Garrison Keillor talks ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ aging and staying busy in advance of Lied Center show
Garrison Keillor may have officially retired last year from his longtime post at “A Prairie Home Companion,” but the 75-year-old hasn’t been resting on his laurels since going off the air. Keillor, who for more than 40 years charmed listeners with his gentle Midwestern wit on his Minnesota Public Radio show, keeps plenty busy these days.
Case in point: On Sunday evening, Keillor will stop by the Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive, as part of his cross-country “Just Passing Through” tour. (That’s, of course, in addition to his nationally syndicated Washington Post columns and the memoir he pledged to write upon retiring — more on that project later.)
Earlier this week, the Grammy-winning storyteller and humorist was kind enough to answer a few of our questions via email. Here’s our chat with Keillor, complete with musings on aging, parenting and the everyday stories journalists often overlook in the chaos of today’s political landscape.
So, what can folks expect with the show? Will any of your old “A Prairie Home Companion” characters be making appearances?
I walk out on stage and we all sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and if it sounds good, we sing a couple more, and then I launch in. I like to talk about being 75 which is a fine age to be — you start to figure things out at that age and your ambition evaporates and your ego shrivels to the size of a pea — and eventually I get around to talking about old girlfriends, a favorite subject. I recite some sonnets I wrote for some of them. The audience and I might sing a few more for a sort of lingering intermission. I talk about another girlfriend. Or maybe my aunt. And eventually when I hear the jingle of car keys, it winds up.
One of your first jobs in the newspaper world was writing obituaries. How did that experience shape your feelings about your own mortality at age 20? And have those lessons taken on different meanings as you’ve gotten older?
I thought more about death when I was 20 than I do now. I had a morbid imagination, very dramatic. When you’ve had heart surgery and gone through a stroke, you don’t give it much thought. Someday I’ll die and I just hope I’ll be around for it.
On “Prairie Home Companion,” you spun yarns about the idyllic, fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minn., “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Do you find people are even more nostalgic for that kind of idealized, seemingly out-of-the-past Midwestern-ness these days, given the turmoil our country is experiencing right now?
I don’t think Lake Wobegon is idealized or idyllic, I think that other journalists don’t pay enough attention to ordinary life. Some indictments are handed down in Washington and that’s the news but meanwhile kids have gone to school and written poems and read Emily Dickinson and shot baskets and somebody still has to figure out what to have for supper, whether it’s goulash tonight or macaroni and cheese. And the dog is depressed and we need to do something about it.
If you go
What: “Garrison Keillor: Just Passing Through”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5
Where: Lied Center, 1600 Stewart Drive
How much: Tickets range from $21 to $40, and can be purchased at the Lied Center ticket office, online at www.lied.ku.edu or by calling 864-8727.
You were in your mid-50s when your daughter was born. Is there any truth to the conventional wisdom that having kids later in life keeps you young?
My little girl is a happy kid, keenly sensitive to other people, loves working in a day care center. She grew up backstage at “A Prairie Home Companion” and she loves jokes, loves to dance, admires women singers, and she likes to hang out with me. I make her laugh. It’s my job.
For someone who’s supposedly retired, you stay pretty busy. Any bucket-list projects you’d like to tackle next?
I’m putting together a collection of the best of the thousands of limericks I’ve written and I’m writing a Lake Wobegon screenplay, and after that I’ll finish a memoir that’s about half-baked. It’s a memoir about being lucky and loving your work and looking back and realizing that even the bad times were good. It’s a Midwestern memoir.