A Grateful Story

I am feeling grateful this morning. A Facebook friend, Douglas Mayo, included this clip in his comment on my earlier post, featuring the lyrics to Boone and Erickson’s “Good Morning” song. It got me thinking… I don’t think I’ve ever told you FB friends how grateful I am to Charlie and Roger, and why. Here’s the story:

I had appeared on WCCO Radio–back in its glory days–quite a few times with Charlie and Roger, as a musician and song-writer. Roger especially loved my “Minnesota Mosquito Song” and “The Outhouse Blues,” and no matter what I had come to talk about, would always ask that I perform one of those songs on the air. Charlie was always unfailingly kind to an unknown young kid from ‘outstate’ with his blue jeans and plaid shirt and 12-string guitar. Each time I was on I watched in awe as they talked to me, LISTENED to me, talked to each other, did their live commercials, did their ‘bits’ and their sketches, did the weather and the news, all the time keeping one eye on the big clock on the wall with the second hand going round and timing everything to the micro-second.

One late October day in 1992 I worked up my courage to call ‘CCO once again–it was always a big deal to me, never quite sure they’d actually remember me–and asked to speak to Charlie. I knew Charlie was very big on books and literature. He answered the phone.

“Uhhh, Charlie, I wrote a book,” I said. “It’s called Old Turtle, and it just came out.”
“A book, huh? Why that’s great! Would you like to come down and talk about it?”
“Oh, that would be wonderful! Thanks!”

And so a date was set for later that week.

I showed up in my jeans and plaid shirt, and Charlie and Rog, on a short news-break, greeted me in the hallway. I handed the brand new book to Charlie, as Rog headed down the hall. Charlie stood there, back against the wall, and paged slowly through the whole thing, beginning to end. Then he looked at me. “Would you like to read this on the air?” he asked. I remember as if it were yesterday.

“Oh, you mean read it aloud, the whole thing?”
“Yes, I think you should, why not?” said Charlie.

Well, ‘why not’ was because I had a vague idea what live ‘commercial time’ on 50,000 watts, clear channel WCCO radio might cost. And getting 5-6 minutes of it, unbroken, for free was…extraordinary. But I said something along the lines of, “Sure, that would be great!” And we headed into the studio… I trying to keep my nerves under control.

After getting headphones on and sidling up to the mike and a bit of chit-chat and a nice introduction about their ‘good friend, Doug Wood, who has just written a book,’ it was time. And so I read Old Turtle, live, in public, for the very first time.
What happened next, I came to understand later, was every author’s dream. By the time I finished, the guys excitedly told me, the switchboard was ‘lit up like a Christmas tree!’ People were calling in from everywhere, many in tears, pulling off the road, finding telephones, asking what WAS that book, where could they find it, where was it available, who was the author? Charlie and Roger kept me on the air, answering some of the calls, asking more questions about the book, and the art, the little publisher from Duluth. And on that day, in that hour, my life changed. I became an author. The rest of my life became… something new. Something different. Something better.

The 5,000 books the publisher had printed sold out over the weekend. More were printed, and they sold out as well. And more again. Old Turtle took off at a speed which turtles seldom if ever display. Book tours and events and many more TV and radio interviews and countless wonderful things happened, including the opportunity to write 38 more books. I appeared a few more times with Charlie and Roger–Boone and Erickson–and thanked them every time.
But I can never thank them enough.

Charlie and Roger are gone now. Many, many Minnesotans miss them, their wonderful stories and corny jokes and stupid “Minnesota Hospital” sketches, and their signature “Good Morning” song. I miss them in a special way. In a way that is tinged with enormous gratitude. On this St. Patrick’s day they would be doing some skit, with perfect Irish accents and dopey humor, making us all smile and laugh and perhaps forget some of our troubles. I can just hear them now… So I will say it one more time. Thanks, guys. Thanks, Charlie and Rog. Thanks for everything.

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