The public radio variety show “A Prairie Home Companion” is celebrating it’s 40th anniversary this weekend and perhaps it’s a reflection of the Twin Cities dearth of “celebrities” that so much attention is being given to the event. Granted, 40 years of anything should be celebrated. But listening to some of the comments from fans, you would think the show’s host Garrison Keillor is the John Lennon of radio: a genius that only comes along once in a generation.
I don’t begrudge Keillor the attention and it’s certainly nice to have a public radio show that can break up the blocks of “Car Talk” reruns and episodes of “On The Media.” But even before I moved to Minnesota eight years ago, I found “Prairie Home Companion” to be an inexplicable and often painfully meandering show. Yes, the musical guests were often delightful and every show includes (often seemingly accidentally) a few funny lines. But the percentage of genius moments compared to moments that resemble the sound of paint drying was never high enough to bring me back on a regular basis.
I’ve heard a fair number of episodes over the past twenty years, although seldom on purpose. Usually I’m scanning through the radio dial on a Saturday night looking for a talk program that isn’t conservative ranting, pitches for unproven medical treatments or sports. And I end up stopping to listen to a bit of Keiller and company.
If you haven’t heard the show (or seen the movie that it inspired), “A Prairie Home Companion” is a live, two-hour variety show that was inspired in part by The Grand Old Opry. Keiller hosts, performs in a few sketches, brings on a musical guest or two and voices a few gentle spoofs of classic-sounding small-town radio advertisements.
You’ll hear the words “gentle” and “homespun” used frequently to describe the show. Apparently those are Midwestern codewords for “exceptionally slow to get to the point” and “funnier when you read it.” At first listen, well-known characters such as “Guy Noir: Private Eye” and “The Lives of the Cowboys” sound like spoofs of radio dramas. But given the paucity of actual spoofing, they often sound more like flaccid imitations of the originals.
I understand why some folks in Minnesota find the show to be a reminder of the way the state used to be. In much the same way that people in the South love Larry the Cable Guy because he reminds them of relatives that found the life of a grocery clerk to be too much of an intellectual reach.
So those of you who are fans of the show and Mr. Keiller, feel free to celebrate this weekend to your heart’s delight. As for myself and some of my friends, we’ll be listening to sports. Or maybe just a good podcast.