The Transom Review

Volume 1/Issue 10

Studs Terkel

August 1st, 2001 | (Edited by Sydney Lewis)
Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel

Interviewing the World’s Greatest Interviewer

 

 

 

 

  • Studs Terkel’s “Born to Live”
  • Studs Terkel on Transom Talk
  • About Studs Terkel
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    A Word From Jay Allison

    07.03.01
    We now have a chance to interview Studs Terkel.

    This is rare, needless to say. You can post your questions here and twice this month they’ll be gathered by Sydney Lewis who will take them to Studs. He’ll answer anything he wants to. Sydney will record his answers and we’ll transcribe and post here, just as we did for his manifesto.

    Here, by the way, are some email notes Syd sent last month before she interviewed Studs. She gave me permission to post them.

    The thing is, and I’m probably repeating myself to you, the guy is a natural teacher. I say this all the time. He doesn’t think of himself that way, he doesn’t “lecture and point”, but if you’re listening, you can’t help being taught. Younger oral historians and broadcast folk regularly ask him such questions as the “how to be a good interviewer” one, and he gives a brief answer, usually about what makes HIM a good interviewer. But just listen to him tell a story about an interviewing situation and think about what he’s saying and you’ll get the point: there’s no one, two, three step. It’s a state of being, it’s a way of attending to, attentioning another person. I’ve been interviewed by him for a book as well as on the radio. The former is an almost mystical experience, the latter, somewhat like a great amusement ride for the mind.

    Inquiring Minds

    The Glorious Fourth
    Carol Wasserman 07.04.01

    I was awake in the early hours this morning, excited to hear – finally – the audio version of Studs Terkel’s conversation with Sydney. I had been assigned the job of typing up and lightly editing a transcribed copy of the text. As a result, I was pretty familiar with the document but had not had an opportunity to HEAR it. It was as if I had memorized Hamlet out of a textbook, but had never actually been to the theater. So I was doing all the voices in my head.

    Then, at about three o’clock, with the sound of bottle rockets and whizzers going off all up and down the street, I was able to experience Studs’ familiar words in a hair-raisingly different way.

    Having these two things posted simultaneously – the audio and the text – provides us with the plainest possible example of what Studs means when he talks about the power of the voice. A transcript isn’t remotely capable of carrying the weight of his remarkable delivery, his theatricality.

    It’s like writing to you about the fireworks, and typing out “Boom”.

    Creating Context
    Jackson Braider 07.04.01

    As a writer (or producer) you created the context for many of the elements included in your pieces. What are your thoughts about your role as the creator of the context – not just in this case, but, more generally, as an interviewer?

    Time Constraints
    cw 07.10.01

    My question to Mr. Terkel is: did you ever have to work under time constraints that made you feel as if you had not done justice to a certain story or person you had interviewed? And, if so, did you publish/air those pieces anyway?

    Artificial Differences
    Nannette 07.06.01

    I’m trying to find the words for my gratitude. By publishing Working in 1974, Studs bridged the artificial differences between academia, journalism, skill, knowledge and every kind of wisdom.

    Revising and Rethinking
    Tony Kahn 07.07.01

    When we met in Chicago about eight years ago (you were kind enough to record some promos for my series “Blacklisted” and then host me to lunch) you were on the verge, thanks to a grant, of going back through your radio archives to see what kind of gold you might remint from all that terrific stuff. Since then I’ve heard a compilation of about six tapes spanning the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. What next? And what was the experience of re-hearing yourself like? Given the incredible flow of new material you keep producing, how do you build in the time to rethink, maybe revise, the life-long mission you’ve been on of helping America hear herself?

    Is This Stuff Journalism?
    Jonathan Menjivar

    I first came to your work through a class. It wasn’t even my class. A friend had a copy of The Good War that she was reading for an American Studies class and I thumbed through it.
    What hit me then and still rattles me to this day is the way in which your work functions as so many different types of work at the same time. My stuffy professors felt comfortable considering it academic and yet I felt like I was just listening in on a conversation. And I had to wonder, is this stuff journalism? Scholarship? Front porch wisdom? Whatever it was, I knew instantly that it was more compelling and honest and real than anything coming out of those genres.

    So the question is, how do you see your work? Have you made a conscious decision to break down the walls between different genres of writing? What’s deliberate and what’s just a happy accident? Is labeling what you do not really a concern? Have other people ever labeled what you do in a way that you felt limited what it’s about?

    The Oral History of Oral History
    Joe Richman 07.08.01

    I wonder what are your thoughts on the term ‘oral history’. I guess you’ve seen those words, their meaning, and their influence change so much over the years. We could start a nice oral history on oral history right here.

    One more thing. I thought I should point out that the interviewer here, Sydney Lewis, is also a great oral historian. She put out a book on teenagers a few years back that I treasure.

    A Nation of Bullies
    cw 07.10..01

    The other day I was walking into a grocery store and an older man came up to me very meekly and said, “Would you sign my petition about bullying?” I was in a hurry and I brushed him off. Not until I was inside the store did I hear/comprehend his question and feel the effort it took him to approach me in the first place. Then I felt as if I had rebuffed/bullied him and went back out and signed the petition and talked awhile to make amends.

    I am interested to hear more about what Mr. Terkel has to say about how we have become a nation of bullies and what radio has the obligation to say/do about that. If the idea that bullying is the key to success in business, the world, don’t let them stomp all over you, get them before they get you etc., how do you get people to HEAR what you present? If bullying is key to survival for however many more years in American culture (or people perceive it is), how would you frame the discussion?

    Would you leave it unframed and let the bullied people’s voices be heard addressing their bulliers and let nature take its course?

    The Source of Your Energy
    Phil Easley 07.10.01

    Studs, I wonder where you get your energy? I have a theory that non-bullies have more energy – is that it?

    Studs Terkel Responds
    07.23.01

    Well, first of all, I was deeply moved by the responses to my appearance with Sydney Lewis on the internet. You realize that I haven’t the slightest idea what the internet is. Not a semblance of an idea how it works or what. I’m just learning the typewriter, which is quite an advance for me. Nonetheless, the response indicates that you really heard me or saw me or did both, and I was moved by your comments. Carol Wasserman, of course, moved me, beginning with her editing my transcript. Sydney Lewis, whom I know, has done the transcribing for the books, as well as being my chief scout.

    Aside from transcribing, being able to make out my hieroglyphics, Sydney herself is an oral historian. One of her best books hasn’t been mentioned, the first one she did, called Hospital, which is the best study of a hospital. It’s interviews, conversations with the people connected with it. Whether it be the doctor, the trauma unit head, whether it be a hospital aide, whether it be the elevator operator, whether it be someone, a patient. It’s a real study of a village called Cook County Hospital. And there’s her other two books, of course, which indicate that Sydney’s a hell of a writer, as well as a good listener.

    Free Association: Context and Connection

    Jackson Braider asked “What are your thoughts about your role as creator of the context?” He said something prior to that that may explain it. He also asked about my putting things together, seemingly unrelated.

    Did those who are corresponding, answering me, hear or see the script of Born To Live? Born To Live is the documentary that free associates. It’s – how can I explain? It was what I guess you’d call Joycean in nature. Stream of consciousness. It dealt with the human voice. A phrase that’s seemingly unrelated to someone else connects to that someone else. And how can I explain that? For example, right now I’m thinking of a book – it’s just germinating. I thought of an interview I did with Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s first wife, who was the one who really taught him the amenities and everything. She was his real teacher and guide and mentor when he first came to Chicago from New Orleans as a young trumpeter. And she, by the way, was a very literate person. Anyway, at the end of our interview she bangs away at a Chopin polonaise, just horsing around.

    Well that Chopin polonaise reminds me I once interviewed a great American classical pianist named Garrick Ohlsson. He won the first Chopin award in 1970, the first American to win it in Warsaw. And since then he’s been quite remarkable. And he’s banging away at Chopin, only not. He’s interpreting Chopin. I thought to myself, why not connect the two? Seemingly unrelated. Here’s out of New Orleans and Chicago Lil Hardin Armstrong, who died twenty-five years ago. Here’s this young American pianist. And the one thing they have in common is a love of Chopin. And somehow, the human voice – in this case, the human instrument, the instrument really played by humans – is the connecting link.

    I love to connect seemingly unconnected phenomena. Whether it be a human being, whether it be an instrument, whether it be something else. And I love that connection. I suppose the word is connection, the Important Thing.

    Time Constraints

    cw asked if I’m constrained by time, as many are. No, I don’t have that misfortune.

    I first broke into WFMT for the run of forty-five years, in 1952. You remember, it’s a little brand new station. Then it became worldwide, world renowned for its taste in music and the spoken word. Bernie Jacobs, the founder of the station said to me, “The hour is yours. Whatever you want. I don’t care what you do, it’s your hour. And you will never, ever, do a commercial for me.” And he spoiled me.

    “Under no circumstances will I ask you to do a commercial.”

    So he had me free for that hour to do anything I wanted. And that allowed me to explore then, as no one in radio – commercial radio – would ever be allowed to do. Or for that matter, in public radio to some extent. So I was fortunate in having the freedom that I had. It’s as though I was given my own garden, a piece of land to plant whatever I wanted. And in a way it was thrilling. So I’ve had this break that few have had.

    Objectivity

    When someone says, “I’m objective, I take no position,” I say, “Well, of course you do, you’ve just taken a position.” Nobody is objective! Unless you’re a robot – unless you’re a machine. And you may be that. And if you are that, then you have no point of view.

    Well, of course you have a point of view. Even a guy covering a fire, a journalist covering a fire. Well, how’d that fire get to be? What is it? From who’s viewpoint? The woman dropping her kid out, hoping the fireman’s going to catch her in that net? Who may be springing to her death? Or the fireman who’s risking his life and going through the smoke and all that? Or the absentee landlord? Through whose point of view is it seen? And then we say no point of view?

    James Cameron vs. The Official Point of View

    Have I mentioned the name of James Cameron? Some people ask me who is the writer I most admire. I can tell you the journalist I most admire. He was an Englishman named James Cameron. Not the James Cameron who directed “Titanic” – a wholly different animal.

    James Cameron, whom I knew, was the highest paid, most celebrated correspondent of British journalism during the forties and fifties. But he was on his own, he was independent. He was fired from one job. He was exposing things. And he said, “Of course I have a point of view.” A lot of journalists were furious with him because he was one of the founders of the CND, the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament in England. And he was one of the lead marchers. He, along with Bertrand Russell, helped define it. Now how could the most celebrated journalist in Britain, where he was at the time, actually step out and be a founder for The Committee for Nuclear Disarmament? He was taking a definite point of view, along with known pacifists like the Dean of Canterbury, known as the Red Dean. And Bertrand Russell.

    There was Jimmy Cameron. He said, “Of course I have a point of view! Everyone does.”

    I’ll paraphrase what he said. Oh, his language was so beautiful. He said, “If anyone says he has no point of view and covers news, as he says, ‘objectively’, he deprives the public of true journalism. The very fact that you breathe tells me you have a point of view. In fact, the air you breathe is political.” It is literally so today. We talk about pollution. You have to be as balanced as you can. By all means, you offer all details, all the facts, as they are. You must not write from a slanted point of view.

    But you do have a point of view. He had one during the war. I suggest you find a book called Point Of Departure by James Cameron. It’s available somewhere in paperback. It’s one of the best pieces of writing that you’ve ever read anywhere. It’s sort of memoiristic, through essays from different places he’s been in the world. I met him when he first returned from North Vietnam. He was the first Western journalist to visit and speak with Ho Chi Minh during the bombings there – the very first. Of course Ho Chi Minh knew him, they all knew Cameron. His stories are wonderful. They’re funny and they’re brilliant, and incisive.

    When he came back to the United States he was clobbered. He wrote a book called This Is Our Enemy, and in this book he described the North Vietnamese people as – guess what? Like us. He said they’re human and they have frailties and they have nobility. He said there are jerks among them, there are others among them, wonderful people. Very much like us, he said. Guess what? He was called a conduit for Ho Chi Minh. He was clobbered, especially by some of the liberal journalists on CBS. Eric Sevareid and Morley Safer among them.

    They clobbered him. And that’s when I met him. I said, “That’s a wonderful book.” We became friends and spent many weeks together here in Chicago at the ’68 Convention. His coverage was funny and brilliant. And Cameron’s point of view is, very simply, that they were human. That was his point of view in covering the war. And think of the guys that we had with no point of view covering the war. Which is how you got the official point of view. How often was Henry Kissinger quoted as the official, as the truthful stuff. “A reliable source upstairs,” this Henry Kissinger. You realize that Christopher Hitchins has written a fantastic, incisive book about the war criminality of Kissinger. He brought that up because of Pinochet and others, of course.

    And so that’s the matter of point of view. Do I have a point of view? You bet I do. And do I want to get the facts right and straight? You bet I do. And that’s it.

    The Book And The Street

    Nannette wrote about bridging artificial differences.

    Well, of course. It’s all one. I guess it’s a question of I call upon the book as well as the street. Or the street as well as the book. Of course. When I say ‘street knowledge’ that’s only half of it. Of course the book knowledge is important. Of course books, no matter what. No matter what.

    Blue Books

    There used to be nickel Blue Books, they were called. And they were a nickel. E. Haldeman Julius was the publisher, from Girard, Kansas. He sold books for nickels and dimes, in the various left magazines of the old days. The Guardian, and all the old magazines. This is turn of the century, pre-World War I. You could buy twenty of them for a dollar. And it’s Darwin On The Origin Of Species. It’s Melville. It’s Shakespeare. For a nickel or a dime you had all this stuff.

    You had everything. Mark Twain, of course. Clarence Darrow on immortality. And in those days, by the way, working men – I’m not romanticizing them now – but the great many men who worked with their hands read on occasion. It’s pre-TV, pre-radio in many cases. Certainly pre-TV. And there was something: respect for the book. But there was also no ivory tower stuff. There was also the street.

    I did attend the University of Chicago Law School. Bleak years they were, as I’ve said before. And the hotel I lived in played a role.

    The lobby of that hotel was really my university as well. And there I heard men arguing. Actually they were old time Wobblies, IWW guys. That’s what they were called in those days, IWW – “I Won’t Work”. Their title was the Industrial Workers of the World. And the goal was one big union; of course that was the dream. And they were, in their own way, educated.

    There were arguments pro – we had a number of scabs up there. The company men who were called Scissor Bills. That was a Wobbly name. A guy said Scissor Bills were capitalists with holes in their pockets, you know. They ripped each other. There were arguments. They were drunk.

    But there was argument, there was debate. Instead of silence and couch potato-ism as is so much the case today. So all was related. Journalism and the world of academia. All were one. And I liked the idea of fusing them all. Just in the way that disk jockey program I did called Wax Museum had opera and jazz and show tunes and turn of the century gay-nineties song. Anything. It had Brazilian Portuguese Faro songs and Spanish Flamenco, as well as some of the African anthems. It had everything. Even lieder. I liked them all. And I liked that combination.

    In a sense that program was almost a metaphor for the way I work in print.

    My Life, The Sweet Honey in The Rock

    Tony Kahn reminded me he did a series called Blacklisted. And I’m something of an authority on that. [chuckle]

    By the way, I shouldn’t say this – or maybe I should. Were I not blacklisted, I wouldn’t have done what I’m doing today. Now, I’m not suggesting to be blacklisted as a good career move. I should tell you that my background in TV was in the early days, the pioneer, frontier days. At that time TV was limited to six to ten at night. I’m talking about 1949, 1950. And it wasn’t quite the sales medium it is today. We were adventurous because there was nothing at stake. So it was in the hands of the creative spirits; the writer, the director, the performer.

    There were three programs that came out of Chicago. Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, was the best. For those of you who may not know, too young, it was a puppet show. And a man named Burr Tillstrom was a genius. He had little hand puppets, little rags in his hands. He made them come alive, called them the Kuklapolitan Players. And you believed these were people actually. You didn’t see him till the end. There was one human face; that was his colleague, the singer and actress Fran Allison. She would talk to these little puppets, Kukla and Ollie and Beulah the Witch, as though they were real.

    I once had a delightful experience when Burr Tillstrom was helping me out. I was blacklisted, and he said he’d appear on one of my programs, Studs Place. I had an audience of about twelve and a half people.

    And he said he’d be on it. So I actually talked and worked with the puppets. One was a woman named Madame Oglepuss. I said, “Madame Ogle…” He had a little piece of cloth on his hand, and he’d put a little piece of cotton in it and it’d have big breasts, you know. And then he had the voice. Madame Oglepuss was sort of the matron of the arts, of the community. “Oh yes, dear boy, darling boy. Studs, you love opera…” And I actually thought she was real, though I was two feet away from her. These little rag things, in the hands of Burr Tillstrom. She was real.

    The second program was Garroway at Large. Dave Garroway had been a radio disk jockey, as I was at the time. And he had a certain easy quality. He had this program, which was a variety show, he was in charge of it. He recognized TV as a new medium. So a chair could fall, you’d see the sound man, you’d see the cameraman, and it was a natural thing. Later on, he became the very first face ever, ever seen on daytime television. He was the first host of something new, daytime, called The Today Show. The very first host. The sales manager of NBC who thought of it was named Pat Weaver, which means nothing to young people unless I say he’s the father of Sigourney Weaver. Then they know.

    In any event, there was Garroway at Large, and Kukla, Fran, and Ollie. The third show from Chicago was the one I was involved with – Studs’ Place – with three colleagues who were quite wonderful.

    [editors note] For video clips of “Studs Place” and other Studs Terkel moments, go to CNN.com: A Chicago legend steps aside

    An actress named Beverly Younger played the role of Gracie the Waitress, who revolutionized the idea of a waitress. Until then, the waitress was stereotyped, gum-chewing, Brooklynese. Beverly had been an actress in stock companies, traveling week to week, legitimate stock companies. She was a soap opera queen as well. And during her stock days she didn’t eat in fancy hotels, she ate in diners. So there was the waitress. Someone, a mother, a woman, maybe married, maybe not. And she learned from them. Beverly made up the lines she said on the show. We all did. We’d have a small plot.

    Win Stracke, my friend who was a lieder singer, sang labor songs. He and I were blacklisted together so we called ourselves “The Chicago Two.”

    And there was Chet Roble, a horsy, bluesy piano player, who was wonderful. He had a language of his own we called Robleasian.

    Well, this place, Studs’ Place, people thought was real. They thought it was an actual place. It wasn’t, but it was our words. And it was pretty hot at the time. Then the Cold War came along, and Korea. This was 1950, ’51, ’52. And I was bounced, because I signed all these petitions. I think I said this last time, didn’t I? That I never met a petition I didn’t like?

    So I signed them all. And, “Would I take it back?” No, I wouldn’t take it back. “Can’t I say I was duped?” No, I wasn’t duped. And people to this day think I was a hero. I wasn’t. I was scared. If you’ll forgive me – I was scared shitless. But my ego was at stake. I’m not dumb. They wanted me to say I was duped, but I wasn’t. And so, that’s how it came about.

    Sydney Lewis:
    So blacklisting was kind of this rock in the river there that changed your course.

    Studs:
    My life. The sweet honey in the rock.

    A Nearsighted Dishwasher

    So Tony Kahn was looking at some of the compilations of old programs and he asked what was the experience of rehearing myself like? Well, that’s one that always comes up. That is, it comes up to me, in my mind. Could I have done better? Of course. The question is do I revise, would I like to revise? Yes, of course! But that’s not it. It’s what happened at that moment, that’s what it is. It’s different from doing a book, see.

    In doing a book I want it to be exactly right, see. I want what happened at that moment. For example, a good case in point: Talking to Myself, my memoir. It’s called an oral memoir of my time. Oral memoir. I actually did talk into the tape recorder. And I wrote too. It was a combination of a number of things. It wasn’t just talking into the tape recorder.

    I included old pieces I’d written. I once wrote a Christmas story, based on an actual event at the Wells Grand Hotel. And it’s funny, wistful. It’s about this old dishwasher who’s nearsighted, you know. He’s a goof ball, but he carries the Scripture, he reads these wild passages from Scripture, a Welshman. And this Greek restaurant owner comes in with this pretty girl, it’s the Depression, and sure enough, he goes upstairs to the room with her, you know. And then the guy comes down the stairs. Apparently they hadn’t gone into the room yet, and something happens in the lobby, and she winds up with the dishwasher. It’s a story I like very much. Based upon people I’ve known. Well, I put that in the book, too.

    See, this is a good way of anticipating another question then about journalism and everything. And oral history. I am none of these. Am I a journalist? Ah, no. I call it guerrilla journalism.

    Oral History and Guerrilla Journalism

    I was a guerrilla journalist when I did the first book, the first oral history, Division Street America. Meaning I knew my terrain.

    A guerrilla journalist is like a guerrilla fighter. We know the American Colonials were guerrilla fighters against the Redcoats; they knew the terrain. Marian, the Swamp Fox. We know the history. We know that the Vietnamese were guerrilla fighters. And we were the Redcoats there, quite frankly. And so I’m a guerrilla journalist in that sense.

    But, at the same time, I wrote a column about jazz for a year, for the Chicago Sun-Times. I reviewed records. It was called “The Hot Plate.” Jazz records, and blues, and show tunes. It was a terrible column. I know because I’ve read them again – an old friend of mine who goes to the Chicago Public Library looks through all the microfilms and sends me stuff. They were pretty awful. They were slick and facile. In any event, I did do that. And now and then an op ed. But I was never a journalist.

    As far as being an oral historian – oral yes, I talk a great deal. But being a historian involves scholarship. Oral history is something else.

    Griots, Transvestites, and Neo-Cartesians

    Oral history is the oldest form of communication there is. Long before the medieval monks used quill to put down stuff in Latin on parchment, early writings, long before that, around fires were shaman, were medicine men, were all kinds of seers. And they were the oral historians. When Alex Haley wrote the book Roots, one of the first things he did was to go to West Africa, to Gambia, the land of his forebears, to meet the griots. Storytellers. Generation to generation. And we know this among Native Americans. Same thing. Among peoples everywhere. The story. Word of mouth. The man around the fire, telling the story. The transvestite, the medicine man, the others. Storytellers. And so then came the printing press. The stories preceded Guttenburg. And then came writings of all sorts.

    One of the men I most admire, Henry Mayhew, was a contemporary of Charles Dickens. Some say Dickens modeled Micawber after him. There’s a book called London’s Labor and London’s Poor. He revolutionized things, Henry Mayhew. The papers, the English papers, the respectables, knew nothing about the hawker outside, or the chimney sweep, or the chambermaid. The upstairs didn’t know what the downstairs was doing. And these people were like children, well-behaved children. Seen but not heard. And he starts to interview these people: the needleworkers, and the chimney sweeps, the sewer workers. And all of a sudden people read these. He had a slew of people working with him. I work alone. But nonetheless, he did this. There was no typewriter. I mean there were no tape recorders or anything. And he did this, for the London papers, Birmingham papers, and Manchester papers. It was astonishing, because everybody could read: Oh, that’s what they think.

    Well, I follow that written tradition. The one difference is I have a tape recorder. And though I inveigh against technology, runaway technology, here I am. I use the radio, I’m talking right now into a mic, and I use the tape recorder.

    Have I mentioned the connection between Richard Nixon and myself? Well, you see, I am enamored of the tape recorder. Obviously. I’m enthralled by the tape recorder, as was only one other American – and that was Richard Nixon. And I say Nixon and I are neo-Cartesians. I tape, therefore I am. I hope our purposes are somewhat different, though.

    This is by way of telling you what I am not. Not a journalist, nor a historian. Oral historian, possibly.

    A Two-Legged Whatnot

    But what I really am is a whatnot. You know what a whatnot is? It’s a piece of furniture. Look it up in the dictionary. It’s a piece of furniture in which you put anything. Old letters you’ve saved, or notes you’ve written, or stuff people have sent you, or pieces of newspaper articles you cut out. Anything. Diaries. It’s a whatnot.

    And that’s what I am, a two-legged whatnot.

    So What is This Stuff?

    Jonathan Menjivar asked a question I think I’ve sort of answered. He asked is this stuff journalism? The answer is no. Is this stuff scholarship? Certainly not. Front porch wisdom? No. Back porch. He said “Whatever it was, I knew instantly it is more compelling and honest….” Well, thank you. There’s no label.

    He also asked if I am limited by labels. Yeah, well, they label you. And a label is one thing I don’t want. For example, let’s take the word liberal or conservative for the moment. Both words have been so misused. So I decided to call myself a radical conservative.

    Think about it.

    Getting to the root of things. That means radical, literally. Ah, conservative? You bet. I want to conserve the blue of the sky, the purity of the water, the greenness of the forest, the unpolluted air. And I’d like to preserve the First Amendment, Bill of Rights, and whatever sanity we have left. So I’m a conservative in that sense.

    But there is no label. These labels, liberal and conservative, are utterly misused. And so I think whatnot is my favorite description of myself.

    Bullies

    Oh, this is one about bullies. Now, cw is Carol Wasserman? No, I think it’s somebody else. Well, cw writes about an older man who approached him or her. Said, “Would you sign my petition about bullying?” And cw walked away and then later on realized he/she was a bully here, and then the whole subject of bullying.

    Are we taught to be bullies? Think of Columbine and the kids going berserk there. Well, who were those kids who did it? They were kids who were put upon. They were kids who were called nerds. “Is bullying key to survival for however many more years in American culture?” Yeah. “How would you frame the discussion?” Just for the moment, these were the kids who were bullied and something exploded within them.

    But are we taught to be bullies? Well, of course we are! By the very nature of what we call the free market. My God! You get there no matter how. You know the movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen may have been exaggerated. But it was basically true. He was caricatured. But sometimes in caricature you find the truth, as in a political cartoon, for example. We’re taught from the very beginning that to be a success is to get to the top. You get to the top by climbing onto other people. No matter how you do it. We’re told this. And this is all in reference to bullying. To getting on top. In our commercials, especially with ghetto kids, they’re told to go to school – you know these TV commercials – go to school, go to school so you can compete. Compete is the word that makes for bullying. I thought the word was cooperate. I thought, “The United States of America instead of The Competitive States, you want to make it that?” But to compete means to beat someone.

    (This is free association. Now you realize I’m small Joycean.)

    I did this in the documentary Born To Live: after the opening, drums being played. And there’s a man from Ceylon talking about the drums played on a Sunday afternoon. Two drummers are banging away. I said, “They’re competing with each other, aren’t they? See which is the better.” No, no, they’re not competing. They’re playing, and finally they come together. And it works out beautifully, in unison. And suddenly the whole community feels so good on that day. So that’s precisely what I’m talking about. The kids are taught in the commercials about going to school to learn so you can beat someone else out. Well, inevitably, inexorably, it leads to bullying.

    What were we in Vietnam? Well, the bully got a black eye, didn’t he? And the he is us, isn’t it?

    Isn’t that interesting? Throughout the world, for all of our long time. The Holy Roman Empire were bullies, but were bright. They’d conquer. And then along came these people, these subversives called Christians. There was an answer to bullying two thousand and one years ago at Calvary. And here was this sect called Christians, and they were crazies, because they were saying the opposite of what the Empire was saying. The Empire was saying, “Conquest! We’re number one! We’re it.”

    And the others were saying love thy neighbor, instead of beat thy… Love thy neighbor?! Love thy enemy?!

    Well, of course that’s subversive. They put it up before the House Un-Roman Activities Committee. They were going to try the leader, this guy is up there, he’s going to be crucified. And down below, at the foot of Calvary, you’ve got the crowd watching. Well, where there’s smoke there’s fire, you know. And then a little girl or a guy, one of these raggedy ones, comes up to this young Roman soldier. And he’s a kid, from one of the regions, from Thrace or Crete or where the hell ever he’s from. Or from Anglia. And he’s got this heavy Roman hat on, he’s got acne and pimples, he’s eighteen years old. And he’s watching another crooked soldier, another guy shooting dice, crooked dice, for the robes and the sandals of the guy who’s just been executed. And this kid’s afraid of this girl who says, “Can I talk to you about loving thy neighbor?” You know. And it’s, “Oh my God, it’s the enemy.”

    And so, he’s going to be executed, and there is the wife of Pontius Pilate. He’s just a judge, he’s just a hack judge. And he’s washing his hands. His wife, who’s a good person who believes in what this group is for, says, “Why are you persecuting this good man?” And he says, “Will you stop nagging me, for Christ’s sake.” And that’s the only time Christ’s sake was ever used properly.

    In any event, that was the first attack I know of on bullying. Imperialism, of course, is naturally bullying in a governmental way.

    Two Thousand And One Years Later

    I told you about that little Roman soldier who was scared of that little girl or boy, raggedy, who whispered in the ear, “Listen, love your neighbor.” Well, in real life, in one of my books, in our time, I met a woman named Jean Gumpp.

    Jean Gumpp, who is one of the heroines in a couple of my books, was a very respected woman in a middle class suburb in Chicago, a western suburb. Catholic. Mother of ten kids. Head of the PTA. Her husband was very devout. She was also a devout Christian. One day, it’s Good Friday, she says, “Well, I think I’m going to go with some of these young kids down to this place in Holden, Missouri where there’s a missile site. I think we should do something about that. It’s Good Friday.” So she goes with these kids, and they’re able to cut through the barbed wire easily enough. A missile site is the most banal looking thing there is. It’s a little mound. It’s like a little not quite nubile breast of a kid, a little thing, you know. And so they go and they spill some of their blood on it and they pound at it with a hammer, it’s symbolic. They put up the sign, “Study War No More. Beat Your Swords Into Ploughshares, and Study War No More.” Isaiah something. They start singing songs, hymns and antiwar songs.

    They call up the military authorities. Here they are protesting. And sure enough, the army trucks come along and the commander hollers out, “Will the personnel on that missile site get off? Hands raised.”

    And so she gets off, and her hands are raised. Suddenly she realizes she’s about to sneeze. She has a cold. So she reaches into her purse to get a handkerchief. And a little kid is pointing a gun at her. Remember that young kid I told you about, in Christ’s time, at Calvary, two thousand and one years ago? That same little kid. He’s from Iowa this time, you see, or he’s from Dakota, or he’s from Arkansas. And a little kid, he’s got pimples, he’s got this soldier’s uniform on. He’s got this gun. And he’s trembling. As Jean Gumpp is the enemy, he’s terrified of Jean Gumpp. And suddenly she reaches for her purse. “Don’t you dare move!”

    She’d been told that was dangerous. She said, “Sonny, you’re old enough to be my grandchild. Listen, sonny, I gotta blow my nose. I’m sorry. I have to blow now.”

    He says, “Don’t you move!”

    “Well, shoot if you must – I’m going to blow my nose.”

    Jean has a sense of humor, of course, and she’s on the truck, sitting opposite the kid now, under arrest. “Look, sonny, I want to talk to you.”

    “Don’t you dare!”

    So you see, two thousand and one years ago, same kid and that woman. Jean Gumpp and that same kid. Now the kid’s far from a bully, he’s just a terrified kid who was taught there’s an enemy. And the enemy is anybody who challenges whatever that establishment might be.

    Bullying is the very nature of our society. We’re taught that, and so I’m glad that cw signed that petition for that person. I’m very happy she did, or he did.

    Energy

    Phil is asking where do I get the energy? He says: I have a theory that non-bullies have more energy than bullies. That’s funny. I haven’t heard of that one.

    Let me think about that. Where do I get that energy? I have no idea. Maybe my mother’s genes, perhaps. She was a tough little sparrow. I really don’t know. I think if you’re involved with something and you like the work you’re doing, there’s an energy forthcoming. Here’s an anecdote about energy:

    There are certain groups in all cities, certain lecture bureaus, or clubs. They want to hear the wise people talk. This was in Hartford, Connecticut. And it’s big, an annual event, the sages, and there were four people involved. Ah, let’s see, Gordon Parks, and Gloria Steinhem. The moderator was Pete Hamill, a journalist. I was on it, and William F. Buckley, Jr. Well, naturally, as you probably expected, Buckley and I tangled, but it was polite. It was a polite tangle. And it was very, very funny. I won’t go into it now, but it was quite funny, except for one part. He says, “Where do you get that dr-i-i-ve?”

    But my hearing is very bad. I have volume but not the clarity, so words don’t come out clearly. I say, “Where do I get the gripe? Is that it? The gripe?”

    “No, the dr-i-i-ve?”

    “The gripe? Well, you provide me with much ammunition for it, Mr. Buckley.”

    “No, where did you get the dr-i-i-ve?” His eyes rolling wildly, you know. And the tongue darting out frequently. And I was trying to answer him and keep from laughing at the same time.

    Publishing in Uncharted Territory

    I was asked whether I had not done justice to a certain story or interview because of time constraints. I haven’t had that problem of time constraints because I haven’t been in many commercial shows, not since the blacklist days I’m happy to say. I’ve had the luck of being on WFMT.

    And I haven’t had the experience of time constraints as far as publishing. The books I’ve done are at my own pace. And I should mention my publisher, André Schiffrin. Were it not for him, I wouldn’t have been doing this. He’s one of those independent publishers who became legend. He was the publisher of Pantheon Books, which was part of the umbrella of Alfred Knopf’s Random House. He had an excellent track record. His father was one of the founders of it. His father and another couple named Kurt and Helen Wolff escaped Hitler and they founded this press. Pantheon was taken over by Random House, and André was head of Pantheon. One day he was reading some stuff of mine that had been put in the magazine of the station, transcripts of broadcasts. And he liked them. He had just published a book about China written by Jan Myrdal, whose father Gunner Myrdal wrote the great book, American Dilemma, on race. His mother was a member of the Swedish group that won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was from a very distinguished family. Jan Myrdal was in China, with his wife, Gwyn Kessle, who’s a photographer. And they were studying a Chinese village and how it changed. The before and after of the Mao Revolution. How it was bound feet before, and unbound feet after. Other changes, good and bad.

    And so André called me one day. It’s the sixties, and a revolution is going on here. The civil rights revolution, cybernetics and mechanical revolutions going on. He said, “How about you doing a study of an American village. Chicago.”

    I say, “Are you out of your mind?” He speaks very softly, he speaks very gently. And so we do Division Street: America. And it’s well received by the public as well as critics.

    Three months later he says, “How about a book…” He has that soft voice, with a slight British accent – he went to Cambridge. And his soft voice says, “How about a book about the Great American Depression? The young don’t know about it.”

    I say, “Are you out of your mind?”

    And so that’s how it came to be, all of these books. And he’s responsible to a great extent for them. I write my own ticket as far as time is concerned, since it’s unchartable. For one thing, it’s uncharted territory. And so I chart my own course.

    Editing and Injustice

    I think I probably have done injustices in many cases. At the moment names don’t come to mind. I would like to have done more but sometimes, by the very nature of editing, some one had to be cut out, see. That’s one of the tough ones of the book world.

    Sydney Lewis
    You feel that it’s an injustice that you’ve cut out some of the people.

    Studs Terkel
    That’s what I mean. The injustice. As Sydney, here, knows. The toughest part.

    How do I do my work? I always say, “What’s the analogy? A gold prospector.” I hear about a certain person, one way or another. A friend tells me about it, I read an item in the papers. No one rule.

    One day, I remember, I was on the radio, ‘FMT, the subject was race, and about this community. And I got a call from a listener, very indignant. I remember her name, Jane Miller. She won’t mind because it’s a good connection here. And she was bawling me out. “You don’t live in this community. You don’t know what it’s about. You, you sound just like my mother.”

    “Your mother? What’s your mother’s phone number?”

    Her mother was wonderful. She was an elderly woman, seventy-something or other. This was about thirty years ago. Chapin was her last name. She was someone who knew Chicago and she says, “There are so many places to see and things to do, for nothing.” But she was describing Chicago, and the people, and the makeup, and war, and her son. How did I get her? Because somebody bawled me out on the radio. So I find people that way, see.

    No Rules of Thumb For Prospectors

    Another case in point, a very dramatic one: I was interviewing an Appalachian couple in Chicago in an Appalachian community. Blacks came from the South, and Appalachian people, to look for jobs in the steel mills and everything. Chicago was a city called heaven among black people in the South. In Chicago were the farm equipment plants where you could walk in off the street, so they thought.

    So there was this Appalachian community. And I’m going off for an interview, and it’s raining like hell, but fortunately a cab comes along. I get in the cab. I was wearing a heavy tape recorder then around my shoulder. It was a Uher, a German tape recorder. And this young cab driver, he looks like L’il Abner, and he says, “Are you a journalist or something?”

    I said, “Well, sort of.”

    He says, “Did you see Lord Jim?” He means the movie of the Joseph Conrad novel.

    I say, “Yeah, I did, yeah.”

    He says, “Well, that movie’s about me. See, I was a coward all my life. And that movie’s about that one moment when I became not a coward. That’s when I joined the John Birch Society.”

    “John Birch Society, no kidding,” I say. I gotta get this guy. I say, “Listen, yes I am a journalist. Here’s what I do.” I told him. So we met for the next three days.

    And you know what? It’s not the way it seems to be. The discovery I made is you can’t have a rule of thumb. There’s a paradox in people, there’s a conflict in some people. John Birch Society. “Yeah, you bet, you gotta kill those damn Reds.”

    Well, yeah, he’d just as soon die fighting the Reds. He joined them because they’re big shots. He says, “I gotta join,” and suddenly he’s part of the big shots. All his life he’s nothing. When he goes swimming with his family he’d go to overcome a fear of water. Not the joy of water, the fear of water. And so this is the same guy, joining John Birch.

    And the same guys says, “I got fired a while ago.” He was working as a prison guard in Chicago. They fired him because he fraternized with the inmates, most of whom were black.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well, what happened is, the guy says to me one day, one of the guys in the prison, he’s a black guy. He says to me, ‘What time is it?’ ‘Why, are you in a hurry – you gotta plane to catch?’ And I realize, what did I say that to him for?”

    The same guy.

    “What did I say that to him for? And I went back to apologize. And I found a very nice guy. You know, I think I trust – you don’t mind my saying this? I trust black people more than I do white people.” The same John Birch guy.

    And to top it all off, Florence Scala, one of the heroines of the city. She was the very first person in the very first book, Division Street: America, who tried to save her community. It’s a great one, the Harrison-Halsted-Jane Addams community. Tried to save the soul of the city and lost. When she ran for alderman, who do you think her biggest backer was, biggest campaigner? This guy! The John Birch. So you see, there is no rule of thumb you can judge. That’s how I interviewed him – accidental.

    Then when you’ve found them all, what do you do with it? You do the transcribing.

    The Deep Pain of Editing

    Now you become the gold prospector. First step is finding the piece of land. Remember 1849, gold discovered in California. And you find a stake. And I find the person. That’s my gold. And now he starts digging. And I start interviewing. He digs and all the tons of ore come out. And I dig and all these fifty pages come out. Oh boy, now, now comes the sifting, sifting. He’s got a hand full of gold dust. Now comes my editing.

    And that’s a key moment. Now I’m now longer the gold prospector – now I’m the brain surgeon. Now you’ve got to pick out the right things exactly. What do you edit? What do you keep in or out? The words are the words of that person, none of my words. Sometimes you switch the sequence, because there’s no one rule of thumb as to how you begin an interview. About the Depression: “What’s your first memory of the Depression?” It might be, “I hear you don’t like bananas. How come?” “Rotten.” There’s no one rule. So you may change the sequence, but never the thought. You highlight it.

    And then comes putting one against the other. Because the gold dust is still not a watch, or a necklace, or a tiara. So now you connect others, and it becomes that jewel, or that thing. And I connect all these.

    Now comes the terrible part. How can I cut out people? The people I’ve left out in all these books are just as good as the ones in it. But now you become the stage director. See, now you’ve got two good actors. But you balance that against the rest of the cast. So one of the painful things in all the books is cutting people out of it who have given you their precious time. They’ve given you their everything. Now you have to cut them out. That’s a deep pain.

    So in a sense we’re talking about being a whatnot.


80 Comments on “Studs Terkel”

  • Jay Allison says:
    Studs Terkel’s Topic

    Like most of us much younger than Studs Terkel, I came to him late. He’d had a life in radio and tv before I was born, and happily for us all, he’ll tell us something about it here.

    I came to him through “Working” and am not unusual in having been profoundly affected by that book. Oh, wait a minute… you mean you can just talk to people with a tape recorder and learn about their lives and share that experience with EVERYONE? Sounds like a life’s work to me.

    One of the ideas behind Transom.org is not just handing over the tools of public radio, but the purpose. Many of us who were around near the beginning think it’s important to keep the flame alive. We’re not regular media, or even regular journalism. We have a calling to mission and public service that exists outside the marketplace. We don’t always live up to it. But I know for a fact that many hearts still beat to the idea. And Studs Terkel reminds us of it.

    He reminds us as an interviewer and producer, yes, but more importantly, as a Listener, with a capital “L”. As our Transom crowd has noted in earlier postings…

    >“I was on my first book tour, and I went on Studs’ show… and all of a sudden everything changed. He was truly there, not half there.”
    > – Bill McKibben

    >“…he LISTENS with an energy that’s a little superhuman.”
    > – Tony Kahn

    >“What makes these interviews so compelling despite their lack of narrative or anecdotes? Every one of Studs’ people (many now long dead) seems to be right in the car with you.”
    > – Harriet Reisen

    You may notice that Studs is getting a little more space for his manifesto than usual around here. You will understand why. This is a wonderful conversation (we are in great debt to our friend Sydney Lewis who conducted it). It leaps out and surprises you. It will make you happy to be involved in radio and remind you how important it can be. A radio manifesto from the King of the True Believers.

    (NOTE: You can read and you can listen. We give you the option. Click to hear the whole conversation in RealAudio, or chapter by chapter. What a world.)

  • Studs Terkel says:
    Studs Terkel
    Studs Terkel

    Something Real
    Studs Terkel in conversation with Sydney Lewis
    6/20/01

    ListenListen to this conversation in its entirety

  • Studs Terkel says:

    The Dumbest Gangster
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    A lot of people know you from Working. That’s a book that changed people’s lives. But there are many people who don’t know that you were on the radio for close to half a century.

    Studs Terkel
    My first job, really, was in radio. I’d gone to law school, and it was a bleak, horrendous experience. Under no circumstance would I ever practice law. The first job I had in radio was as part of crowd noises. And then I had a job as a gangster, a Chicago gangster, in radio soap operas.

    Chicago was the home of more radio soap operas than New York and Hollywood put together – day-time radio soap operas. Ma Perkins, A Woman in White, Guiding Light. All the same script. Guiding Light was about a young minister; A Woman in White about a young nurse; Ma Perkins was about a wonderful, all-American lumber yard owner, a widow. And there was always the malevolent influence, the same one: three gangsters. The scripts were identical, almost, except for the locale and the names. And the actors were all same rotating group. I got a job as a gangster, the dumbest of the three. The one that said, "Get in there, you guys."
    In any event, that was the beginning.

    Then an advertising guy who somehow became my friend put me on the radio as a disc jockey, a word that wasn’t used in those days. I played records and I recorded. If Louis Armstrong was in town, I’d play a jazz record; if Callas was in town I’d play an opera or a Callas aria. That sort of thing.

    Then during the Roosevelt Administration, the third term – ’44, when he last ran, he died in ’45 – all the announcers, all the commentators were anti-Roosevelt. So this New Deal ad man put me on as a commentator. I was the only pro-Roosevelt commentator in town, once a week.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    The Cool Medium
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    Then came television. So a new life began. But that’s a long story involving blacklisting, McCarthy days, and I was out. But I heard this FM radio station, WFMT, a classical music station, appealing for funds. They were playing a Woody Guthrie record. Well, during my radio program I had played it all – it was an eclectic program: Callas and Armstrong and Woody Guthrie, too. No one played Woody except me. So I called up Rita Jacobs, the wife of the owner – she and Bernie Jacobs founded the station – and I said, "I’d like to work with you." They knew my name by that time because of the television program and stuff.

    "We’d love to have you, but we’re flat broke. That’s why I’m on the air."

    I said, "Well, I’m broke too." So we started from scratch. And had forty-five years.

    During those forty-five years, all that I had felt about radio deep, deep down became concrete: that radio, far, far more than television, appeals to the imagination of the listeners. This is one moment where Marshall McLuhan was dead wrong. McLuhan was brilliant about the medium being the message. But he spoke of TV as the cool medium. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Cool – the phrase he used – is a jazz reference. Cool jazz – say Miles Davis – being more cerebral than swing, or the early jazz of Armstrong. Whereas the opposite is the case with radio. It’s radio that appeals to the imagination.

    The word couch potato has never been used for radio. It’s for TV, which is fed to you, whole. Good example: Under Milkwood, by Dylan Thomas. You hear it, you hear the voice of Thomas as the narrator, or Richard Burton as the narrator. But then you envision that Welsh village in the morning. You envision what Polly Garter looks like, or what blind Captain Cat looks like. You have the set in your head. You don’t know what these people look like, but in your mind you do. Well, I saw it on TV, with an excellent cast, by the way – a good production. But it wasn’t at all my Milkwood, do you see? Because it was all laid out for me.

    Therefore radio is the cool medium. McLuhan is dead wrong. It appeals to something within a person that is so obvious and clear – the sound of the human voice.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Who Shed Those Other Tears
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    One of the dangers of technology today – I’m very inept, as you know, in these things, very primitive when it comes to technology. I’m using a tape recorder now, don’t I? I’m very inept, as you know, in all these things, and very, very primitive when it comes to this. But the fact is, what with the exponential leap in technology, the human voice, the voice itself we hear less and less. We hear the robotic imitation of it. So the sound of the human voice suddenly does something. [snaps fingers] Vox humana to me is what it’s all about.

    And what do we have on commercial radio? We have the processed voice. We have the robotic voices. We have the same banal conversation. You know very well that a person’s not moved when he hears the couple, the laughing boy and laughing girl, talking each morning. Thoughout the day. It’s processed. We have processed food, as against the rich organic food.

    Well, then, public radio’s organic. Organic is a key word used by Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s something that is connected to the human being. Let me just stick with the Wright analogy for a moment:

    Wright believed that all his architecture – that all of life – must be organic. For example, these fingers on my hands are connected to the palm of my hand. The limbs of a tree connect to the trunk of the tree, the trunk of the tree is connected to that soil. When he built the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo… the horrendous Tokyo earthquake of 1923 – all of us school kids contributed money for the horrible earthquake. One of the few buildings remaining was Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel, because he built it organically. He knew what the Japanese landscape was, what the soil was, and he gave it enough of a flexibility that it withstood the earthquake where others did not.

    Public radio has to be organic and unprocessed. When you hear somebody talking, that’s actual. You hear the voice down the block, and you think, "That’s like me talking! He’s saying what I wanted to say and never got around to saying." Or you hear an actual conversation, as though you’re eavesdropping, and suddenly you feel less alone. But more than that, you feel pretty excited. There’s something in that community. By the way, I’m talking now about a local thing, but it could apply to the world itself. I mean, you know the old phrase, "Act locally, think globally." Well, it’s a cliche’, but it’s true.

    Not that public radio shouldn’t cover international affairs. Of course it should, but in that same way. Organically. Get who it is at the bottom of that pile there when the rubble occurs. Never mind the official talking about it. There are many things that we suffer from; one is the official voice, the official source. Very often during the Vietnam War the high-ranking official source turned out to be Henry Kissinger.

    So that’s what it’s about. Let’s be political for a moment – you can’t avoid it. We think of Bertolt Brecht, collaborating with Kurt Weill and writing plays. But he was a poet. In one poem he asks, "Who built the Seven Gates of Thebes?" He says, you know, who did it? Was it kings, queens? If I were to ask people who built the pyramids the immediate reaction would be well, the pharaohs did. The pharaohs didn’t lift a finger. Mr. Pharaoh’s hands were as immaculately manicured as Elizabeth Taylor’s in Cleopatra.

    "When the Chinese Wall was built, where did the masons go for lunch?

    When Caesar conquered Gaul, there was not even one cook in the army?"

    And the big one is when the Spanish Armada sank. I remember the year 1588 as well as I do 1492 and 1776. ‘Cause I was told that’s when Sir Francis Drake conquered the Spanish Armada. He did? By himself? And so Brecht writes, "When the Armada sank, we read that King Philip of Spain, King Philip wept." Here’s the big one: "Were there no other tears?"

    Now to me, public radio as well as history should be about those who shed those other tears. And about who makes the wheels go round.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    What Is Unsaid But Felt
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    But hearing the human voice – let’s come back to that again. I say we’re losing it. Not that technology is bad. I’m not a Luddite. I do believe in refrigerators, because I always say, "Where can I freeze my martini glass?" But I do think that there’s been an exponential leap, astronomical in effect, and I think it’s effecting our speech. A number of teachers have told me that even some of their kids’ speech has a certain disconnected, non-organic quality.

    So I see radio – public radio specifically, of course – as saying that which is unsaid but felt. And for the listener, hearing it, there’s no question – [snap] there’s a leap. I’ll give you an example from the work I do interviewing different people, the ordinary, so called, which is a phrase I dislike because it’s patronizing. Ordinary. They’re capable of extraordinary things. But there’s the example of this woman I use all the time:

    This was the first book, Division Street: America. It was about a public housing project which was integrated but all poor. And I can’t remember if she was white or black. She was pretty, skinny, and had about four little kids running around. The tape recorder was not the ubiquitous tool it is today, not a household object. It was new, and she’d never been interviewed before. The kids were hollering, "I want to hear Mama."

    So I say, "Just a minute." And I play it back.

    She hears her voice. She puts her hand to her mouth and says, "Oh my god."

    I say, "Well, what is it?"

    And she says, "I never knew I felt that way before." Bingo! It was fantastic. To her as well as to me.

    That’s what I’m talking about. You hear stuff you haven’t heard before, from a stranger or from someone you know, and you think, "Yeah, I am connected." I think that’s the goal, the responsibility, the challenge of public radio.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Listening With My Father
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    My first connection to radio was the crystal set. Before there were tubes, and huge ugly boxes with names like Super Heterodyne and Atwater Kent, there was the crystal set. I never could figure out how the little thing worked.

    My father had been ailing most of his life. He was a good, gallant man. He wanted to work, but he was ill and bedridden most of the time, in the rooming house my mother ran. I shared a bed with him. I also had two older brothers.

    We’d listen to this new invention called radio. I don’t know where we got it. It was a little wispy piece of silver you rotated around a piece of mineral or metal, until you found a station.

    The big station was KYW Chicago. Sam Kaney was the announcer. He had that rich, fruity voice, that plum voice. And they had Wendell Hall, The Red-Headed Music Maker, playing the ukulele. "It ain’t gonna rain no more, no more./It ain’t gonna rain no more./How in heck are you gonna wash your neck/If it ain’t gonna rain no more?" Oh it was fantastic, hearing that voice.

    And then, would you believe it, in 1925 we heard part of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in Dayton Tennessee. The big debate, Darrow against Bryan. Bryan was the Fundamentalist who said, "We’ll not discuss the age of rocks, but rather the Rock of Ages." Darrow practically destroyed him. I think we heard their voices.

    The trial was announced by Hal Totten, the famous voice of WGN, the Tribune station. I think the very first baseball announcer ever, by the way, was Hal Totten.

    I remember listening to an early four hundred mile Indianapolis Speedway race. All day you heard it.

    To me the great moment in the early days of radio was hearing the Democratic Convention in the Summer of 1924. I was at a resort in Michigan called South Haven. I was a sickly kid, but getting better. The kids were out playing – you know, going to the pool, going to the lake, dipping in the sand. And I was inside listening to radio, to this huge Super Heterodyne set in the dining room. People all around me at the resort, and I’m the only one there.

    Al Smith was running for the Democratic nomination. The convention was in New York. It was sweltering hot there – they described it. I remember the voice of the Alabama candidate, the Alabama nominator, every day for one hundred and two ballots. It went on and on. It was a dead heat between Al Smith, the first Catholic candidate, and William Gibson Macadoo, who was the son-in-law of Woodrow Wilson. They deadlocked, and finally chose John W. Davis, a Wall Street lawyer. He lost to Calvin Coolidge, of course, in the election.

    But that convention! That first voice, I can hear it even now: "Alabama, twenty-four votes for Underwood." Their favorite son. And this went on and on.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    The Bard of Radio
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    So I listened to the radio. I was enamored of radio. All the programs, the early ones, like Ernie Jones and Billy Hare, the Interwoven Pair. One of the richest voices of all was Norman Brokenshire of CBS. You heard those voices. Orson Welles, of course, who was The Shadow, too. But before that there was Jessica Dragonette, and what was the name of that watch company? I forget. Oh, it’s horrible to forget the sponsor’s name. And then, of course, there was Tony Wons, who was a poet.

    The great moment of radio writing came with Norman Corwin, in the late ’30s, the ’40s, and the early ’50s. Norman Corwin elevated the word. He did scores of programs, one better than the other. But he wrote for the ear. And he was the master of it; I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Corwin as the bard of radio.

    He had a tremendous influence on my own work. The way he used words, the way they sounded. I think of that last prayer he wrote in A Note of Triumph. But everything he did had that quality. It was made for the ear, and because of the ear you see it, which sounds paradoxical. But it was also organic, because in this case radio fit the moment; the War, the Post-War, and to some extent the Depression.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Fireside Chats
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    You remember the sound of things on the radio that you forget on TV.

    Even though I lived in Chicago, I grew up in New York. I remember the voice of Fiorello LaGuardia during the newspaper strike. He was for the strikers, of course, but he didn’t want the kids to be deprived of their Sunday comics. So you have Fiorello LaGuardia on his knees reading the comic strips on Sundays on WNYC. There’s a recording of it. He gets excited like the kids get excited: "And so Orphan Annie, here’s what she did. She went…And then Daddy Warbucks, he went….And Orphan Annie…" It’s the Mayor talking. That’s why he’s so great. That’s radio. That could never be done on TV. You hear the sound of his voice.

    And we haven’t talked about the master of radio – Franklin D. Roosevelt. Alec Wilder, the composer, said, "You know, Roosevelt’s voice, the fire, the word fireside chat – it’s not accidental. It’s something intimate." When Roosevelt spoke, he wasn’t speaking to millions, he was speaking to one person. To the old couple losing their farm. To the young kid in a big city, all by himself. To the city worker who just lost his job. To the family, to three, to two, to one person. It was intimate, but Alec Wilder described Roosevelt’s voice as not the voice of the man on the street – it was the voice of the Dutch patroon. It was. But something about it was magical. Because of their desperate plight, people thought, "Even though he has that different voice, he’s on our side." You felt you could lean on him.

    FDR was a great actor. He found his medium. Very few of us were aware of his handicaps, of his being crippled by polio and having pounds and pounds of iron braces on his feet, with his son there supporting him. There he was. But that voice! See, I think we come back again to the vox humana. Certain voices stick out, like Roosevelt. And like Wendell Hall, The Red-Headed Music Maker.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Morning In The Streets
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    Sydney Lewis
    We watched a documentary the other day which you described as poetry, and you said that this was a big thing for you.

    Studs Terkel
    We saw a TV documentary done on the BBC, that won the Prix Italia. It was by Dennis Mitchell, who’s been a tremendous influence in my life, and it was called Morning In The Streets. It was beautiful. It was morning in the streets of a working class neighborhood in Manchester a few years after the Blitz. The war is over and the kids are playing in the streets and the old people are there. It’s poetic and it’s beautiful. But he was originally a radio man, and he worked from sound. He used radio; those voices were originally radio voices.

    But then he got to do the film, and he integrated them. But it was radio that was the essence of it. You hear that fat woman talking, and just in the middle of it an old guy saying, "We need stately minds more than stately mansions. Yes, there’s a working class, I’m part of that, but it’s the upper working class that reads…" And he’s there in the library with his thick glasses and cap, reading. Then we cut to the fat woman talking about a budgie, about how she took the bird into the pet store: "Why this bird is dead, this budgie." And then she’s laughing. It’s hilarious.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Born To Live
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    There was no narrator in Morning In The Streets. Did this influence you when you made Born to Live?

    Studs Terkel
    With Born To Live I had the help – more than the help, the collaboration – of Jim Unrath, who was an announcer at the station. He and I worked together on all the documentaries, and all on his own time. As I told you earlier, I’m inept mechanically. Jimmy gathered all the stuff. He knew the way I was thinking. Born to Live is a collage montage of voices.

    How to explain this? There was a contest called the Prix Italia. It’s the equivalent of the Nobel Prize, you might say, for radio and TV documentaries and features. And Dennis Mitchell had won it for Morning In The Streets. So Rita Jacobs said, "Let’s submit something." Well, very few American stations ever win. It’s won by BBC or Stockholm or wherever.

    So I thought of all the interviews that I had, and there’s this one that was sponsored by UNESCO as a special interview. It was 1961, I think, that we started doing it. The Cold War was going on pretty hot. And UNESCO says, "Can’t there be one program of East/West values to lower the temperature of heated discussion?"

    What came into my mind when we decided to enter the contest – with the odds about a thousand to one – was interviewing a hibakisha, one of the Hiroshima maidens, they were called, who survived the August 9th atomic bombing. She was talking through an interpreter. She’d been brought by the wife of a Quaker who ran that ship The Golden Rule, challenging the nuclear stuff. As she talked, I thought, "I’m going to open with that."

    And then I thought of other tapes I’d done. One of a street worker talking to a kid, a tough kid who’s got a tattoo that says "Born To Die". There are tattoos on his fingers: die, death, D-E-A-T-H. The street worker says, "What about the time between you’re born and the time you die? What about that?"

    "I don’t know. What is it?"

    And then I say, "Time to live." See? And then snip. [snaps]

    Little thoughts. And music. Pete Seeger doodling on a banjo, but he’s doodling the chorale from Beethoven’s Ninth. Then it cuts to someone else – two couples in a suburb talking about their kids: "And so she says to me, ‘Well, might as well live today, tomorrow you’re gonna die. I don’t know how long I’ll live.’" "How old is she?" "Nine." And in between and interspersed are children’s songs, American children’s songs and Japanese children’s songs. And then finally I say, "Born to live. What about the time between you’re born and the time you die?" Then all the voices start. Some dealing with humor and laughter and some dealing with myth and legend, and the voice of Jimmy Baldwin and the voice of Miriam Makeba, the voice of Einstein. And John Ciardi says, "Sometimes you can tell the difference between a large decision and a small decision. Sometimes it’s the sound of it. When I was a kid I used to hear Caruso records. I heard them in these Italian households in Providence, Rhode Island, I’d hear these Caruso records. And you think, ‘That’s as far as a human voice can go.’ And there he’d go one step further." Then I slip in the voice of Caruso singing "Oh, paradisio," as he goes one step higher. And then Charlie saying, "…tell the difference between a small decision and a giant decision." Then it cuts to the voice of Sean O’Casey, and Einstein, and Bertrand Russell. And then it cuts to the voice of a child.

    In any event, it had everything. But I was influenced by Dennis Mitchell as well as by Norman Corwin. Sounds need not have a narrator. I got that from Mitchell. Just let the ideas flow from one to the other.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Happy Happy Happy
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    By the way, a side story.

    I mentioned the voice of a little baby. Well, it happened by accident. Vreni Naess, who worked for our station, is from Switzerland. She brought over an old, old woman who’d never left her village before, and I was going to interview her. It didn’t work out real well, we couldn’t connect. But Vreni had the little boy in her lap. He was about two years or a year-and-a-half old. And he was going, "Happy, happy, happy." He really meant "hat".

    So then I end Born To Live with Beethoven’s Ninth, Toscanini conducting, the chorale fading out, and this child’s voice saying, "Happy, happy, happy." The voice, the kid, who’d been interrupting our interview.

    So guess what? We played it every New Year’s morning for thirty years. And each time, that kid would call. When he was three years old, four years old, five. When I finally stopped doing it he was thirty-five or forty. He was working for a union, doing some stuff, some office work. He was a forester. His name was Mark Naess.

    The show went on the air in Chicago at ten-to-eleven in the morning every NewYear’s Day, and he’d call about 11:02, and I’d hear his voice.

    I’d say, "Mark, how old are you now?"

    "I’m a year older."

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Putting It Together
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    When you started doing your radio program, was it like anything else on the air? You had a particular style of putting it all together.

    Studs Terkel
    I don’t know. The only way I can comment is by a story.

    I started as a disc jockey And then, occasionally, I’d interview a musician. Bud Freeman, old tenor sax man from Chicago, was one of the greatest. He’s of the Austin High School Gang. I knew him for years and years and years. His brother and I were actors together. So I interviewed him about jazz and early Chicago. I knew Pete Seeger, and interviewed him, casually. Mostly folk singers, folk artists. Marais Miranda, of South Africa. Richard Dyer Bennett.

    Then I started interviewing, just as a matter of course, people who came through. If someone wrote a book, I did that.

    One day I got a call from a listener. She said, "You should do more of those."

    "More of what?"

    "More of what you’re doing – interviewing people."

    "But I’m a disc jockey."

    "Yes, but you see your interviews are different from others."

    "In what way?"

    "Well, it’s as though I’m actually hearing a conversation, as though I’m eavesdropping on a conversation, and it’s intimate. You see, all the others are….." She meant processed, or cut and dried. "But this is actual."

    So that’s what’s different. I read the book. As you know, writers get a kick out of being on my show because they see my book is all marked up, page after page, with hieroglyphics that even I can hardly understand. Or I know the music of the person I’m with. Or I’ve watched the paintings, gone through the galleries and seen.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    The Art Of Improvisation
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    As an observer watching you do some of those programs, it involved a lot of muttering to yourself. And diving into the record library.

    Studs Terkel
    Yeah. Suddenly it’d occur to me that a piece of music would fit, and I’d go find a record. Jacob Lawrence, the African American artist, is speaking about his days with the WPA, and he’s describing his well-known Harriet Tubman panels…the captain of the undergound railway escaping slavery. I find a spiritual; Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel? or Move On Up a Little Higher. That’s easy.

    Or Harrison Salisbury is talking about his book Nine Hundred Days, describing the incredible Siege of Leningrad. For three years they survived. How? They survived through music. And the one voice they heard from all the telephone poles was from this radio station. In the midst of eating horse meat, grass, whatever you could find on the street, they’d hear these Pushkin poems. They’d hear Beethoven, Mozart, Mussorgsky. And so I’d slip that in as he’s talking. That’s easy.

    Or I’m interviewing Gary Wills. He did a piece with the New York Review of Books on capital punishment. A history of the barbarous stages it went through, until the ultimate barbarism, lethal injection. So when he’s talking about drawing and quartering, or the guillotine, or tar and feather, and everything else, I’d slip in some music. Symphonie Phantastique of Berlioz, with which Gary Wills is very well acquainted, with its gallows humor, for the guillotine period. Or Verdi’s Don Carlo, which speaks of torture. For the witch hunt in Salem, Massachusetts, an old song from a folklore album. So that’s how I worked.

    Sydney Lewis
    It’s like jazz.

    Studs Terkel
    Improvisation plays a big role. By all means, preparation, preparation, preparation. But once you’re prepared, you improvise. And that’s it. It’s not done chronologically. It’s in my head by that time. Or I’ve got those notes, those crazy notes in the book to look through.

    So what happens then is that it gets kind of exciting to my guest.

    If it’s a poet, sometimes I read the poems alternately with the author, say Galway Kinnell. Then Galway says, "Gee, come on stage with me tomorrow. I’ve got this thing to do." And stuff of that sort. Or a self-serving comment: Stephen Spender said, "You read British poetry better than any American I’ve ever known." I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I read it as conversation. And at the same time try not to lose the lyric quality of it.

    As a kid when I’d fall asleep I’d be remembering that verse from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; "O Sleep! Thou art a gentle thing from Heaven, Beloved from pole to pole! To Mary Queen the praise be given! She sent the gentle sleep from Heaven, That slid into my soul." I didn’t know who the hell Mary Queen was till later on the Catholic kids told me, "That’s MARY!"

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Billie
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    My wife Ida used to do a take-off on Billie Holiday. It was beautiful. Billie with the flower in her hair, and her eyes half shut.

    I remember I was interviewing Billie on a disc jockey show – I’ve lost the tape, unfortunately. She was talking about the rotten guys she met, and said, "But this one fella was a good man."

    I remembered something I’d read by a guy named Frank Hayes, so I said, "Frank Hayes?"

    And she half-closed her eyes and snapped her fingers like that. [snap] Meaning, "That’s it." No words. [snap snap] I’ll never forget that.

    And then she talked about a guy, a bartender. She told him, "Baby, can I have a little, just a little, a little more gin there. A little – never mind the lemon peel, just a little more gin there."

    I’d like to see public radio have that again. The natural. The nat. The voice au natural. Non-processed. It’s exciting to the listener as well as the participants.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Martin Luther King
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    You are known as a master interviewer, and I know a lot of people ask you, "How do I become a good interviewer?" What do you say?

    Note: Public radio station WNAN, Nantucket, Massachusetts, went on the air March 15, 2000. Its founder, Jay Allison, spoke the first word that day: "Listen."

    Studs Terkel
    As someone used in this press release I got from a station: listen. The first word is listen. You listen. You hear that person.

    For example, you’re talking to an African American person, and quite often – not among Caucasians, but among African Americans – quite often you will find a laugh or a chuckle when that person is recounting a moment of humiliation, a moment of hurt.

    Big Bill Broonzy was my good friend. He was the greatest of all country blues singers. And too little known. People think it began with Muddy Waters, but Muddy was a disciple of Bill’s, not even in Bill’s shadow.

    Well, you know many black men of a certain age were artisans, they were jacks of all trades. They could do carpentry, they were stone masons, they were mechanics, they could do anything. Big Bill could do many things. He was a welder, and he’s teaching this young white kid how to weld. He says, "Soon as I taught that white boy how to weld, they fired me." And as he says that he chuckles a bit. Now, why did he chuckle at that moment of humiliation? He chuckled because maybe that’s a safety valve. There’s a lyric in a blues song: "Laughing to keep from crying." Or maybe today it says to keep from raging. Laughing to keep from raging, to keep from crying. Safety valves.

    I once asked Martin Luther King about it. It was an interview that happened accidentally.

    I worked with Mahalia Jackson very closely through the years. We were good friends. And so one day she called me: "Martin’s in town. He insists on seeing you."

    Martin never heard of me. Martin Luther King, of course. Mahalia was his favorite singer. And he was visiting her house because Mahalia could make great gumbo. She was fantastic. She was from New Orleans, and Duke Ellington used to go see her, and Count Basie’d go there. And King was there. And she says, "Martin wants…" So, of course, she had told him that.

    No. He did hear of me – I’m sorry. I introduced him at a big rally in Chicago a year or so before that.

    He didn’t want to see me, he was busy. But she insisted. So I came to see him. And I asked him this question about the laughter. I recounted the story of Big Bill. He said, "Well, of course. It’s laughter through the adversity that helps us. The laughter is tremendous." So you listen. Why’s this guy laughing, you see? Why’d that woman suddenly stop in the middle of a sentence [snap] and go on to something else? Well, let it ride, but then come back to it later on. Maybe she’ll say why.

    And sometimes there are personal things you don’t pry into.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Nobody’s Business But Their Own
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    By the way, you notice none of my stuff is intimate. That is, it’s nobody’s business but their own. So I never have that stuff. There’s no need for that, you see. That’s the prurient stuff. Or the phony, sentimental stuff. I’m not Barbara Wawa, you know. I don’t make as much dough as she does.

    People who are called celebrities – I rarely do that. I interview someone who is known for their artistry, whatever it is.

    Of course, I interviewed Carol Channing. She was something. But of course, she was brilliant as Lorelie Lee. Her Lorelie Lee’s not a dumb blonde at all, but someone very, very shrewd: knowing the market, knowing the frailty of these phonies who are sugar daddies. Her interpretation was brilliant. That’s different. It’s about the artistry.

    I interviewed Diana Barrymore, the daughter of John Barrymore, and she was in the news. She was in the news a lot, because of all the scandal sheets like Confidential, and others. Men and booze and drunkenness and promiscuity. All these. And she was in the headlines. However, I saw her in a Tennessee Williams play, Suddenly Last Summer, as the girl, and she was fantastic. So I interviewed her about her role, and asked a bit about her father. Memories, perhaps. Not the prurient stuff.

    So we have a talk about the girl in the play – she also did Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, very well – and she’s talking about Tennessee Williams’ heroines. And a whimsical story about her father, not the rowdy stuff when he was humiliated too. Near the end of the interview you could see she was quite moved. I was too. And she says, "Haven’t you forgotten something?"

    "Well, I’ve forgotten a lot of things. What?"

    "You didn’t ask me about my, ah….."

    "About your what?"

    "What about my troubles. All the papers?"

    "That’s none of my damn business. Your art, what you do, tells me who you are. What you did as that girl, or what you did as Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof tells me all I need to know about you. That you’re marvelous in certain roles."

    And then she starts crying. And the next day I get a box of cigars. I was smoking a cigar at the time, I’m sorry. But I get a box of cigars, and a note that says, "Thank you, Diana." That was all.

    So that’s what I mean. That was what I wanted to know about her, not the other. And that is another aspect of interviewing, I think.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    The Uses of Ineptitude
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    You talk often about how, because you are inept mechanically, you put people at ease.

    Studs Terkel
    Now here’s something. People think I’m deliberately doing this. I happen to not be good mechanically, as you know.

    Sydney Lewis
    I bear witness.

    Studs Terkel
    I can’t drive a car. I goof up on tape recorders, I press the wrong button. And I must tell you, I lost Martha Graham.

    Sydney Lewis
    I didn’t know that.

    Studs Terkel
    I lost Michael Redgrave. I lost half of Peter Hall, the British director. And I almost lost Bertrand Russell. I almost put my head in the oven then. This was in a cottage in North Wales, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in ’62. Pressing the wrong buttons.

    Now I do this sometimes. When it was reel-to-reel, before the cassette, the person interviewing me, who had never seen the tape recorder before, sees that something’s wrong. I don’t see it. They say, "Pardon me, sir, but that reel, that thing is not moving."

    "Oh, I pressed the wrong – I’m sorry."

    Well, at that moment, that person feels pretty good. Because they see that I am not from Mount Olympus. From a TV studio, and so on. I’m not that. On the contrary, I’m someone who kind of goofs up, not unlike themselves. And so I correct my mistake, and the person feels they helped me. They suddenly realize that I needed him or her. The sine qua non of being a human being is to feel needed. So my mechanical ineptitude is sometimes an asset to me. And Mike Royko, who I knew very well, Mike would say, "You, you, dirty lying, thieving… You deliberately do that. You deliberately!"

    "I don’t. No."

    "No, it’s, it’s deliberate on your part." [laughs]

  • Studs Terkel says:

    How’s It Going?
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    You talk about ‘the woman on the block’. And how when you meet people in the community, or when you’re just going downtown on the bus, you sit with people. I was reading Anna Deveare Smith’s book the other day, and she talks about learning, in her performance work, to be more with the audience than for the audience. Which made me think of you.

    Studs Terkel
    Anne Deveare Smith, you know, does a take-off on me. I must say it’s very funny.

    But about being with a person: there we are. And we’re talking. As a matter of course.

    We talk about race, for example. Race, ok, black-white. Walking down the street. And there’s this woman, and she’s middle-aged, older black woman. There are fewer and fewer doing housework – more European and Asiatic now – because the mothers want their daughters to do something else. But she’s about sixty, and she’s tired and frowning and toting two bags. Worked in someone’s kitchen and parlor. And so I just talk to her as a matter of course. I say, "How’s it going?" And she hears that voice.

    She says, "Fine. And you? How are you?" See, her presence was recognized. Instead of silence.

    Or a better case would be three kids, three teenage black kids, and they’re having that stroll. They’ve got that strut, called "doin’ the Iggy". It’s a certain strut. I say, "Well, how’s it going?" And the guy in the middle will say, "Well, fine, and you?"

    My original title for Race, by the way, was …And You?

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Why We Need A Soapbox
    ListenListen

    Studs Terkel
    I always ask people this: who was the American President who said, "The air belongs to the public"? The radio air does not belong to private industry, does not belong to advertisers. It belongs to the public. Who was the President who said it? Herbert Hoover. We think of Herbert Hoover the engineer, the President of the Depression. He was all that. But he said it. And it’s a rule that’s been honored more in the breech than in the observance.

    That’s the thing, you see. It belongs to the public. Therefore why not have a program called "Soapbox". I spoke of this for TV, but why not radio? I’m talking about network, soapbox, like they did in the old days with Bughouse Square, Chicago and Union Square, New York, and still have in Hyde Park, London. And have people, maybe a committee of some sort, a committee of intellectuals and working people and community leaders, to filter it through. But everyone, no matter what point of view, is to say something. To have an airing.

    Consider those kids at Columbine. Consider the shootings of fellow students by little kids. Who are these kids? You find often they were the ones who were bullied as being gay, or being nerds. And no one thinks about the bullying they took, since we’ve become something of a bully nation anyway.

    So hear their voices, let them speak. About their grievances or whatever. Because unexpressed they finally explode.

    We’re talking about presence acknowledged. Acknowledged by you, and at the same time your own presence is acknowledged too.

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Where Public Radio Has Been Remiss
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    I know you don’t listen to public radio all the time – your ears are bad, and you can’t hear a lot of stuff. But in terms of what public radio’s doing now, a lot of people complain that it’s become very stodgy and smug, and presents news from a corporate point of view. For example, I know more about dot-commers than I could ever want to know. But I don’t know very much about what’s happening in labor if I listen to public radio. Do you think there’s more that could be done?

    Studs Terkel
    Well now you’re talking. You’re raising a big subject, where public radio has been remiss, I’m sorry to say. It has covered some stuff on race, quite well, to some extent. They had that marvelous series with Bernice Reagon Johnson, who was wonderful – the story of music and the Freedom Movement.

    But it hasn’t done much about what’s happening in labor. What about that strike in Decatur that was lost? How come it was? Who are those guys? What about Firestone and Ford. There was a guy who wanted to testify, I remember. A black guy. The men were on strike, for better working conditions or whatever it was. And they hired scabs. And the scabs were incompetent. And this man was saying the scabs played a role in the tires exploding. No one mentioned that at all. How about that guy’s voice? I forget his name now. But it was there, it was well covered by Stephen Franklin of the Tribune, by the way. Very well covered. Or how about having a guy like David Moberg on? The best labor reporter in the country – having him on talking about what’s going on in labor? Or so many others, to be not only the voice of the country, but its conscience as well.

    Sydney Lewis
    You don’t hear Michael Moore on public radio. He’s got Radio Network. They could be broadcasting that. And even more alternative points of view.

    Studs Terkel
    Yeah, of course. Michael Moore is now celebrated to some extent in certain circles. But there are others. Community people, what’s happening in the community? What are the developers doing? A real study of gentrification, of what it is. What about people who are forced out? Where do they go? The whole phenomenon.

    You’re well aware of this. The restaurant that you worked at – we know the area was a working class area, and then bit by bit it became artsy craftsy. And this restaurant opened in the early days. Now the guy has to leave because his rent is so high.

    I met this woman they called an over-aged hippie. This was when the word hippie was just beginning to be used, before Abbie Hoffman. And she was thirty-nine, forty. And she was saying, "I raise the rents, you know. People like me, we have a studio, and then another studio, and then hey, that’s arty. Next thing you know, this yuppie couple moves in and they rehab things, and the next thing you know the rents go high, so now they’re kicking me out." So her story would be interesting, that phenomenon. Where do these people go?

    So this developer – by the way, he was a well-known patron of the arts in Chicago, oh yeah, very well-known, a collector of art, and philanthropic in several respects – I said to him, "Where do these people go when you build these new homes?"

    And he indicated, he pointed casually west. "Out there."

    Out there. Get them out of the way. Maybe that’s it: a program called "Out There".

  • Studs Terkel says:

    Something Real
    ListenListen

    Sydney Lewis
    What would your ideal radio day be?

    Studs Terkel
    Well I like music, of course. Jazz. Good classical music.

    But I think hearing the human voice. There’s one spot in Morning In The Streets, that BBC documentary written by Dennis Mitchell, who was my great influence, where there’s one sound – the human voice. He has people talking; there’s women in the laundromat and others, and they’re talking back and forth. There’s the fat woman talking about the budgie bird. And the one with the laundry on her head talking about different things. And this little old tramp is going around, tramping his way. And the old boy, the old working-class boy who want to be an intellectual, who listens to the conversation and says, "Stately minds. We need stately minds."

    Well I love the conversation. I used to hear it in the lobby of the Wells Grand Hotel that my father ran for awhile, and then my mother did.

    I’d want the human voice expressing grievances, or delight, or whatever it might be.

    But something real.

  • Jay Allison says:
    A Pause

    A suitable pause for reflection.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Two More Exciting Things, Coming Soon

    No doubt you are intrigued by some of the references in Studs’ conversation. Well, we have gotten permission to post the audio of Norman Corwin’s Prayer and Studs’ documentary Born to Live

    Watch this topic for details. You won’t have to wait too long, but we didn’t want to waste a perfectly good opportunity to tease. Consider yourself forwardly promoted.

  • Jay Allison says:
    The Topic From Here On

    This is how we can go from here.

    We can use this topic for general talk amongst ourselves taking off from what Studs’ has said.

    We also have the chance to interview him.

    This is rare, needless to say. You can post your questions here and twice this month, they’ll be gathered, first by Sydney Lewis and then by Tish Valva, who will take them to Studs. He’ll answer anything he wants to. Sydney and Tish will record his answers and we’ll transcribe and post here, just as we did for his manifesto.

    (And… I’d like to thank the Transom Team who always works hard, but who worked especially hard, albeit happily, to get Studs’ material ready for July Fourth… Thanks to our Viki Merrick, Carol Wasserman, Helen Woodward, and Joshua Barlow. This Transom Thing is part-time work for all of us, but it’s often the Good Part.)

  • Carol Wasserman says:
    The Glorious Fourth

    I was awake in the early hours this morning, excited to hear – finally – the audio version of Studs Terkel’s conversation with Sydney. I had been assigned the job of typing up and lightly editing a transcribed copy of the text. As a result, I was pretty familiar with the document but had not had an opportunity to HEAR it. It was as if I had memorized "Hamlet" out of a textbook, but had never actually been to the theater. So I was doing all the voices in my head.

    Then, at about three o’clock, with the sound of bottle rockets and whizzers going off all up and down the street, I was able to experience Studs familiar words in a hair-raisingly different way.

    Having these two things posted simultaneously – the audio and the text – provides us with the plainest possible example of what Studs means when he talks about the power of the voice. A transcript isn’t remotely capable of carrying the weight of his remarkable delivery, his theatricality.

    It’s like writing to you about the fireworks, and typing out "Boom".

  • Jackson Braider says:
    Not a question for Studs — I’m too shy (yeah, right!)

    I’ve listened to you and I’ve read Carol W’s faithful transcription of you.

    Many of the people here (I’m speaking of the occupants of the metaphoric Transom room) know you through radio. I confess that I came to you late, and thanks only to a fieldwork course I had to take for my folklore degree. "When you go out into the field, you might consider Mr. Turkel’s approach" — and with that thumped Working onto the seminar table.

    What I read and hear here is a message that everyone is important. There are no "ordinary" people. But when we’re under the grips of "time constraints" (read that as you will) and other deadlines, when funding is short and the process long, it seems to me we frequently resort to short-cuts — the self-proclaimed "traditionbearer", for example, who haunts the fieldworker’s dreams at night.

    I am not querying if we can or can’t make time, but at some point in the course of a project, we must choose some sources over others. And in making that choice, for better or worse, we become participants (as opposed to mere observers) in our fieldwork.

    Which leads me, I guess, to the piece you conjured up for the Prix Italia (or whatever it’s called). As a writer (or producer) you created the context for many of the elements included in that piece.

    What are your thoughts about your role as the creator of the context — not just in this case, but, more generally, as an interviewer?

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    Inspired indeed

    Well, inspired by a good example, some people are off doing their homework, reading and listening to all they can of Studs Terkel’s huge collection of work. Then there’ll be a rush here at the end of the month?

    I’m trying to find the words for my gratitude. By publishing WORKING in 1974, Studs bridged the artificial differences between academia, journalism, skill knowledge and every kind of wisdom.

    I wish I could get ahold of his work on race in time.

  • Tony Kahn says:

    Studs, I’m waiting for a faster internet connection than I’ve got here on Cape Cod to download and read your opening remarks. Before then, though, a quick question. When we met in Chicago about eight years ago (you were kind enough to record some promos for my series Blacklisted and then host me to lunch) you were on the verge, thanks to a grant, of going back through your radio archives to see what kind of gold you might remint from all that terrific stuff. Since then I’ve heard a compilation of about six tapes spanning the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. What next? And what was the experience of re-hearing yourself like? Given the incredible flow of new material you keep producing, how do you build in the time to rethink, maybe revise, the life-long mission you’ve been on of helping America hear herself?

    Tony Kahn

  • just what is this stuff?

    First thanks for your fascinating words about radio. I felt like I was on an amusement park ride at times…not sure where I was going but enjoying myself immensely as I listened to you wind around telling these great stories about your experiences with and your love for the medium.

    It’s going to seem like I’m stealing this from Nanette’s comments but I want to put it to you as a question. I first came to your work through a class. It wasn’t even my class. A friend had a copy of "The Good War" that she was reading for an American Studies class and I thumbed through it.

    What hit me then and still rattles me to this day is the way in which your work functions as so many different types of work at the same time. My stuffy professors felt comfortable considering it academic and yet I felt like I was just listening in on a conversation. And I had to wonder, is this stuff journalism? Scholarship? Front porch wisdom? Whatever it was, I knew instantly that it was more compelling and honest and real than anything coming out of those genres.

    So the question is, how do you see your work? Have you made a conscious decision to break down the walls between different genres of writing? What’s deliberate and what’s just a happy accident? Is labeling what you do not really a concern? Have other people ever labeled what you do in a way that you felt limited what it’s about?

    Thanks.

  • Joe Richman says:

    I was given the book "Working" when I was in high school. I still have that very same copy…. missing a few pages here and there. Thanks for that book, this amazing interview, and the continuted inspiration.
    And for the beautiful line: "Get who it is at the bottom of that pile there where the rubble occurs."

    I wonder what are your thoughts on the term ‘oral history’. I guess you’ve seen those words, their meaning, and their influence change so much over the years. We could start a nice oral history on oral history right here.

    One more thing…. I thought I should point out that the interviewer here, Sydney Lewis, is also a great oral historian. She put out a book on teenagers a few years back that I treasure.

  • cw says:
    a country of bullies and bullied

    the other day I was walking into a grocery store and an alder man came up to me very meekly and said "would you sign my petition about bullying?"

    I was in a hurry and I brushed him off. not until I was inside the store did I hear/comprehend his question and feel the effort it took him to approach me in the first place. then I felt as if I had rebuffed/bullied him and went back out and sign the petition and talk awhile to make amends.

    I am interested to hear more about what Jr terkel has to say about how we have become a nation of bullies and what radio has the obligation to say/do about that.

    i think he’s right–that this is true, that bullying is inculcated and congratulated in children and adults and journalists (and thus bullying on schoolgrounds/resulting murderousness/downtroddenness of the bullied is just the logical extension/consequence of this).

    so, as a recent, unwitting bully who stumbled upon and into the abuser/abused cycle and played my unfortunate part (i’m not being oversensitive/this guy looked punched in the face after i rushed past him)– how does mr. terkel think this could be addressed by and in the media?

    that is if the idea that bullying is the key to success in business, the world, don’t let them stomp all over you, get them before they get you etc. or people have a strong belief that it is is such a prevalent/ingrained notion, how do you get people to HEAR what you present?

    hearing the mademeek voices of the bullied on radio makes sense, but how do you get the preprogrammed people to hear them and not be repulsed b/c they themselves fear being like them? and i say this as a preprogrammed person (who does not wish to be bullied) and as a person who has both been "bullied" and who has seen many handicapped people both bully and be bullied.

    if bullying is key to survival for however many more years in american culture (or people perceive it is), how would you frame the discussion?

    leave it unframed and let the bullied people’s voices be heard addressing their bulliers and let nature take its course?

    do you have a lot of faith in not fooling around too much with ideas like "framing" and "storylines" and believe in the power of voices to take care of itself? your work encourages the wide open door policy.
    how have you over the years convinced the gatekeepers to agree with you and allow more voices in, even if their conventional standards of "quality" suffer. gatekeepers hide behind aesthetics and bottom lines i think often, because that is their job.

    so another question is how to negotiate open door policy w/ the filter people? how have you accomplished this in your career?

  • cw says:
    i enjoyed the interview

    thanks to jay and staff for allowing us the opportunity to hear this great interview. thanks to mr. terkel for taking the time to participate in this discussion with us. his stories were great and many of them unfamiliar to me/ lost radio history. it was so great i washed the whole kitchen floor (by hand) and didn’t even notice i was scrubbing the whole time! that’s my highest compliment. so thanks everybody.

  • Phil Easley says:
    …bridged the artificial differences.

    I keep thinking I have finally found the key to this whole conversation, then another one comes along. First it was when I heard Studs say , while explaining why a narrator is not always needed, something about an idea flowing from voice to voice. An idea, of all things, on center stage… in the spotlight! Studs, in his wisdom, recognizes that as wonderful and as important as sound is, it is the idea behind it that makes it important.

    Then he trumps himself by telling us to look for something real in the human voice. Something real, yea, that’s it, substance over style, form following function… THAT’s the key. I wish he had been at the public radio conference to help Ira Glass make that point when Ira told those in the audience who wanted to learn how to be "creative" that they should quit editing so much reality out of their "packages".

    Then Nannette reveals his real genius…. he "bridges artificial differences", between academia, journalism, skills, etc. Yeah, and he bridges artificial differences between people, too. Not all the differences, just the artificial ones. Just like cw did when he got together with the anti-bullying petitioner in the above post.

    Studs, I wonder where you get your energy. I have a theory that non-bullies have more energy…is that it? Do you think some of cw’s gatekeepers are bullies, and that’s why they think it is their job to keep those voices off the air? Is it more productive to battle with gatekeepers who are bullies, or find ones who aren’t? Are my questions oversimplified?

    Phil

  • cw says:
    spellcheck did it, not me/mr. terkel and time constraints

    i didn’t call studs terkel "jr." terkel. i called him MISTER terkel.
    also the bullied petitioner was an older man, not an alderman.
    thanks speellcheek.

    i was lucky enough to see a big exhibit of the works of gordon parks in oakland last week and he made, in print, some of the same points that studs terkel is making here. the similarities struck me this morning.

    during some of his photojournalism projects, gordon parks lived with the people (or families) who he was taking pictures of. that makes a lot of sense and it echoes what mr terkel has to say about the necessity of having real conversations with people and spending the time it takes to do that.

    "preparation" i think necessarily involves immersion, both by reading/listening to people’s work/art as mr terkel said he does as an interviewer as well as preparing to be in the mood to allocate the time and energy it takes to have a real conversation with someone. this is just common sense that we have forgotten i think and it takes someone like mr. terkel to remind us.

    my question to mr. terkel is: did upi ever have to work under time constraints that made you feel as if you had not done justice to a certain story or person you had interviewed? and, if so, did you publish/air those pieces anyway?

  • Jay Allison says:
    THE PRAYER. From "On a Note of Triumph"

    With help from our friend Mary Beth Kirchner, we have graciously been given permission to place Norman Corwin’s Prayer from "On a Note of Triumph" here on Transom.org.

    If you recall, Studs Terkel said above:

    >"The great moment of radio writing came with Norman Corwin, in the late ’30s, the ’40s, and the early ’50s. Norman Corwin elevated the word. He did scores of programs, one better than the other. But he wrote for the ear. And he was the master of it; I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Corwin as the Bard of Radio. He had a tremendous influence on my own work. The way he used words, the way they sounded. I think of that last prayer he wrote in A Note of Triumph. But everything he did had that quality. It was made for the ear, and because of the ear you see it, which sounds paradoxical. But it was also organic, because in this case radio fit the moment; the War, the Post-War, and to some extent the Depression."

    The piece is written and directed by Corwin. Music by Bernard Herrmann. Narration read by Martin Gabel. It was originally broadcast May 8, 1945. We have it transcribed too, but we think it’s really better to LISTEN. We’ll post the transcription later.

    This Prayer is only a few minutes long, a short excerpt from the end of the program, but for more information and tapes of the entire program go to: http://www.normancorwin.com

    Corwin writes of the reissue of "On a Note of Triumph":

    >There will never be another world war whose end can be exalted, since it would be so ghastly, so illimitably lethal, that there would be nothing left to celebrate. Even the lesser wars since 1945 did not end with dancing in the streets, only with corpses in the craters.

    >This program therefore is more than an artifact in the archeology of radio. It is perhaps the last of a kind, not only because there cannot be another global military triumph worthy of exultation, but in an infinitely narrower context, because radio as it was practiced in that day, exists no more. It has been eclipsed by television. The budgets, the resources, the publicity apparatus, the share of audience, the radio networks themselves, are no longer available. Full panoplied productions such as this one, are unlikely to be undertaken, and that is a pity, for radio drama toward the end of its short, exciting life, had become an art form.

    >ON A NOTE OF TRIUMPH was written for broadcast on the day of victory in Europe, and was intended to serve only a given hour. That it has endured for more than half a century speaks to the power of the medium. I’d have to be made of much denser clay than I am, not to be pleased by evidences of that continuum, a token of which is this edition.

  • Jay Allison says:
    The Sydney

    Just a note that Our Champion, Sydney Lewis, will be gathering up your questions tomorrow and taking them to Studs for reply. She will record and transcribe his answers next week and we’ll post them here. Get your licks in now. If all goes well, we may have one more shot at the end of the month. but we’re not sure yet.

    Here, by the way, are some email notes Syd sent last month before she interviewed Studs. She gave me permission to post them.

    >The thing is, and I’m probably repeating myself to you, the guy is a natural teacher. I say this all the time. He doesn’t think of himself that way, he doesn’t "lecture and point", but if you’re listening, you can’t help being taught. Younger oral historians and broadcast folk regularly ask him such questions as the "how to be a good interviewer" one, and he gives a brief answer, usually about what makes HIM a good interviewer. But just listen to him tell a story about an interviewing situation and think about what he’s saying and you’ll get the point: there’s no one, two, three step. It’s a state of being, it’s a way of attending to, attentioning another person. I’ve been interviewed by him for a book as well as on the radio. The former is an almost mystical experience, the latter, somewhat like a great amusement ride for the mind.

  • cw says:
    everyone is missing a golden opportunity who doesn’t post a question/be not afraid

    no question is a stupid question (unless i ask it)

  • Jackson Braider says:
    Okay then, this isn’t a stupid question

    Mr. Terkel:

    I encountered you first as a folklore student; I am reading (and hearing) you now as an *amateur* (in both the French and English senses) of radio.
    There are individuals, there are individuals in communities, there are communities in society, etc. (if you wait a few moments, we’ll end up in that hole in the bottom of the sea)
    Is it fair to ask that you choose your subjects (that is, the people you you interview) because of their individuality, but that certain aspects of their character (take that any way you like) reflect in some way, shape, or form, a community?
    You find great people — or you reveal the greatness within them. Or maybe you let them reveal their greatness (sorry, that’s just so sporty a phrase!) with just a little coaxing.
    Maybe I’ve been asking this question bass-ackwards:
    What do you do when you’ve discovered you’re interviewing a total dope? (Remember, no answer is *too* simple for a crowd that contains the likes of me!)

  • Dianne Ballon says:
    Reading Studs Terkel

    My favorite way of reading your books, is to read one interview at a time, so that I can absorb the essence of that person and "hear" what is being said. So a few of your books reside at my nightstand. One story a night or every few nights. Kind of like taking a vitamin at bedtime.

    Thanks.

    Dianne Ballon

  • Jay Allison says:
    Speaker’s Corner

    I keep thinking about Studs’ "Soapbox" reference above.

    (by the way, Sydney has brought our questions to Studs and he has answered. Syd has transcribed and we’ll be posting them soon. In the meantime, we can talk amongst ourselves.)

    So, the Soapbox thing… I was in the UK last week at a radio festival and the new head of broadcasting in South Africa made a comment that SILENCE was the greatest danger, that people must not be kept in silence.

    He made an unrelated comment to the BBC that has ties into this notion, I think. He said, based on having lived in England for many years and, indeed, loving the place, that “you are very good at showing the sides of yourselves you want people to know.”

    We are too.

    For instance, at our new local public radio stations, we often try to reflect the best of our communities, to help build a common feeling and shared pride. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s not enough. How can we allow the angry, unhappy, mean, bigoted parts of ourselves to speak out in ways that can actually HELP? Should we air the silenced voices, even if we don’t want to hear them? If McVeigh could have vented, if he could have been HEARD, would anything have been different? Does public radio have a role here?

  • Phil Easley says:
    deep down you know it’s true…

    More than a role…I’d say an obligation. That’s public radio’s job. To enable us to talk and listen to one another, powerful and powerless alike. Maybe we should air the silenced voices ESPECIALLY if we don’t want to hear them.

    It was good to hear the head of Public Radio International tell public radio development (money-raising) folk at their conference that we are supposed to be creating radio that changes people’s lives. It would have been even better if the audience had broken out in spontaneous applause…but they didn’t. I think they were busy processing what appeared to be a new idea (they actually seemed more open to that kind of thinking than the management types at the larger Public Radio Conference/NPR Pep Rally held a few months earlier).

    I think it would be good if the public radio community shared some larger sense of purpose than it does now, something that Jay is getting at. Something that Studs Terkel has been doing for a long time…giving a little soapbox to everybody he can, whether they ride in limousines or on the city bus. Now that it has seen a few limousines, maybe public radio needs to get back on the bus.

    And listen. I suspect the more listening, real listening, that goes on, the more that bigoted, mean, angry, unhappy stuff starts to melt away.

  • beedge says:
    myth of studs

    just as i suspected. there is no studs terkel.
    it was just jay’s plot to have stimulate an
    interesting pubradio dialog amongst transomites,
    by waving the grapes of celebrity just out of our reach.

  • Jay Allison says:
    A clever ruse indeed

    Yo, Grapes here, get your Grapes…step right up…

    We have now in our possession over 8000 transcribed words worth of Studs’ responses to your questions which we are spellchecking and pulling into shape for a big fat series of postings in the next day or so.

    This is how it starts:

    >"Well, first of all, I was deeply moved by the responses to my appearance with Sydney Lewis on the internet. You realize that I haven’t the slightest idea what the internet is. Not a semblance of an idea how it works or what, I’m just learning the typewriter, which is quite an advance for me. Nonetheless, the response indicates that you really heard me or saw me or did both, and I was moved by your comments."

    Stay tuned. Get your grapes. Right here.

  • cw says:
    so many people don’t use the internet/it’s interesting that studs terkel doesn’t

    given my own email acct and lifestyle that somehow developed as a result of, i’m glad that i keep meeting people that don’t use the internet where i live. it is easy to forget that everyone doesn’t use the internet once you start using it every day.

    i think that when making radio programs it’s important to remember how many people don’t use computers or the internet either by choice or circumstance. this means that many people do not have access to real national or international news every day. in new orleans, if you don’t use the internet or have some kind of extreme cable, you would only have the n.o. times picayune, a barely/slightly liberal newsweekly, dr. laura, art bell, and various other radio hysterics
    for yr news source.

    so npr becomes the default "other" news voice/ in louisiana, npr actually sounds liberal, if not radical at times.

    do any of you radio people have any stats on how many public radio listeners DON’T use the internet/or what percentage do? i’d be curious to know.

    (can’t wait to hear the dispatch from our just learning the typewriter guest)

  • Phil Easley says:
    data, research, etc.

    cw, anybody else,

    There is a new website that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has put together that gathers in one place lots of info that has been collected with the help of CPB funding:

    http://stations.cpb.org/pbknowledge/new.php

    There you can click on programming, type into the box internet listening, and be guided to some reports. Happy reading.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Coming soon!

    We’ll be posting Studs’ responses any hour now. Sydney Lewis did the interview, using your questions. To get it up quickly, we’re going to post only the transcript this time, not the audio, unless there is an outcry.

    We have also obtained permission to put up Studs’ audio documentary "Born to Live" from 1961 which he has used as a point of reference in this discussion. We’ll make it our next Featured Show because, while not brand new, it’s certainly new to most of us and raises all sorts of questions worth discussing. If you are interested in free-associative radio and collage technique, or if you think creative radio production began with public radio, you will want to hear this.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    voices

    Jay Allison July 20, 2001 11:14am

    >How can we allow the angry, unhappy, mean, bigoted parts of ourselves to speak out in ways that can actually HELP? Should we air the silenced voices, even if we don’t want to hear them?

    b Is the opposite of silence a torrent of violent words? Or a clearly heard voice?

    I agree with Phil that listening is key. I depend on public radio for a quality of listening by the interviewers and producers. That good, patient listening allows people to express what’s behind and beyond their anger, and ultimately gives them more real power, more of a shot at getting their needs expressed and met.

    Plus it’s more fun and interesting to get to know people that way.

  • Jay Allison says:
    listening

    So, maybe the radio variation of the Soapbox is that the speaker must speak to one person, tell that one good listener what’s on his mind?

    What I’m thinking about here is the role of filters and sanction.

    The soapbox has neither.

    Public radio has both. Filters, explicity because of editorial control over what gets on the air and how it is presented. And sanction, implicity, because our "respectable" context has the potential to lend credence to terrible ideas. For instance, while I was in Northern England a week or so ago, there was concern that an interview on the BBC with a member of a hate group lent energy to the riots in Bradford. The concern was that having his inflammatory point of view presented on a respectable news show gave it legitimacy.

    And, for all I know, the hate group rep might have felt his views were never "heard" because they had been edited and filtered.

    The Soapbox has no inherent legitimacy and no editorial rules. That’s what makes it interesting. It’s like the Interent or this conversation right here. Ideas stand or fall on their own merit. You can use a soapbox for violent words or clear speech. Unfiltered. Unsanctioned.

    It is the unpredictable nature of the Soapbox that would interest me for public radio. You wouldn’t know how it would turn out. That would be very different from what we hear now, and its very difference could have value in awakening public interest.

    In Studs’ forthcoming comments, there’s an instructive parable in this regard about a John Bircher.

    I am interested in the idea that any speaker must be faced with a listener.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    STUDS RESPONDS

    Well, first of all, I was deeply moved by the responses to my appearance with Sydney Lewis on the internet. You realize that I haven’t the slightest idea what the internet is. Not a semblance of an idea how it works or what, I’m just learning the typewriter, which is quite an advance for me. Nonetheless, the response indicates that you really heard me or saw me or did both, and I was moved by your comments. Carol Wasserman, of course, moved me, beginning with her editing my transcript. Sydney Lewis, whom I know, has done the transcribing for the books, as well as being my chief scout. Aside from transcribing, being able to make out my hieroglyphics, Sydney herself is an oral historian. One of her best books, that hasn’t been mentioned, the first one she did, called Hospital, which is the best study of a hospital. It’s interviews, conversations with the people connected with it. Whether it be the doctor, the trauma unit head, whether it be a hospital aide, whether it be the elevator operator, whether it be someone, a patient. It’s a real study of a village called Cook County Hospital. And there’s, her other two books, of course, indicate that Sydney’s a hell of a writer, as well as a good listener.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    FREE ASSOCIATION: CREATING CONTEXT AND CONNECTION

    Jackson Braider asked "What are your thoughts about your role as creator of the context. He said something prior to that that may explain it. He also asked about my putting things together, seemingly unrelated. Did those who are corresponding, answering me, hear or see the script of Born To Live? [editor's note: Audio link coming soon]. Born To Live is the documentary that free associates. It’s– How can I explain? That was free association, that was, I guess what you’d call Joycean in nature. That was stream of consciousness. It dealt with the human voice, and a phrase that’s seemingly unrelated to someone else connects to that someone else. And, how can I explain that? For example, right now I’m thinking of a book – it’s just germinating. And in it Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s first wife, the one who really taught him the amenities and everything, she was his real teacher, and guide, and mentor when he first came out of New Orleans to Chicago as a young trumpeter. And she, by the way, was a very literate person. Anyway at the end, she bangs away at a Chopin Polonaise, just horsing around. Well that Chopin Polonaise reminds me I once interviewed a great American classical pianist named Garrick Ohlsson. He won the first Chopin award in 1970, the first American to win it in Warsaw. And since then he’s been quite remarkable. And he’s banging away at Chopin, only not, he’s interpreting Chopin. I thought to myself, why not connect the two? Seemingly unrelated. Here’s out of New Orleans and Chicago, Lil Hardin Armstrong, who died twenty-five years ago. Here’s this young American pianist. And the one thing they have in common is a love of Chopin. And somehow, the human voice, in this case, the human instrument, that is really the instrument played by humans, are the connecting link. I love to connect seemingly unconnected phenomena. Whether it be a human being, whether it be an instrument, whether it be something else. And I love that connection. I suppose the word is connection, the important thing. I don’t know if I’ve made myself clear.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    TIME CONSTRAINT

    Jackson asked if Iím constrained by time, as many are. No, I don’t have that misfortune. When I first broke into WFMT for the run of forty-five years, in 1952. You remember, it’s a little brand new station. Then it became world wide, world renowned for its taste in music and the spoken word. Bernie Jacobs, the founder of the station said to me– "The hour is yours. Whatever you want, I don’t care what you do, it’s your hour. And you will never, ever do a commercial for me.î And he spoiled me. "Under no circumstances will I ask you to do a commercial." So he had me free for that hour to do anything I wanted. And that allows you to explore then, as no one in radio, commercial radio, would ever be allowed to do; for that matter, to some extent in public radio. So I was fortunate in having the freedom that I had. So it’s as though I was given my own garden, piece of land to plant whatever I wanted . And in a way it was thrilling. So I’ve had this break that few have had.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    OBJECTIVITY

    When someone says: "I’m objective, I take no position." I say, "Well, of course you do, you’ve just taken a position." Nobody is objective! Everyone– Unless you’re a robot, unless you’re a machine, and you may be that. And if you are that, then you have no point of view. Well, of course you have a point of view. Even a guy covering a fire, a journalist covering a fire. Well, how’d that fire get to be? What is it? From who’s viewpoint? The woman dropping her kid out, hoping the fireman’s going to catch her in that net of a springing to her death? Or the fireman who’s risking his life and going through the smoke and all that. Or the absentee landlord? Through whose point of view is it seen? And then we say no point of view?

  • Studs Terkel says:
    JAMES CAMERON – JOURNALISM WITH A POINT OF VIEW

    Have I mentioned the name of James Cameron ? Some people ask me who was the, you know, writer I most admire? I can tell you the journalist I most admire. He was an Englishman named James Cameron. Not the James Cameron who directed the "Titanic." A wholly different animal. James Cameron, whom I knew, was the highest paid, most celebrated correspondent of British journalism during the forties and fifties. But he was on his own, he was independent. He was fired from one job. He was exposing things. And he said, "Of course I have a point of view." A lot of journalists were furious with him because he was one of the founders of the CND, The Committee for Nuclear Disarmament in England. And he was one of the lead marchers. He, along with Bertrand Russell, helped define it. Now how could the most celebrated journalist in Britain, where he was at the time, actually step out and be a founder for The Committee for Nuclear Disarmament? He was taking a definite point of view, along with known pacifists like the Dean of Canterbury, known as the Red Dean. And Bertrand Russell. And there was Jimmy Cameron. He says, "Of course I have a point of view ! Everyone does. I’ll paraphrase what he said. Oh, his language was so beautiful. He said: If anyone says he has no point of view and covers news, as he says, "objectively," he deprives the public of true journalism. The very fact that you breathe tells me you have a point of view. In fact, the air you breathe is political. It is literally so today. We talk about pollution. You have to be as balanced as you can. By all means, you offer all details, all the facts, as they are. You must not write from a slanted point of view. But you do have a point of view. He had one during the war. I suggest you find a book called Point Of Departure by James Cameron. It’s available somewhere in paperback. It’s one of the best pieces of writing that you’ve ever read anywhere. It’s sort of memoiristic through essays from different places he’s been in the world. I met him when he first returned from North Vietnam. He was the first Western journalist to visit and speak with Ho Chi Minh during the bombings there – the very first. Of course Ho Chi Minh knew him, they all knew Cameron. His stories are wonderful. They’re funny and they’re brilliant, and incisive.

    When he came back to the United States he was clobbered. He wrote a book called This Is Our Enemy, and in this book he described the North Vietnamese people as, guess what? Like us. He said they’re human and they have frailties and they have nobility. He said there are jerks among them, there are others among them, wonderful people. He said, very much like us. Guess what? He was called a conduit for Ho Chi Minh, he was clobbered, especially by some of the liberal journalists on CBS, Eric Sevareid and Morley Safer among them. They clobbered him. And that’s when I met him. I said, "That’s a wonderful book." And we became friends and we spent many weeks together here in Chicago at the ’68 Convention. His coverage was funny and brilliant. And Cameron, his point of view is, very simply, that they were human. That was his point of view in covering the war. And think of the guys that we have with no point of view in covering the war. Otherwise you have the official point of view. How often was Henry Kissinger quoted as the official, as the truthful stuff. A reliable source upstairs, this Henry Kissinger. You realize that Christopher Hitchins has written a fantastic, incisive book about the war criminality of Kissinger. He brought that up because of Pinochet and others, of course. And so that’s the matter of point of view. Do I have a point of view? You bet I do. And do I want to get the facts right and straight? You bet I do. And that’s it.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    BRIDGING DIFFERENT WORLDS: BOOKS AND THE STREET

    Nannette wrote:

    >"I’m trying to find words of gratitude for Working, and Studs brings the artificial difference between academia, journalism, skilled knowledge and all kinds–"

    Well, of course. It’s all one. I guess it’s a question of I call upon the book as well as the street.Or the street as well as the book. Of course. When I say "street knowledge," that’s only half of it. Of course the book knowledge is important. Of course books, no matter what. No matter what.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    BLUE BOOKS

    There were nickel Blue Books they were called. And they were a nickel– E. Haldeman Julius was the publisher, from Girard, Kansas. And he, nickels and dimes, blue books. In the various magazines, left magazines of the old days, the Guardian, however they were called, the old magazines. Oscar Amranger. This is turn of the century, pre World War I. Later you could buy twenty of them for a dollar. And it’s Darwin on the Origin of the Species. It’s Melville. It’s– Shakespeare was a dime because you had all this stuff….

    And it had everything. Mark Twain, of course. Clarence Darrow on immortality. And in those days, by the way, working men, I’m not romanticizing them now, but the great many men who worked with their hands read on occasion. It’s pre-TV, pre-radio in many cases. Certainly pre-TV. And there was something: respect for the book. But there was also not ivory tower stuff; there was also the street.

    I did attend the University of Chicago Law School. Bleak years they were, as I’ve said before. And the hotel I lived in played a role. The lobby of that hotel was really my university as well. And there I heard men arguing. Actually they were old time Wobblies, you know, IWW guys. That’s what they were called in those days, IWW: I won’t work. The title was the Industrial Workers of the World. And the goal was one big union; of course that was the dream. And they were, in their own way, educated. There were arguments pro– we had a number of scabs up there, the company men who were called Scissor Bills. There were names. There was a Wobbly name. A guy said they were capitalists with a hole in their pockets, you know. They ripped each other, there were arguments, and they were drunk. But there was some argument, there was debate instead of silence and couch potato-ism as is so much the case today. So all was related. Journalism and, the world of academia. All were, all one. And I, I liked the idea of fusing them all. Just in the way that disk jockey program I did called Wax Museum had opera and jazz and show tunes and turn of the century gay-nineties song. Anything. It had Brazilian Portuguese Faro songs and Spanish Flamenco, as well as some of the African anthems. It had everything. And even lieder. So I liked them all. And I liked that combination. In a sense that program was almost a metaphor for the way I work in print.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    BLACKLISTED: I NEVER MET A PETITION I DIDN’T LIKE

    Tony Kahn. — Tony reminded me he did a series called Blacklisted. And I’m something of an authority on that.
    [chuckle]

    By the way, I shouldn’t, I shouldn’t say this– maybe I should. Were I not blacklisted, I wouldn’t have done what I’m doing today. Now, I’m not suggesting to be blacklisted as a good career move. I should tell you that my background in TV was in the early days, the pioneer, frontier days. Well, at that time TV was limited to six to ten at night. I’m talking about 1949, 1950. And it wasn’t quite the sales medium it is today. We were adventurous because there was nothing at stake – it wasn’t a top sales medium. So it was in the hands of the creative spirits: the writer, the director, the performer. And there were three programs that came out of Chicago.

    Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, was the best. For those of you who may not know, too young, it was a puppet show. And a man named Burr Tillstrom was a genius. He had little hand puppets, little rags in his hand, he made them come alive, called the Kuklapolitan Players. And you believed these were people actually. You didn’t see him till at the end. There was one human face that was his colleague, the singer and actress Fran Allison. And she would talk to these little puppets, Kukla, and Ollie, and Beulah the Witch, as though they were real. And I once had the delightful experience when Burr Tillstrom was helping me out when I was blacklisted. He said he’d appear on one of my programs, Studs Place, I had an audience of about twelve and a half people.

    And he said he’d be on it. And so I actually talked and worked with the puppets. One was a woman named Madame Oglepuss. And I said, "Madame Ogle–" He had a little piece of cloth on his hand, he’d put a little piece of cotton in it and you’d have big breasts, you know. And, and then he has the voice. And Madame Oglepuss was sort of the matron of the arts, of the community. And "oh yes, dear boy, darling boy. Studs, you love opera…" And I actually thought she was real, though I was ten feet away from her. Two feet away from her. These little rag things, in the hands of Burr Tillstrom. She was real., Kukla, Fran, and Ollie was a program known all over the country.

    The second was Garroway at Large. Dave Garroway had been a radio disk jockey, as I was at the time. And he had a certain easy quality. And he had this program, which was a variety show – he was in charge of it – he recognized TV as a new medium. So a chair could fall, you’d see the sound man, you’d see the cameraman, and it was a natural thing. Later on, he became the very first face ever, ever seen on daytime television. He was the first host of something new, daytime, called "The Today Show." The very first host. And the sales manager of NBC who thought of it was named Pat Weaver. It means nothing to young people unless I say he’s the father of Sigourney Weaver. Then they’d know.

    In any event, it was, Garroway at Large, Kukla Fran and Ollie, and the third show was the show I was involved with, "Studs’ Place," with three colleagues who were quite wonderful. And actress named Beverly Younger played the role of Gracie the waitress, who revolutionized the idea of a waitress. Until then, the waitress was the stereotype, gum-chewing, Brooklynese. And Beverly had been an actress in stock companies, traveling week to week, legitimate stock companies. She was a soap opera queen as well. And during the stock days she ate in diners, they didn’t eat in fancy hotels. And there’s the waitress. Someone, a mother, a woman, maybe married, maybe not. And she learned from them. And the words were made up by her, the words were made up by us ourselves. We’d have a small plot. Then there was Win Stracke, my friend who was a lieder singer, and he sang labor songs. He and I were blacklisted together so we called ourselves "The Chicago Two."

    >[editors note] For video clips of "Studs Place" and other Studs Terkel moments, go to: CNN.com: A Chicago legend steps aside

    And the fourth was Chet Roble, a horsy, bluesy piano player, who was wonderful. He had a language of his own we called Robleasian. Well, this place, Studs’ Place, people thought was real. They thought it was an actual place. It wasn’t, but it was our words. And so it was pretty hot at the time. And then the Cold War came along, and Korea. This was 1950, ’51, ’52. And I was bounced, you know, because I signed all these petitions. I think I said this last time, didn’t I? That I never met a petition I didn’t like?

    So I signed them all. And, "Would I take it back?" No, I wouldn’t take it back. You know, "Can’t I say I was duped?" No, I wasn’t duped. And people to this day think I was a hero. I wasn’t. I was scared, if you’ll forgive me, I wasn’t. I was scared shitless. But my ego was at stake. I’m not dumb. They wanted me to say, you were duped, but I wasn’t. And so, that’s how it came about.

    Sydney Lewis:
    So blacklisting was kind of this rock in the river there that changed your course.

    Studs:
    My life. The sweet honey in the rock.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    LOOKING BACK

    So Tony Kahn’s question was, he was looking at some of the compilations of old programs and he asked what was the experience of rehearing myself like? Well, that’s one that always comes up. That is, it comes up to me, in my mind. Could I have done better? Of course. You know, the question is: do I revise, would I like to revise. Yes, of course! That’s not it. It’s what happened at that moment, that’s what it is. It’s different from doing a book, see. In doing a book I want it to be exactly right, see, I want what happened at that moment. For example, a good case in point: Talking to Myself. My memoir. It’s called an oral memoir of my time. Oral memoir. I actually did talk into the tape recorder. And so I write too. It was a combination of a number of things. It wasn’t just talking into the tape recorder. Old pieces I’ve written. I once wrote a Christmas story, based on an actual event at the Wells Grand Hotel. And it’s a funny, wistful–

  • Studs Terkel says:
    A NEAR SIGHTED DISHWASHER

    It’s about this old dishwasher who’s nearsighted, you know. He’s a goof ball, but he carries the, eh, Scripture, he reads these wild passages from Scripture, a Welshman. And this Greek restaurant owner comes in with this pretty girl, and you know, it’s the Depression, and sure enough, he goes upstairs to the room with her, you know. And then this guy, he comes down the stairs, apparently they hadn’t gone into the room yet, and something happened in the lobby, and she winds up with this dishwasher. But it’s a story I like very much. Based upon people I’ve known, it’s a story made. Well, I put that in the book, too. See, this is a good way of anticipating another question then about journalism and everything. And, oral history. I am none of these. Am I a journalist? Ah, no. I call it, a guerrilla journalist.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    GUERILLA JOURNALISM

    A guerrilla journalist, when I first did, the first book, the first oral history, Division Street America, meaning I know my terrain. A guerrilla journalist is like a guerrilla fighter. We know the American Colonials were guerrilla fighters against the Redcoats; they knew the terrain. Marian, the Swamp Fox. We know the history. We know that the Vietnamese were guerrilla fighters. And we were the Redcoats there, quite frankly. We were, you see. And so, I’m a guerrilla journalist, in that sense. At, at the same time, I did write a column for a year, for the Chicago Sun-Times. The column was jazz, I was reviewing records.It was called "The Hot Plate." It was jazz records, and blues, and show tunes, recordings. It was a terrible column because– I know because I read– An old friend of mine who goes to the Chicago Public Library, looks through all the microfilms, sends me stuff.You know, days when a hamburger was a nickel and all that stuff. And so, there was some of the stuff in my columns. They were pretty awful. They were slick and facile. Disk jockey. It was awful. In any event, I did do that. Now and then an op ed. But I was never a journalist. As far as being an oral historian. Well, I don’t know why. Oral yes, I talk a great deal. But a historian involves scholarship. But oral history is something else.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    ORAL HISTORY: GRIOTS, TRANSVESTITES AND MEDICINE MEN

    Oral history is the oldest form of communication there is. Long before the medieval monks used quill to put down stuff in Latin on parchment, early writings, long before that, around fires were shaman, were medicine men, were all kinds of seers. And they were the oral historians. When Alex Haley wrote the book Roots, one of the first things he did was to go down to, go to West Africa, to Gambia, the land of his forebears, to meet the griots, g-r-i-o-t. Storyteller. Generation to generation. So they were there. And we know this among Native Americans. Same thing. Among peoples everywhere. The story. Word of mouth. The man around the fire, telling the story. The transvestite, the medicine man, the others. Storytellers. And so then came the printing press. The stories preceded Guttenburg. And then came writings of all sorts.

    One of the men I most admired, Henry Mayhew, was a contemporary of Charles Dickens. Some say Dickens modeled Micawber after him. There’s a book called London’s Labor and London’s Poor. And he revolutionized things, Henry Mayhew. The papers, the English papers, the respectables, knew nothing about the hawker outside, or the chimney sweep, or the chambermaid. They didn’t. The upstairs didn’t know what the downstairs was doing. And these people were like children, well-behaved children. Seen but not heard. And he starts to interview these people: the needle workers, and the chimney sweeps, the sewer workers. And all of a sudden people read these. He had a slew of people working with him. I work alone. But nonetheless, he did this. There was no typewriter, I mean, there were no tape recorders or anything. And he did this, and they were for the London papers, Birmingham papers, and Manchester papers. And it was astonishing, because everybody could read: Oh, that’s what they think.

    Well, I follow through and that’s written. The one difference is I have a tape recorder. And though I inveigh against technology, runaway technology. Here I am. I use the radio, I’m talking right now into a mic, and I use the tape recorder. And I have spoken about the connection between Richard Nixon and myself. Have I mentioned that? Well, you see, I am enamored of the tape recorder. Well, obviously, I’m enthralled by the tape recorder. There was only one other American – and that was Richard Nixon. And I say, Nixon and I, we are neo-Cartesians. I tape, therefore I am. I hope our purposes are somewhat different, though. This is by way of telling you what I am not. Not a journalist, nor a historian, oral historian, possibly.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    TWO-LEGGED WHATNOT

    But what I really am is a whatnot. You know what a whatnot is? It’s a piece of furniture. Look it up in the dictionary. It’s a piece of furniture in which you put anything in. Old letters you’ve saved, or notes you’ve written, or stuff people have sent you, or pieces of newspaper articles you cut out. Anything. Diaries. It’s, it’s a whatnot. And that’s what I am, a two-legged whatnot.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    WHAT IS THIS STUFF?

    Jonathan Menjivar asked a question I think I’ve sort of answered. He asked is this stuff journalism? The answer is no, that is literally, no. Is this stuff scholarship? Certainly not. Front porch wisdom? No. Back porch. He said "Whatever it was, I knew instantly it is more compelling and honest…." Well, thank you. Ah, in a way I’ve answered that. It’s, it’s a– There’s no label.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    LABELS

    Someone asked about labels. Yeah, well, they label you. Wait. No, labels is one thing I don’t want. No. For example, let’s take the word liberal or conservative for the moment. Both words have been so misused. So I decided to call myself a radical conservative.
    No, radical, well think about it.

    Getting to the root of things. That means radical, literally. Ah, conservative? You bet. I want to conserve the blue of the sky, the purity of the water, the greenness of the forest, the unpolluted air. And I’d like to preserve the First Amendment, Bill of Rights, and whatever sanity we have left. So I’m a conservative in that sense. You say, use the word reactionary. Yeah. Or use the word, whatever it is, in, in the, in the other direction. But there is no label. These labels, liberal and conservative, are utterly misused. And so I think whatnot is my favorite description of myself.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    BULLIES

    Oh, this is one about bullies. Now, cw is Carol Wasserman? No, I think it’s somebody else. Well, cw writes about an older man who approached him or her. Said, "Would you sign my petition about bullying?" And cw walked away and then later on realized he/she was a bully here and then the whole subject of bullying. Are we taught to be bullies? And now you think of Columbine and the kids going berserk there. Well, who were those kids who did it? They were kids who were put upon. They were kids who were called nerds and, is "bullying is key to survival for however many more years in American culture," yeah, " how would you frame the discussion?" Just for the moment, these were the kids who were bullied and something exploded within them. But we, are we taught to be bullies? Well, of course we are! The very nature of what we call the, the free market. My God! You get there no matter how. You know the movie "Wall Street," with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen may have been exaggerated. But it was basically true. He was caricatured. But sometimes in caricature you find the truth, as in a political cartoon, for example. We’re taught from the very beginning to be a success is to get to the top. You get to the top by climbing onto other people. No matter how you do it. We’re told this. And this is all in reference to bullying. To getting on top. In our commercials we have, especially with ghetto kids, they’re told to go to school – you know these TV commercials – go to school, go to school so you can compete. Compete is the word that makes for bullying. I thought the word was cooperate. I thought: the United States of America instead of the competitive states, you want to make it that. But to compete means to beat someone.This is free association. Now, you realize I’m small Joycean.

    I did this in, in the documentary Born To Live. After the opening. drums being played. And there’s a man from Ceylon talking about the drums played on a Sunday afternoon. Two drummers are banging away. I said, "They’re competing with each other, aren’t they? See which is the better." No, no, they’re not competing. They’re playing, and finally they come together. And it works out beautifully, in unison. And suddenly the whole community feels so good on that day. So it’s precisely, that’s what I’m talking about. So the kids are taught in the commercials about going to school to learn so you can beat someone else out. Well, of course, inevitably, inexorably it leads to bullying. What were we in Vietnam? Well, the bully got a black eye, didn’t he? And the he is us, isn’t it? I say he/she. Isn’t that interesting? Throughout the world. So, for all of our long time, you know, the, the bullies, the Holy Roman Empire. You know it was the Roman Empire who were bullies, were bright; they’d conquer. And then along came these people, these subversives called Christians. You know, this happened. There was an answer to bullying in the year two thousand, two thousand and one years ago at Calgary. And here was this sect called Christians, and they were crazies, you know, because they were saying the opposite of what the Empire was saying. The Empire was saying, conquest, we’re number one, we’re it. And the others were saying love thy neighbor, instead of beat thy– Love thy neighbor?! Love thy enemy?! Well, of course that’s subversive. They put it up before the House on Roman Activities Committee. You know, they were going to try the leader, this guy is up there, he’s going to be crucified. And down below, at the foot of Calgary, you’ve got these people, the crowd’s watching. Well, where there’s smoke there’s fire, you know. And then a little girl or a guy, one of these raggedy ones, comes up to this young Roman soldier. There’s a young Roman soldier and he’s a kid, one of the regions, from Thrace or, Crete, or where the hell ever he’s from. Or, or from Anglia. And he’s got this heavy Roman hat on, he’s got acne and pimples, he’s eighteen years old. And he’s, he’s watching another crooked soldier, another guy shooting dice, crooked dice, for the robes and the sandals of the guy who’s just been executed. And, and he’s afraid of this, this kid’s afraid of this girl who’s says, "Can I talk to you about loving thy neighbor?" you know. And it’s, Oh my God, it’s the enemy. And so, he’s going to be executed, and there is the wife of Pontius Pilate. He’s just a judge, he’s just a hack judge. And he’s washing his hands. His, his wife, who’s a good person who believes in what this group is for, she says, "Why are you persecuting this good man?" And he says, "Will you stop nagging me, for Christ’s sake." And that’s the only time Christ’s sake was every used properly. In any event, that was the first known attack I know of on bullying. Imperialism, of course, is naturally bullying in, in a governmental way.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    BULLYING REPEATS ITSELF

    I told you about that little Roman soldier who was scared of that little girl or boy, raggedy, who whispered in the ear, "Listen, love your neighbor." Well, in real life, in one of my books in our time, I met a woman named Jean Gumpp. Well, Jean Gumpp, who is one of the heroines in a couple of my books, was a very respected woman in a middle class suburb in Chicago, a western suburb. Catholic. Mother of ten kids. And her husband was very devout. And she was head of the PTA of the community. And one day– But she was also a devout Christian. One day, it’s Good Friday, she says, "Well, I think I’m going to go with some of these young kids down to this place in Holden, Missouri where there’s a missile site. I think we should do something about that. It’s Good Friday." So she goes with these kids, and they’re able to cut through the barbed wire easily enough. A missile site is the most banal looking thing there is. It’s a little mound. It’s like a little not quite nubile breast of a kid, a little thing, you know. And, and so they go on it and they drop, spill some of their blood on it and they pound at it with a hammer, it’s symbolic. And they put up the sign: Study War No More. Beat Your Swords Into Ploughshares, and Study War No More. Isaiah something. And they start singing songs, hymns and antiwar songs. They call up the military authorities. Here they are protesting. And sure enough, the trucks come along and the army trucks, and the commander hollers out: "Will the personnel on that missile site get off? Hands Raised." And so she gets off, and her hands are raised. Suddenly she realizes she’s about to sneeze. She has a cold. So she reaches into her purse to get a handkerchief. And a little kid is pointing a gun at her. Remember that young kid I told you about, in Christ’s time, in Calgary, two thousand and one years ago? That same little kid. He’s from Iowa this time, you see, or he’s from Dakota, or he’s from Arkansas. And a little kid, he’s got pimples, he’s got this soldier’s uniform on. He’s got this gun. And he’s trembling. As Jean Gumpp is the enemy. He’s terrified of Jean Gumpp. And suddenly she reaches for her purse. "Don’t you dare move!" She’d been told that was dangerous. She said, "Sonny, you’re old enough to be my grandchild. Listen, sonny, I gotta blow my nose. I’m sorry. I have to blow now." He says, "Don’t you move!" Well, shoot if you must, it’s oh– I’m going to blow my nose." And she said, finally she kept – and Jean has a sense of humor, of course – and she’s on the truck, sitting opposite the kid, now arrested. "Look, sonny, I want to talk to you." "Don’t you dare!" So you see, two thousand and one years ago, same kid and that woman; Jean Gumpp and that same kid.

    So this is on the subject of bullying. Now the kid’s far from a bully, he’s just, he’s just a terrified kid who was taught there’s an enemy. And the enemy is anybody who challenges whatever that establishment might be. And so bullying is the very nature of our society. We’re taught that, and so I’m glad that he signed, or the woman, cw signed that petition for that person. I’m very happy she did, or he did it.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    ENERGY

    Well, Phil is asking where do I get the energy? He says: I have a theory that non-bullies have more energy than bullies. That’s funny. I, I haven’t heard of that one.

    Let me think about that. Where do I get that energy? I have no idea. Maybe my mother’s genes, perhaps, she was a tough little sparrow. I really don’t know. I think if you’re involved with something and you like the work you’re doing, there’s an energy forthcoming. Hereís an anecdote about energy: There are certain groups in all cities, there are certain lecture bureaus or clubs. They want to hear the wise people talk. This was in Hartford, Connecticut. And it’s big, an annual event, the sages, and there were four people involved. Ah, let’s see, Gordon Parks, and Gloria Steinhem. And the moderator was Pete Hamill, a journalist. I was on it, and William F. Buckley, Jr. Well, naturally, as you probably expected, Buckley and I tangled, but it was, it was polite. It was a polite tangle. And it was very, very funny. I won’t go into it now, but it was quite funny, except for one part. And that’s, where do you get the energy? He says, "Where do you get that dr-i-i-ve? But my hearing is very bad, I have volume but not the clarity, so words don’t come out clearly. I say, "Where do I get the gripe? Is that it? The gripe?" "No, the dr-i-i-ve?" "The gripe? Well, you provide me with much ammunition for it, Mr. Buckley." "No, where did you get the dr-i-i-ve?" And that’s it. His eyes rolling, you know, wildly, you know.

    And the tongue darting out frequently. And so I, in a sense, I, I was trying to answer him. And to keep from laughing at the same time.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    PUBLISHING

    Cw asks: "My question, do you ever work under time constraints?", "Not done justice to a certain story or person interviewed." Or "did you publish–" Well, I think the fact that I haven’t had that problem of time constraints is because I haven’t been in many commercial shows, not since the blacklist days I’m happy to say. I’ve had the luck of being on WFMT. Well, I haven’t had that experience of time constraints as far as publishing. The books I’ve done are at my own pace. And I should mention my publisher, Andre’ Schiffrin. Were it not for him, I wouldn’t have been doing this. He’s one of those independent publishers who, his case became legend. He was the publisher of Pantheon Books, which was part of the umbrella of Random House, Alfred Knopf’s Random House, Pantheon. And he had an excellent track record. His father was one of the founders of it. They escaped. His father and another couple named Kurt and Helen Wolff escaped Hitler and they founded this press. Pantheon was taken over by Random House, and Andre’ was head of Pantheon. And one day he, was reading some stuff of mine that was put in the magazine of the station, broadcasts that were written down. And he liked them. And he had just published a book about China written by Jan Myrdal, whose father Gunner Myrdal wrote the great book, American Dilemma, on race. And his mother, a Swedish member of the group that won the Nobel Peace Prize. He was from a very distinguished family. Jan Myrdal was in China, with his wife, Gwyn Kessle, who’s a photographer. And they’re studying a Chinese village and how it changed – the before and after of the Mao Revolution. How it was before, bound feet, and unbound feet after. Other changes, good and bad. And so Andre’ called me one day, it was in the sixties, and a revolution is going on here ­­- the Civil Rights, the cybernetics and mechanic, all revolutions going on. He said, "How about you doing a study of an American village? Chicago." I say, "Are you out of your mind?" He speaks very softly, he speaks very gently. And so we do Division Street: America. And it’s well received by the public as well as critics. Three months later he says, "How about a book–" He has that soft voice, with a slight British accent – he went to Cambridge. And his soft voice says, "How about a book about the great American Depression? The young don’t know about it." I say, "Are you out of your mind?" And so that’s how it came to be, all of these books. And he’s responsible to a great extent for them. I write my own ticket as far as time is concerned, since it’s unchartable. For one thing, it’s uncharted territory. And so I chart my own course.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    INJUSTICE

    I think I probably have done injustices in many cases. At the moment names don’t come to mind. I would like to have done more but sometimes, by the very nature of editing, some one had to be cut out, see. That’s one of the tough ones of the book world.

    Sydney Lewis
    You feel that it’s an injustice that you’ve cut out some of the people.

    Studs Terkel
    That’s what I mean. The injustice. As Sydney, here, knows. The toughest part. I might have touched on of how you do the book as an editor, as a gold prospector. How do I do my work? I always say– What’s the analogy? A gold prospector. I hear about a certain person, one way or another. A friend tells me about it, I read an item in the papers. No one rule. One day, I remember, I was on the radio, FMT, the subject was race, and about this community. And I got a call from a listener, very indignant. I remember her name, Jane Miller. She won’t mind because it’s a good connection here. And, and, she was bawling me out. "You don’t know. You, you don’t live in this community. You don’t know what it’s about. You, you sound just like my mother." "Your mother? What’s your mother’s phone number?". She was wonderful. She was an elderly woman, seventy-something or other. This was about thirty years ago. Chapin was her last name. She was wonderful. The mother was someone who knew Chicago and she says, "There are so many places to see and things to do, for nothing." But she was describing Chicago, and the people, and the makeup, and war, and her son. How did I get her? Because somebody bawled me out on the radio. So I find people that way, see.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    EVERYTHING TURNS TO GOLD

    Another case in point- a very dramatic one: I was interviewing an Appalachian couple in Chicago in an Appalachian community. And Chicago is, blacks came from the South and Appalachian people, to look for jobs in the steel mills and everything. Chicago was a city called heaven among black people in the South. In Chicago were the farm equipment plants where you could walk the street, so they thought. And, and so there, there was this Appalachian community. And I’m going off, and it’s raining like hell, but fortunately a cab comes along. I get in the cab. I was wearing a heavy tape recorder then around my shoulder. It was a Uher, a German tape recorder. And this young cab driver, he looks like L’il Abner, and he says, ah, "Are you a journalist or something?" I said, "Well, sort of you, you know." He says, "Did you see Lord Jim?" He means the movie of the Joseph Conrad novel. "I say, "Yeah, I did, yeah." He says, "Well, that movie’s about me. See, I was a coward all my life. And that movie’s about that one moment when I became not a coward. That’s when I joined the John Birch Society." "John Birch Society, no kidding." I say. I gotta get this guy. I say, "Listen, yes I am [a journalist]. Here’s what I do." I told him. So we met for the next three days. And you know what? It’s not the way it seems to be. The discovery I made is; you can’t have a rule of thumb. There’s a paradox in people, there’s a conflict in some people. John Birch Society. " yeah, you bet, you gotta kill those damn Reds." Well, yeah, he’d just as soon die fighting the Reds. He joined them because they’re big shots around, you know. He says, "I gotta join," and suddenly he’s part of the big shots. All his life he’s nothing. When he goes swimming with his family he’d go to overcome a fear of water. Not the joy of water, the fear of water. And so, this is the same guy, joining John Birch.

    And the same guys says, "I got fired a while ago." He was working as a, a prison guard in Chicago. They fired him because he fraternized with the inmates, most of whom were black. "What do you mean?" "Well, what happened is, the guys says to me one day, one of the guys in the prison, he’s a black guy. He says to me, ‘What time is it?’ ‘Why, are you in a hurry – you gotta plane to catch?’ And I realize, what did I say that to him for?" The same guy. "What did I say that to him for? And I went back to apologize." "And I found a very nice guy. You know, I think I trust– You don’t mind my saying this?" He says, "I trust black people more than I do white people." The same John Birch guy. And to top it all off, Florence Scala, one of the heroines of the city. She was the very first person in the very first book, Division Street: America, who tried to save her community, it’s a great one, the Harrison-Halsted, Jane Addams community. Tried to save the soul of the city and lost. When she ran for alderman, who do you think her biggest backer was, campaigner? This guy! The John Birch. So you see, there is no rule of thumb you can judge. And so, that’s how I interviewed him – accidental. And so now that I’ve found them all, what do you do with all this? You do the transcribing. I’ve got fifty pages of tape. If this were fifty pages it would be ten thousand pages. And there are repetitions.

  • Studs Terkel says:
    SIFTING THE GOLD

    Now you become the gold prospector, first step is finding the piece of land. Remember 1849, gold discovered in California. And you find a stake. And I find the person. That’s my gold. And now he starts digging. And I start interviewing. He digs and all the tons of ore comes out. And I dig and all these fifty pages come out. Oh boy, now, now comes the sifting. Sifting. He’s got a hand full of gold dust. Now comes my editing. And that’s a key moment. Now I’m now longer the gold prospector– Now I’m the brain surgeon. Now you’ve got to pick out the right things exactly. What do you edit? What do you keep in or out? The words are the words of that person, none of my words. Sometimes you switch the sequence, because there’s no one rule of thumb as to how you begin an interview. About the Depression: What’s your first memory of the Depression? It might be, "I hear you don’t like bananas. How come?" "Rotten." There’s no one rule. So you may change the sequence, but never the thought. You highlight it. And then comes putting one against the other. Because the gold dust is still not a watch, or a necklace, or a tiara. So now you connect others, and it becomes that jewel, or that thing. And I connect all these. Now comes the terrible part. How can I cut out the people, which we were talking about? The people I’ve left out in all these books are just as good as the ones in it. But now you become the stage director. See, now you got two good actors. But you balance that against the rest of the cast, you see. So one of the painful things in all the books is cutting people out of it who have given you their precious time. They’ve given you their everything. Now you have to cut them out. So that’s a deep pain. So in a sense we’re talking about being a whatnot.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Ah.

    Okay, that’s it for now. Much to digest.

    We’ll make sure Studs gets to see anything you post in the next couple of weeks, and we may go for another round of questions, but that’s not certain. If you have them, go ahead and ask. Can’t hurt.

    "Born to Live" will be available for all to hear very soon.

    Eventually, we’ll be creating a downloadable PDF of this material in the Transom Review section. In the meantime, the "ALL MSG" button is handy for a quick cut and paste to read offline.

  • Andy Knight says:
    In case there is a second go ’round…

    Mr. Terkel, when writing your books, did you ever find that the hardest person you’ve ever interviewed was yourself? In the process of writing, did you, the subject, ever get frustrated with you, the interviewer– Did you ever feel that you just weren’t asking yourself the right questions, or questions that weren’t quite good enough? If you did, how did you move past it.

  • ESPN Willie Weinbaum says:
    Eddie Gaedel

    I am writing in an attempt to contact Mr. Terkel for an interview about the late Eddie Gaedel, the famed little person who was used by Bill Veeck in a baseball game in St. Louis in 1951 and in subsequent promotions.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Notes

    If we get more questions in the next few days, we’ll send another batch to Studs for more improvistory answers. Last call.

    If you have questions specifically about Studs’ current featured documentary, "Born to Live," we gave it its own topic, where you can go to ask questions.

    By the way, there was a short bit about Studs and Transom.org in the NY Times Circuits Section last week. That link will let you see it, if you’re registered with them (it’s free).

  • cw says:
    two- legged what not

    just a thanks to studs terkel for sharing his time with us. i think he makes a quite excellent what-not.

    TWO-LEGGED WHATNOT

    But what I really am is a whatnot. You know what a whatnot is? It’s a piece of furniture. Look it up in the dictionary. It’s a piece of furniture in which you put anything in. Old letters you’ve saved, or notes you’ve written, or stuff people have sent you, or pieces of newspaper articles you cut out. Anything. Diaries. It’s, it’s a whatnot. And that’s what I am, a two-legged whatnot. –studs terkel

  • Joshua Barlow says:
    Studs Terkel’s Review

    Studs Terkel’s manifesto, "Something Real," has just been posted in both PDF and HTML forms in Transom Review section:

    http://www.transom.org/news/review/200107.review.sterkel.real.html

    Studs will be with us for another couple of weeks, so we will produce a separate review of his topic Q&A’s later in the month. In the meanwhile, download a copy… print it out… pass it around… enjoy the tactile universe.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Moved

    Being a meddlesome host, I took the liberty of moving Larry Massett’s posting about Born to Live over to the Born to Live topic:

    operations "Born to Live" August 3, 2001 01:42pm

  • Jay Allison says:
    Good Month

    Next week, we’ll be introducing our next Special Guest.

    I knew that no one from radio would be willing to follow Studs Terkel, so I asked a documentary photographer to visit. Nubar Alexanian. I’ll tell you more about him soon, but it’s going to be really good. He and some of his colleagues will be coming to talk about image and narrative, pictures and sound.

    Summer being what it is, there may not be another round of answers from Studs, but feel free to keep using the topic for comments. We’ll print out everything from this topic and the Born to Live topic and hand deliver to him. We’re the Internet site that’s willing to ring your doorbell.

    It has been a great inspiration to have Studs Terkel here. And we are hugely indebted to Sydney Lewis for making it happen. Thank you, Studs. Thank you, Sydney.

  • Hiya Studs

    Still making trouble, are you, Studs? Glad to hear it! Hope all is well and you’re kicking plenty of ass.

    Yuri