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A DVD for all PHC addicts - white, brown, Carnatic, Country or in between.
on July 16, 2009
My vintage is close to Garrison Keillor's, but I grew up some 8,500 miles away in Madras, not Minnesota. It was under very different economic, political and social circumstances. Yet there is much that I share in my values, experiences and joy of my less-than-consequential life. There are many things that I have enjoyed, regretted, emulated and aspired for but lacked the voice and eloquence to pronounce. They find expression in Keillor's tales, jokes and songs. Prairie Home Companion's ability to bridge transcultural spreads, week after week, through radio is the magic of it all. Visual input is unnecessary for this; in fact it is an impediment. It heightens my awareness that I am not a white Christian with a rural childhood; it even dilutes the commonality of virtues and values.
I have always enjoyed Keillor and his creations. Since the '70s when I used to volunteer at WAMC (Albany, NY), and till now, I have admired, drawn inspiration from and laughed, often en famille, by listening to Keillor. This DVD is an extension of this enjoyment. Cheap as I am, I have never brought myself to attend his shows in person. The closest I got to was to watch it on live cam in the past and on PBS specials, and his movie "A Prairie Home Companion."
This DVD is a soft, slightly disassembled, peek into Keillor explaining Keillor. It refers to his roots, his folks and his community. It ambles over to his New York days, returns to his St Paul living room and moves over to clippings from his shows. Back and forth -- disturbing continuity at times. There are jokes and songs aplenty. Sue Scott, Tom Keith, Tim Russel and Fred Newman feature prominently. Others such as Robert Altman, Jearlyn Steele and Meryl Streep walk in and out. They talk about failed predictions ("end of radio"), mutant fish-dogs, how to "be yourself," and about kindness. They dilate on such "un"contemporary virtues as "who your are is important," and an ordinary life is good enough. It is fun to hear and philosophize about these timeless anti-platitudes from Keillor et al. They seem to be so much at ease than those who preach these qualities. Nostalgic signature tunes play at various junctures. Rhubarb pies and red shoes, accents and attitudes sprinkle this American Masters Independent Television Service visual excursion. By the way, are Dusty and Lefty, our endearing cowboys, missing from this DVD?
I notice that most of the cast, crew and audience are not brown like me. They share little with my childhood of Nehru's socialist India. In the 1950s joy was not a priority, more rationed and in short supply than food, foot wear and clothing. Little brown legs, instead of yellow buses, walked us to a Hindu school that imparted a liberal education emphasizing English, regional languages and Sanskrit. Our music was Carnatic and not Country, and our seasons were hot, wet and hotter. Our worship was in Temples, individualized and not structured, not organized and congregational as in Churches. They told us to be always respectful, kind, but wary, of all minorities (Muslims, Sikhs, Chinese and Anglo-Indians) in the post-partition, post-independence milieu. We looked with admiration and reverence to Britain, Soviet Union and the US., in that order at times, for acquiring "foreign" influence. Our family, tolerant Hindu liberals, taught us to admire the hard working Protestants, the ever smiling nuns and the never tiring Jesuit educators. Little surprise that I can readily see the universal appeal to tolerance, kindness and acceptance. This is the radio spell that Keillor casts every week on us. And then, of course, joy of life, something this transplant struggles to recognize.
Keillor's main message is in his radio shows, but this DVD is an adjuvant that will make the message tastier. If you have seen Altman's 2006 "A Prairie Home Companion" movie you may consider this DVD an optional item.