Meetin’ G.K.


Posted by in September's Magazine

I caught up with Garrison Keillor outside the Filmhouse, minutes after completely failing to pitch any of my prepared questions during a Q+A that followed a special screening of A Prairie Home Companion, the last film directed by Robert Altman. Written and starring 67-year-old Keillor, it is a semi-fictional account of his old-time variety radio show, which I’ve been a fan of for years. Not to belittle the man’s achievements – which include a dozen novels, poetry, 35 years of radio, and countless newspaper columns – but Keillor has one of the great, recognisable, American voices. His literary tone is similarly baritonic; deep, soulful, vaguely satirical tales of a fictional Mid-Western hometown called Lake Wobegone.

“Oh, it’s you?” came the sagacious lilt – understand Keillor does not speak, rather he spreads his voice over conversation like ketchup – I responded with something original like “Hello Garrison,” and produced something for him to scribble on. After some initial star-struck, weather related, prattle, I got to some questions. He graciously responded as we ambled in the direction of Princes Street.

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“I read your piece in the Chicago Tribune about bloggers being writers who’ve been liberated from editors.” I explained my worried interpretation; that writing sans-editor has only led to an increase in misappropriated sound bites, that it’s become too easy to blog a half-baked, non fact-checked story. “It’s not easy enough…” he answered, now jaywalking across Lothian Road, he regards bloggers as wholesale memoirists. “The Internet is great for that… you can read the source material for yourself, the web is going to be a wonderful archive.”

“That’s what Obama really gets,” he added. But was it Barack Obama or rather his team who really ‘got’ the idea of exploiting blogs and social networks – comprehensively connecting their message with my generation. “Have you spoken to the President about this?” Keillor replied that it was an interesting question and although they hadn’t met they had talked.

I then asked a pretty dumb question, “Are the real Americans back in power?” Following that by wondering if a character from Keillor’s film, a scripture guided Texan played by Tommy Lee Jones was a veiled parody of George Bush. He paused for his trademark genial sigh and replied thoughtfully, “I think George Bush is a real American,” a truly Democratic answer, “America is a complicated country.”

He asked where I was from and what brought me to Edinburgh, we talked about heritage for a bit; he thought it odd that the Glaswegian accent was so incomprehensible to him despite being the grandson of a Glaswegian. Raised in the countryside, like myself, Keillor (now staring up at the castle from a dismembered/tramlocked Princes Street) told me he was defiantly “a city guy,” he asked me what I made of Edinburgh. Humble and generous, he’s an uncannily easygoing idol to chat with.

I jokingly asked if he was still haunted by his small town upbringing, which imparted many of the wry, parochial anxieties that I found so bitterly familiar in books like Lake Wobegone Days, where he writes: I’ve been taught the fear of becoming lost, which has killed the pleasure of curiosity and discovery. In strange cities, I memorise streets and always know exactly where I am. Amid scenes of great splendour, I review the route back to the hotel. He smiled, recalling the passage, “No, I’m over that – I’m looking for adventure.” I asked who was guiding this newfound adventurous lifestyle; his instant response was, “Why, I am.”

At this, our paths diverged; he had signed my book ‘good for you’, which as platitudes go, is a pretty good one but his sign off from the show A Writer’s Almanac is a little more fitting: ‘be well, do good work, and keep in touch’. I intend to.

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