Riffing on Garrison Keillor – his smug, somnolent, peculiarly-Minnesotan brand of entitled arrogance – literally put this blog on the map back in 2002.
Keillor was (according to many people who’d passed through and near his production) a terrible, vindictive boss, someone who piddled on people he considered his inferiors while being a relentless upsuck to those he perceived as being higher in station. Beating up on his infantile politics was the least I could do.
But for all that, “A Prairie Home Companion” was a weekly ritual for me for a very long time. For all Keillor’s ideosyncrasies, aPHC had a wry but deep sense of place – and that place was the same place I was from. Rural upper-midwestern Scandinavian culture was my culture, and Keillor sent it up pretty brilliantly.
After thirty-odd years, some things were starting to get a little stale – how many times a year did Robin and Linda Williams need to be on the show, really? – but I was still a regular up until Keillor retired the show a few years back.
Keillor’s handpicked successor was alt-bluegrass mandolin player Chris Thile – who carried on the PHC brand until Keillor’s untimely #MeToo-and-hubris driven demise. The show changed names, to “Live From Here”. It’s been going for about two years now.
And while the format has stayed fairly similar – an eclectic mix of music, sketch comedy borrowed from the old “radio drama” school, and gently acerbic commentary, it’s changed a bit.
Noise: In a lot of ways, LFH has upped the musical game – if you’re eclectic in a fairly focused way. PHC used to have some fun gems hidden away – hearing Suzy Bogguss again after all these years was a treat – but the Williams’ and the Steele sisters, good as they are, were starting to wear grooves into the dressing room. The music on LFH is great – if you really like alt-country, alt-rock, and alt-trip-electronic-trance-techno pop. Gone are Keillor’s occasional forays into big band, classical, gospel and choral miscellany. I call it even – but for Thile himself, whose own frequent musical interludes with the house band are pretty brilliant.
So I have little to complain about there.
Drammer: Keillor’s sketch comedy – featuring old-school sound effects whiz Tim Newman Twin Cities voice actors Sue Scott and Tim Russell, plus a cast of hundreds of others here and there over the years – were often brilliant.
I know, I know. I hate to say it. But it’s true. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Because Thile’s writers sound like they’re trying to audition for NPR’s “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me”; they miss more than they hit.
Edge to PHC, here.
Hah: One area where LFH has changed the format from PHC is in having more frequent appearances by comedians…
…or so we’re told. In two years, I’ve heard a fair number of standup comics on LFH, with a lot of different schticks – black comics, feminist comics, acerbic comics, depressed comics…
…but, perhaps twice, have I heard comics that made me laugh.
It’s almost as if someone is booking these people because they lost a bet.
Live From Everywhere: The considerable charms of Prairie Home Companion were largely rooted in Keillor’s fictional-yet-autobiographical Lake Wobegon, the place that was both nowhere and yet, if you grew up in upper-midwestern Scandinavian small-town culture, everywhere.
And for all of Keillor’s arrogance and all his many, many tics, that kept the show grounded. For better or, sometimes, worse. You can only go so far afield when your stock in trade, week in, week out, is chronicling the Thelma Monsons and Reverend Tostengards of the world.
Live From Here has a sense of place, too.
Unfortunately, that place is Brooklyn. Or Austin. Or Portland, Mission Hill, Seattle, or the lower part of Northeast Minneapolis. It’s an alt-bluegrass background soundtrack to a hipster coffee shop, full of bad wall art and people in their thirties acting like people in their twenties.
Live from Here is live from somewhere a lot less interesting .