As I've mentioned here lately, Garrison Keillor is retiring as host of A Prairie Home Companion after 42 years. (The show will continue in October, though with a new host, Chris Thile.) And tonight is the last show. It's being recorded, though, for airing on Saturday in its normal time slot at 5 PM, Central time.
Notable for our purposes here -- this last show tonight is being done in, of all place, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. And yes, as I've mentioned, I have tickets. It didn't even occur to me not to go.
I've told some of these stories before, but because of the occasion it's a good time to repeat them.
I first went to an A Prairie Home Companion live show before it even become a national program. My brother John was living in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the time, and he would write me about this great local radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. And so, when I went to visit him once, we went to see the show live, at the World Theater. As I said, it was still just a local show, and didn’t go national for maybe another 3 years. I still have some paraphernalia from going to that show. One is a 20-page pamphlet called The Collected Poems of Margaret Haskins Durber. She was Lake Wobegon's poet laureate, and Keillor would often recite her wonderful, sometimes funny, sometimes thoughtful work. For whatever reason, he dropped her as a character to talk about decades ago. The pamphlet by Ms. Durber is dedicated "For My Husband," and reads --
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord that he will keep
To his own side, for goodness sake.
Unless, of course, he is awake.
I also even remember a passage from one of the songs he sang at that local show. It came in a sketch about a sad sack of a fellow, and Keillor wrote a song to the tune of "My Way," sung in the first person by the man who had so many things coming on him. It went --
They threw mud pies.
And threw them...
Oddly, and happily, when Garrison Keillor first retired from the show a long while back, in his intended farewall program, he did a sketch that actually used a verse from that same "My Way" parody. I leapt out of my seat while listening, overjoyed.
While on the visit to St. Paul, I didn't only see and hear Garrison Keillor doing a local version of A Prairie Home Companion -- but he also had a local radio morning show. And I remember every morning during my visit listening to Keillor do that show, as well.
So, how in the world could I not go to Garrison Keillor’s last A Prairie Home Companion?!
Yet, in addition to all that, there's another reason, as well. I am literally – without exaggeration – the reason A Prairie Home Companion got on the air in Los Angeles. It’s a long story, but this is very brief version:
Back around 1980, my brother -- still in St. Paul, told me that the still-local A Prairie Home Companion was going to do a national fundraiser on NPR from the University of Minnesota, and I really wanted to hear it. So, I called around all the NPR outlets in Los Angeles to see if any were carrying it, and no one knew what on earth I was talking about. Only one station, KCRW in Santa Monica, had sort of heard of it.
The problem was, by the time I reached them, and by the time they looked into deciding what to do, the airdate had passed. And they didn’t know if they were even allowed to air the previously-live show on tape delay after the fact. They had to check with NPR in Washington. I kept calling them and calling them, reminding them and noodging them to find out.
At last, at least a month later, or maybe even two months, they got permission and aired the program. And it was wonderful. I called KCRW up to thank them, and the person said, “No, we want to thank you. We’ve been getting phone calls all day from people who LOVED it, and we never would have put the show on if it hadn’t been for you following up with us.”
(To this day, I don't know if KCRW realizes that they were the first station to air A Prairie Home Companion. It didn't become a national program for another couple years after that, and when it did, it was on KUSC.)
So, again, there is no way I even considered not going to the final broadcast. Tonight. In just a few hours.
And I'll be leaving very shortly for the Hollywood Bowl to be there. I'll have a report later.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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