Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion: The Second Annual Farewell Performance" comes to cable viewers Saturday (isney Channel, 9 p.m.) from that most cosmopolitan of places, Radio City Music Hall.
Saturday's broadcast, after two non-broadcast performances, will also be available on a number of cable systems offering a free sample of The Disney Channel. The performance will also be carried live on American Public Radio (ocally on KUER, FM-90, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and repeated again at 4 p.m. Sunday).The setting is symbolic of Keillor's new life in New York. After 13 years of radio shows, several television appearances and two best-sellers filled with wry tales from the quintessential small Midwestern town, Keillor said in a recent interview that Lake Wobegon, as well as real-life Minnesota, had become part of the past.
Keillor ended the radio show last year with a farewell performance in St. Paul, then left his life-long home to move to Denmark with his Danish wife. But he soon wearied of being a stranger in a strange land and returned to the United States, this time to New York.
"Lake Wobegon is really my childhood and it does not, it isn't, perhaps I'm supposed to walk away from it at some point and leave it," Keillor said somewhat sadly over Italian food near his Chelsea apartment. "I went back to Minnesota. I've been back twice since I left there last fall, and realized both times that . . . it's not my home. Strange feeling. Not pleasant."
Though his Saturday evening public radio show was popular, fame really descended upon Keillor after publication of his 1985 best-seller, "Lake Wobegon Days." In New York, he said, "I think that our life is, if anything, more domestic than it was in St. Paul, and much quieter and much more private. Some people might go to the Midwest for peace and stability, but life in St. Paul and in the Midwest was crazy, and life in New York is eminently sane."
Keillor's guests include Chet Atkins, Leo Kottke, Butch Thompson and the Everly Brothers.
Leaving Lake Wobegon doesn't mean an end to the folksy stories and dry wit that have made Keillor famous. They'll just move to Manhattan.
"There are a lot of people like me in New York," Keillor said. "Midwestern people, church-going people, not that I set church-going people aside as a separate class, but white, sort of unremarkably liberal, ordinary people who enjoy all of the fascinations and foreignness of the city and the excitement without themselves being changed so much. . . . I think I could talk about those people in New York."
Such adventures might turn up on radio in the not-too-distant future, Keillor said.
"I think that I owe myself two years' sabbatical, and it's half up. But I really feel that, (ince) I did the show for 13 years at the biblical rate of one per seven, I'm entitled to a year and 10 months or something. Then I could decide on it. But New York is our home for as far ahead as I can see."
More television is also likely. There have been network people "who want to have lunch sometime," he said. Meanwhile, Keillor writes for The New Yorker magazine and is working on a movie script at the urging of director Sydney Pollack. His books, "Lake Wobegon Days" and "Leaving Home: A Collection of Lake Wobegon Stories," both became best-sellers.
Although in appearances on public television and previously on The Disney Channel, Keillor proved himself a natural for television, he says he hasn't gotten used to seeing himself on the small screen.
"If I had guests, they'd sometimes turn it on, and I'd stand and watch part of it, but when I came on the screen I always felt unbearable and went and cooked something," he said.
Perhaps inspired by his recent appearance in the gala honoring Irving Berlin on his 100th birthday, Keillor's Radio City Music Hall performance will feature a production-number monologue involving the rotating stage.
While Keillor is lifted, lowered and turned around, the radio audience is to be none the wiser.
"I'll be talking about something all this time that doesn't have anything to do with the house, the stage, television," Keillor said. "I was hoping to disappear, as an illusion trick. I didn't know quite how to do that on radio."