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Garrison Keillor on TV; ‘Queen Ida’ on the Acordian

March 13, 1987

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Garrison Keillor is calling it quits just as his popular radio program, ″A Prairie Home Companion,″ is finally reaching a television audience.

The 44-year-old singing storyteller from Lake Wobegon announced last month he was ending the nationally broadcast public-radio show to ″resume the life of a shy person.″ The news came as a surprise, since the Disney Channel had just agreed to televise the season’s last 17 episodes on a tape-delay basis.

Keillor, who at nearly 6-foot-4 bills himself as the world’s tallest radio comedian, said he had decided to end the show before he signed the contract with Disney.

″I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have an end date, because I think the fear of failure is so great,″ he said. ″The thought of cancellation after 13 shows would be almost unbearable. And having done this show on radio for 13 years, I’m not about to be canceled.″

″A Prairie Home Companion″ will be broadcast for the last time June 13 from the World Theater in St. Paul. On March 7, the Disney Channel broadcast its first installment.

The pay television service is broadcasting 90 minutes of each two-hour Saturday show, which is heard by an estimated 4 million to 5 million Americans, said Minnesota Public Radio President Bill Kling.

The Disney Channel extends the reach to more than 3.1 million cable television subscribers, but Keillor isn’t among them. He has yet to subscribe. ″I’ve got to get it,″ he said. ″My kids have been after me to get it for a long time.″

Keillor said some listeners had complained he was destroying their illusions about his imaginary hometown of Lake Wobegon by going to television.

″To me, going from radio to television is to want to give up those illusions - and especially personal illusions that people might have - and to reveal myself, to reveal this show and to show what we’re doing in the merciless way that television does,″ he said.

Keillor, whose book ″Lake Wobegon Days″ topped the best-seller lists in 1985, said leaving the program would sharpen his writing.

″The writing that I do about Lake Wobegon is based on tiny things that I see around me and on my contacts with people,″ he said.

″I used to get a lot of wonderful ideas for stories and characters from people whom I knew casually. People who come in and empty your wastebasket, the men who come in and fix the lights at the office. ...

″In order for you to gather this material and to have some sense of the life of this imaginary town, you have to be an ordinary person. You have to have some semblance of anonymity, and I don’t have that anymore in St. Paul. And so I really can’t do the show here except as a caricature of itself. And I really don’t think I could do it elsewhere, so I choose to step out.″

In 1985, Keillor married a Danish high-school classmate, Ulla Skaerved, and after the last ″Prairie Home Companion″ show, they will move to Denmark.

″I get excited whenever I think of it,″ he said. ″Getting on a plane and getting off eight hours later in a country where I functionally am an idiot and where I walk around with my wife and we have a different life.″

--- Queen Ida Brings Zydeco to ‘Austin City Limits’ By ROBERT BARR Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - There was a time, not so long ago, when an accordion was regarded as an instrument of torture, not to mention an affront to one’s personal hipness.

″People would say, ’Ugh. Oom pah pah,‴ said Ida Guillory, who encountered deep resistance when she hit the road with her squeezebox.

″I’m very happy to say that this is no longer true,″ said the woman known as Queen Ida, leader of the Bon Temps Band.

This weekend, ″Austin City Limits″ on PBS devotes an hour to the varieties of country accordion: the Cajun bounce of Queen Ida’s ″zydeco″ sound, the bop-and-shuffle ″conjunto″ style of Santiago Jimenez Jr. and everything from reggae-blues to Tex-Mex with Ponty Bone and the Squeezetones.

In such hands, the accordion has regained prestige in folk and rock circles. Queen Ida has won a Grammy, appeared on ″Saturday Night Live″ and public radio’s ″A Prairie Home Companion,″ and is pleased at hearing rock bands add a few ″tasty licks″ of accordion.

Ida Guillory, born in Lake Charles, La., is a late-comer to show business. She was past 40 and driving a school bus in California when she was discovered.

″It was a hobby for me at that time, and I was caught in the act. I sat in at a Mardi Gras celebration here on the West Coast, back in ’74, I think,″ she said. ″Somehow, it got around that there’s this music being played and people should go out and listen to it.″

A reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed her Queen Ida.

Despite the growing popularity of the sound, she still finds herself explaining zydeco. The word itself is a corruption of the French word ″haricot,″ or green bean, and comes from the expression ″snap a bean,″ which is like ″cutting a rug.″

″Zydeco is actually a lot of influences,″ Queen Ida said in an interview from her home in Daly City, Calif. ″The basis of the music is what we call Cajun music, but there’s influences of country-western, blues, a little rock, a little bluegrass, Latin American, Caribbean or both.″

There’s a simpler explanation, though.

″This music, you feel it. It’s not just sitting and listening,″ she said. ″It gives you a happy feeling. Everybody wants to be happy, and I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so popular. You leave with a smile.″