Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A voice from the past

I was only 12 or 13 when I was first introduced to A Prairie Home Companion and its host, Garrison Keillor. A family friend, one of the most insightful, cerebral and (do I even have to say?) troubled people I have ever known had recently separated from his wife, and we visited him for Saturday dinner in an old house much to spacious for its bachelor occupant. When 6 p.m. rolled around, he turned on the radio already tuned to the NPR affiliate in Columbus, Ga., and out poured the musings of the second most insightful and cerebral person I have ever heard.
Garrison Keillor's show is of and for his home in rural Minnesota, but it resonates with everyone who has somewhere they call home. Keillor has done the improbable, resurrecting the genre of radio variety show with folksy monologues of Lake Wobegon's Norwegian bachelor farmers, folk singers, fiddlers and a sound effects guy doing bird calls with his mouth. It is an anachronism, as unlikely as a revival of Vaudeville or the Lawrence Welk Show, complete with tap dancers and champagne bubbles.
What makes Keillor's show so effective is its authenticity. Though the sponsors (Powder Milk Biscuits, “heaven's, they're tasty and expeditious!” and the Ketchup Advisory Board) are fake, the nostalgia is real. Garrison has a true affinity for the personalities of a world that only can exist in our memories, for songs that are only appealing in their simplicity and humor that tends to make us smile instead of laugh.
Like any personality-driven institution, from Mr. Rogers to Paul Harvey to Charles Schulz, you know that “A Prairie Home Companion” is destined to end when Keillor succumbs to our common adversaries, age and mortality. He has already announced a date for retirement, spring 2013, when he says he hopes to fade into the woodwork and hand off the microphone to an as-yet-unnamed replacement. But everyone knows that Lake Wobegon will fade like Brigadoon without him.
On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Keillor will bring a version of his show, currently on summer hiatus, to the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth in what is called the Summer of Love tour. A few tickets remain. I will be there. And I will be reminded of my isolated, insightful, cerebral, troubled friend, alone is a house that is too big for him. Keillor's show is just like that, an isolated, insightful calming voice in a world that is too big and too busy for a place like Lake Wobegon to exist anymore.

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