Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Turkel 1912-2008

"There are certain key moments in my life, rewards I get that are not monetary but are far far more important. A guy stopped me once—I did Working, and had all kinds of portraits, and one is the portrait of a waitress, Dolores Dante, she used to work at the Erie Cafe, when it was an expense-account joint. She was great. She talked about the day of a waitress. So one day this guy stops me on the street, and he corners me, on Michigan Boulevard Bridge—you know, people stop me now and then, not celebrity, just me, you know, they know me. He says listen, I want to tell ya—since I read about that woman Dolores in your book Working, I’ll never again talk to a waitress the way I have in the past. I’ll never again. Well that’s pretty good, that means I’ve touched him." Studs Turkel in conversation with Michael Lenehan

I always got a real charge out of hearing Studs Turkel speak, and especially SEEING him engage in conversation about the subjects that interested him. He possessed a passion and curiosity that was inspiring, and he also had this magnetic grittiness about him, a kind of old-school ground-level no-nonsense attitude that was always natural and sincere, never affected. He didn't begin writing until after he was blacklisted from broadcast television during the McCarthy era. He never learned to drive, relying instead on cabs and busses (reminding me of something Richard Meltzer said about Jack Kerouac, that "he never drove so he never drove alone"). He was a friend of Mahalia Jackson, he interviewed a young Bob Dylan on his radio show, and he was a passionate supporter of Barack Obama's campaign for President. In short, Studs Turkel was like a sure-fire antidote for cynicism. All you had to do was hear him talk. Or read his writing. Or watch him listening.

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