Saturday, July 02, 2016

Retiring Home

Photo: Lancaster Times
Garrison Keillor tried to retire a couple of times, but it seems this is the real thing, and it is fitting that he has ended A Prairie Home Companion 42 years after he started it. Not quite the Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but pretty close. I have not listened every week, but I have listened many weeks, and I remember hearing him for the first time early in the run. Pamela Hayes-Bohanan and I never saw the live show, but we did have the great privilege of seeing him as a solo act at our wonderful Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford -- a real treat of nothing but his story-telling.
Another public-radio great -- Scott Simon -- shared a moving tribute this morning, crediting Keillor with creating public radio as we know it.

We will miss him, but few deserve a retirement more than Keillor, and I suspect that he will continue to spin stories for years to come. And when he finally does set down his microphone for the last time, we have four decades of great works -- audio, print, and even a little bit of film -- to explore.

But what is so spatial about Keillor? In other words, why is his retirement acknowledged on a geography blog? The short answer is that just about everything that interests me can be seen as related to my way of thinking about geography. But in this case, I can offer a few specific connections.

First, Keillor told fictional stories about people we eventually came to feel we knew personally, and he put those characters in a place that he described with many details and with obvious affection. We could tell that it was similar to -- but distinct from -- the places he had grown up in. Almost like Tolkien, he created an entire imaginary world, but in this case it was a world quite small in scale and quite close to our own.

Second, he took the time to get to know the places where he found his audience. I spend a lot of time learning about New Bedford, but heard quite a few new things about it from his most recent monologue there. I was reminded of this when I listened to part of his penultimate PHC broadcast, from Tanglewood in the Berkshires. Not only was he sharing information about western Massachusetts with his audience, he was bragging about its many virtues, even though he does not live there. He simply loves places, and that makes him a geographer!

Third -- and this is a reach -- he named the most famous radio variety show of the past four decades for a biome. It does not get much more geographic than that!

The New York Times also published a nice tribute, with a lot more detail about Keillor, including some early photos that are quite funny.

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