Back when Johnny Carson was the only show on late-night television, the old joke was that millions of Americans "went to bed with Johnny."
With Saturday night the most active date night of the week for single people, I am one of millions of American singles who goes on dates with Garrison Keillor.
Keillor — the creator, host and writer of the "Prairie Home Companion," a folksy, old-style radio show on National Public Radio — gained mainstream, national renown last year playing himself in the Hollywood movie loosely based on the Saturday-night radio program.
Usually taped live from Minnesota or maybe a county fair in the country's "bread basket," PHC for several years has usually been the background soundtrack to my predate drives.
It's broadcast on NPR stations from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. That means that when I get tired of listening to bad music and commercials, I flip on NPR, and get a healthy dose of some sophisticated comedy and oddball music.
Predate audio entertainment is important for getting into the right mood for a date. And it usually runs the gamut for both men and women. I've shown up to meet women who were listening to a soothing backdrop of rainforests or gentle waves on beaches, and then others listening to the loud banging heavy metal of Guns N' Roses.
In college, my predate soundtrack usually consisted of "The Doors." Jim Morrison's insouciance seemed like the perfect confidence boost. He was a cool guy. It was even more appropriate when I had a brief relationship with a girl from Southern California. ("L.A. Woman" was the perfect song).
When I played competitive soccer in high school, we played Guns N' Roses on the public address system at our field as both motivator and intimidator. Then, some prissy, holier-than-thou parents complained about the lyrics, and the coach turned to Bob Seger, whose derivative rock was hardly inspirational.
Music can be a great motivating and dramatic force. Could Rocky have bound up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art without the appropriate, thumping musical accompaniment?
The right song at the right time can set the scene, put you in a great mood or bring you down. I wish I had a dollar for every dance I attended that played J. Lo's "Let's Get Loud," Jacko's "Wanna Be Starting Something" or an Earth Wind and Fire hit. Nobody can resist getting into a funky dance mood with those songs.
The Right Mindset
Now when I'm trying to get in the right mindset for a prime-time Saturday-night date, it's important to put on a happy face and bright demeanor. I readily admit that I am not always a shiny, happy person (to paraphrase REM's sugary pop song from the '90s).
A couple years ago, as I drove to pick up a woman for a Saturday-night date, I realized that I might as well be going out that night with Keillor, who writes and performs in radio skits with beloved characters like "Guy Noir, Private Eye," or tells tales from the fictional "Lake Wobegon." He hawks Powder Milk Biscuits and introduces live folk, bluegrass, blues and other musical acts that commercial radio stations rarely, if ever, play these days.
This is "old timey" radio with a Midwestern accent and a big-city cosmopolitan sophistication. PHC has been on the air since 1974, and boasts 4 million listeners on more than 500 radio stations worldwide, according to its Web site.
Sometimes, I leave it on during the date, even though I frequently cede control of the car radio to my guest. It's usually on in the background because car time is when the conversation starts.
These days, I also have Sirius satellite radio in my car, which offers a potential for background music in just about any genre, as well as a host of entertainment, news, sports, traffic and weather programming from around the world. Perhaps the way to the next girl's heart will be by playing Radio Korea and traffic reports from Los Angeles.
Luckily, I've only had a few dates where I would have preferred the company of the radio to the conversation (or lack thereof). A date is definitely on the rocks when you're more interested in listening to the radio than getting to know the person seated next to you.
Back to Johnny: A January 1970 Life magazine profile of Carson estimated his ratings stranglehold on late-night television to be 10 million. The fact that people fall asleep with the TV on caused the "bed" comment.
Thus, I wanted to pose my hypothesis to Keillor himself. What did he think about going on dates with millions of Americans? Did he realize that he was my "wingman"?
His scheduling assistant actually chuckled at the premise for my interview, and in our two conversations said she would determine whether he would be available. She never got back to me on either occasion, but said during our second phone call that he was just too busy working on manuscripts, a book introduction, writing for the show and doing other interviews.
Sounds like some of the lines I've heard from women. I guess I have really had dates with Garrison Keillor.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.