I was sitting in the basement of the Illini Union an hour ago and opened my copy of the Chicago Sun-Times to an actual Roger Ebert article (a rarity during his long recovery.)
It’s Studs Terkel’s ninety-fifth birthday today.
I have to spend some time this afternoon raving about this man–the person whose writing, whose insight, I have grown to love over the past thirty years. Although I am growing into my father’s son in so many ways, I wish instead to become like Studs when I finally become the man that I want to be.
I was working in a factory when another hippy handed me a copy of Working: What People Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. I was hooked instantly. Studs had an amazing ability to encourage people–the famous and the simple–to tell their stories to an old man with a reel-to-reel tape recorder. He just set it down in front of them and distracted them from its operation with a few select questions and we were off in a study of the American heart and soul.
I have learned from him on every page. From Working I learned that the measure of success did not lie in one’s salary or influence, but with a deep-seated sense of satisfaction in a job well done. From Hard Times I finally understood the quirks of my grandmother and so many others who had been young parents during the 1930s. Race made me realize that I was treating black and disabled people as invisible. After I changed my paradigm in that respect I began getting smiles and surprised looks from people that I encountered in daily life that had grown enured to being unnoticed except as part of the background.
He has always been an unapologetic radical–a major Red, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He’s still going on in that manner–in 2006, he was part of a class-action suit against ATT for turning over phone records to the NSA. (He lost in District Court.) I find it fascinating that he went to all the trouble to get a Law Degree from the University of Chicago, but instead decided to use the mechanisms of print (and later radio and television) media to bring about social change, rather than get involved in government himself. Hmm. Perhaps there are others out there who could benefit from this example? (I believe that I loaned one of his oral history books to Augur as a matter of fact–How you doing on that, bro?)
I’ll give you an example of how this man, deaf as a post, and at the ripe old age of 94, completely dominates an interview with someone who is well-known for maintaining control over his show. Even after all this time, I cannot watch this clip without falling off my chair laughing.
Every day he stays with us, the world is a slightly brighter place. Happy birthday, Studs, and may you have as many more as you wish.