Our identity after Prairie Home considered

Garrison Keillor made an hour-and-fifteen minute encore at Tanglewood on Saturday night, an extraordinary performance in one of his final shows before retiring from A Prairie Home Companion. It was his final live broadcast.

“Every year they strive to prolong the encore beyond the all-time record, which I believe is 75 minutes,” Keillor told the Berkshire Eagle’s Clarence Fanto, the person to whom Keillor announced last year that he’s retiring. “We stand out on stage and sing and they sing with us and the cows come home and nobody leaves. This happens nowhere else in America.”

Whatever affinity the East Coast has for Minnesota has come largely because of the image of the place created by Keillor.

Has that made it easier or harder to be a Minnesotan in the outside world?

It’s unusual for Minnesotans to speak ill of the retiring. That didn’t stop Jerry Anderson, of Eagan, in the Star Tribune yesterday.

How the reputation of Minnesota has changed during the past 39 years! Recently, a friend in Colorado told me his manager highlighted a promotion opportunity in Minneapolis during a large-group meeting.

He said that the crowd reaction was universal groans. And when the manager protested that “the bad winters are exaggerated,” someone in the room responded, “It’s not the weather; it’s living among all those morons.” The room erupted in laughter, with several people referencing “that [public radio] show about Minnesota.”

Once known as a progressive, forward-looking place with cold winters, Minnesota now has the reputation of being populated mostly by bovine, passive-aggressive, mush-eating nincompoops. Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon” has defined Minnesota to the millions of people who have heard the program on the radio or have attended his road shows around the globe.

Sadly, most of these fans are highly educated, liberal people who, if they knew the real Minnesota, would be likely big fans of our state.

It will take a very long time for the “Cold Appalachia” image of Minnesota that Mr. Keillor has so vividly planted in the minds of influential people around the world to fade. Let’s hope his retirement will bring a swift end to Lake Wobegon as well!

Jerry may not really be from here.

“Prairie Home Companion has succeeded well in at least one way; it has kept us pure and shielded us from those Californians and Coloradans to which you refer,” a defender countered.

Let’s consider this. Once A Prairie Home Companion — or at least its Minnesotaness — disappears, what is our image to the bubs in Colorado and elsewhere?

  • Jack

    We will still be cold year around in some peoples’ minds.

    • It might keep the riff-raff out…

    • Rob

      It’s always been interesting to me, as a Midwesterner who’s lived in Saint Paul for 30 years, how much in denial we are about the weather here. While we are not cold year-round, we are cold enough for a big enough chunk of the year that it gives great pause, as it should, to people from more temperate climates who are contemplating, or being encouraged for job reasons, to live here. I fully get the Snowbirds, who want to live here from late April to the end of October, and then bail to warmer climes for the next five months. We are, in essence, still a cold Omaha, and nothing short of global warming is gonna change that.

      • UnanimousCowherd

        Cold and snowy winters would be fine with me. Cleans things up, and I can cross country ski and snowshoe. Makes winter bearable.

  • Moffitt

    “…what is our image to the bubs in Colorado and elsewhere?”
    Who cares? We should not need the approval validation of outsiders to define who we are. I have lived in some other parts of the country/world, and I will say this — I’m happy to call myself a Minnesotan.

    • You’re obviously not from here.

      • Moffitt

        True enough. In that way I’m like those who are applying for citizenship here and across the nation. I may not be a Minnesotan by birth (Florida claims me), but I am one by choice. Old-timey radio shows had little to do with that choice.

        • Gary F

          My work brings me in contact with folks all over the nation and only once in a while does anyone ever mention GK. Or even Jesse Ventura.

          I’ve lived in Minnesota for 50 of my 51 years an never needed GK to help me with my Minnesota identity.

        • jon

          Minnesotan by choice here as well.

          While I do enjoy poking fun at people who don’t understand Minnesota (and offer us grape salad…) I also enjoy poking fun at Minnesotans who struggle to understand the IL tollway system (I grew up riding in cars on the IL tollway, and tossing change from the seat behind my dad when he’d let me).

          I also enjoy laughing at people from CA who don’t understand how we can wait outside for a bus/train in MN in the winter, and laughing at Minnesotans who don’t understand they outdoor shopping centers in LA (asking questions like “What do they do when it rains or snows?”)

          Everywhere is different, but I like it here, even if it’s not a tropical beach, or a house tucked away in the mountains…

      • Jasper

        Tsk, tsk. I fully agree with Moffitt and I am fully Minnesotan by birth and still living here happily. Perhaps it’s you, Bob, who is not from here?

        • Moffitt

          Bob, for all his famous New England grumpiness and love for the Cleveland Indians, is a Minnesota asset I value much more than PHC. He helps make this a better/more interesting place to live.

        • Let me think about that over a grape salad today. In Red Lake County.

    • tboom

      “Who cares? We should not need the approval validation of outsiders to define who we are. ”

      We should not … but we do.

      (Minnesotan by birth and by choice, or at least by birth and inertia. It’s okay here, I guess.)

  • PaulJ

    One node on the internet is pretty much like another, so we’re no longer insulated from the world by our raft of fortune 500 companies. Which is not to say we don’t need insulation; you can still only rarely sleep with the windows open.

  • Gordon near Two Harbors

    Keillor distilled an image of Minnesota culture–an underlying tone (especially in rural areas) that was definitely more vivid prior to the 1980s–much like the Beach Boys did for California. Families that have lived here for generations surely know this. Yes, there was a ton of exaggeration on PHC, but that’s what made it fun to listen to.

    As Colorado becomes the new California (overrun with people), and California loses its quality of life for the same reasons –unless you are wealthy–I feel lucky to be a Minnesotan.

    • Tim

      I know there are people who identify with PHC, but as someone in his late 30’s who’s almost exclusively lived in the Twin Cities, it never resonated with me. It wasn’t and isn’t the Minnesota I’ve always known. I would certainly take issue with it being considered *the* representation of Minnesota, but I think it’s fair to consider it *a* representation of Minnesota, just not everyone’s Minnesota.

      • Gordon near Two Harbors

        Probably not today, and certainly not in the Twin Cities. But for much of rural Minnesota–especially before the 80s–it would be hard to find a better representation than PHC.

      • Noelle

        Yeah, definitely more rural. My parents loved listening to PHC when I was growing up, especially my dad, who was raised Missouri synod Lutheran in small-ish town Wisconsin. All the church references really hit home for him.

  • MarkUp

    Have you ever read Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charlie”? I think that’s the worst image of Minnesota I’ve ever read.

    A few coworkers from Wisconsin noted that we Minnesotan’s are desperate to justify our statehood, that we dig up a bunch of random information to make our state look good. I made sure to remind them they were in the home of the honeycrisp apple, a state with more shoreline than California, and one with a pretty great state fair don’tcha know.

    I don’t mind being prefaced by the tales of Lake Woebegone; they are eerily close to my own upbringing, and why be ashamed of that? I rarely encounter a comparison involving “Fargo”. I steer the conversation away from sports if I can, at least for this season.

    Craft beers are always a fun topic with out-of-towners; I like to think there’s a rivalry brewing between MN and CO brewers. The Land of 10,000 craft beers sounds great to me!

    • Mike Worcester

      Colorado will probably counter with a “well at least we get to smoke pot legally here…..” 🙂

      • Khatti

        We could fix that any time we want too.

    • Noelle

      I love that book, but I was deeply disappointed by the part about Minnesota. (His disappointment about Golden Valley…!!!)

      That being said, I am from Wisconsin originally, and one thing that’s always stood out to me is how much pride MInnesotans take in their own home-grown celebrities and other state oddities. (and I love it)

      • Khatti

        I have relatives from Wisconsin and used to visit a lot when I was younger. the difference I’ve always seen between Wisconsin and Minnesota–and the difference is relative–is that Minnesotans are more Puritan than Wisconsinites. There is an earnest autocracy with us that that Wisconsin lacks. Don’t forget, the bill that made Prohibition the law of the land was named after a Minnesotan.

  • UnanimousCowherd

    If some think that MN is “populated mostly by bovine, passive-aggressive, mush-eating nincompoops,” and that is enough to keep out that sort of people from CO or CA or NY, who think things like that are true because of a public radio show, I’d consider that that radio show has done a very effective job. Seriously, don’t come to MN. We really don’t need any more nincompoops. Moo.

    • Khatti

      Babe we got to get you out of the barn a little more often. Maybe take you to a strip joint.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I came to MN on the cusp of the 1980’s for college and returned for good in 1986. When I first came here what I knew of MN was its politicians, particularly Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey. I would learn that Eugene McCarthy was also from MN after I arrived. Hadn’t heard of Keillor or PHC at that point. Maybe going forward we will, like many places, once again be defined by the people we put into high public office. My hope for that is a simple one, if that’s how the nation and the world beyond know us, maybe we will make better choices regardless of party. (FWIW I am a liberal through and through but have enduring respect for the political careers of Arne Carlson and Dave Durenberger.)

    • I think Mrs. Bachmann accelerated the day when we became known for the people we send to Washington.

      • Khatti

        And yet she was around for how many terms?

  • canoetraveler

    I’ve lived in Minnesota for over 30 years and for most of that time I have worked for various companies headquartered in California. In that time I’ve learned 1) that there is a four hour difference (not two hours) in work schedules. 2) Every phone call (and I do mean every call) must start with a little ritual about the weather in MN. First they ask if it is cold. Then I must respond that we like it when it is cold. Then they press further and I recite “32 degrees and damp is miserable, but a dry, crisp 10 below is down-right pleasant.” Then we can get down to work.

    Once is a great while someone brings up A Prairie Home Companion. But if I say that the show is “not half bad”, they will not know what I mean.

    Next time you have business visitors from Texas or Georgia, serve lefse. it will blow their mind. “You put sugar on potato tortillas!!! That is just crazy.”

  • Rob

    Is a bub anything like a rube? Either way, I don’t feel like Minnesotans have anything to prove to people from other states. We know we are crazy to live here year-round, but we do it anyway, with no worries about how folks from other places might view us.

  • dave dmz

    when I got out of the Army in 1969 I moved to MN to finish college.my rust belt home town and NY in general was a mess.MN was the “three C’s” clean-calm-canoeing.
    PHC was fun at the start being a live show where the host read birthday greetings and such but it just got stale after a few years plus Garrys phony “ah shucks” personality became too phony to carry the show.

    • Khatti

      There has always been something infra-human about GK’s persona that has annoyed me–I’m confused by all this, life is happening to me and I don’t know why–but it seems to be that attitude that has kept the show afloat for forty years.

  • Khatti

    Well, I’m trying to finally get my fiction-writing career underway, maybe I’ll take over the image-production the GK does now. The rest of you should be afraid–be very, very afraid. Muhahahahahaha!

  • HPDrifter

    Not sure that I’m a “bub”, but I’m a Coloradoan, and you couldn’t ask for a better ambassador than Garrison Keillor in my mind. I’m looking forward to meeting a Norwegian bachelor farmer someday, just to see how well our weekend companion has described them all these years.