”Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people.” – Garrison Keillor
Now here’s a guy yours truly wouldn’t mind sitting down with on the back porch as the sun goes down. It would be towards the end of a summer’s day and we’d be sitting on some comfortable chairs with our feet rested and our hearts full. The air around us would be scented with the aroma of a backyard barbecue and the cooler would be filled to the brim with the beverage of our choice. The kids would be off playing somewhere not far away and the faint sounds of their laughter would be heard above whatever conversation we’d be having.
An idyllic, soothing image to be sure but that’s just the kind of atmosphere I picture when I hear Mr. Keillor's voice come through the radio. But then again, that’s what Mr. Keillor’s voice does for me, it takes me to the places where I want to go.
Gary Edward Keillor was born in Anoka, Minnesota in 1942. (Now, I don’t know much about Anoka in particular and the same goes for Minnesota in general but an image of a small town surrounded by lakes and a river or two nearby comes immediately to mind. If you’ve ever listened to him, you’ll know why.) It wasn’t until he turned thirteen that he adopted the name of Garrison. Even at such a young age, he wanted his budding professional life to remain separate from that of his personal one.
He broke into radio while he was student at the University of Minnesota back in 1966. After graduating with a degree in journalism he took a position writing for The New Yorker. While conducting some research on an article he was planning to do about the Grand Ole Opry, he came up with an idea of his own. Why not do a live radio show that consisted of some form of commentary and that featured traditional type music.
Not long afterwards, A Prairie Home Companion was born. Originally the show was broadcast only over Minnesota Public Radio but as word of mouth began to spread, it wasn’t long before Mr. Keillor found himself with a national audience. His deadpan style of delivery and underlying wit combined with a steady stream of performers soon brought him to the forefront of the industry. During its original thirteen year run, the show received many accolades such as the George Foster Peabody Award, the Edward R. Murrow award and a medal from the prestigious institution known as the American Academy of Arts & Letters. For awhile, it was even broadcast over the Disney Cable channel where it managed to win two ACE awards for broadcast excellence. Not bad for a kid from a small town in Minnesota.
After a thirteen year run, Keillor, amidst protests from his avid listeners, decided to end the show. In 1987 he packed his bags and moved to New York City and launched a show called “The American Radio Company”. Although the new show was similar in format to the Prairie Home Companion it failed to gather the same listener base and after a four year run Keillor decided to listen to his muse and return to his roots. He moved back to St. Paul, Minnesota and A Prairie Home Companion was reborn. Today, the show can be heard weekly on over 400 stations on National Public Radio.
In addition, Keillor also broadcasts a five minute daily blurb known as The Writers Almanac. On it, he usually recites a poem or two and gives some form of commentary on the emotions they evoke. In his spare time, he’s been known to contribute some pieces to The New York Times and The Atlantic magazines.
Besides being a radio host and a journalist/commentator, Keillor has also found the time to author the following books.
The Book of Guys: Stories
Cat, You Better Come Home
Happy to Be Here
Lake Wobegon Days
Me: By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valenta
Lake Wobegon Summer 1956!
The Old Man Who Loved Cheese
The Sandy Bottom Orchestra
We Are Still Married: Stories and Letters
WLT, a Radio Romance
On a personal note, Mr Keillor ranks way up there with folks whom I hold in high-esteem. Although I’ve never met the man, his gentle voice, his ability to tell a story and his unassuming manner have brought light to many a bleak Sunday in the borgo household. To me, he’s almost a cross between Mark Twain and Will Rogers and he’s much more than a national radio broadcaster.
He’s a national treasure.