Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out on the edge of the prairie."

It seems like I've been making a lot of admissions lately. From my addiction to Mad Men to my penchant for gray-colored horses and all things autumn. So you'd think I was done for a while, wouldn't you? But as it happens, I'm not so much done yet.

I'm also a big fan of NPR. I love mornings with the usual NPR morning suspects, and always appreciate the keen insights and varied guests of Tom Ashbrook and his On Point program. The quiz show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me! is a never miss for me and I can't help but love the Magliozzi Bros. on Car Talk...they rock.

As a native Minnesotan, though, I have a favorite of favorites. It's Garrison Keillor and his brilliant ensemble at A Prairie Home Companion. I'm not talking about the movie, I mean the weekly radio gig. With the Guys All-Star Shoe Band, Guy Noir, Dusty and Lefty; Bee-Bop-A-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie, The Ketchup Advisory Board, Powdermilk Biscuits. And then of course there's, the News from Lake Wobegone--perennially my favorite segment.

When I lived in Minnesota, I didn't pay much attention to PHC. I was always trying to get myself to the East Coast or Europe and was too busy to fully appreciate the warm comfort of the world Keillor built with his broadcasts. After chasing around Europe, New York City, and other points East, finally landing in lovely Connecticut, I started to find myself in my car at the time when PHC was on air. The occasional segment here and there grew into planning my weekend errands around being able to have Garrison Keillor and his uber-talented cast-mates as my companions.

Of course parts of it remind me of home and the people in Lake Wobegone, fictional though they may be, aren't so different from quite a few people I knew of in Minnesota and Wisconsin. This is undoubtedly part of the secret to PHC's success--it reminds transplanted Midwesterners (and maybe even wannabe Midwesterners?) of home, traditions, idiosyncrasies, and quirky characters. It's comforting with out being twee or too quaint. Keillor knows his audience so well and while he's often nostalgic, he's never maudlin. We remember the good times and smile at his recreation of a church picnic or town celebration because we've been to them. It is Keillor's spot-on assessments of people and fond reminiscences of 'good times had by all' that bring smiles to the faces of millions of listeners across the globe.

So imagine my sadness at hearing that Keillor, after suffering a minor stroke and being seen to by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, was looking toward a future--one where he wasn't doing News from Lake Wobegone or his other contributions to PHC. (So as not to sound too overtly selfish here, my first concern was for his wasn't until he announced his future plans that this really settled in for me!! HERE's a link to the St. Paul Pioneer Press' little blurb on Keillor's announcement. ) Now of course I realized intellectually that he couldn't do the show forever, he is, after all, 67 and has given an awful lot to his listeners, so he's earned as restful retirement as he'd like to have. But selfishly and emotionally, it was a different feeling. How could he deprive us of Guy Noir or the News? What would become of the touchstones that we've all connected to for so many years? And the answer was a perfectly sensible one--they'd all still be there, of course. Mr. Keillor will never give us as many anecdotes as we'd like, just like the U2 concert will never be long enough, the stretch drive in a horse race will go by too quickly, and the summer will end before you've gotten rid of some of the unfortunate tan lines you may have acquired. It's just part of the deal. We're all greedy for more and more of the things that make us happy, that's human nature. The upside is that we've had PHC for all these years and we will be able to listen to reruns for many years to come. (Thankfully U2 keeps putting out new albums, showcases horse races so we can re-play Rachel's Woodward victory over and over and over again, and those ill-planned tan lines will fade.)

Maybe Garrison Keillor's "chastening experience," as he called his minor stroke, is a good reminder for us all to keep following our passions and to stop and look around every now and then to right the compass.

So I hope, and I bet many of you out there join me in this, that it's a good long time before we hear the final sign off of the radio family of A Prairie Home Companion. Until then, that's "the News from Lake Wobegone...the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve ... where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average."

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