Sunday, November 2, 2008

Studs Terkel, RIP

We will all miss Studs. I wanted to share these memories of Studs with you.

When I was writing "Merchant of Power," Studs not only consented to an interview (he had seen Insull and his mother lost $2,000 in Insull stock), he read the book and wrote a blurb for it. Keep in mind that this was during a period in which he fell and broke his neck, wrestled with a home invader and had started work on his memoirs --in his 10th decade no less.

Yet when I was coming back from a Florida vacation about two years ago, I got this call on my cellphone. It was Studs, who by that time hadn't quite gotten an adequate hearing appliance and probably couldn't hear me.

"John, I thought your book was terrific. I'm going to write something about it." Well, to hear this from anyone (it was my first biography) was always welcome, but from Studs Terkel, it was like a papal pronouncement. I certainly didn't expect him to get to it, nor did I expect his generous cover quote.

I had met Studs some 30 years earlier when his "Working" was just made into a Broadway musical. I had a bet with a friend that it wouldn't do well, mostly because I didn't think the Broadway crowd nor the NY critics would truly "get it." It flopped and I talked with Studs after a lecture in Park Forest.

"Studs, I had a feeling your musical wouldn't do well because I don't think New Yorkers were attuned to the message," I told him at the time. "You know, I think you're right." he replied.

As Studs wrote his last books, I noticed that friends were beginning to be profiled. Like many of the folks Studs talked to, they were unheralded saints. Then I thought to myself, we need 100 or 1000 Studs Terkels to give voices to people who need to be heard.

Studs was not only the poet of the tape recorder, but the p.a. system for the voiceless.

Such changes he has seen and personally participated in during almost a century of life! I know he was thrilled at Obama's candidacy.

I've always regarded Studs as a national institution, serving everyone as a bard, illuminator of the human condition and just plain great storyteller. He seemed to embrace everyone with his bon homie, wit, puckish view of the world and his magnificent intelligence and memory. When I grow up -- and hope I never truly do -- Studs is my model for creative aging. Write to the end. Don't let the story stop when you do. Agitate for change by telling stories that few hear.

We should honor him and his work and abide by one of his favorite maxims: "Take it easy, but whatever you do, take it!"

No comments: