Oh, hear that process server, from down the avenue

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In a case somewhat reminiscent of the Tulsa Whirled's threats against this blog,
attorneys representing humorist Garrison Keillor have sent a cease-and-desist letter to MNspeak.com over the sale of T-shirts bearing the phrase "A Prairie Ho Companion". MNspeak.com says the T-shirts are parody and therefore covered under fair use. Keillor's attorneys are claiming a "likelihood of confusion." (Link via Mister Snitch!)

(What is the difference between a humorist and a comedian, you ask? A comedian makes you laugh out loud. A humorist evokes a wry, knowing chuckle.)

I used to be a fan of Mr. Keillor's. No, Garrison Keillor was my idol. When he announced his retirement in 1987, I spent the rest of the spring arranging my schedule around taping each week's episode of "A Prairie Home Companion." When I went to Duluth, Minnesota that summer for a wedding, I drove through Anoka, his hometown, and Milaca, a town that that was one of the inspirations for Lake Wobegon. I loved the weekly radio serial -- Buster, the Show Dog -- the parody commercials, and the news from Lake Wobegon. I have most of his books and several tape collections of Lake Wobegon stories. Just as Keillor was inspired to create PHC by a visit to the Grand Ole Opry, I fantasized about hosting my own PHC-like radio show, live every week from Cain's Ballroom, opening with an appropriate bit of Western Swing. (Note to self: Enough already. You're cringing with embarrasment.)

During the original run of PHC, Keillor's tone reflected an affection for small-town life and simple faith. Politics was far in the background, except for a brief lament following Walter Mondale's 1984 landslide defeat. Back in the day, there were articles written about Keillor as a kind of proto-evangelist -- not directly sharing the gospel, but laying the groundwork.

Keillor deserves credit for bringing some great musicians to a wider audience: Johnny Gimble, Chet Atkins, Butch Thompson, and Riders in the Sky, to name a few. Bob and Ray were guests on the show, and Bob Elliott was a regular on the New York-based follow-on series, "American Radio Company". His CD collection of Pretty Good Jokes is responsible for my son, at age 4, telling complete strangers the joke about how many insurance salesmen it takes to screw in a light bulb.

At some point, Keillor stopped gently tweaking the insufferably pompous and became insufferably pompous himself. Where he had once injected politics into his stories in only the most subtle ways, he now delivered ham-handed harangues. I can't tell you how long it's been since I tuned in to PHC -- ten years?

The mention of ham-handedness brings us back to the topic at hand. The proprietor of MNspeak.com politely pointed out to Keillor's attorneys that pursuing this lawsuit would make Keillor the object of riducule throughout the blogosphere. Nevertheless, Keillor persisted. So far the story has shown up on InstaPundit and plenty of other places. Prof. Reynolds' quick putdown: "I never thought Keillor had much of a sense of humor."

I've recommended that MNspeak.com get in touch with the Media Bloggers Association for advice. Ron Coleman, the MBA's counsel, wrote a letter on my behalf that persuaded the Tulsa Whirled to back off. (Alas, Coleman's blog on intellectual property matters, Likelihood of Confusion, is offline. Looks like he may be in the midst of a conversion from Movable Type to Word Press.) (UPDATE: Ron's back up.)


Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

"Back in the day" I only liked to listen to Keillor for the music. I would turn it over there, if they were playing music, I left it there. If Keillor was jibber jabbing, I kept moving.

Mr. Snitch! said:

Couldn't agree more on Keillor, a man who lost his way. And the similarities between what he's doing and your lawsuit situation are legitimate. If you want to follow that thread of thought, the NY Times, as you know, just put their more popular columnists behind a paid firewall. (It's not a lawsuit, I know - I'm referring to a thread of unsustainable thinking based on backwards-looking business models. Now - watch what happens when we follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion. (I haven't seen these links on your site - please do delete this comment if they've appeared here and I missed them. But do not miss seeing that last link!)

Ron Coleman said:

Hi, Michael. Yeah, we had a little technical burp there. Kind of rebuilding the blog from the ground up! Thanks for the link, as usual. Keep up the good work!

Ron, rebuilding from the ground up is good to do once in a while. I like the new look.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 15, 2005 8:35 AM.

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