Thanks to his Washington Post column, Garrison Keillor is now the voice of the outraged liberal, but there was a time, decades ago, when A Prairie Home Companion was an escape from politics. Keillor’s own views were always clear to anyone who knew the code, but all that came through the airwaves for two hours on Saturday night was a sweet-natured, old-time radio show with songs and funny stories and ads for imaginary companies like Powdermilk Biscuits, a fictional carbohydrate that gives people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. Ronald Reagan was raiding the Social Security trust fund, James Watt was subverting the Clean Air Act, Oliver North was selling arms to the Contras, but from 5 to 7 on Saturday nights, worried Americans could forget all that.
In 1984, the spring I was a senior in college, Garrison Keillor fell in love. Week after week, the News from Lake Wobegon became an extended paean to new romance. I don’t remember any of the narratives Keillor contrived to frame these observations of unexpected love in midlife, but I’ve never forgotten a line from one of the stories: “A person in love likes to go outside and look at a body of water.”
A person in despair for the world, it turns out, likes to go outside and look at a body of water, too.