March 2, 2014

Studs Terkel’s Chicago
Studs Terkel

His Kind of Town – I grew up hearing Studs Terkel’s voice on my Dad’s clock-radio, tuned to WFMT-FM. I listened to hours of conversations Studs had with singers and songwriters and authors. I came to know that laugh of his and felt I came to know him, too. This was back in the 1960s, when I was just a little kid, fascinated by that gravelly voice – fascinated by these conversations, such adult conversations over the airwaves.

It was years later (decades, really) before I ever met the man. I met Studs through the Community Media Workshop, a feisty organization here in Chicago that helps other nonprofits tell their stories more effectively. Each year, the Workshop honors three or four reporters with Studs Terkel Awards. When he was alive, Studs participated each and every year, posing with anyone who wanted a photograph (and all 200 of us did). In every photo, Studs always – always – pointed with his thumb or forefinger at whoever else was in the picture with him (above you'll see Alton Miller, Studs and yours truly). Studs also ended every awards ceremony with a fiery stem-winder.

My most vivid memory of Studs occurred about a decade ago on a warm Spring evening when the Community Media Workshop had hosted the Studs Terkel Awards ceremony at the Arts Club in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. The speeches were finished, dinner plates from the buffet and dessert table were cleared, and the Curtis Black Jazz Trio was wrapping up. Studs was about 90 years old. Cane in hand, Studs charged toward one of the bar tables and ordered cognac. The bartender politely informed Studs there was no cognac available. Studs, near-deaf, leaned closer and growled again in a louder voice: “A nightcap. Some cognac!” When the bartender shouted his reply, Studs’ red face lit with glee. “What’dya mean you don’t have cognac?” he roared. “For Christ’s sake, this is the Arts Club!”

Studs died in 2008. I, along with so many others, miss Chicago’s favorite raconteur, America’s favorite rabble rouser. Through 17 books, Studs Terkel made the ordinary extraordinary by enabling us to hear the uncommon voices of common men and women. “Studs Terkel’s Chicago” is his love letter to the Windy City. Reading this book, I couldn’t help but once again feel bedazzled by that voice, his voice:

“It is still the arena of those who dream of the City of Man and those who envision a City of Things. The battle appears to be forever joined. The armies, ignorant and enlightened, clash by day as well as night. Chicago is America’s dream, writ large. And flamboyantly.

It has – as they used to whisper of the town’s fast woman – a reputation.”


Post a Comment

<< Home