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Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

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May 3, 2011 | 17 Comments

When listeners write in to say they're offended by something we did on a show, I don't tell them not to feel that way. If you're offended, you're offended. Quite a few were offended by the tornado that appeared in the Guy Noir episode in St. Louis on April 30. Guy was working security at a Cards game and a tornado came up as a streaker was dashing across the field and Guy chased him as the tornado lifted the naked man up and Guy jumped and grabbed him by the ankles and they both flew up in the air and then gently descended in the outfield. People thought this was insensitive, given that the death toll from tornadoes in the South that week was more than 300. They may be right. I'd ask them to consider that we were not telling a joke about tornado victims but simply putting a tornado into a story, which was meant to show the intense devotion of Cards fans ---- they didn't evacuate, they stayed in their seats as the tornado came through, and the game quickly resumed. A tall tale, and if you look up American folk humor, you'll find dozens of tall tales about tornadoes. I grew up hearing stories about the whimsical ways of tornadoes, hopping and skipping around, and I've told half a dozen or so tornado stories over the years, usually about them hitting the righteous and avoiding the wicked. My parents talked for years about the tornado in Anoka around 1938. But we didn't lose anybody and there's a difference. We do stories about madmen, feral dogs, people running around shooting guns, anvils falling on people, cars running off cliffs, and in these stories, as in cartoons, nobody ever dies. The car falls off the cliff and hits the gasoline tanks which explode and somehow the driver is shot into the air and caught by a whale who vomits him onto the beach. If you ever had a loved one who ran his car off a cliff, you might be offended by that. I would be sympathetic.

Other listeners felt that the bridal song for Prince William and Duchess Catherine was in poor taste. They felt the line "It's not bad, it could be worse. It's better than coming to church in a hearse" was a reference to the funeral of Princess Diana at Westminster Abbey. It was not intended to be. Prince William's mother died fourteen years ago and her funeral is not in the forefront of my mind. And it is better to be alive than dead. I do believe that.


I'd be offended, if that is the word, if GK did NOT incorporate the tornado events into his show if possible. Likewise the royal wedding. I'd leave it to the news anchors do get the story straight and be politically correct. I'd leave it to anyone willing to start on how the brain will play with these matters. His tornado twist reminded me of the biblical story of I think it was Elijah being taken up to heaven by a whirlwind, and it reminded me of course of Dorothy Gale of Kansas traveling to Oz. It pulls the event off the traumatic fixation of perception and re-perception to where the imagination tries to grapple with it, absorb it.
Dreams do that as well.
The song about William and Kate seemed to me to be written well before the event, and so I assumed it drew from Keillor's own wedding and those he knows or knows of. It seems likely some mother-of-the-anxious-bride has indeed said "It's better than going to church in a hearse," and I've been chuckling about it ever since. Well rhymed. Well ensconced joke.
Cheers for a participatory effect. Keep it up.

Aww, my man. What will I do without your wry humor on a weekly basis? Please allow us a gentle weaning.

We enjoyed the Prairie Home Companion at the Fabulous Fox in St. Louis! This was the 4th time we have seen Garrison and his very talented troupe in person. One of which was at the Fitzgerald Theater! I didn't find anything offensive in his show on April 30th. The only comment I have is that it would be totally inacurate to have a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor be a woman. While we have women serving our Lord in MANY important ways in our churches, the Missouri Synod does not ordain females. That is why I'm just guessing that the Lutheran church in Lake Wobegon is an ELCA church because the shepherd of their flock is "Pastor Liz". Garrison, we love you and appreciate being able to enjoy our favorite "English Major" EVERY Saturday evening on our NPR station (KWMU) broadcasting from St. Louis, MO. Don't change anything you do. WE understood that the reference to the tornado in your story told of how loyal the Cards fans are. And...while I absolutely loved Princess Di, I never even thought that your "hearse" reference in the wedding song in any way was a reference to her. I just thought the entire song was pretty clever and we enjoyed it. Although, the bride wondering "why am I here" was a real "DUH!" TO ME. Her groom is a prince, a real hottie, heir to the throne of England and she could be a queen someday! Oh, and did I say that she was never going to have to go to work? So, it was pretty clear why she was there. I just thought the lyrics were funny no matter who the couple was. Don't change Garrison. And, KUDOS to your entire ensemble! You have managed to assemble a group of THE most talented individuals in the business today. This is most certainly true!
God's peace & His blessings to ALL OF YOU!
Sandy & Steve,
2 Lutheran Christians from Warrenton, MO!!!

Garrison, I agree with your perspectives and personally with your philosophy. You are the mainstay of our sanity and ability to place perspective in our lives. You allow us to transgress from the mundane and routine, following life like lemmings, and ask us to stretch our minds, allowing our "inner child" to appear and look at the world through the lens of wonder and awe. As far as those who are "offended" by the tornadoes, as far as I am aware, you do not own the market nor have a magic ball to foretell the future, though maybe you have an old gypsy woman as a guru you can refer to? I live within the NW Mountains of Georgia, with my Lake Nisswa, MN husband! To those offended, I concur, they are offended. You cant please everyone, but you always please most. Thank you for providing our needed refuge from the daily grind and providing us a glimpse of "Lake Wobegon"we all harbor in our dreams.

I hope your show will visit the area as my husband and I surely would love to see it. We have been radio players for years and enjoy each moment! This year, we will have met 6 years ago (we are older but not too old! 49 and 52); I can guarantee my husband is my soulmate and being born in Marshall, MN is definitely the perfect example a true Minnesotan: above average, handsome man with an innate ability of survival and desire for below zero weather.

Your show is the treat of our week, thank you!

Best always,

Gale (and Mark) Utzinger
Cloudland, GA

I'm a native of the British Isles and the wedding song had me in stitches! The BBC coverage bent over backwards to ensure no negative comments were aired - it was so stifling. This song was funny - if anyone makes a link with Diana then they are looking too closely for fault. Perhaps a follow up hit could involve Prince Harry and a paternal DNA test!!

Count me in the "yet to be offended" by anything I've heard to date on PHC. And isn't it just the icing on the cake to be able to communicate your thoughts to the host, to be able to read others' thoughts and best of all, to read a bit from GK as to his thought processes as he compiles these variations on history, current events, whatever is of interest to him on any given day. Can't imagine any other entertainer providing this format. He continues to be our refreshing drink in a desert of daily unrelenting, repetitive and unsettling news. He just continues to get better and lucky for us.

David Dickson:

Hear, hear!!!

As a fellow island-dweller I agree completely with you. A song something along the lines of 'Annie, I'm not your Daddy' would suffice. Perhaps change the name to 'Arry?

We live in a nation that glorifies matchstick people and horsy faces. Where is the hope for the future?

For those who missed the wedding, a similar display will be coming to a sideshow near you this June/July.

If anyone attending or listening to Mr. Keillor's show is offended, I suggest they never leave their houses, watch television, or listen to radio stations above 90 MHz on the dial (if they have FM). There's just too much risk of being offended!

I attended tonight's show at the Fox Theater in Detroit with my 16 year old son. We sat together in the second row of the orchestra pit and we were both mesmerized by the entire experience, from the moment we arrived until the moment they made us leave so that they could take away our chairs. It was one of those perfect, magical experiences. Each member of your amazing and talented crew worked with such efficiency and heart that we felt warmed by their glow. After so many years of listening to your show it was a treat to watch you walk around the stage in your tennis shoes, and to see the faces that went with the voices, sounds, and instruments. Thank you for the wonderful stories, the delightful songs, and the on-the-mark observations of Detroit, of mothers, and of life.

Now, had Guy Noir encountered tornados named William and Kate, I'd be offended … that I hadn't thought of it first.

GK - I've been remiss again (and not for the first time!), dating back to mid-March when you did your St Paddy's Day show - it was superb, absolutely tops. I enjoyed it so much that I had intended to write and thank you for such a masterful compilation/presentation - (and that's coming from an Irishman living in the USA).

Then last evening, your mention that May 7th was your mother's birthday struck another chord, because that was also my mother's birthday - though she passed away some 34 years ago; still, nostalgic.

(Hearing your comments over several years I take it that you are an admirer of W B Yeats - well, I'm one of the few remaining fossils who had a 'personal' connection with Yeats, back in Co Sligo. Obviously I'm a bit older than you!)

Dear APHC and Garrison Keillor

I was offended by your references to East St Louis, IL. during your April 30 show in St Louis. I am an independent documentary filmmaker. I have recently finished a film about East St Louis, IL, AGAINST ALL THE ODDS.

I am so sorry that you felt the best way to frame East St Louis was as a strip club paradise, a dangerous place that no one would want to go for anything else. "Historians don't come over to East St. Louis, mister. They stay on that side of the river. Safer over there."

East St Louis is the only all African-American city in America. It is a city in peril, mostly because of it's racial identity. There are serious problems in the city, and it is a constant struggle to overcome them.

I was always welcomed warmly when filming there and met many wonderful people, courageous citizens who work non-stop, in the worst of circumstances, to make their city a better place to live, despite the hopelessness that the outside world sees.

An important culture exists there and it is a shame that it is overlooked by so many. East St Louis, Il is a city born out of a nation’s racial ignorance, and the fundamental need to belong, a place where surviving and thriving are heroic efforts.

So sorry you couldn't showcase East St Louis' strengths instead of their weaknesses....this is one reason the city is so damaged internally...

AGAINST ALL THE ODDS web site is if you are interested in learning more about this unique and special city.

Sandra Pfeifer
(listener for over 20 years)

Don't let 'em get to you, GK. They're out to kill off all humor that doesn't include bathroom references.

My gosh! Yes, natural disasters are horrible; but that is the very REASON that PHK and GK are so essential to our collective sanity. BRAVO!

I thought Garrison was cleverly referring to the actual event. There WAS a tornado, and the fans stayed.

I was driving through St Louis when the tornado sirens went off and that night they showed coverage on TV of the Cards fans waiting for the sirens to stop.

Apr 19, 2011 ... ST. LOUIS -- The Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals game scheduled for Tuesday night was postponed by a severe storm that set off a...

There was a tornado that tore through St. Louis County on Good Friday, and, while there was a great deal of damage (especially in the Bridgeton suburb) that rendered it an official disaster area, no lives were lost (unlike in Alabama), thank God. But I personally found no cause for offense regarding the show skit. Reminds me of a "Fiddler on the Roof" performance at the outdoor Muny Opera in the summer of 1993 -- the summer of immense Mississippi River flooding. When Theodore Bikel's Tevye complained to God about all the rain and floods, the audience responded with laughter and applause. Incidentally, the performance was rained out. And, ironically, word comes this morning that the Fox Theatre (the site of your St. Louis show) was damaged by a fire; may the venues which host PHC in the future be spared that.

Terrible storms and other tragedies have always been a subject of humor in the rural Midwest. It is one of the ways country people cope over time with the dangers and fears that might befall them on any day. I grew up hearing stories of victims of infant deaths, tractor roll-overs, drownings, hunting accidents, and the beloved collie accidentally killed by rat poison -- but also experiences that could have been tragic were survived, and people were grateful and rejoiced and recounted those stories to others. When as a girl my mom saved dozens of an uncle's chickens from drowning in deluge of rain, the uncle, known for being tight with his money, unbelievably gave her a five dollar bill! Her dad, all his life, told of a tornado that moved his childhood home on its foundation, and always went on to describe when he and his parents visited an old German neighbor whose house was gone -- the old fellow told them: "Ter-boom, ter-bang, ter-rattle, and I vas sittin' in da kitchen vit no valls." Everybody in my family laughed to hear that tale again.

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