I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Garrison Keillor, the creator and star of A Prairie Home Companion, is retiring from the show he’s been at the center of for decades. I read the news when it was announced, and thought about how I haven’t listened to PHC in years. I used to be a big fan, but there came a point — I can’t say when — at which Keillor and his show just ran out of gas. Guy Noir, the Lives of the Cowboys, even the tales of Lake Wobegon — all of them had the air of an old, battered recliner, the worn thin covering of which the springs had burst through, deflating the thing.
The link above will take you to a NYT profile of Keillor at the end of his PHC career. Part of it asks the question: Did Garrison Keillor stay too long? Excerpt:
There is debate about whether Mr. Keillor should have exited a while ago. His weekly radio audience peaked 10 years ago, at 4.1 million, and has since dropped to 3.2 million. While that does not include listeners on Sirius XM, or the show’s three million monthly digital requests, many stations have dropped their Sunday repeat broadcast of his show.
“Prairie Home” captured a time, before tweets and Facebook posts, when people talked more over fence posts and pots of coffee but nowadays feels increasingly removed from many listeners’ lives.
“A lot of the conversation has been: ‘Did Garrison wait too long? Should Garrison have done this years ago?’” said Eric Nuzum, former vice president for programming at NPR. “The problem of ‘Prairie Home Companion’ is it’s part of public radio’s past, not their future,” Mr. Nuzum said. (American Public Media distributes “Prairie Home”; NPR member stations air programs from APM as well as from other distributors.)
That’s still a huge audience. Creatively, he was spent a long time ago. But then, the Rolling Stones have been for decades, but they still fill stadiums. Still, they’re a nostalgia act by now, and so is Keillor.
The profile is worth reading because it reveals what a weird, misanthropic guy Keillor is. Excerpts:
Margaret Moos Pick, Mr. Keillor’s early producer and former longtime girlfriend, said his Lake Wobegon monologues put him into something like a state of hypnosis. In them, he could lose himself.
“I don’t think he’s necessarily a happy man,” Mr. Angell [Roger Angell, his editor at The New Yorker] said, “But the time he is happy is when he is doing his monologue.”
Curiously, Mr. Keillor has always found it difficult spending so much time with the strong, good-looking, above average people of Lake Wobegon, which he based on his relatives, past and present.
In “The Keillor Reader” (2014), he complained bitterly about “their industriousness, their infernal humility, their schoolmarmish sincerity, their earnest interest in you, their clichés falling like clockwork — it can be tiring to be around.”
Speaking on his porch, Mr. Keillor said of Lake Wobegonians, i.e., his relatives, “I am frustrated by them in real life.” They were too controlled by good manners, he said, and “have a very hard time breaking through.”
So why devote so much of his professional life ruminating about them? “It’s the people I think I know,” he replied.
Will he miss them, and the weekly jolt of the show?
“No,” he replied. “No.”
I was disabused of my illusions about Garrison Keillor when I read his 2004 nonfiction book Homegrown Democrat. Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon Days was one of my favorite books of the early 1990s, and I thought I was going to read a book extolling liberal politics, written in the same avuncular, down-home spirit.
Boy, was I wrong. Homegrown Democrat is dark, bitter, and biting. Everybody knows Garrison Keillor is a liberal, but it was a shock to realize that underneath his genial, humane public radio persona, he’s a small, spiteful man. I didn’t see it coming. It was like sitting down at the Chatterbox Cafe over a piece of rhubarb pie, and discovering with the first bite that they spiked the thing with vinegar.
Anyway, I hope he finds peace and happiness in his retirement, and I thank him for the happy memories.