Today’s book is a representation of one of the iconic figures in my literary life.
That sounds pretentious, and totally unbefitting one of the least pretentious icons in American prose and entertainment. So let me say it this way:
I love Garrison Keillor.
I am a fan of his writing, for sure. I’ve read most of his books and this collection. When I turn on NPR at the right time (often too early in the morning) (meaning I don’t hear it very often), I hear his sonorous voice reciting poetry via The Writer’s Almanac.
But I’m a fan mainly because of his seminal Saturday night entertainment offering, A Prairie Home Companion, and if you don’t know what that is, we will have to move very slowly in our relationship in order to build up some trust.
(If you do know what that is – and you are also a fan – I love you already, immediately, no questions asked.
In a nod to years gone by, Prairie Home Companion is a two-hour variety showed hosted by Keillor, featuring musicians famous and almost-famous, the occasional comedian and actor, and a poet laureate or two. The centerpiece of the show has always been Keillor; his stories from fictional Lake Wobegon, his hapless Guy Noir character, Lives of the Cowboys sketches, and his singing. It’s his show; he sings whatever he wants, and often it’s the bass part on an American spiritual or well-worn hymn. He’ll jump around and sing any part he finds, and that endears me to him; it’s like standing beside my dad in Inglewood United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, taking up space in the pew and rotating our way through every voice part during four verses of O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing.
Find a part, any part. Just sing. And try not to giggle.
Certainly during my most hectic, chaotic child-rearing days, and even into recent years. you’d likely find me on any given Saturday evening cooking something and listening to Garrison. We’d eat late on Saturdays, because I’d start cooking around 6 and work on it for the duration. Kids would come in and out of the kitchen, and I’d say, Hush – I’m listening to Garrison.
I’m not a big movie fan; I enjoy the entertainment, but I’m not one of those people who can remember lines and scenes from the big screen. I don’t remember dialogue. But an aural storyteller, pictures painted by words and music – that is my sweet spot, the place where my imagination is challenged and emboldened to do all that it can to create a wonderland of joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, melody and harmony; all redolent of my childhood and my family and a sweeter, gentler time and place. Keillor seems to live back there, too; his words call me into that place, and I find peace and hope therein. In his books, and in his storytelling on the radio, he calls my imagination into action, and I inhabit the stories he tells in a way that feels almost like an actual physical transition; I move in and out of spaces and places I have only ever actually been within my mind.
Garrison retired last year; in just a few weeks, the show resumes with Chris Thile at the helm, which will be very, very different. And quite possibly, very good. I like Thile; he’s a monstrously talented musician and I admire his wit and intellect. So there’s a chance that he’ll create something new and wonderful.
But I’m not holding my breath, honestly. Garrison is gone. I am resigned to giving up my Saturdays and sticking to reruns, which makes me feel like I’m moving into a season of life for which I am not quite ready to embrace. I can’t see myself alongside the folks who are watching Andy Griffith reruns and longing for yesterday.
But there is something there, a changing of the guard that is natural and normal, I suppose. I mourn this change, but I’ll lean into it, because life goes on, and who can fight it? I have the books he has written, vibrant with his unique style and irreplaceable humor, and I have his voice on NPR, and I catch glimpses of his sharp edges and passionate convictions in weekly editorials blasting Donald Trump in this current political season. Which are entertaining, inspiring, and insightful.
I’m just not sure what I’ll do on Saturday nights at 6pm. Maybe we’ll just order pizza.