Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel: "Curiosity did not kill this cat"

That's what he once proposed for his epitaph. He got a start working in a writers project for the Works Progress Administration, worked for years in Chicago television (where he got himself blacklisted over his politics), shook off the blacklist after years of scraping by to make new beginning in radio, and reinvented himself as an author when he was closing in on 60.

There's an odd sort of symmetry, I suppose, to the idea that one old-school Chicago activist should go out the weekend before another former Chicago activist--although by then they were called "community organizers"--is poised to become the next president.

And there's an irony to the fact that the 96-year-old Terkel, who made his long living with several job titles but really, always and only, at listening, should have been nearly deaf by the time of his death.

Doesn't matter. He listened better on a bad day than most folks do on their best day. His radio interviews would be unrecognizable as such to fans of today's "talk shows," death matches where angry people shout over the top of one another and the host kills the mike of anyone who slips off the leash of approved talking points.

The YouTube archive is full of people interviewing Studs, but precious little of him on the other side of the table. Let's make do with a brief clip of him explaining to William F. Buckley, Jr. why a truck driver gets twenty bucks an hour:

My favorite Studs Terkel book is Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.

1 comment:

Chuck Butcher said...

Studs' greatest talent was his ability to get people to tell their stories, themselves. His role was to bring it out, not shape it other than organization. I'm sorry we'll have no more from him, but glad we have his body of work.