With the passing of Studs Terkel this past Friday, the nation lost perhaps its greatest observer of the experiences of ordinary Americans in the twentieth century. In college, Division Street: America (1966) was my introduction to his witty, vibrant style of oral history. In the mid-'70s, I read Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) on my own. As much as I enjoyed those books, over the next thirty years I came to realize he was at his best beyond the printed word. After all, the man pulled experiences out of people through conversation, a technique meant to be heard and seen. Seeing and hearing Studs was a treat. He had what I would call the Chicago delivery: entertaining, animated, flamboyant, sharp, and gritty, with a good cigar and a top shelf martini. He had all the markings of a working man who had "arrived" but wanted a bit more. And out of that reach came a body of work documenting the lives of thousands of men and women, great and small, being "America."
If you want to see and hear more, check out any of the the interviews on Youtube. Here's a taste of the man in action at 95:
Godspeed, Studs. My next martini - coming up after this post - is for you.