This weekend there is a celebration of the life and legacy of Studs Terkel at the University of Chicago. The schedule of events can be found on studs.uchicago.edu. Personally, I didn’t know Studs very well. I don’t think he knew my name. He acknowledged me at political events, concerts and plays that we both attended, and every now and then we would engage in some light conversation of never more than a minute or two.
I thought that Studs was the best radio interviewer that I ever listened to. His encyclopedic knowledge of a variety of subject matter never failed to astound me. He seemed equally versed on jazz, blues, musical theater and opera. Despite occasional outrageous remarks by interviewees, he never seemed fazed, always maintaining a calm demeanor.
I wonder if Saul Bellow’s criticism of Studs might surface during this coming adulatory weekend. Bellow, in a letter to the journalist Herbert Mitgang in 1996 writes “Stud’s Chicago certainly was not mine. His Chicago was mythical. His myth was common.” Bellow goes on to say that both Studs and Carl Sandburg had a stylized image of Chicago. “It was the People, Yes! Populism was the source of their mythology. It was not necessary for them to wonder how to describe any phenomenon because they had ideological ready-mades, cutouts, stereotypes, etc. Poets and street-corner orators can make use of slogans, but slogans will not do for writers.”
I’m sure that the Studs who so loved the cantankerous banter of Bughouse Square in its heyday, would appreciate some stimulating debate about his work, rather than accept unanimous appreciation by admirers.