Keillor to give talk tonight in Oakland
The title of Garrison Keillor’s new novel, “Love Me,” assuredly isn’t a personal plea. The Midwestern bard, folk hero and radio star is certainly beloved by the constituency that has made Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” — which debuted as a morning show on Minnesota Public Radio in 1969 — a Saturday-night staple.
Featuring music, sketches and Keillor’s evocation of the fictional Lake Woebegon, the show is heard by 3.9 million listeners on 511 public radio stations.
“Love Me,” however, reveals a slightly different side of the warm and fuzzy vibes of Keillor’s long-standing show. Wickedly funny, the novel takes potshots at fame, politicians, The New Yorker magazine and celebrity via the story of writer Larry Wyler. When Wyler’s novel, “Spacious Skies,” becomes a best seller, he leaves his wife and home in St. Paul for the bright lights of New York City.
Of course, Wyler then loses his touch due to a combination of writer’s block and a lack of ideas, and becomes an advice columnist — Mr. Blue — for his hometown newspaper.
Keillor, who is the guest of the Drue Heinz Lecture Series on Monday, answered questions via e-mail about humor, writing and “Love Me.”
Question: How do you put yourself in the frame of mind to write humorouslyâ¢
Answer: Five a.m. is a comical time. You’re fresh from bed, the orange juice is gorgeous and you chase it with coffee, the house is dark, the world is still, and nobody is calling to try to get you to contribute to something. You boot up your laptop and pull up the file you wrote yesterday and all that funny material about kindergarten, and you throw 90 percent of it away and revise it so that now it’s about black bears. You’re on a roll.
Q: Was there any particular life experience that generated the idea for “Love Me,” or was it a series of events in your life that caused you to write about Larry Wyler?
A: The death of my first wife, to whom the book is dedicated, made me want to put her into a book, and I did, in the form of Iris. I grieved at her death, more than one would think appropriate. I never felt so devastated. I had failed her and she had failed me, but still there is a great deal of sweetness even in failure, and I needed to express that.
Q: One of the themes in the book seems to be the allure of celebrity versus the simple pleasures of domesticity. Can you comment on how you’ve had to deal with this in your life — has there ever been a time when you felt the pull of, for lack of a better term, the bright lights of fame and fortune?
A: I was semi-famous for about three weeks in the fall of 1985, a very large experience indeed, and so I’m an authority on the subject. If anyone is subjected to the hot flash of celebrity, they should come to me for counselling. There is no charge for this service. The antidote, by the way, is work.
Q: The advice column letters — and answers — are hilarious. Seems like you’re poking a bit of fun — good-naturedly, of course — at advice columns. Any thoughts about this aspect of culture in which people trust strangers to help them solve their problems?
A: People have always put faith in certain strangers. There is a lot of confession that takes place on planes, between strangers who will never meet again. Women tell things to kindly older men that they never would tell their husbands, and the old guy says, “Well, I think you’ll work it through.” And that’s all she’s looking for.
Q: The idea of The New Yorker being run by mob interests is a devilishly-inspired device. But I’m guessing there’s an underlying kernel of truth about the nature of the magazine you were poking fun at.
A: The magazine’s ownership was a big mystery to its writers. The subject of money in general was a deep, dark mystery. It so often is where rich people are concerned: They consider the subject distasteful, since they have all the dough they could ever want. But it wasn’t distasteful to us poor wretches who mailed in our little manuscripts from Freeport, Minn. The only people more close-mouthed about money was the mafia. So I gave them the magazine.
Q: You have always expressed great affection for the heartland of America, for Midwestern values and mores. Is this book a love letter — the implication being that “Love Me” refers to place as well as the lovely Iris — to the work ethic, the simple pleasures of life in states such as Minnesota, Iowa and the Dakotas?
A: I wrote the book at a dining room table in St. Paul, over a lovely fall and winter, and if some affection for St. Paul has crept into the book, I’m pleased. It’s a graceful old city that we St. Paulites are rather fond of.
Q: You seem to take great delight in skewering the current administration in Washington, D.C., in “Love Me.” But no matter the political group in power, it seems we take pleasure in making fun of our political – and I hesitate to use the word – leaders. But is this too easyâ¢ And how do you approach such subject matter and give it more weight than, say, a Jay Leno monologue?
A: The satire has to stand on its own merits, I’m afraid. There’s no point in the author defending it. Some readers seem to like the book a lot and others think it’s lame, and that’s the fate of satire in all times. When Mark Twain went after the moral pretensions of the Gilded Age, plenty of his readers wished he would stick to writing books for boys.
|A sampling of Garrison Keillor books and recordings|
“Happy to Be Here,” 1982
“Lake Wobegon Days,” 1985
“Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories,” 1987
“Don: The True Story of a Young Person,” 1987
“We Are Still Married,” 1989
“WLT: A Radio Romance,” 1991
“The Book of Guys,” 1993
“Cat, You Better Come Home,” 1995
“The Old Man Who Loved Cheese,” 1996
“The Sandy Bottom Orchestra,” 1996 (with Jenny Lind Nilsson)
“Wobegon Boy,” 1997
“Me: By Jimmy (Big Boy) Valente,” 1999
“Lake Wobegon Summer 1956,” 2001
“Good Poems,” 2002 (editor)
“Love Me,” 2003
“A Prairie Home Album,” 1972
“The Family Radio,” 1982
“Gospel Birds and Other Stories of Lake Wobegon,” 1985
“Lake Wobegon Days,” 1986
“A Prairie Home Companion: The Final Performance,” 1987
“A Prairie Home Companion: The 2nd Annual Farewell Performance,” 1988
“More News From Lake Wobegon,” 1989
“Garrison Keillor’s American Radio Company: The First Season,” 1990
“A Prairie Home Companion Anniversary Album: The First Five Years,” 1991
“Prairie Home Comedy,” 1991
“Local Man Moves to the City,” 1991
“Songs of the Cat,” 1991
“Winter Stories From the Collection: News From Lake Wobegon,” 1991
“Spring Stories From the Collection: News From Lake Wobegon,” 1991
“Summer Stories From the Collection: News From Lake Wobegon,” 1991
“Fall Stories From the Collection: News From Lake Wobegon,” 1991
“Faith: Stories From the Collection More News From Lake Wobegon,” 1991
“Hope: Stories From the Collection More News From Lake Wobegon,” 1991
“A Visit to Mark Twain’s House With Garrison Keillor,” 1992
“Garrison Keillor & The Hopeful Gospel Quartet,” 1992
“The Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra,” 1993
“Lake Wobegon U.S.A.,” 1993
“A Prairie Home Companion 20th Anniversary Collection,” 1994
“Now It Is Christmas Again,” 1994
“A Prairie Home Christmas,” 1995
“Guy Noir: Radio Private Eye,” 1995
“Fertility: Stories From the Collection,” 1995
“3 Doz. Poems,” 1996
“Horrors! A Prairie Home Companion,” 1996
“The Hopeful Gospel Quartet: Climbing Up on the Rough Side,” 1997
“Garrison Keillor’s Comedy Theater,” 1997
“Mother Father Uncle Aunt: Stories From Lake Wobegon,” 1997
“Life These Days: Stories From Lake Wobegon,” 1998
“Humor: Stories From the Collection,” 1998
“A Prairie Home Companion 25th Anniversary,” 1999
“Pretty Good Joke Tape: A Prairie Home Companion: Delight Your Friends and Become the Envy of Your Social Circle!” 2000 (editor)
“Definitely Above Average: Stories & Comedy for You & Your Poor Old Parents,” 2001
“A Few More Pretty Good Jokes,” 2002
“Garrison Keillor: A Life in Comedy,” 2003
“Home on the Prairie,” 2003
Presented by : Drue Heinz Lecture Series
When : 7:30 p.m. today.
Cost : $18
Where : Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland.
Details : (412) 622-8866.