Monday, June 18, 2012

Why 'Prairie Home' Is Better Than Sweet Corn

(Reprinted from Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

“It was not amazing to learn in eighth-grade science that corn is sexual, each plant containing both genders, male tassels and female flower, propagating in our garden after dark. Sweet corn is so delicious, what could have produced it except sex?...A quick prayer, a little butter and salt, and that is as good as it gets.”
--  Garrison Keillor, from “Leaving Home,” 1987
There are worse things to be than a sweet corn and “Prairie Home Companion” addict.

I told a buddy I was going to see Garrison Keillor and “Prairie Home” last Saturday and he said – I am embarrassed to even write this – “What is a Prairie Home Companion?”

There are philistines among us.

The rest of you already know that PHC airs at 5 p.m. most every glorious Saturday evening on public radio, which would be Red River Radio in the Shreveport area. The station sponsored a LIVE appearance of the show last week at homey Municipal Auditorium, which was only packed, thank you very much.

I love Red River Radio but never moreso than now, which includes and by far surpasses the time when I was allowed to voice my meanderings on its airwaves. Even so, I’d underestimated the magnetic verbal pull of Keillor, who is doing for live radio what the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks have done for the NBA the past two seasons: keeping it relevant. About 3,000 people at Municipal to see a talking radio show?

While sitting there in my favorite Shreveport building, I thought that my being present might be the reason I was thinking this was one of the best PHC broadcasts ever. But I re-listened to much of it over the next two days online and decided it was one of the best because it was one of the best, period. GREAT show. (Having James Burton on and letting him play four or five different times sure didn’t hurt.)

Genius. These PHC people are genius, what with their sound effects and timing and pre-broadcast research and tailoring of material to north Louisiana. And Keillor has perfected a radio bedside manner that makes you feel it’s all about YOU, not about “the show.” Just friends over to entertain and tell stories while you watch and listen.

Unlike the children in Lake Wobegon, these folk are WAY above average. Don’t you love people who are good at what they do and look like they’re having fun while doing it? So it’s fun to you too? If momma smiles while she’s cooking, dinner somehow tastes better.

It is a wonderful thing to hear 3,000 people laugh. “Everybody wants to laugh,” said Carl Reiner, who remains a hero of mine because he’s a guy, like Keillor, who knows what ‘everyday funny’ is and doesn’t mind sharing. “People need to laugh.” And at ourselves, most of all.

Frank Cady died this week at age 96. People my age remember him as storekeeper Sam Drucker in “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres.” His death and PHC’s life, strong after 40 years, reminded me that the greats know how to crack jokes and make a point of truth without totally offending the whole world. (Sam Drucker worked in Hooterville or, as Eva Gabor always called it, “Hooters-ville.” That was when writers didn’t mind going to extra mile to be clever and hoodwink censors.)

Keillor is a guy caught up in yesterday but still able to make fun of today. What a break. Because while the world changes, human nature does not.