Mr. Blue

How fast I switched off NPR’s _A Prairie Home Companion_ was a measure how alert I was on a given Sunday morning in New York. Sometimes I caught the theme music: click, and it was gone. Mostly I became aware of a creeping irritation that I eventually traced to Garrison Keillor’s undertaker’s voice and folksy–bleurgh–wit. I read a few pages of one of his books and felt the same way.

But I loved his Salon advice column, Mr. Blue. The same codger who produced unfunny Olde Tyme radio skits every week turned out to be wise, sympathetic, human, and witty when asked for help. His replacement, Cary Tennis, does a fine if eccentric job, but I miss Mr. Blue and was glad he was back in a one-off interview in last week’s Salon. (Promoting a new book based loosely on the Mr. Blue column.)

What do you think Mr. Blue offered his readers that, say, Dear Abby or Ann Landers did not?

Their columns were terribly constricted by space, which is hard to understand. People love to read about other people’s problems. Everybody knows this. But newspaper editors are complete dolts when it comes to understanding readers. We read because we love to, and newspaper editors edit the papers for people with serious reading disabilities. So Abby and Ann had to write postcards. Everything was shrunk. A few scant details and then some blithering generality. (Wake up and smell the coffee. Talk to your doctor. Let me know what happens, I care.) This is why magazines have a future, including online ones.

If you could give me one piece of advice, what would it be?

Get outside more and take long walks. Much sadness is caused by lack of sunlight and exercise and visual stimulation.

Drawing on your experience as Mr. Blue and the questions you were asked, do you think all any of us really want, deep down, is to be loved?

No, we want to be rich, to be admired, to eat like a horse and be skinny as a snake, to have small children ask for our autographs, to be on terrific medications that make us calm and witty and sexy, to be able to give George Bush a piece of our minds, to sing Irving Berlin and Gershwin and Porter at the Oak Room and be described in the Times as “luminous,” but in the absence of all that, it’s enough to be loved.