Back when I was in high school, weekend evenings were usually spent at the Murray household (home of my two friends Sean and Kerry). There was a large group of us, and we’d either stay at the house and watch bad horror movies and Saturday Night Live (the Hartman years!) or pile up into the Murray minivan and go out into town. It was all ridiculously fun and innocuously entertaining in the way only teenagers can enjoy.
One Saturday evening, on the way to the house, I was changing the channel and heard the voice of Garrison Keillor. He was in the middle of the News from Lake Wobegon on the Prairie Home Companion. I didn’t know this though. All I knew was that there was this guy on the radio telling this amazing story. The story was about how almost getting caught is sometimes worse than actually getting caught, and while I don’t remember the specific details, I do remember being mesmerized by Keillor’s tale.
When I arrived at the Murray’s house, excited as I was to start the evening with my friends, the story wasn’t over. I parked the car in the driveway and I waited another ten minutes for Keillor to finish. It was amazing. And when I realized that he did this every Saturday, and had been doing this for years already, I was thrilled. I made an honest effort to be driving in the car (the idea of listening to the radio at home didn’t work for me) early Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon (when they repeated the previous night’s broadcast) to hear the News from Lake Wobegon.
Over the years, I bought the tapes and CDs of the Prairie Home Companion series, and when I moved to Poland, I made an effort to download the News from Lake Wobegon when they were posted online (though now it’s done automatically through some sweet podcasts on iTunes). I love how the characters in Lake Wobegon are able to age and evolve, and that over the course of 35 years Keillor has created an entire universe out of a small town.
I love Keillor’s storytelling, and I find it frustrating that people tend to overlook his work when talking about American fiction. There is something specifically American about his stories that I feel make his particular brand of writing to be culturally important. I believe that the best of America is built on myths, and that the core of what the country is about is fortified through our ability to tell stories, and very few modern writers have contributed to the myth-building of America like Keillor has.
I just thought that since today everyone is going to feel compelled to reflect on an American tragedy, that it would be important to instead focus on some of the things that make the country so wonderful, like its storytellers.
Here’s to Garrison Keillor and the America he has helped to build.