INTERVIEW WITH GARRISON KEILLOR AND AUDIO
by Jonathan Lowe
There are few, if any, current actors as famous as Thomas
C. Mapother IV, the short and seemingly unremarkable youth
whose hidden talent lay dormant in his cocky bravado until
his first agent shortened his name to Tom Cruise. The
fascinating story of the rise of this middle class boy
with an iconic smile to one of the most powerful players
in Hollywood is detailed in TOM CRUISE: AN UNAUTHORIZED
BIOGRAPHY by Andrew Morton. It's all here, from Tom's
family roots in Ireland to his being picked-on by romantic
rivals in high school, and from his "bizarre" jumping-the-couch
scene on Oprah to his being lured by then-desperate
cult leaders eager to capitalize on his celebrity. Estranged
from his stern father, while doting on his mother, Tom
was something of an enigma to his many girlfriends and
wives, and remains so to this day. Known for his obsessive
focus on career and image, Cruise sought both creative
and personal control whenever possible, which was why
it seemed so shocking to see him display emotion on Oprah.
(The actual event itself seems mild when viewed now on
YouTube, since any fan in the audience at the time clearly
seems more excited simply by his being there.) As narrated
by John Hinch, the audio version maintains interest with
just the right mix of anecdotes to embellish the timeline,
and a not overly colorful or austere reading. You may
not learn much new about Cruise the man, if you're a die-hard
fan, but the objectivity of the author, who also did books
on Princess Diana and Monica Lewinsky, is evident throughout.
(MacMillan Audio download from Audible.com; 6 hours
Next, actor John Rubinstein's long association with clinical
psychologist turned mystery novelist Jonathan Kellerman
continues in COMPULSION, a thriller featuring (appropriately
enough) psychologist Alex Delaware, along with his own
LAPD associate and sidekick, Milo Sturgis. On this outing
the pair hunt a serial killer whose M.O. includes stealing
luxury sedans in upscale L.A. for murders in the city's
seedier suburbs. Ultimately, their manhunt moves from
the brokers and hookers of the City of Angels to the even
more colorful denizens of the Big Apple, propelled by
Rubinstein's intricately honed talent for creating realistic
dialogue. Of course Kellerman supplies the obsessively
detailed text for this, but it is their paring that gives
the listener an almost real-time experience as the investigation
proceeds. (Better than the TV series 24 because
one must exercise the imagination, too.) On a cultural
level, it may be revealing to note that you also learn
as much or more about L.A. society as you do about things
like crime scene procedures, psycho-pathology, or the
habits of compulsive killers. And speaking of associations,
it may also be who you know that counts in another sense,
too, even if we dismiss the question of whether Dr. Kellerman
actually assists the other novelists in his household
- wife Faye and son Jesse. (Random House Audio; 10
Next, British author Sophie Kinsella is best known for
her Shopaholic series, and this time delivers a modern
fairy tale with rather stock characters and a predictable
twist. Still, REMEMBER ME? is fun at times, as listeners
can't help but empathize with "Lexi Smart" through her
ordeal and attempts to cope. No, she's not dying. Her
dilemma is that, upon being struck on the head during
a car crash, she's lost her short term memory. So when
she wakes up in the hospital, all Lexi remembers is being
a twenty-five year old working girl, and not a wealthy
woman with perfect teeth, a millionaire husband, and a
glamourous job. Three years from her life are missing.
Desperate to remember something about the schemes that
seem to be developing around her, Lexi is determined to
become "who she seems to be." In an ironic way, this may
also be the dilemma of the listener, in identifying what
they want from escapist entertainment. "To escape, of
course, you ninny," Lexi might say. Narrator Charlotte
Parry nails the character, in a contrived and formulaic
story that does benefit from a spot-on performance. (Random
House Audio; 6 hours abridged)
Of course George Lucas is one savvy storyteller, not only
because he licenses his blockbuster concept to certain
other selected authors, (who breathe new life into what
would otherwise be a dying franchise), but because he
maintains effective quality control over all productions,
even through distributors. So the performance copyright
for STAR WARS REVELATION: Legacy of the Force, while it
may be distributed by the largest publisher on Lucas's
home world (Earth), is held instead by LucasFilm Ltd..
Which also explains the sound effects present throughout,
since few audiobook producers have the time to add such
effects and music. This latest production seems designed
for radio, and is written by British author Karen Traviss
(who penned five previous Star Wars related novels), and
features the son of Hans Solo as a Sith Lord named Jacen,
while Luke Skywalker's nephew Ben heads an alliance against
the dark side. Ben must risk everything to find out if
Jacen killed his mother Mara, while Jacen's sister Jaina
seeks to learn the dangerous skills of Boba Fett in order
to bring her brother back to the fold. Sound familiar?
Naturally there's swordplay and hanger deck assaults to
keep the storyline moving. Most notable, though, is narrator
Marc Thompson, whose versatile voiceovers can also be
heard in many commercials and cartoons. (Random House
Audio; 6 hours abridged)
Finally, do you remember the movie Dead Poets Society?
The new audiobook ENGLISH MAJORS might attract a similar
audience, as well as those who love slapstick and a quirky
stage show. Included on the two disks taken from A PRAIRIE
HOME COMPANION are "the Six Minute Hamlet," tributes to
Hawthorne, Kerouac & Emily Dickinson, and a "Guy Noir"
investigation of an MFA scam. Contributing to the skits
are Dave Barry, Calvin Trillin, Meryl Streep, Allen Ginsberg,
Billy Collins, Donald Hall, Roy Blount Jr., and the master
himself in the final piece, which was recorded at the
University Concert Hall in Limerick, Ireland. Garrison
Keillor is, of course, best when he's just talking to
the audience, describing his life and the residents of
that most quirky of all towns, Lake Wobegon, Minnesota.
What follows is my email interview with him. (Highbridge
Audio; 2 1/2 hours unabridged)
Jonathan Lowe: You have an association with Minnesota Public
Radio and with Highbridge Audio, and you often tour the country
with your radio show, besides teaching at the University of
Minnesota. What gives you most satisfaction--writing, performing,
Garrison Keillor: I don't associate work with feelings
of satisfaction. Rather, guilt, frustration, and resentment
of people who write better than I do. Writing is the main gig
around here, and teaching and performing are sidelines, an excuse
for not writing more. Working on a novel and on an opera make
me seriously want to retire and find a volunteer job as a docent
at the zoo explaining to schoolchildren where frogs go in the
Lowe: What inspired you to begin this journey? Who
Keillor: I was inspired by the need, as an English
major, to earn a living in the world and to pay the rent and
purchase coffee and cheese danish. I spent most of the 60s in
college, imagining I was brilliant, and then, in 1969, my son
was born and I had to find work that someone would be willing
to pay me to do, and the choices were limited in the extreme.
Fortunately, I caught on as a DeeJay in public radio and I've
clung to this raft ever since. My last job interview was in
1969. I will never write another resume. This is my earnest
Lowe: In your novel Lake Wobegon Summer 1956
you mention a lady who hypnotizes chickens before chopping their
heads off. Then there's the Doo Dads singing "My Girl" while
repressed 14 year old Gary tries to both indulge and conquer
his adolescent urges. With all the description and depiction
going on, your town of Lake Wobegon really comes to life, and
has people asking you if the place really exists. Do you see
that question as a compliment or a nuisance?
Keillor: Nothing that readers say or do strikes me
as a nuisance. Anyone who cracks open a book of mine is, to
me, a gem. And I am impressed that you know about the chicken
hypnotizer and the Doo Dads and the boy's adolescent urges.
Most interviewers don't have time to read my books. They ask
questions like "What's your favorite TV show?" or "What's it
like to be your age and know that the twilight years are near?"
As for Lake Wobegon, it's a real place, so the question is easily
Lowe: You live in St. Paul, in the land of 10,000 oft-frozen
lakes. I was born there, but haven't been back since age six.
How has the area changed, and is the longing for simplicity
and family values more alive there than elsewhere?
Keillor: In the time since you left, son, Minnesota
hasn't changed all that much, except the Twins won the World
Series twice, and we elected an irate oaf for a governor, and
a lot of farms have been lost to housing developments with names
like Woodlawn and Riverwood and Floodcrest. I don't detect a
longing for simplicity so much as a longing for a 28 hour day.
People are ferociously busy, and it's taken a toll on all the
leisurely arts, such as friendship and humor and good samaritanship.
There isn't time for it. As for family values, they are whatever
they are - some families are tight, others are blown away like
dandelion puffs. A main value in Minnesota is still: don't waste
my time, don't B.S. me, I wasn't born yesterday.
Lowe: What is audience reaction to your shows and signings?
Any anecdotes to share?
Keillor: I did a reading in Seattle at which a little
girl in the front row fell sound asleep. She slept for more
than an hour. It was sweet. I seem to have a God given ability
there. Some people in the room were hooting and slapping their
knees, and she simply leaned her head against the fat lady next
to her and dozed off. It's good to be useful. A boy wrote me
once to say that he loved it when the news from Lake Wobegon
came on the radio because it meant that his parents stopped
arguing. That was an eye-opener for me. You work hard to polish
your act and then you find out that it does people good in ways
you couldn't predict. The audience is invisible and that's good.
Somewhere my voice is drifting through a swine barn and the
sound of it seems to perk up the sows' appetite. Or a lady is
listening on headphones as she jogs along a beach, running to
my cadence. Or a dog sits in front of the radio, head cocked,
and the sibilants excite him in some mysterious way. A dog's
humorist, that's me.
Lowe: Your guests are an eclectic mix of musicians
and storytellers. Who are you most proud of having had on the
show, and who do you wish would appear or come back?
Keillor: Chet Atkins was a classy act. Nobody like
him. The man never had a bad night. And Willie Nelson. A great
musician, very underrated. Bogan, Martin, and Armstrong were
great, an old black string band from Knoxville. And Emmylou
Harris and Gilliian Welch and the Fairfield Four. And the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir. When they left, at the intermission, the hall
was suddenly half empty. I wish Willie would come back, but
then I also wish I were 36, so what can you do?
Lowe: On the show you also have comedy radio drama
skits and fake commercials. Are those items advertised ever
Keillor: They're all real, actually. Bertha's Kitty
Boutique, and the American Duct Tape Council, and Bebopareebop
Rhubarb pie, and Powdermilk Biscuits. And if you'd like to buy
a few shares of stock, see me.
Lowe: What does Garrison Keillor do during off hours,
if there is such a thing as off hours for you?
Keillor: Sleeps, cooks, reads, plays with the kid,
goes to movies, shovels snow, sits and yaks with friends. I'm
a lucky guy. I get to sit around every day and indulge in make
believe and get paid for it.
Lowe: What's next for you?
Keillor: A show on Saturday. Look forward to it.