Reply Mon 3 Nov, 2008 09:28 am
Studs Terkel & The Copy Boy With Homicidal Fantasies
By Mark Fitzgerald - E & P
Published: November 02, 2008

CHICAGO Based on what I've read in the newspapers and blogs over the weekend, I'm one of the few Chicago journalists who didn't know Studs Terkel personally. I had several chance encounters with him that I look back on fondly -- because each one so fit his image.

And, like so many of my generation, I was influenced by his fascinating and compassionate oral histories. His death Friday sent me the next day to the Roden branch of the Chicago Public Library for a copy of his 1970s bestseller "Working."

I had to read one particular interview again to be sure I remembered correctly -- had Studs really devoted a very long section to a Chicago newspaper copy boy who voiced his vivid fantasies of murdering the editor, perhaps with a baseball bat, perhaps with a .50 caliber machine gun, perhaps in the employ of Mao Zedong? Did Studs really record the man-boy's plan to kidnap owner Marshall Field?


But before revisiting this weirdest oral history, my own thin bag of close encounters with Louis "Studs" Terkel.

The first time was back in maybe 1985 when pressmen and other production workers in the old Graphic Communications International Union started a strike against the Chicago Tribune that would end very badly indeed for them. I was walking by their picket around Tribune Tower when suddenly the picketers were far more animated than I'd seen them in week. They'd spotted Studs Terkel, trademark red check shirt and all, and knew they had at least one ardent supporter on the sidewalk of Michigan Avenue.

The next time was a few years later, on a witheringly hot summer evening. Before heading to the train after work, I decided to tuck into Ricardo's, the old newspaper bar, for a tall gin and tonic. Seated at the bar I heard from behind me the unmistakable Studs voice.

"Warren," Studs was saying, "Warren, we've got to get going. It's a long way to O'Hare." Warren was having none of it. Warren was comfortably ensconced in a cool, dark bar, a drink in his mitts.

Warren was Warren Hinckle, the legendary editor of Ramparts, who at the time was at the San Francisco Examiner and editing Hunter S. Thompson's column.

My last encounter with Studs might give Sarah Palin chills, or at least campaign fodder. It was a couple of years ago at the Studs Terkel Community Media Awards dinner, sponsored by Community Media Workshop. Bill Ayers wasn't there, but his wife and Weather Underground comrade Bernadine Dohrn was. Little did I realize I was "palling around with domestic terrorists" that night.

Charlie Blossom, wherever he may be now, never graduated to domestic terrorist, but he reflected the zeitgeist of the mid-1970s pretty well. Studs, in fact, titles the chapter that includes Blossom's murder fantasies "The Age of Charlie Blossom."

Re-reading the book 34 years later, I recognize Blossom as not that different from the seemingly endless supply of spoiled Baby Boomers who make up my g-g-generation. By way of background for Studs, he notes that he had a job in a tool-and-die factory -- a damned good job to get in those recessionary years -- and insisted his particular duties have nothing to do with the "war machine." But then one day as he was hanging parts on a line and they made loud clanging noises, he realized "this was like the scream of the Vietnamese people that are being napalmed." He quit when the factory couldn't accommodate that objection.

Blossom landed at a Chicago daily as a copy boy. "Working" doesn't say which one, but it's either the Chicago Sun-Times or the old Chicago Daily News, both owned by Marshall Field at the time. (Studs later said it was the Sun-Times and that Blossom was a pseudonym.)

Blossom is like a revolutionary behind enemy lines, or maybe a Charles Manson invited into a Los Angeles mansion.

When the editor ignores the copy boy's suggestion that the paper's foreign editor write about a Ramparts article that the CIA was smuggling opium, Blossom does not exactly take this in stride: "He's a really nice person," Blossom says. "I don't know if I would get any pleasure from shooting him up with a .50 caliber machine gun and seeing his body splatter to pieces. I'd be emotionally disturbed by an act of destruction as total as that. But I would get some satisfaction out of it, because of the rage I feel towards these guys."

Blossom walks around with shoes held together by tape. He sits in the lotus position for minutes at a time in front of the religion editor. He talks to the flowers on the counter of the public affairs office. He smokes pot during two-hour lunch breaks, and won't wear a shirt under his smock.

And cannot understand, Studs, he reveals, why these m-----ers are so f----ing p---d off.

When, inevitably, he's fired, Blossom considers his options:

"Will I smoke a joint in the city room? Will I meditate in the library? I wanted do do something to show, Hey, I'm better than you m------rs. I'm getting fired because I'm different. I don't want to be a cipher. I was thinking, how could I show that? By kidnapping Marshall Field? By shooting him?"

In the end he settles for a zippy line: "I hope you can live with the conditions you're creating," he tells the editor.

Studs could have interviewed any number of now-legendary Chicago journalists at a time when the city was teeming with them. But the little guy, even when he was a little jerk, was always Studs' key to approaching history.
Reply Sat 13 Dec, 2008 11:27 am
Hard Times Without Studs
Friday 12 December 2008
by: Tom Engelhardt, The Nation

On Sunday, I went to a memorial for Studs Terkel, that human dynamo, our nation's greatest listener and talker, the one person I just couldn't imagine dying. After all, the man wrote his classic oral history of death, "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" at 89, and only then did he do his oral history of hope, "Hope Dies Last." The celebration of his life went on for almost two and a half hours. Everyone on stage had a classic story about the guy, one better than the next, and Studs would have been thrilled that so many people talked at such length about him. But he wouldn't have stayed. Half an hour into the event, he would have been out the door, across the street, and into the nearest bar, asking people about their lives. And the amazing thing is this: they would have been spilling their guts. He could make a stone talk - and not only that, but tell a story of stone-ness that no one had ever heard before or even imagined a stone might tell. His death is like an archive of what was best in America closing; his legacy lies in oral histories that will inform the generations.

Unfortunately, his remarkable oral history of the Great Depression, "Hard Times," may prove all too hauntingly relevant to our moment. In fact, in the midst of the ceremonies, the radio host Laura Flanders pointed out that, in Studs's beloved Chicago, a group of more than 200 workers from United Electrical union local 1110 were sitting in at their factory. After the Bank of America had cut the company off from operating credit, the execs of Republic Windows and Doors shut the plant for good on just three days notice without offering severance pay. The workers responded by demanding some justice and "blocking the removal of any assets from the plant" until they got their "rightful benefits." Shades of the 1930s! As John Nichols of the Nation writes, "[They] are conducting the contemporary equivalent of the 1930s sit-down strikes that led to the rapid expansion of union recognition nationwide and empowered the Roosevelt administration to enact more equitable labor laws. And, just as in the thirties, they are objecting to policies that put banks ahead of workers; stickers worn by the UE sit-down strikers read: 'You got bailed out, we got sold out.'"

If this isn't a message from and about a changing nation, I don't know what is. And, by the way, the fact that the President-elect supported their demands at a news conference on Sunday indicates not just that change has indeed occurred, but that messages sent from the bottom en masse don't go unnoticed by canny politicians at the top.

Until this second, who would have predicted such a thing? And who can imagine what version of hard times we will face? All I know is that, if Studs, who made it to 96, to the verge of the historic election of Barack Obama, were alive today, he would have recognized a moment of hope when he saw it and made a beeline for Republic Windows and Doors, tape recorder in hand. He was, after all, a man who knew that anyone can hope in good times, but that, in bad times, to feel hopeful you have to act, you have to take a step, even on an unknown path. And he was a man who also would have taken it for granted that the lives of the workers in that Chicago factory were at least as complex, deep, dark, surprising, fascinating, confusing, and remarkable as any among Washington's elite or the movers and shakers (down) of Wall Street.

In one of Studs's interviews, the chief of the trauma unit at a Chicago hospital, talking about how a doctor should deal with the family of a young person who has just died traumatically, says that, when he introduces himself, "they won't even remember my name. Sit them down. Sit down with them. Look into their eyes. If you can, hold on to them and say, 'it's bad news.' And they'll say, 'Is he dead?' Or they just look at you. You have to use the word, you have to say it: 'He's dead.' If you say he's 'expired,' he's 'passed away,' they don't hear that ... It's very important to put yourself into their shoes, but you've got to say the word 'dead.' You've got to give them the finality of it."

Well, Studs is dead. And it's hard times without him.
0 Replies
Reply Sun 15 Feb, 2009 10:01 am
C-SPAN Books aired the Studs Terkel memorial Saturday 2/15/09. Lots of memories as I watched it. On one of Stud's radio broadcasts not long after we first met was about why he noticed me at the CLUE convention.

A groups of women were sitting around a restaurant table when Stud joined us. Stud was chatting with the women as usual as he loved to talk to people. A young woman joined us and I noticed that she was eating the crackers on the table. A lot of women came to the convention with almost no money and she looked like many I had encountered. We started ordering our lunches, but the young woman didn't order, saying she wasn't hungry. I called the waitress back and increased my order. When the food came, I started eating and after a few minutes, I turned to her and told her I had ordered too much was stuffed and didn't want the food wasted. I asked if she would like the remaining food. She thanked me, saying it was a shame to waste the food and gobbled it up.

That was when Studs began talking to me, asking me about my role at the convention. I didn't realize that Studs was actually interviewing me, wanting to know a lot about me. To make a long story short, several weeks later, Studs sent me a tape of his radio broadcast. He reported how he watched how I fed the young woman I had never met before without embarrassing her or hurting her dignity.

Studs was a wonderful judge of people. He loved people. We all loved him.


0 Replies

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