A Chat With Garrison Keillor Before his May 10 Macon Debut
The author, storyteller, humorist, and radio personality will be at the Macon City Auditorium Wednesday, May 10
You’ve created this entire world in Lake Wobegon for A Prairie Home Companion, which you hosted for almost 40 years. What was the inspiration that led to this project taking off and still continuing to this day? It was so long ago that I barely remember it, but I went down to Nashville, Tennessee on a hot summer day, and watched the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium, and before they had air conditioning I stood out in the parking lot and I looked through open windows. It gave me the idea that maybe one could go back up to Minnesota and do something similar. They had Mark Carmody on the show back then, they had Minnie Pearl and other comedy acts, but it was a show of old time music and it had a sort of wonderful country feel to it, something we Northerners feel loyal to in the south which was right there, this sense of family and the love of old things, old music, fiddle tunes and old ballads of the like.
How do you think the people of Lake Wobegon would feel about the current President of the United States?
Well I’m sure that many of them voted for him, but I think that it’s nothing that’s talked about, I think that people are very reluctant to get into it because they are very sharp feelings on either side, and up north we avoid stark emotional conflict. We just do everything we can to walk away from it. But they’re not talking politics there.
Tell me what the transition has been like for you leaving A Prairie Home Companion and it continuing under Chris Thile.
Well, I’ve been busier than before. Now I have time to work on a screenplay, I’m writing a musical and a memoir. I just finished a book of limericks. I’ve been writing a weekly column for the Washington Post so, I’ve become a writer which is what I intended to do back when I was in high school. I never intended to be a performer, and now I’m just a guy sitting at a laptop computer.
Why Chris Thile? What did you see in him that made you trust him to continue this program?
He’s young, he’s brilliant, and he’s full of enthusiasm. After the laid-back host they had for 42 years, I felt the show really needed an enthusiast, someone who was really hot to trot to perform. I think he’s fulfilled that.
I read where you said just because you stepping down from A Prairie Home Companion didn’t mean you were retiring. You explained, “Nobody retires anymore. Writers never retire.” Is writing what you want to continue to do until you can’t anymore?
It really is, the center of my life is to wake up early in the morning, five, maybe even four, put the coffee on, sit down and do some email, then pour a cup of coffee and sit down and work for about five hours. That’s my best day. You can’t do a show at five o’clock in the morning, but you can organize your thoughts. Here’s the thing about early morning, especially if you don’t use alcohol, is that things that puzzled you the day before, pieces of writing you just couldn’t find your way through them, they’re clear the next morning. You really, after you sleep on it, it really is true. You see things that you didn’t see before.
Any chance we will see a Guy Noir novel or collection of stories in the future?
No, I’m working on a memoir, so I’m trying to put my parents down on paper, and I’m trying to put this Fundamentalist group, the Plymouth Brethren, that I grew up in down on paper. It’s dying out, so it’s like writing about some vanishing tribe, but somebody needs to, and I am writing in a sympathetic way about it, and a little bit about certain strokes of good luck that can propel a push forward, whether you have any particular gift or not. I believe in luck, I really do, you see it when it’s there and you just grab hold of it, and you ride it, that’s really how you do it. It’s nothing rational, there’s no planning involved. Hard work can dig you deeper down, as well as doing something good, but I believe in luck, I really do.