Sunday, March 26, 2006

Polder Traveling Companion

I recently received a package from my sister with a belated birthday card and present. The card was thoughtfully inscribed, and the gift turned out to be a wonderful surprise. It was a five-disc collection of music and stories from the first 25 years of "A Prairie Home Companion."

Perhaps you've never heard of "A Prairie Home Companion." It seems that most people in Amsterdam have not (though, of course, I'm not surprised). "A Prairie Home Companion" is a radio program produced by Minnesota Public Radio and broadcast across the United States each weekend on National Public Radio. The show features American folk music, various comedy sketches, and -- most notably -- reports by Garrison Keillor on the week's happenings from the (fictional) small-town settings of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota.

The show basically functions as an ode to the northern Midwest region of America, and for me it has instant associations of sunny weekend car-rides with my family. My parents would listen to the show (often against the protests of myself and my siblings) and laugh at the dry, sharp, clever, and insightful commentary on life in provincial prairie country. The people and places of Lake Wobegon proved to be a spot-on match for the places of their (and my) personal experience: Jamestown, North Dakota... Kerkhoven, Minnesota... Long Prairie, Minnesota... Lancaster, Wisconsin... even Shelby, Ohio. Places where the people come of hardy Scandinavian stock, with a keen sense of irony and understatement. Places where religion is often a definitive collective culture more than a personal spiritual expression. Places where people "take care of their own" while simultaneously enjoying the gossip of neighors' folly. Places "where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above-average"... Everything about "A Prairie Home Companion" rang true -- from the accents to the expressions to the thought patterns. Thus, the show offered a hilarious self-indictment and a poignant preservation of Northern culture. Although as a child I was typically too impatient for the deliberate pace of Midwestern art and comedy, I grew to love the stories and sounds from "A Prairie Home Companion" -- and as a young adult, I would find excuses to take long car rides on sunny weekend afternoons, so I could tune in for myself.

In recent months, I've found that I'm not the only one who holds such an affection for "A Prairie Home Companion." My brother Jay wrote a post several months ago about the powerful nostalgic effect of the radio program and the effect that it has on him even now, living with his family in urban Texas. My old friend Ross also wrote a post recently, from Japan, confessing his love for the show and his anticipation for an upcoming film project based on the radio series... Thus it seems that no matter where the winds of change may carry us Midwesterners -- from Texas, to Japan, to Holland -- something keeps bringing us back to the prairies and farmlands of our homeland. And that something often proves to be "A Prairie Home Companion."

So given the miracles of modern technology, I can load five and a half hours of "A Prairie Home Companion" onto my PDA (which also functions as my digital audio player) and carry them with me wherever I go. I've become fond of affixing the earbuds underneath my stocking cap as I pedal my bicycle past the urban Dutch landscape. And as I ride -- despite the incongruency of the environment -- I am somehow transported to the sun-drenched backseat of a car traveling on I-90 across the flickering flatlands of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Garrison Keillor's patient barritone makes me laugh. Makes me cry. Makes me feel like I'm at home.

If you catch me grinning like an idiot as I ride on my bicycle through the streets of Amsterdam, now you'll know why.


At 3:08 PM, Blogger Rosco said...

Word up--APHC! You know, Linda has been trying to download the show from her computer but can't figure it out. All you need is RealPlayer. Maybe you could help her out because I think she would love it.

I'm going to have to get that 5 disc set. Sounds great.

Happy biking and listening.


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