By Robert O’Connor.
[This is the last in a series on the complete works of Studs Terkel. The last book looked at was Touch and Go.]
The people who kept Touch and Go going for Studs were Sydney Lewis, his assistant, Dan Terkel, his son and J. R. Millares, his live-in help. When Touch and Go was being finished, they stumbled upon some things by Studs that deserved to be printed in book form. Studs was nearing death, what were his best pieces, his favorite pieces, and what little things could he leave behind as tokens of who he was and what he liked?
Those things are collected in P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening. It’s one last note before Studs had to stop. He died on October 31, 2008 with a copy of the book at his bedside. The book came out a few weeks later.
Some of the pieces in the book are complete transcripts of shows, like one he did with James Baldwin shortly after he came back from Switzerland. He said this one was one of his favorite interviews.
Much of the book has reprints of articles by Studs over the years, most of them in Chicago Magazine, which for most of his life was owned by WFMT (it is now owned by the Tribune Company). Studs saw Chicago as two-faced, much like its god, Janus. One face was welcoming, the other was forbidding. He mentions this in Chicago and goes into it in some pieces in the book, including one that originally ran in the Financial Times.
Studs also pays tribute to his neighborhood Uptown, where he moved in 1977. The neighborhood’s on the far north side of the city. If, as Studs said, Chicago is a microcosm of America, Uptown is a microcosm of Chicago. Uptown today has all the good, bad and contradictory things Chicago has. It has one of the best jazz venues in the city – Green Mill, but is also less safe than most other north-side neighborhoods. It used to have an entertainment district that rivaled the Loop, with theaters like the Aragon and the Uptown theater (the former is still active, the latter is not, in need of a multi-million dollar renovation). Studs’ articles on Uptown focus on the extraordinary diversity of the neighborhood and profiles of some of the people who lived there. At the time he moved, Uptown was home to a notable community of folks from Appalachia.
The book ends with three of Studs’ favorite programs, along with his most acclaimed ones. One was a full hour dedicated to interviewing Yip Harburg on his life and career.
The second is a program dedicated to interviewing young people and old people about the Great Depression – demonstrating the disconnect he wanted to bridge in Hard Times. The voices are from interviews Studs recorded for the book. He wanted to cure the “United States of Alzheimers” that is demonstrated in the young people who have heard of the Great Depression, but have no conception of what it was like.
The third, and the last piece in the book is the complete transcript of Born to Live, the program that earned Studs the Prix Italia. The last voice heard on the program is of young Eric Naess, who is recorded saying “hoppy! hoppy! hoppy!” as he is learning to talk. Studs adds a postscript that for 30 years, Born to Live would be played at 11 am each New Years Day, and at exactly 11:05 Eric Naess would call Studs and say “Happy! Happy! Happy!” every New Years for 30 years.
The last sound on that recording is of Pete Seeger, playing ‘Ode to Joy’ on his banjo. There really is no better joyful noise than that to sum up Studs Terkel. Cheers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Robert O’Connor is a journalist, writer, adventurer and a few dozen other things (including a Co-Editor of 3:AM). His stuff has appeared in the Twin Cities Daily Planet, Hot Press, KFAI and a few other places. He lives in Chicago.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, May 17th, 2012.