Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Curiosity did not kill this cat." - Studs Terkel

We voted at 6:45 this morning and there were lines already. People are passionate about voting in a way I can't remember seeing since McGovern vs. Nixon in 1972. Turned on the radio on returning and there were not just the expected exit polls, but also exit stories - people speaking of what was happening at their polling place or who they voted for. It seemed a fitting tribute for Studs Terkel who died just a few days ago at 96 years of age. Terkel was a Chicago radio broadcaster and the Pulitzer Prize winning oral historian of America. He collected the stories not just of the illustrious, but of the common man (or woman), starting with his book Working in 1974. It told the stories of America's workers, how they ended up with the job they had and what their working life was like, or really more than that - how it felt to do the work they did. It was later turned into a decent but somewhat pedestrian musical. I tried to find a link to a song or two on YouTube, but it was all tinny-sounding home videos of high school productions. Terkel collected stories on many themes of American life throughout the century - the Depression, the so-called American dream, World War II, race, faith, and aging. I think of his work as the inspiration for Story Corps, the booths that have popped up around America, where folks can tell friends or family their story, preserve and archive it. He made the collecting of the stories of ordinary people a serious pursuit. I see narrative as central to the human condition in more than one way. For one thing, it is the way that the bunch of cells called our 'brain' makes up that construct we call our 'mind.' I am a devotee of the value of the narrative for building and mainting a healthy self as well as for sharing the essence of one's self with others, which is the ways bonds are forged between people in families, friendships, and society at-large. Studs was a monument to the value of having simple curiosity in other people. A most admirable and respectable trait. As he put it, "curiosity did not kill this cat."

I link to Studs's own site above on his name, it has a bio and radio clips, as well as summaries of his books. Here are obits from The Guardian, BBC, The Chicago Tribune, and The Times.

1 comment:

Greg Stevens said...

Great post — could it be a harbinger for the hard work we face to correct the spoils of our excess?

What a character — Studs fought the good fight. His, was a voice that stood (with abandon) shoring up (with searing curiosity and tender grace) the disparaged (me/us).

I felt an enormous sense of community when I went to vote. Obama has proven he is organized. However thankful I am, I wish I felt more optimistic about finding a plan.

What would I do without Youtube or The Daily Show?