History From the Bottom Up
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
“Take your minds and think through them. Take your hearts and set them on fire. Amen.” —Studs Terkel
I was excited to see that our show with Studs Terkel is listed on HBO’s resources page for the documentary “Studs Terkel: Listening to America,” which debuted this past weekend. Even more exciting, though, is the announcement that roughly 6,000 hours of his interviews will be digitized by the Library of Congress.
A quote from the trailer: “History is so often told from the top down through the voice of statesmen and politicians, but what Studs has done is to tell history from the bottom up.” Amen.
Kindred Spirits: Studs Terkel and Mike Rose
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
In our program with Mike Rose, we are asking you to share your memories of school — moments when your mind came to life in a new way and shaped who you are in terms of becoming, longing, hope, and possibility. One of the memories that came up for me as we produced this program was reading Studs Terkel’s American Dreams: Lost and Found in a college sociology class.
That book inspired me, in the same way I feel inspired by Mike Rose, to consider the meaning of intelligence, to look below the radar and across lines of race, class, and occupation for what’s real, and to grasp how the reality of American lives often defies stereotypes I may attach to them. It also influenced my a love of storytelling, of oral history — Studs style — and an appreciation for the beauty that can be found in matters and people our culture often considers “average.”
So, it was fun for me to discover an interview that Studs Terkel did with Mike Rose in 1996 for Studs’ radio program out of Chicago. It’s classic Studs — filled with curiosity, passion, and his signature chatter. They wander through Rose’s book, Possible Lives, highlighting the public school teachers that Rose chronicled in four years traveling across the U.S. There’s a kindred spirit in their work, and even though it’s over a decade old, I found their conversation about imaginative educators defying the odds still very inspiring for today.
Vissi D’Arte and the Other Guy from Chicago
Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Our program with the recently passed-on Studs Terkel is being rebroadcast this week. If this show doesn’t make you cry, there is just plain something wrong with you. Of course the man is the patron saint of every good thing in radio broadcasting, so we have a special love and a license for sentimentality when it comes to Studs. I actually had him autograph a baseball for me once.
In any case, at one compelling moment in this week’s show which I won’t describe here, we play a piece of the great aria from Tosca, “Vissi D’Arte,” and hearing it sent me hungrily off to YouTube to find a complete version. This one, performed by Leontyne Price in the 1960s, gave me some real joy today, and made me miss the intellect of a man who could wander so easily from Mahalia Jackson to Bertrand Russel to Puccini.
The Shot of Whiskey I Never Drank
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Studs Terkel, the legendary radio personality and interviewer, died today. Nearly four years ago, I took my first production trip for SOF — and what a way to start things out — with an interview in his Chicago home. At the time (he was 92 then), he had taken a fall and thus was primarily confined to his bed, relocated to the first floor in the center of his living room.
We were prepared for an elderly man who may not have a lot of energy to make it through an hour. What we got was the same old dynamo that I’d seen and heard so many times. He was alive, and his vivacity energized all of us. I regret having to relinquish this original character.
During that hour, I remember three things vividly: his definition of being an agnostic, which he defined as “a cowardly atheist”; the way he spoke about his wife as a living presence in his life, even though she had passed away some time before; this towering figure shook hands with me and asked me to repeat my name several times so that he could register it and acknowledge my presence. For part of a crew (and a Web lackey at that) invading his home, this made me feel welcome — and special; and, I write this with a regret that pangs my heart, I didn’t take him up on his offer to have a snort of whiskey before the interview — even if it was before noon.
Oh how I wish I would’ve raised my one glass to him. I’ll raise it tonight instead.