C-Span in Depth live interview with Studs Terkel, part 1

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Callers phone in and send e-mails to ask questions of Studs Terkel, who engages them in discussion interwoven with his powerful storytelling.  Part 1 of 2.

00:01 Ad for “Book TV.”

00:35 Introduction of Studs Terkel.

01:05 Interviewer welcomes Terkel and asks him to discuss the people he’s interviewed. Terkel talks about his documentation of the “non-celebrated” people and giving a voice to “ordinary” people, whom he says “are capable of extraordinary things.” 

04:25 Interviewer asks, “Where do you write?” Terkel mentions that he writes at home on a typewriter and condemns technology, and then calls himself ungrateful because technology has saved his life through a bypass surgery a few years prior to this interview.

05:30 Terkel speaks of the origin of the name “Studs” coming from a book he read as a child, and tells an amusing story about the only time that it got him in trouble.  He goes on to tell of growing up in the men’s hotel, his disdain for law school, and how his life is an “accretion of accidents.” He quickly goes through stages in his career from life in radio to being a lover of music and as a disc jockey, and how he found out that he could interview, which led to his career at WFMT.

09:52 Terkel talks about his television show, Studs’ Place, and how real it seemed to viewers. He then recounts how he was blacklisted by the McCarthy-era politics, and how people call him heroic for standing up and refusing to say that he was mistaken or framed.  

14:00 They speak of Terkel’s first book, Giants of Jazz (1957).  Terkel goes on to speak of Jazz and Blues.

15:35 They discuss his first oral history book, Division Street America, and how this led to the other books he’s written.

16:45 Interviewer invites viewers to call in and speak with Studs.

16:56  Interviewer asks Studs to talk about his book Hard Times and the scar of keeping quiet about the humiliation that so many people experienced during the Great Depression. Studs speaks also about the criticism against big government, and how due to a “National Alzheimer’s Disease” Americans are disconnected with our past.

19:55 Terkel speaks about the origin of his family name and their migration from the Polish/Russian border in 1903.

20:20 Interviewer asks Terkel about his dress code. Terkel notes that only he, Garrison Keillor, and Vance Johnson wear red socks. 

22:00 First caller asks about the news media and how it’s being filtered.  Terkel responds that “fewer and fewer powers control more and more things and more of us feel helpless.” He talks about the conflict of interest when media is owned by powerful corporations and individuals with agendas. He goes on to talk about his concept that we should have a soapbox where people are able to speak freely.  He goes on to talk of the 2000 presidential election as a “farce” that is a W.C. Fields burlesque style drama.

26:08 Caller asks Terkel to elaborate on his relationship with Mahalia Jackson. He notes that she died on Mozart’s birthday, and goes on to tell about how he first heard her record, which led to meeting her and a great friendship they shared. He speaks of her art form of “demonstrating” when she sang.

29:25 Interviewer asks when Terkel’s radio program ended. Terkel mentioned that he wanted to write more books and how it was hard for him to do both.

30:00 E-mailer asks about Terkel’s designation as the nation’s “Oral Historian” as awarded by President Clinton.  Terkel claims that he is a “guerrilla journalist,” not an oral historian.

31:15 Caller asks about the re-emergence of rickets and also about the privatization of social security. Terkel notes that these two comments are connected. He speaks about the origins of social security, and he talks about the privatization of the ’20s and how we were saved by regulation. “When it comes to health, education, and welfare, you threaten to privatize that, which leads to rickets, of course.”

35:10 Caller asks about the murder of Fred Hampton in Chicago in 1967, as well as the Black Panthers. Terkel notes that Hampton was a nonviolent organizer associated with the Black Panthers, and how that was a precursor to the Democratic Convention of 1968. He tells an interesting story about the origin of Balbo Street in Chicago, and then goes on to tell about the Haymarket affair, as well.

38:25 Interviewer reads a quote from Terkel’s book, Race, and Terkel speaks about affirmative action, choosing to rename it “affirmative civility.” He speaks of it as a way to acknowledge people who have been overlooked, and of teaching our children what is civil, which is in recognizing the other individual.

41:15 Interviewer asks him about his party affiliation, to which Terkel responds that he’s independent. Terkel then recommends someone who embodies integrity, compassion, and intelligence as a presidential candidate and asks the audience to guess who it is.

42:22 Caller guesses that Bill Moyers is the person he’s speaking of, and Terkel tells him he is correct. That same caller also notes that his parents were interviewed for the book Working and recalls his experience of the riots of the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

45:50 Terkel goes on to point out how he loves that people change their attitudes after reading Working.

46:44 Interviewer asks Terkel to comment on his quote that if Bush is elected, he would “run for the hills.” Terkel says that he hasn’t run, but he should. He speaks of the role of Ralph Nader and how he is often blamed, but that he is glad he ran.

47:44 Interviewer asks about the popularity of Working. Terkel notes that there have been few books written about common people and what it’s like to live as another lives. The interviewer reads an except from the book about a gravedigger. 

50:00 Caller asks him to talk about Nelson Algren. Terkel notes that he was a great writer, who wrote about “life behind the billboards” and called him the “bard of Chicago.”

51:20 Interviewer asks if he has a favorite place in Chicago. Terkel speaks of a restaurant called Riccardo’s that was a landmark hangout for journalists and other writers in Chicago.

52:22 E-mailer asks how the blacklist affected his life. Terkel notes that if not for the blacklist, he probably would have never had the rich life that he ended up having.  He notes again that his life is “a series of accidents,” and that he’d never have had a career at WFMT or written his books otherwise.

54:21 Interviewer asks about Terkel’s wife Ida and her experience of the flu as a child. Terkel explains that they were married for sixty years. He says that she had a good life of 87 years, but it is hard for him to understand why society believes that you shouldn’t grieve when someone lives a long life. He notes that he still grieves losing his wife, and calls his son, Dan, his “Gibraltar.”

56:50 Caller asks Terkel to compare Richard J. Daley with Rudy Giuliani. He comments that the authoritarian aspects of their power are similar.

57:52 Caller asks about Working and if anyone has done any variations on it. Terkel mentions that there are several variations on the theme, which he is happy to see.

59:18 Interviewer asks about whether anyone stands out as being a best interview.  Terkel speaks about his latest book, Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, and the quest for faith and meaning.

1:01:24 Interviewer asks, “Does death frighten you?”  Terkel responds, “No” but that he doesn’t welcome death. He notes that his epitaph will read, “Curiosity did not kill this cat.”

1:02:20 E-mailer asks Terkel to give reasons why Hard Times should be part of school curricula. Terkel says that it gives an inside look at “What was it like to live during that time?” This will connect to families today, as well.

01:04:40 Interviewer asks him how long it takes to write a book. Terkel responds that it depends, and that this last book went quickly and took less than two years.

01:05:25 Caller who taught in the Soviet Union speaks about being blacklisted and having used Terkel’s writing, and thanks him. He thanks him back.

01:06:40 Caller asks about letters of WWII, and Terkel says that WFMT is collecting letters written during all wars, and Terkel is privileged to read them on the air, but is not part of the project in any other way.

01:07:52 Noise from Terkel’s hearing aids.

01:08:10 Caller asks about the automated voice system on telephone lines. Terkel tells about how he often forgets who he called by the time it gets to #6. He speaks about how we are becoming roboticized, and how humans are suffering from this.  He tells an amusing story about an experience at the Atlanta airport that illustrates this.

01:12:24 Caller asks about Mike Royko. Terkel calls him a friend and says that he was “THE columnist.”

01:13:53 Caller asks for advice about indexing books. Terkel speaks about how he records and transcribes each word, laugh, or silence. He uses the analogy of a gold prospector to illustrate his work as an interviewer.

01:18:06 Interviewer asks where Terkel’s books would be found in the library. He says that typically they’re in the history or sociology, but he’d put them in “What Not” category.

01:18:45 Caller asks about Terkel’s opinion about librarians. Terkel says that they are the heroes of our society, along with teachers.

01:20:50 Caller asks Terkel’s opinion about an assignment for his students to tackle an oral history of the Cold War.  Terkel says that would be a good one, and that it could go way back in history and that it would be a “hell of a story. It would be a big one.”

01:22:50 Caller asks him to comment on the neighborhoods in Chicago and the changes along the way. Terkel speaks of gentrification and the whites moving toward being a minority in a matter of years.

01:24:24 Terkel talks about his program on WFMT.

01:25:14 Caller asks about Working and says that she’s going through a life transition and asks whether this is a good book to read. He responds, “What was it like to be like this at this time?”

01:28:20 Terkel tells an anecdote about waiting for the bus with a young yuppie couple. This is an amusing story highlighting his idea of a “National Alzheimer’s Disease.”

01:31:35 E-mailer asks, “What writer influences you most?” Terkel speaks of Nelson Algren, Gary Wills, Russell Banks, and others.

01:32:31 Caller asks who in journalism gives voice to the voiceless today and about the lobotimization of culture. Terkel speaks of Howard Zinn, and that there are many good journalists out there, but they may never get a chance because of the corporate ownership of media. He speaks also of “The Good War.”

01:36:25 Caller asks Terkel what he’s figured out about human nature and what gets us out of bed in the morning. Terkel notes that there is a complexity of human nature, and the understanding of that was the cause of Shakespeare being the greatest playwright in history. He speaks of some interviews and the conflicts that occur within human beings.

01:40:18 Interviewer asks how he knows he’s got a good interview. Terkel says he just gets a feeling. He goes on to describe his greatest interview, which was with C.P. Ellis, the former grand cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan.  It’s a captivating story of redemption and hope.

01:48:30 Caller tells a personal anecdote of her father as a labor organizer and attorney, and how reading Working helped her connect with her father’s passion.  Terkel thanks her.

01:49:45 Caller asks why Roosevelt did not go to the concentration camps earlier.  Terkel speaks of Roosevelt’s flaws, and this may be one of them, but he remains Terkel’s favorite president.

01:51:58 Caller thanks him for outlining the differences between WWII and Vietnam. He asks whether he knew Eric Hoffer or Sol Alinsky. Terkel speaks of Alinsky and his legendary community organizing.

01:54:40 Caller asks about homosexuals in the military during World War II, which he couldn’t understand. Terkel says that it was true that there were homosexuals fighting during WWII and that they were heroes and suffered discrimination, which made them even more heroic.

01:56:20 Terkel talks about his growing up in his parents’ men’s hotel on Wells and Grand in Chicago.

01:57:33 Caller comments on the Harlem Globetrotters and Terkel says that those who make comedy out of their art must master their art first.

01:58:32 Caller asks him to speak about Jazz and freedom. He says that jazz allows for improvisatory freedom, just like the beginning of television, like Studs’ Place.

01:59:35 Terkel begins to speak of John Leuellen, and then the tape cuts out.



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