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In Search of Lake Wobegon after Keillor

It is now week two of the new era for A Prairie Home Companion.

After week one, the review were generally favorable for new host Chris Thile. Thile, handpicked as successor by Garrison Keillor, is trying to strike a balance – honriong the orgins while refreshing it to make it more embraced but a younger audience and sensibility.

Thile also brings the skills and strengths of a musician, while Keillor’s foundation was a writer who also dabbled in song.

Like many we are trying to adjust.

But, in addition to the old-time music and nostalgia that Keillor invoked, we find ouselves in thjis election year missing something even more basic.

We recall an article in The Atlantic last July marked the passing of the torch with the following headline: How Garrison Keillor United America: The host of A Prairie Home Companion used storytelling to bridge the gap between red and blue states.”

In the piece author Joshua Rigby wrote:

” …with Keillor’s retirement, Americans lose something else, equally valuable and increasingly rare: a cultural figure fluent in the worldviews of both progressives and conservatives. Raised as a fundamentalist Christian in a small Midwestern town, Keillor crossed a vast ideological chasm during his career, becoming a stalwart political leftist without forgetting his small-town roots. Through his novels, his poetry, and his public-radio show, he’s served as a cultural liaison between red and blue states, interpreting each for the other, and offering a humorous, if not sympathetic, glance in both directions. His stories of life in rural America transport his listeners into a world where those of different beliefs and backgrounds exist in a surprisingly similar fashion to themselves….”

For example, wrote Rigby, in a recent op-ed for the Houston Chronicle Keillor noted admiringly,

When I stopped in Lubbock, I knew where I was. The city went 69 percent for Mitt Romney, 28 percent for Barack Obama. But I don’t feel like an alien there. I admire old windmills, I’m curious about prairie dogs, and I’m a fan of Buddy Holly. To me, he does not fade away. And I feel enriched by biscuits and gravy.

The thing with politics, Keillor says, is that the “guy from Lubbock” has to live in this country, too. Such a compassionate view of one’s political opponents is rare. Left-leaning, politically active personalities are as ubiquitous in public radio as pledge drives, tote bags, and Hamilton aficionados. But Keillor has always stood apart with his bizarre blend of liberal tenacity and Midwestern aplomb.

Rigby continued:

This is the true legacy of Keillor’s life in the public eye. Having crossed, Sherpa-like, the icy, sharp-sided crevasse that separates the political right and left, he’s been able to shade the views of each to the other with finesse and a pinch of humor. What an inveterate progressive or conservative may fail to comprehend is that the opposing group acts in a way that makes sense in the light of their particular brand of jaundiced glasses. Having seen through both, Keillor can point out the foibles of each. His decision to lionize rather than lambast his conservative roots, to create and animate sympathetic characters from a culture he no longer agrees with politically, remaining civil instead of sarcastic—these are traits worth celebrating.

And, he concludes:

…the beauty of Lake Wobegon is that it cuts beneath the veneer of red and blue, and exposes the good of American life. As much as politicians and pundits may square off and battle over electoral-college votes and Senate seats, A Prairie Home Companion argues, the things that actually make life worth living are the simple pleasures, like the memory of a childhood romp through the snow, or a long conversation with an old friend on Saturday night.

Keillor reminds his listeners that regardless of political leanings, the people in the “other” world continue to exist, providing a check on the idealization of one’s own view and demonization of the other. Women are strong and men are good looking the world over, and Lake Wobegon, for all its faults, reminds us that it is unlikely for one camp to hold all the answers to life’s persistent questions.

So, that explains why Saturday nights not feel so strange for me.

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This article was first published on http://www.journeysinto.com.