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Garrison Keillor On Commas, Humorless Rice, And Other News From Lake Wobegon

Courtesy A Prairie Home Companion

In an age of brevity, Garrison Keillor is a man who isn’t afraid to deploy a comma (or 21) to construct a point.

One-hundred-forty-seven words. That’s the length of Garrison Keillor’s opening sentence of his 2011 review of Harry Belafonte’s memoir My Song. When asked about his “use of the comma” Keillor chuckles.

The longtime host of A Prairie Home Companion, explained he and an editor used to delicately spar over when to deploy that punctuative. She favored infrequently. He did not. So now, Keillor likes to challenge himself.

“Every so often I have it as a goal to try and pull off a long, Faulknarian sentence, and just have it ride as long as it can ride,” said Keillor.

In addition to being heard on the airwaves across the United States, A Prairie Home Companion can be found in all the usual places a digitally inclined person expects to access just about anything these days. PHC has a website, Facebook page, and a Twitter account. You can also experience the show live on tour, Keillor stops by Red Rocks July 18.

Credit Courtesy A Prairie Home Companion
The set of PHC.

Each week’s live show (since 1974!) is known for old-time radio sketches complete with sound effects. Among fans it’s probably a race to the finish regarding what they enjoy more; the 1940s-esque Guy Noir Private Eye or the news from the fictional Lake Wobegone, MN where “All the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.”

Turns out that all those yarns about the German/Norwegian/Swedish people from his hometown on the edge of the prairie are improvised.

“The audience doesn’t pay to come see somebody read off of a piece of paper,” Keillor points out. “So you take your life in your hands and you walk out without any paper and you say, ‘It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon.’”

Powder Milk Biscuits, coffee, the Catchup Advisory Board and “beebopareebop” Rhubarb Pie, are among the foods that are integral ingredients in the PHC broadcasts. There are foods Keillor said he would not write about.

“I don’t have strong feelings about rice. Legumes in general I don’t feel strongly about,” he said deploying his signature dry wit. Continuing to ponder the question he added, “I’m a mustard person myself. I can’t imagine putting ketchup on a hot dog. It just seems perverse to me.”

It was reported in 2011 Keillor would retire from the show this year. However, now in his 70s, and he said very much enjoying life, he does not intend to disconnect his microphone. Retirement, he said “seems to have drifted by” for a man who once entertained a notion of dying young.

“I had this vision, you know, that people would lay bouquets on my grave and look at my youthful work and think what a tragedy this was that he never had a chance to realize his talent and so forth,” said Keillor. “And then before you know it you turn 40 and that’s too late to die young. And then something odd happens, at least happened to me, in your 60s you start to get the hang of it. And you think, you know this could be, this could turn out to be pretty good.”

A native of Stamford, VT, I call(ed) the Berkshires of western Massachusetts my home. The Berkshires are a culturally rich area -- I’m talking pass the butter and heavy cream -- rich.
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