An Icelandic Home Companion
Tonight I listened to the NPR radio show A Prairie Home Companion which had been recorded earlier this week in Reykjavík. Garrison Keillor, its host and writer, brought a mixture of music, drama and nostalgia to Iceland at the urging of his friend, the writer and virtual "Poet Laureate" of Minnesota- Bill Holm. It is kind of hard to be objective about GK when he has been a part of your life for thirty years, the good and the bad start to even out. His morning radio show in the early 70's (pre PHC) was positively sublime, and I've seen him at his best, in person, speaking in my town (our town, he grew up here) when he spoke brilliantly for an hour at the behest of the Anoka Philolectian Society- a group of elderly librarians who gave him literary encouragement when he was just a shy teen. I've also seen him at his worst, causing real anguish to people I know who have had to deal with him professionally on his show.
Still, as the old saying goes, in show biz you are only as good as your last performance. Because Garrison does almost all of the writing, the show lives and dies on his inspiration. He has done over a thousand performances and his material is, by now, thoroughly recycled. This gives a certain uniformity to the proceedings; a fan might call it a comforting familiarity. He has taken the show on the road often and the routine is the same each time: A little monologue with local history and cultural references, a musical guest or two from the area (usually the high point of the show), then a sketch (heavily recycled), more tunes, and then the show's signature- The News From Lake Wobegon, followed with another left-over skit and some more music to end it all.
Tonight's show was typical of most, some good (especially the Icelandic singers and Mr. Holm) Some OK, (John C. Reilly) and some indifferent (skits and the monologue.)
With the upcoming Prairie Home movie the franchise is poised for another spurt in popularity; the Robert Altman-directed film is supposed to be a knockout. This week's chance for the radio show to create something unique incorporating and illuminating the Icelandic experience was lost in formatics: The show has gone on for too long, and in the same rut, it is as stale as a thirty-year-old Powdermilk Biscuit.