Garrison Keillor is the quintessential Minnesotan. When asked how different his life and career might have been if he'd been born in any place on earth but Minnesota, he acknowledged, " I spent a lot of time thinking about this when I was 12 and 13, growing up along the Mississippi River, sitting under the trees, tossing stones at the flotsam as it floated by, and also thinking, "What if the Communists came and took over America?" Which did not happen, no matter what Republicans say, and here I am, Minnesota born and bred, and doing the best I can.
For decades, he has woven tales of a fictional town in his home state, named Lake Wobegon, and populated it with a cast of quirky characters, These strange souls become real and solid as he fashions stories of their births, schooling, friends, jobs, weddings, divorces and rarely deaths. We learn to care about Pastor Liz and Lillian Tollerud , the savior of the post office and college kid Christopher who quotes Thoreau and gets a summer job at Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery. Garrison admits these folks of his creation are like old friends. In reply to the query how do you keep track of all their comings and goings, births, weddings and deaths?, he replied that they become more and more real and as I learn more about them, I gently take them out of Time and let them remain the same age. Death is rare. Roger Hedlund died a year ago and I'm still in mourning for him. He was a good farmer."
Would he still have created Lake Wobegon if he had sprung from Georgia or Alaska? "Probably not. It derived from small towns where my uncle Aldridge practiced medicine and my home town of Anoka and a part of Stearns County where I lived back in the Seventies. Had I lived, say, in Minneapolis, I would've wanted to be more hip."
Like a modern day Will Rogers, with a unique homespun philosophy and wit all his own, sporting his trademark red socks and /or shoes, Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame is coming to share his home town wisdom and inventive humor on Sunday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Southern Connecticut State University's Lyman Center for the Performing Arts will be welcoming this well known radio personality who has been spouting his views on love and life since July 6, 1974 in St. Paul, Minnesota when a fortunate few, a dozen in number, attended his first broadcast.
After that humble beginning, A Prairie Home Companion has gone on almost continually (there was a brief hiatus in 1987), and now entertains 4 million listeners every week on almost 600 public radio stations in the United Stations as well as abroad in Europe and the Far East. It has even spawned a movie of the same name in 2008 that starred Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Kevin Kline.
A Prairie Home Companion has grown and changed since 1974. To Keillor, "It started out proudly amateur and local and quietly went professional and national, which made it a better show. We added actors. National performers became aware of it and came around ---- Chet Atkins, the Everlys, Wynton Marsalis, K.D. Lang, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Diana Krall , Odetta --- and that was good. The writing got steadily better, sillier. Fred Newman joined. The show is pretty flexible. We did a Mennonite show one week, then went to Nashville and did blues and bluegrass. The News from Lake Wobegon feels solid to me. So we'll just go on week to week until I retire and then someone else will do it."
Known for his deadpan delivery and deep voice, Keillor fashioned a radio show based on his tales of Lake Wobegone, his mythical home town, and jazz and folk music, often singing himself as well as inviting entertaining guests. Lake Wobegon is set in the middle of the state, with a population of 942, that is subject to change. Its name is taken from an Indian term meaning "the place where we waited all day for you in the rain."
As a boy, he wrote stories about talking animals and he liked unusual smells and things that exploded so an exploding smell was great fun for him to contemplate. Born in Minnesota in 1942, he has entertained the world as a humorist, a commentator on the human experience, a storyteller, an author and a distinctive radio personality. As for the future, Garrison Keillor is happy to keep things going along in the same busy and happy way. "I'm a writer and every morning I sit down to a laptop computer and do what I've been doing since I was a kid. I'm finishing up a Lake Wobegon screenplay, working on a novel about a comedian, sketching out a Christmas musical, and so it goes. About ten years ago, I quit alcohol and that gave me my mornings back and that made a big difference. I sort of miss the bonhomie of the generous gin martini but I prefer to have a clear head at six a.m. "
With an abundance of dry Minnesota humor, as dry as a saltine cracker, Keillor will share tales of his childhood in addition to his late arrival to parenthood, with a few tales of Lake Wobegone for good measure. His special guests will include pals from his popular show who are likely to provide musical accompaniment from rock-n-roll to ragtime, Beethoven to blues.
For tickets ($20 student, $35-45 regular and premium, and $75 post-show reception), call Lyman Center box office at 203-392-6154 or online at http://tickets.southernct.edu. The event will be held at the John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, 501 Crescent Street, New Haven on the campus of SCSU.It is sponsored by WSHU Public Radio Group.