Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Goodbye, Garrison

Garrison Keillor's radio program A Prairie Home Companion is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. NPR's Morning Edition did an interview with Keillor this morning; click here and scroll to the bottom to get the audio.

I've been a listener -- at times an avid one -- for most of 25 years. I first heard the program when I worked as a proofreader for the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 1979, helping put the Sunday paper to bed; one of the paste-up guys always had it on in the back room.

I was immediately addicted. I grew up in small Iowa towns (Ottumwa, Davenport, Mr. Vernon), and my family all come from Rockford, Illinois, just south of the Wisconsin border, so Keillor's cast of characters, with their painfully self-deprecating midwestern manners, often mixed with a rather sly, laconic irony, resonated with me.

I always thought that Keillor's strength was his sympathy for the real, existential problems of small-town folk. Keillor's love for them was apparent, even as he satirized their attitudes and faults. The show was topical in the best way, in that he took on everyday dilemmas-- how to deal with a teenage daughter who rejects your most cherished values? what do you do with a choir member who loves to sing, but can't? how can a homely, bookish boy express his love for the impossibly beautiful exchange student?-- that really admit of no solutions.

But in the past several years, Keillor has progressively allowed our world to creep into his fictional Lake Woebegone, and allowed political vitriol to creep into his show. Like a lot of people, he's very angry at George W. Bush and the people who voted for him. A number of sketches on the show around election time were flat-out mean, and I came to believe that Keillor had come to hate those small-town people he once loved, since so many of them voted for Bush. His recent off-show comments seem to back this up.

None of this displeases his audience, however, who cheerfully applaud his anti-Republican bile. So I've felt more and more like an unwanted visitor in Lake Woebegone, and I don't expect that I'll be coming back anytime soon.

Not that I'll be missed.

Update: Keillor talks about his decision to go political here. If you read it, you'll see that I fall into his "ignorant fascist bastard" category. Commenter Johnny Dakota mentions something about Keillor retiring, but I haven't heard or read anything about that.


John Hamre said...

I listened to the same NPR report and was saddened by the news that he would be retiring. My mom and dad and I used to sit around the radio when I was in high school (yes, we would actually SIT AROUND THE RADIO in the 21st century!) and listen to the Prairie Home Companion and news from Lake Woebegone. It was great family fun during a time when most of my life was otherwise hangovers, partying, and rock'n with my friends.


Joe Guarino said...


As someone who formerly listened to this program, I agree with your comments completely. The seductive allure of the entertainment value inherent in the broadcast is undeniable. The unmistakable undertow of nihilism, however, and the political slant drove me away.

Arguably, it may be nearly a prerequisite to be culturally liberal in order to obtain airtime on NPR. The consistent tone of mockery and condescension exhibited toward the enduring verities as exhibited among the rural and small town folks of the upper Midwest, however, was disturbing. That you identify with these people is understandable. I cannot be sure that the political bias is a recent development, however. I found it to be detectable ten years ago.

The ultimate test, for me, is whether the facade of erudite sophistication is sufficiently compelling that I would want my kids to emulate it. The answer for the case of Mr. Keillor is, emphatically, no.

D. Hoggard said...

If memory serves, this is Garrison's second retirement. I was an avid listener before the first one - you fascist pig.

David Wharton said...

He did retire briefly, once. he married a Danish woman and moved to Denmark to write novels, but came to his senses and returned to what he does well.

When he restarted his show, he called it The American Radio Company of the Air (or something), but then, again, came to his senses and re-renamed it PHC.

BUT HE'S NOT RETIRING. At least, not as far as I've heard. I expect he's got at least 10 more years in him.