Not too many days go by in my workaday routine that don’t involve listening to the voice of Garrison Keillor. From A Prairie Home Companion comes the weekly podcasts of the Lake Wobegon monologue segments, and I’m enjoying a super-mega backlog of two years’ worth and some.
Little quick history. I was introduced to Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon by my art-school friend Gaby, who bought me for my birthday the collection Lake Wobegon Days (1985) – one of those Faber & Faber efforts with the muted sketchy cover illustrations; Peter Carey’s were likewise presented – which I still have with its huge and loopy inscription ‘I have read this book and it is full of laughs – I have read this book and it is full of chocolate crumbs as well’; and which I remember the first-time reading of it, in a tent, and laughing explosively at the words bunny boogers, turkey tits, in the tale that tells of the schoolboys laughing too.
For the unfamiliar, Garrison Keillor is a very tall man who writes about a (semi) fictional town, Lake Wobegon – ‘my home town, out there on the edge of the prairie’. A Minnesota wide spot in the road. Lutheran-founded and a concentrated back-burner simmer of ordinary lives, the occasional bubble and pop of the strange, the intense, the too-cold, the too-warm, and all served up to prove and to rejoice in the extraordinariness of people and histories, politics and prayer, of lovelorn logic, and living together, simply, leanly – people you come to know. They are anecdotes, re-tellings, the spirit of which take root in the vignettes, the Island tales that me and B. concoct. And very, very funny.
He reads – Garrison Keillor – in a voice that’s low, sometimes fluting, and mellow, and at a pace that leads you like a horse around a ring – the sudden tug. The whole is a part of his A Prairie Home Companion radio show – about which I know comfortably little so far, though I know that the music is calling me in.
I went to see Garrison Keillor at a theatre once in London, with another art-school friend, Kate. Oddly I recall almost nothing about it, other than it was 1990, and he perched a cheek sometimes high on a high stool, and there was a piano, and we laughed and sniggered a hell of a lot. I think I saw in the very same theatre (I may be wrong), just weeks apart, Steven Berkoff’s Salome – and it’s nice to have the two performances blended somewhat in the memory of viewing. I think Keillor and the townsfolk of Lake Wobegon would enjoy that conjoining – or at least have some private feelings about it.
The voice – Garrison Keillor’s – is a big part of my time: for Christmas 1989 I got the BBC Radio Collection, Leaving Home, the first side of the first of two cassette tapes being the thing I fell asleep to for a couple of years; drifting and losing to the account of Kenny and meatloaf, a letter, and Joanne and –
The podcasts (I grab from iTunes, though I’m sure there are other means; they come in my RSS feed too, direct from the Prairie Home Companion’s site), I made my listening habit during 2013, but have pulled through the full set available so that whilst each Monday, Tuesday, I listen to the latest, throughout the week I also have the back catalogue to trawl through. Then these become little thrilling links to my own recent calendars, as I casually, at a clicked glance, note the podcast date and think, Oh, May 28 2011, I think I know what project I was working on, and would I have handed my notice in by then? No, but I knew when I was going to. And this momentary diary indulgence is a sidebar benefit that connects me with the fact that I am happy to be here, doing exactly what I do now; and the thought comes back around to the Wobegonians, friends; to the slow voice – a tone deeper than the voice on the tapes, with age and the climb from illness – friends and the brilliant creator and narrator. And I am inspired to create, and laughing, full of chocolate crumbs and laughs.
Well, if you’re interested, here’s a pretty nice clip from the YouTube. If you’re not up for committing to the duration, then just know that near the end there’s the bit about how the girl farted ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful… including the final Amen.’