EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: A Prairie Home Apology to Chris Thile
Chris Thile (photo by Devin Pedde / livefromhere.org)
This morning I came across a BuzzFeed list of “21 Signs You’re Officially An Old Person,” and not surprisingly I connected with about half of them. Indeed, I had to hand crank the windows of my old cars, carried around both a flip phone and an iPod Classic at the same time, used a card catalog at the library, put photos in a photo album, and lately I’ve noticed that I involuntarily make a noise whenever I stand up. On the other hand, I still enjoy listening to new music, have never watched Golden Girls, can’t tell the weather with my knees, and don’t yet need to lower the volume on the radio when I put my car in reverse. Best I can figure, I’m simply a middle-aged man with Peter Pan syndrome, trapped inside a body manufactured in the summer of 1951 and delivered the following February.
Earlier this month I downloaded an expensive meditation app at the suggestion and cost of my employer to improve my emotional health, relieve stress, control anxiety, lengthen attention span, address memory loss, and … I forget the rest. If this program wasn’t also offered to all 120,000 of my fellow team members, I might have thought it was specifically directed toward me and my job performance. But alas, it’s rare to work for a corporation that actually cares about their employees’ well-being, so I have dutifully taken anywhere from one minute to a dozen each day to just do it. Old dog, new trick: I like it.
A week or two before I began my new meditative journey, I was driving home from work on a Saturday night and turned on Live From Here, the radio show hosted by Chris Thile formerly known as A Prairie Home Companion. It was at the precise moment of the above video performance with Thile and Chris Eldridge, minus the spoken introduction, that the notes and interplay of mandolin and guitar affixed to my brain as if by super glue. Not only could I not stop thinking about it, but when I began to meditate it would interrupt my concentration on breathing. And it was not some weird attachment to an old J.S. Bach-written Glenn Gould recording, but an unconsciously unresolved resentment toward Thile that took me weeks to identify.
Call it coincidence or perhaps some sort of cosmic time realignment, but that skit was performed on Oct. 15, 2016. It was the very first show that officially featured Thile as host, taking over for Garrison Keillor. It was a truly a great show, featuring a new house band and guests Maeve Higgins, Lake Street Dive, and Jack White along with a number of special guests and collaborations that included Margo Price, Sarah Jarosz, Brittany Haas, and Paul Kowert. In that week’s Broadside column I wrote:
“Although it wouldn’t have been fair to expect that Thile would offer up the intellectual depth or comedic talents of Keillor, the applause coming through my car radio speakers sounded as if he won over the crowd at the Fitzgerald Theater with a stellar band and great guests. As you can hear for yourself, the show continued with the tradition of delivering the goods in American roots music.”
Thirteen months after that great opening show, Minnesota Public Radio announced it was terminating all of its business relationships with Keillor as a result of allegations of inappropriate behavior. While he denied multiple accusations, a long public disentanglement commenced and, as Keillor owned the trademark for the name A Prairie Home Companion, Thile’s show began broadcasting under its new name, Live From Here.
It was and continues to be a tough time for those who were deeply touched by the talent and spectacle of over four decades with Keillor and his Saturday night radio shows. Throughout the years I’ve loved the music and humor, could picture Lake Wobegon in my mind, read the man’s books, watched a lot of videos, loved the Robert Altman film enough to buy it, and added hours and hours of musical and comedic show snippets into my digital jukebox that remain to this day.
Over the past three years I have dropped in and out of Live From Here. Instead of purposely tuning it in each week and attending the shows when they come to town, I simply punch the dial when I’m in the car on Saturday nights, grabbing musical moments on the fly. Often I’ll visit the show’s YouTube page, which is probably the greatest source and presentation of modern-day roots music performances you’ll find. Kudos to them for posting them each week. When it comes to the non-musical portions of the shows, rarely have I found the comedy to be very funny, and Thile’s “oh boy gee whiz” excitement about almost everything hasn’t yet been contagious to these old ears.
That aside, I awoke this morning, did a five-minute guided meditation, and made a mental note that I, or perhaps speaking for the collective “we,” need to acknowledge that we are quite blessed to have Chris Thile both perform and present the music we endear. He has stepped out from the shadow of Keillor that I’ve held onto and resented him for and created a new tradition and pathway. He is respectful of the old, enchanted with the current. And for that, I personally feel I owe him an apology, and am fortunate to have this soapbox where I can do so publicly.
Regarding that BuzzFeed list of “signs you’re officially an old person,” I’d like to add one more: You grew up listening to A Prairie Home Companion and are still pissed off that it’s not on anymore. My newly acquired post-enlightenment advice? Get over it.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org