So Long, Studs
01/05/2010 - 14:02
Jonathan Mark
Monday, November 10th, 2008 Born in the Bronx to Russian Jewish immigrants, Studs Terkel (who was to become “the walking anthology of all things Chicago) didn’t particularly see himself as Jewish, except as an agnostic’s ethnic curiosity. But his recent death underlined, for me, at least, the serious difference between Stud’s leftist politics and that of Bill Ayers.   The left of Ayers, and his Weather Underground, was nihilist, born of rage, leading to bombings and death, to a culture of loathing for anyone who disagreed.   The left of Studs was, “l’shaym Shamayim” (for the sake of Heaven), born of a love for humanity, a joy for conversation with anyone that had a story to tell, right or left.   The Chicago Sun-Times obituary noted that his parents ran a rooming house, the Wells-Grand Hotel, and he “spent his youth among the odd collection of hotel guests, some seeking work, others avoiding it. He credited his unusual residence with sparking within him an interest in the personal stories of regular people.”   Studs worked in theater, radio and television, but he was perhaps most compelling as an interviewer, which was really just a fancy word for old-time Bronx (and Chicago) shmoozing, just a conversation between friends with the “record” button on.   Said the obit: “He developed an interviewing style often referred to as ‘oral history,’ becoming a virtuoso of the tape recorder.” Studs once said:   “A tape recorder is a revolutionary instrument. It’s no good for a talk with a movie actress or a politician, because they’re so plastic. But a tape recorder on the steps of a housing project is something else again. There a person who a moment ago was just a statistic starts talking to you and becomes human, becomes a person. Then it gets exciting.”   According to the Sun-Times, Studs said in 1980: “If there’s something I want to do, it’s create a sense of continuity — that there is a past and a present and that there may be a future. And that there isn’t any present unless you know the past.” For someone who left his religion behind, he nevertheless was a terrific guest on “Speaking of Faith,” heard here on WNYC.   And on the Nov. 1 “Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor led a sing-a-long for Studs to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s “Dusty Old Dust,” better known as “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You.”   Sing along:   Oh here’s to a man who lived long and well Died yesterday, born in 1912 A sickly child, weighed only four pounds Arrived on the day the Titanic went down   SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU GOODBYE STUDS TERKEL GOODBYE AND FAREWELL AND I’VE GOT TO BE DRIFTING ALONG   He was a great man and I knew him, kid. No one lived better than Studs Terkel did. A child of Chicago and of radio He lived 96 years before he let go.   He was a talker, in bars and cafes He’d start a story and it went on for days He talked to you like you were his best friend And then when the evening came to an end (he said)   SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU GOODBYE STUDS TERKEL GOODBYE AND FAREWELL AND I’VE GOT TO BE DRIFTING ALONG   He was pals with Algren, and with Mahalia He knew success and he knew about failure An historian of life on the street He talked to the bums like they were the elite   He had a TV show back in the day Which he wrote himself and did his own way When he was blacklisted as a left-winger He left with a smile as he gave them the finger. (SAID)   SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU GOODBYE STUDS TERKEL GOODBYE AND FAREWELL AND I’VE GOT TO BE DRIFTING ALONG   A radio man for about fifty years Interviewed rebels and brave pioneers Skeptics, philosophers, artists, and cranks, Generals but also the guys in the ranks.   Had wild white hair and sparkling eyes A man of vast spirit and diminutive size Loved cigars and martinis and stories and jokes At the end of the evening he’d say to the folks   SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU GOODBYE STUDS TERKEL GOODBYE AND FAREWELL AND I’VE GOT TO BE DRIFTING ALONG   He lived in Chicago on the North Side And there yesterday Studs Terkel died He gave a big smile and waved as he went Believing Obama would become president.   If you believe in the unbroken circle Then I expect we will rejoin Studs Terkel And until that beautiful bright shining day We gather around him and quietly say   SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU SO LONG IT’S BEEN GOOD TO KNOW YOU GOODBYE STUDS TERKEL GOODBYE AND FAREWELL AND I’VE GOT TO BE DRIFTING ALONG

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