July 1, 2016, marks the end of forty-two years of a radio show unlike any other still running. Forewarning: I can't avoid sentimentality, having just watched the bittersweet encore to A Prairie Home Companion's penultimate show.
For those who don't know, A Prairie Home Companion is one of those old-school style radio shows with live stories, sound effects, witty humor, improvisation, and, of course, music once a week for two hours. And all that on public radio without advertising, unless you count The Catchup Advisory Board and Bebop-a-Reebop Rhubard Pie. Now I wasn't drawn to this show by myself; I'm twenty-two (sometimes forgetting that and telling people twenty-one, because, really, nobody cares after that), technology-minded, and as detached from the dying radio as most my generation seems to be. I suppose I can thank a self-proclaimed luddite, facebook-hater, and old-timer—apparently also my dad—for introducing this show to our home. And it was as if romantic Americana streamed through the radio out of Grapes of Wrath with all the heart of It's a Wonderful Life. Old-timey folk and blues, the same stuff from O Brother Where Art Thou (I can't promise this is the last movie reference), peppered with comedic half-improvised stories of a private eye and cowboys and Lake Wobegon and, fittingly, a failed writer.
Garrison Keillor was blessed with a voice, if I may become momentarily religious to say that. A good looking face—depends who you ask. But can't beat that voice, that compassionate character, those gentle stories, that all-around ideal of romantic American (Lutheran) midwest.
A Prairie Home Companion was named, of all things, after a cemetery. In 1874, John Elmer, brother of Reverand Oscar Elmer, died drowning in the Red River of the North in present-day Moorehead, Minnesota. (Last film reference: remember Fargo? That's just across the border from Moorehead.) The common practice then was to ship bodies back East for burial, but John's body could not be transported for various reasons—according to Keillor because the man was born in Moorehead. Thus, Rev. Oscar Elmer founded the Prairie Home Cemetery, in 1875.
The point of all this? After two beers and a one-hour thirty-minute encore, I can't help feeling a little sad. Hell, some of those songs almost made me tear too, even if I can't remember the lyrics. I suppose we won't find another show quite like it—not the way our technology moves toward fast-paced attention deficit entertainment. But that's been true since the tube pulled us away from the radio pulled us away from books. It's nice, though, not to be stimulated by the short attention of modern cinema and television, and instead enjoy a tradition and humor unaffected by what floods our already-cramped screens.
Hemingway's prose lacks sentimentality. I too try to avoid it, since sentimentality generates most easily purple prose. But damned if I'm not a little choked up myself. And with that, I suppose, I'll end the only way I see fit, with his own words:
. . . where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.
Goodbye, Mr. Keillor.