Friday, October 14, 2016

I love to tell the story....

It has only belatedly occurred to me that the changing of the hosts at "A Prairie Home Companion" is very much like the changing of pastors at a church, with the new pastor coming in to "fill the shoes" of the pastor of decades duration.  And that analogy is not just one connected by the length of time Garrison Keillor ran the show, but because APHC was a church service.

I don't mean because it was heavily ritualized and one came to expect the appearance of Guy Noir or Dusty and Lefty.  Those characters were actually relative newcomers to the show; I still pine for the days of Bertha's Kitty Boutique.  I dunno, maybe the internet killed that joke.  But I do remember the show long before it was studded like a Christmas cake with the various fruits of recurring character skits keeping the mixed nuts of musical performances from crowding each other too much.  I know I have a video tape of the "last" APHC performance, the first time Garrison "retired" (I'm thinking there was a second time, too, but maybe that's just a faulty memory).  I should look at it again to see how he filled the time between musical acts without resorting to a rotating set of characters and semi-continous story-lines.

No, I'm not talking about the ritual pattern the show had settled into in recent years; I'm talking about the elephant in the room that no discussion of Chris Thile replacing Keillor has touched on:  what's going to happen to the news from Lake Wobegon?

You knew APHC wasn't over until you got the news from Lake Wobegon.  Sometimes it was memorable, sometimes it was long; sometimes it was short and over before it started.  But you always knew it's appearance meant the show was coming to an end.  It was the anti-climactic climax, or maybe the true climax; but it always signaled the third act, and a brief fourth act to follow before the lights went out and the sound went off.

It was the sermon.

Protestants, especially, go to worship for the sermon.  Try as I might to de-emphasize it in my liturgy, it was still the turning point of the hour.  The service, in whatever ritual it was cast, led up to it; anything afterward, even communion (practiced only monthly in my church), was falling action, was resolution.  You'd seen and heard what you came for; the rest was just polite tidying up before making for the exits.

Garrison Keillor's news from Lake Wobegon was the sermon you tuned in for every week.  When that was done you knew the show was over; or almost over.  You knew it was time to start thinking about gathering the kids and heading for the door.

If you listen to that interview linked above with Chris Thile, you will hear references to, and out-takes from, the news from Lake Wobegon.  It is so iconic it is practically the reason for the entire two hours:  to provide a setting for the monologue.  Just like the sermon in a Protestant worship service; it's all about the word, even when there's a sacrament involved.  You will hear references to the news from Lake W., but the interviewer is too polite to ask Chris Thile how he will replace that segment, how he will preserve so much of APHC without preserving that.

It's rather impolite to flat-out ask a preacher just how good a "preacher" he really is; especially in the context of following up on a man who's filled that pulpit for nearly four decades.  How good can anybody be, and besides, it was never really a sermon.   It was just Garrison spinning yarns.

Except it was the sermon; and everybody who listened do that show, dare I say "religiously"?; understood that.  Now we'll just see what they think about the new preacher; and whether or not somebody, anybody, will continue to tell the story.


  1. I think I remember that show you have taped, how he ended with everyone in the Cafe, or was it the Sidetrack Tap just having a typical time.

    I can't seen how the show is going to be the same and I suspect he's going to fill in with guest writers of, no doubt, varying ability to do a stand up monologue or a Moth Hour style show, which won't be the same at all.

    I remember one of my young nephews being in my kitchen while I was listening to the show and an ad for Jack's Scraps for Dogs came on. He thought it was a real ad. The kid's almost 40 now, I think. And I remember the ad for the "movie" The Minnesota Living Dead and the Fear Mongers' Shop.... there was some good writing in that show.

    It's inevitable that when the main thinker behind something retires or dies that it can't be the same. I don't know if Chris Thiele can carry it off, he's very talented but he's a musician, not a writer. I hope the two trial runs aren't what it was like, he was way too much the center of it. But, then, that dreadful attempt to keep it up with Noah Adams happened, which was dreadful. Oh, well, that's art.

    And Stuart McLean isn't doing well, apparently. I'll really miss that show if it goes off the air. I almost don't care about the Dave stories it's just McLean's demonstrated good intentions that carry it.

  2. I think I remember that show you have taped, how he ended with everyone in the Cafe, or was it the Sidetrack Tap just having a typical time.

    I think that's the Altman film; which I have on DVD somewhere....

    Before DVD there was VHS, and I have a copy of the APHC where Keillor really did retire and shut down and move to Denmark or Sweden or somewhere with his new wife. I guess the marriage lasted, but the exile from America didn't. He was back again and the show was back on the air and it was good but it was different.

    But it was good.