I knew Studs Terkel when he was a living legend. I was saddened to hear of his death this week at age 96.
I would bump into him on occasion on the Michigan Avenue Bridge or over at the Chicago Sun-Times office, decked out in his rumpled red-checkered shirt and red socks. Great trademarks.
Back in 1995, when fellow Sun-Times reporter Tom Brune and I had a new book out, The Serpent on the Staff: The Unhealthy Politics of the American Medical Association, we appeared on Studs show at WFMT.
It was a trip.
Studs got pissed off and started muttering to himself when he had some problems with a hearing aid. The feedback was annoying. So he shucked the hearing aid and buried it in the cushions in the couch in his studio.
Tom and I had done a number of radio shows. Some hosts obviously hadn't read the book and faked their way through the interviews.
Not Terkel. Studs had marked notes on every page of the book. Tom Brune coveted that book copy as a keepsake and to peer into Studs' mind. I still have a tape of that interview.
Studs asked us to bring along some music that even vaguely related to our book. I brought in "Like a Surgeon," a parody by "Weird Al" Yankovic. Weird Al 's lyrics mentioned AMA to the beat of Madonna's "Like a Virgin."
Studs got it a bit mixed up. He introduced the song was being by Frankie Yankovic, the polka king. Cracked me up.
What a thrill to sit in the seat alongside the master who documented America in a unique way, interviewing everyday folks, such my father's pal Leo Davis, along with a who's who, including Bertrand Russell, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Margaret Mead. Studs had a front row seat to history and he brought his readers and listeners along with him for the ride.
Studs had a way of making you feel important. He was a great listener as well as a conversationalist. He was an advocate for progressive change. I wish he had lived long enough to hear what he had to say on the outcome of Tuesday's Presidential election.
I remember once testing a new game system in a plain white van under the L tracks on Franklin Street. The PR lady for Nintendo mentioned how much she admired Studs Terkel. She thought of Chicago as Studs' town. She was right.
I asked her if she'd want to meet him. She was stunned by the offer. So I called Studs' house. His wife Ida answered, saying Studs wasn't around, but referred me to another number.
Within minutes, the Terkel fan was speaking with Studs. He couldn't have been more gracious. She said the conversation changed her life.
He changed a lot of our lives.
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