RAW VIDEO: Garrison Keillor Talks Radio, Family & Health
This is an approximate transcript of the first half of 5 Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Saxenmeyer's interview with humorist Garrison Keillor, the host of public radio's "A Prairie Home Companion." They chatted Friday, Sept. 7, at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
MS: Your 39th season! That's obviously amazing. Let's talk about that. What do you have up your sleeve this year, any surprises you ant to tip your hat too?
GK: Well, we're traveling too much We're only doing maybe eight broadcast here, maybe 9 or 10. That's out of 32 shows. I wish we'd just settle here in downtown St. Paul. But we're going off to Houston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and all over. And we do outdoor venues and big old barns and armories. But this our home here. The way you do this is to not keep track. You operate on a week to week basis you know. It's like a life of abstinence, or a life of crime. You just go one week at a time. What day is it today? This is the day before the show and then there's the day after the show when you forget the show and you go to church and you get forgiveness. And then you start in again the next week. You just go one week at a time.
MS: Where do you get the stamina? You just turned 70.
GK: I turned 70. I had a modest birthday celebration with my wife and my daughter and a friend out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The right place to be when you turn 70. Keep that in mind, young man.
MS: Is there still much to come, or do you feel as if you're in your "golden years," as they say?
GK: My golden years. You're so sweet. You're so thoughtful. Don't send me a card, OK. The reason that you keep going with a show like this is dissatisfaction. You think, 'I really, I can see how this could be done better. This is really not there yet'. And so you want to get there. It took a long time to learn how to do this because the sort of show we do died back in my childhood, like the "Sunset Valley Barn Dance" on KSTP, with David Stone. And so you keep going because you, because you're a perfectionist.
MS: You had said in 2005, in an interview with KSTP's Vineeta Sawkar, you said something similar, such as despite your best efforts to produce a great show, the next day you think it didn't go exactly as planned, as you wanted. But perfectionism is unobtainable. Or do you think when you've actually finished that perfect show you can finally hang your hat up?
GK: I think you can have an almost perfect show, and you can have a darned nearly perfect season and that's what we look for. It's a responsibility that becomes heavier the older you get, the responsibility to these listeners. They're turning in their radio for heavens sake and they're investing time in this. Millions of people are tuning in and what are you giving them that's worth their while. This is--i don't want to waste people's time. People in Minnesota, we Minnesotans do not like to waste each other's time. you know, cut to the chase, tell me what you got to say. What we're trying to do on a Saturday night, I finally figured out, is to be cheerful. My parents were cheerful people. and they didn't have a lot of money but they believed in forgiving themselves for the past and looking forward and staying up. They were children of the depression, my parents. and they loved small talk. and they loved jokes and stories and music. And that's what we're trying to do. The serious media--you--you have to cover all of the dreadful and dismal things. I don't. and so I have the responsibility of carrying on the tradition of John and Grace, and cheerfulness.
MS: Your mom passed away recently.
GK: Yeah it's been about five weeks ago. Very dignified these days. Much more dignified thanks to home hospice care and all the things that have come in. She dreaded the idea of dying in a warehouse somewhere so if you have a large family and you have siblings, it takes manpower to give your mother the old age that she wants.
MS: How old was she?
GK: She was 97.
MS: Life is about passages. So with the loss of your mom, and now your daughter becoming a teenager, do you incorporate that into the show?
GK: Oh sure, sure it comes in in some form. but there's not a lot of sympathy for a 70-year-old orphan. You know, I think people don't need to feel bad about that. She had a great life, a really really good life, and a very good old age up until, I don't know, 95 or so. And so that's kind of inspiring, to watch your mother out there in front of you and see how she's taking it. She became more and more sociable and she became a better and better traveler. She loved to travel and she had that chance up until the last couple years. My daughter inherited my mother's sociability. I don't have it myself. I have the social skills of an elderly soybean farmer. But my daughter is a very warm and forthcoming person. She's gone off to boarding school and i am just bereft without her. It's dreadful, dreadful hard.
MS: You had a stroke a couple years ago, how are you health-wise?
GK: Ha! I don't know. I guess I'm fine. I should go down and ask them, down in Rochester (at the Mayo Clinic). They'll tell me, 'you haven't checked in? You look--do you feel good? I mean do you still have the energy?'
MS: I guess what I'm getting at is that all these things that are part of life, you know, change people. You had said a year ago that you were going to consider retiring and then you said later 'I love what I do" and that you had no plans to retire. So it's just i'm wondering where your head is at with all this?
GK: It's all some form of good luck, it really is. When I was in the 7th grade in Anoka, Minnesota i wanted so badly to go out for football. and I went down to Dr. Mark's office for the physical and he listened to my heart. I was 13 years old. and he heard a little click in there which was a mitral valve, and so he couldn't sign my form and I couldn't go out for football. and I grieved over that. But instead I became a reporter for the local paper and i wrote up the football games and life took that turn. And instead of a mediocre substitute sitting on the bench i became a professional writer at the age of 13. I got a dollar and a half per game and I got two bucks for an away game and felt like a prince. I'll never forget it. It was a piece of good luck that came out of, you know, a little stroke of a health problem. it all works out."
MS: You have homes in New York City and St Paul. How's the sale going for the home in Wisconsin?
GK: Not too many people are in the market for a log cabin in the woods I've discovered.
MS: Are you dropping the price?
GK: I did drop the price and i suppose I'll bring it down even more or I'll open up an orphanage or something. I'll have a retreat center for you know. TV news men.
MS: Maybe if you did the show live from there, maybe a kind fo "radio open house", you could bring in some potential buyers.
GK: We're not allowed to do that in public radio. We're not allowed to flog our own products.
MS: When you're away from Minnesota what do you miss?
GK: I miss the cities and i miss the familiarity of the cities. I've lived here since i was a small child. I miss South Minneapolis and the streets that I know. I never have to use a GPS in Minneapolis, sometimes in St. Paul. I miss the landmarks of my childhood, the lakes, the river, everything. Everything is situated in my mind according to the Mississippi River, and the Minnesota and the St. Croix. So you always know where you are. I always know where I am. And in New York that is not the case. In other cities, you fly, you land, you, somebody drives you some place. You're completely disoriented and it's a strange experience. I land in MSP and we come in over the St. Croix and we bank down over Fort Snelling park and over the Minnesota and I know exactly where i am.
MS: I ask because i grew up in Bloomington, and I couldn't wait to to leave when i was 18. I thought 'why do I live here/'. It's freezing here. And I wanted to go to California, and ended up in Chicago ofr 17 years. But I think it took living in a lot of other places to appreciate how great Minnesota is. With that said, it's always fascinated me how your appreciation for Minnesota never waned.
GK: There are benefits to living in one place for your entire or most of your life, just as there are benefits to having friends who have known you since you were a child. And it's possible to have conversations with people you've known al ll of your life that you can't have with anyone else. So much that you have in common, that you don't have to explain, you just mention it and they're there. To me that's old friends, that's one good reason for staying put. You and I are each in a line of work where it's very difficult to stay put for a long period of time. The number of newscasters who stay in one market for more than 15 years, they don't exist any more hardly.
MS: I think about that as I ponder my future, yes.
GK: Bob Ryan, who was the newscaster at KSTP in my childhood and on into my adulthood, I don't think there are too many people like that--Dave Moore at WCCO. I don't think there are too many like that any more.
- RAW VIDEO: Garrison Keillor Talks Radio, Family & Health
- Garrison Keillor Explains Decision to Lend Support to Marriage Amendment Foes
- RAW VIDEO: Garrison Keillor Talks Politics, MN & 'Prairie Home'
- Garrison Keillor Looks Ahead as 'Prairie Home' Enters 39th Season