for peace and love among all human beings wherever they may be. The hauntingly beautiful melody and lyrics of 'Imagine' touch us deeply.
In the future, I think it would be wise to choose another song to parody.

Humor is always dangerous, especially when someone doesn't think it's funny.

All public figures run the risk of parody, vitriol and jokes...even GK!


I'm with you, too, on this one (as well as the "Scratch Your Butt" song. I feel certain John Lennon would have laughed at the parody, even much sooner than 26 years! And, good grief, don't we have much more to be concerned about than silly songs?

I recall having an argument with my dad in Sunday School about John's Jesus comment! He was teaching, and neither of us fully understood at the time, what John really meant, but it did make for a lively discussion!

I envy your ability to write such great, insightful stuff. Keep it up!

John Lennon was able to see the true rediculousness of popular culture. That is what he meant when he said that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. He did not say more important, or better than Jesus, he said more popular. And sadly, it was probably true at the time. He'd be the last person to consider a song beyond the reaches of parody. His message of peace is so much bigger than the song "Imagine"... it's an amazing song, but it's just a piece of music. This coming from an obessive music fan.

Give me a break-one complaint after another. What is wrong with these people? I never comment on these things, but I've never seen so many big crybabies in one place. Get over yourselves, people. And Garrison, you're being gentle when you say Larry O is being a 'little dramatic'. He acts like you shot his dog.

Why should "we" feel "we" are carrying a burden? Unless one had suggested or encouraged the killing, there is no need to feel guilty or troubled. It was a very sad and unnecessary act by someone who wasn't in his right mind, but I feel no sense of responsibility. And I think it rather silly of Larry to assume that I do.

On the theme of complaning which seems to be the main thrust of the comments on your hompepage right now...

I've missed very few broadcasts of APHC over the past ten years. In that time I only recall being offended twice (and only slightly so).
Both times it was during the annual "Joke Show."
One off-color joke reffered to the late Princess Diana wearing a steering-wheel on her head in heaven like a halo.

The other joke i could have done without was about an old-lady who said "whoever can guess what I have in my hand gets to have sex with me," to which a man responds "an elephant." She replies: "Close enough!" - Not the *worst* joke I've heard, but kind of off the mark for PHC.

One of the things i most enjoy about the show is that for two hours every week I can (usually) be entertained without being offended.
It's a nice break from mainstream entertainment which has gone from bad to worse to pure garbage in recent years.

Incidentally - Two bad jokes in ten years is an exceptionally good record - keep up the good work!

It's one thing to grieve the loss of a cultural icon and graceful artist at such an early age. It's completely another to carry the grieving to the extreme and display it like an open wound. Move on.

I sat in my partners mom's {who also loves A Prairie Home. I LOVE hearing it weekly - TWICE}, living room here in rural Washington State, having just come in from outside gathering firewood when Keillor and the band medley'd into "Imagine" and I swear I laughed my tush off the whole song, it was so funny. I too grieved at the loss of this wonderful and complex man named John Lennon, but time heals and I just think he would have loved to have heard that rendition and more than likely would have gotten a big kick out of it. And the "Don't Scratch Your Butt" song was rather catchy and funny too. Life is ironic and absurd, just go with it people.

We listen infrequently to PHC, but enjoy it immensely when we do. I think the listeners that were offended by this parody need to loosen up a bit. No wonder this world is in the "snit" that it is with wars, reglious jihads and such. Once a person becomes a public figure, they open themselves up to being mocked, scorned and yes, parodied (sp?).
Come on people, get over yourselves!

I don't mean to be heavy-handed here, but you should know before you read my remarks that it has been scientifically proven that I am the most devoted John Lennon fan ever. The most devoted. Ever.

Knowing John the way I do, I feel certain he'd have approved of almost any parody of "Imagine". Also, he was one of the great sophomoric wits of my generation (and a lover of Manhattan) so I think he'd have been pleased with "Scratch Your Butt" as well. He wasn't made of spun sugar, you know. He was a working class hero, that's all.

Lennon was murdered the day after my 21st birthday, so my birthday itself (Pearl Harbor Day) is haunted with tragedy and sorrow. I no longer celebrate my b-day on its actual date because it's just too painful.

My generation considers "Imagine" a hymn of sorts. For me, it feels like parodying "Silent Night" or "Ave Maria". And, of course, Lennon would smack me in the head for thinking this way, reminding me that he parodied his own songs. I would answer, saying that "Imagine" and "Merry Christmas-War is Over" are special. Their messages and melodies transcend him as an artist, as all great art does.

I understand Garrison's point, though. And on a personal note, I thank him for signing, through my aunt, an autograph at his bookstore opening. When I realized what I was looking at, with the birthday wish and signature in the lower left corner, it brightened the day considerably.

Happy New Year!

Concerning the 'Imagine' parody, I must add my own amen to the people who basically said 'get a life and get over it.' While I didn't think it was all that funny, I didn't find it offensive. either. Hey, you can't hit the bullseye every time with everyone.
I have found some things to be both funny and offensive at the same time.

It is fine for folks to be offended...and fine for the rest of us to not be offended. I don't think we need to beat up on the guy who was offended. It's his right to be perturbed and to express that.

One good thing about Imagine is its easy parodiability. Another good thing is that it's not quite as awful as And so this is Christmas/And what have you done?/Another year over/A new one's just begun. That sound's like the work of a rather sanctimonious 8-year old. But who knows? Perhaps that's the effect John Lennon was looking for.
Garrison's comment on Abraham, Martin and John is well taken, but I'm afraid it might have destroyed for ever any chance of Dion appearing on PHC. The creator of The Wanderer, Ruby Baby and Runaround Sue should be allowed the odd lapse. I haven't heard his new blues CD, but I've read one or two glowing reports.

Garrison -

I've been a fan since somewhere around 1980. Some of your bits are inspired - and sometimes the basic gentleness and decency of your tales inspires me to try to be a better person. OK, you don't ALWAYS hit the mark for me ("Don't scratch your butt" ... boring), but, then, I don't expect you to. How do these folks who are mortally offended by your show survive the REST of the day? Do they all retire to monasteries during election years?
Thank you for your response to Larry ("I think you're being a little dramatic.") Much too honest an answer, though. At this rate, you will never be elected "Sun God".
PS to Rich: As one who hopes to live long enough to become an old lady, I thought the "...hand...elephant...Close enough!" joke was a hoot! Chaque a son gout.

>>How many years is someone supposed to be dead before you can make comic references to them?<<

1) Roman Emperor: two or three.
2) Rock Star: Anytime after his/her music can be heard in an elevator.
3) Talk Show Host: Out of decency, wait until the body cools.
4) Politicians: Why wait ?
5) Model or Film Star turned Infomercial Host: comic reference impossible.

Apropos of the plaintiffs rhetorical question whether the next tune to be parodied would be Abraham, Martin & John -- to which G.K. responded that it was beyond parody -- it was only this past weekend when another Public Radio program (Michael Feldmans What Do You Know?) ran a parody of Abraham, Martin & John to note the passing of Gerald Ford, Saddam Hussein, and James Brown.

Perhaps nothing is entirely beyond parody

Previous Post:

Next Post:

Post to the Host Archive

Complete Post to the Host Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy