POP CULTUREnNotes During thenDraining of LakenWobegonnby Gary S. VasilashnI am not a sports fan. In spite of thenencouragement and coercion of familynand friends, I have never taken tonhitting, throwing, or running. Yet, mynadmission of athletic indifference isnnot a boast. It’s only that it makes menacutely aware that Detroit, my home,nis what’s known as “a great sportsntown.” It’s not that its teams are allnthat hot. They tend not to be (thoughnthis year is an exception). But the fansnsupport the teams, come hell or highnwater, and it usually is one of the two.nOne day last September, I spent anlunch hour wandering through anbookstore in Birmingham, one of thencity’s upscale suburbs. As I passed annelevated desk, I realized the mannstanding behind it was Ernie Harwell,nthe voice of the Detroit Tigers. Harwellnhas been broadcasting Tigerngames on WJR radio for as long as Incan remember. His voice is to Detroitnsports announcers what Chuck Yeager’snis to airline pilots: something tonbe emulated. Harwell was, not unexpectedly,npromoting a book.nBut no one was lined up for annautograph.nI made eye contact and cudgeled mynbrains for sports trivia that would servenas some sort of bridge. Civility seemednto demand it. Nothing.nSome two weeks later I planned tonspend another lunch hour at the samenstore. But it was, to all intents andnpurposes, inaccessible. A line of mostlynwomen snaked out of the store andnVITAL SIGNSnalong the front of the mall. There werenwell over 100 of them, clutchingnthick, hardcover books—the sense ofnexcitement, enthusiasm, expectation,nand camaraderie was like that ofnSpringsteen fans. But these peoplencould clearly be the parents of rocknfans.nThe person who had brought themnall together, drawing numbers ErnienHarwell could only dream about, wasnGarrison Keillor, host of the nowendedn”A Prairie Home Companion.”nKeillor had been doing the radio/stagenshow for 13 years. But earlier this yearnhe decided to return to being “a shynperson.” Keillor’s saga of small-townnMidwestern life, appropriate music,nand light humor made him a bestsellingnauthor and put him on thencover of Time. (Although Keillorntalked about taking over CBS News, Inhave my doubts about the upper centralnMinnesotans who read New Yorknnews magazines.) Success seems not tonhave spoiled Keillor. He retired at thentop of his game, though we’re sure tonbe hearing more from him and aboutnLake Wobegon.nAlthough my enthusiasm for “AnPrairie Home Companion” does notnenable me to recite entire passages ofnthe News from Lake Wobegon, likensome people I know, whatever it isnabout Keillor that caused him to farnoutdraw a Detroit sports celebritynbrought me to downtown St. Paul, fornone of his final performances.nThe magic of Keillor is actuallynquite simple—and all the more amazingnbecause it is so elegantly pure. In anworld of grotesquely perverse abnormalitiesnpresented as givens, Keillor isnable to portray normalcy with all of itsnblemishes and bouquets. It’s idealizednbut not innocent, decent but not dull.nIt plays in Peoria, though it may benincomprehensible in Park Avenuenpenthouses. Keillor’s is a world thatnnnnever was, yet still exists, every day, innmany communities throughout thencountry. It is something people cannidentify with and draw close withoutnfeeling queasy afterwards—a simple,nbut no small, feat.nHere arc some notes about the Mayn16, 1987, presentation of “A PrairienHome Companion” in The WorldnTheatre. Guests included the EverlynBrothers (Phil and Don) and TajnMahal.nAudience is dressed mainly in polyester,nbanlon, and mystery synthetics.nA complement of organics, mostly Tshirtsnand jeans, makes up the rest.nA sign in the lobby warns the shownis being taped for broadcast (the Disneynchannel) and that the audiencenhas given tacit permission for beingncabled into homes. What’s the reason?nTo warn off any Gary Harts who wouldntake their newest inamorata to hearnabout Powder Milk Biscuits?nOfferings in the gift shop, in additionnto sweatshirts for Raw Bits andnbaseball caps for the Whippets, includena book entitled ScandinaviannHumor.nThe World Theatre was completelynrenovated a couple years back. Thenwalls are a milky beige with blue trim.nThe filigree work is appliqued withngold. It is a million miles from LasnVegas. Yet its upper Midwestern elegancenputs it some distance from LakenWobegon. So, as a reminder of morenfundamental things, the dirty bricknwall at the rear of the stage.nHow many nights did Keillor, et al.,nplay when the brick wall was the theater’snmost handsome feature, the seatsnoozed their stuffing, and only a fewnpeople were there, getting out of thencold?nA woman with an infant (ninenmonths?) is told they will be asked tonleave the auditorium if the child cries.nKeillor’s microphone cover is red.nSEPTEMBER 1987 157n