Saturday, November 01, 2008

What Studs Terkel Meant to Me

I would love to be able to profess a greater familiarity with Studs Terkel than is actually the case. I have been exposed to him to the degree that probably most people have - I have picked up his work from time to time, enjoyed it, and moved on. I never bothered to make a considered study of the man during the portion of his life that overlapped mine. Now, he is gone. I have no easy explanation for the effect that hearing of his death had on me. Studs Terkel was, I now know, an important part of my life.

It was Hunter S. Thompson who made me want to write to begin with. But the Good Doctor made me want to write about a life that never existed; a parody of a bent and dangerous ethos that in reality I left behind long ago, and which was mostly an act to begin with.

Studs Terkel made me want to live life and copy it down as best I could. He reminded me that in the details of my small and meager existence there is monumental truth and joy that passes through me and into the lives of everyone arund me, weaving us all into the great web of history that sustains the human experiment against the howling winds of evolutionary oblivion.

Studs Terkel made me proud to be myself. For that I will remember him until I, too, have gone from this life. I hope that by then someone can say the same of me.


Uncle Kevin said...

Seeing his obituary took me back to my college days. There was a broadway musical produced out of some of his writings. It was called "Working". My roomate had a unique connection to music and broadway musicals and introduced me to the album made from the broadway production. I played it alot over the years, but it fell out of my normal "rotation" with the advent of CD's and the loss of much of my vinyl collection. But there is a line from one of the songs (written by James Taylor actually) that goes;


I worked in a factory during college. It was union work, 12 hour days on second shift. Good pay for a college student. A great way to make fast money over a summer. I worked with people who were doing anything but. They called me "college boy" and it wasn't a compliment. There was a woman I'll never forget who had been working there 23 years. I was 20 at the time. During breaks she had a "thousand mile stare". She worked the assembly line on one of the fastest and most difficult lines we had. It was mindless work, for 12 hours a day. That song, and that line were written about her. Studs gave voice to people who had long ago lost theirs. There are worst ways to spend a life.


I know exactly what you mean- I always felt an affinity to Studs too, though I've haven't read as much of his work as I should have. Maybe it's because I live in Chicago, and Studs always seemed such a perfect personification of this city we both love, in all of it's beautiful roughness and simple,hardscrabble glory.

You should check out this interview on NPR with longtime Studs friend Scott Simon. I especially love the line at the end: "Everybody's got their story, just let 'em sing, Pallie, let 'em sing!"