Isn’t it about time? You’ve said it yourself, in a manner of speaking. It’s time to say goodbye to “A Prairie Home Companion,” Powdermilk Biscuits and all. You said it last summer by stepping away from the public radio microphone after a stellar 42-year run. You were congratulated — and deservedly so — by everyone from President Barack Obama to Maria H. from Castro Valley, Calif., who was a new immigrant from the Philippines when she started listening in 1985.
However, you refuse to cut the cord. This fall’s 28-city tour, dubbed “Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Love & Comedy Tour,” is “A Prairie Home Companion” by any other name. This is beginning to sound like Cher’s third annual farewell tour. It’s you, along with a female singer, sound-effects ace Fred Newman and piano savant Richard Dworsky, doing Guy Noir, singalongs, a monologue and all the bits that are identified with “PHC.”
And you’ll do the same thing next Friday at the Minnesota State Fair — recycling versions of stories you’ve told at fairs past. You’ve announced that this is your farewell to the fair show. But is this your last live tour?
After all, you stated in an interview this month with the Associated Press that you don’t think one should go onstage after age 76 and you’re 75 now. “You don’t want to fall down out there and then all of these people, you know, there’s a sudden intake of breath,” you were quoted as saying. “And men in white jackets come in from the wings and put an oxygen mask on you.”
You opined that “an entertainer is supposed to go away and have a quiet dotage, and you know, lose your marbles in private and not do this out where people can see you.”
On that point at least, I beg to differ. There is no mandatory age limit on going onstage. Age is a number, not a reason. At 91, Tony Bennett croons with gusto, nuance and warmth. I saw St. Paul jazz sax man Irv Williams perform on his 98th birthday this month at the Dakota Jazz Club, and his tone, timing and personality were admirable. Don Rickles, the comedy put-down champ, kept knocking out crowds until a few months before his death at 90. And George Burns, God bless him, lasted onstage until he was 100.
You’re not a singer, although you try. You’re not a stand-up comedian, but you might try that. Retirement isn’t necessary for you. But reinvention is.
When Walter Cronkite, Barbara Walters and Dan Rather stopped doing the evening news, they re-emerged hosting TV specials. And after two years away from late-night TV, David Letterman is coming back with an in-depth interview program on Netflix.
You didn’t pull a Johnny Carson and quietly disappear. Your mind is still alive, alert and agile. Your Washington Post columns are thoughtful, provocative and punctuated with your distinctive humor. So instead of being immersed in the fictional world of Lake Wobegon, why not try reality for a change? Write nonfiction.
Writers never retire. You said that in an interview in 2015. But radio hosts do retire. And so should their characters. Say good night to Guy Noir and adios to Lefty. Say hello to long-form comedy. That’s what you do. Write new material instead of recycling the old. No one wants to see you on the golf course with Clint Bunsen or playing bingo at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. You don’t want to be that guy who keeps moving back into the old family house.
Move on. Donate your white suits to the Minnesota History Center or the Tom Wolfe Center for Post-Modern New Journalism. Your red ties, too. Keep the red running shoes if you like. We’ll understand.
Your faithful followers still want your words — written or spoken. They want to hear from you. Regularly.
I could even envision a new stage show that reflects your view of the world but doesn’t have the slightest connection to Lake Wobegon. Maybe you can premiere it in 2018. I’ll be in — or on — line to buy a ticket.
All the best,