03 November 2008

RIP Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel died on Friday at age 96. I'm not sure the world will ever see his like again.

In 1970, Terkel published Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression. Over the course of 462 pages, he offers up the words of everyday people, financial leaders, politicians and others who lived through the Depression, as well as people who didn't -- part of Terkel's point is that the succeeding generation for the most part couldn't comprehend the Depression. I offer two excerpts. The first is from Ed Paulsen, who during the Depression was a transient worker before he managed to get a job with the New Deal's National Youth Administration:
If I had to pick one constant enemy during this time, it was the American Legion. They were made up of home guard types. They were the most vicious enemies of this drifting, reckless, hungry crowd of people. Everyplace I went, Hoovervilles -- they were raided. This bunch of Legionnaires with those damn caps on. Guys with baseball bats, driving them out of the jungles around the railroad grounds. Even in the little towns I lived in. I had a war with those guys by the time I was in high school. They were always the bane of my existence.

They were the Main Streeters. They were doing all right. Merchants, storekeepers, landowners. They had a fix that was just awful to live with. They were hard on the little candidate for Governor [Upton Sinclair]. They'd come to his meetings with baseball bats and clubs and break it up. Once, when we sang in the Valley, they attacked us and beat the hell out of us. We barely got out of there. [Hard Times 32]

And this second excerpt from a young journalist, Diane, who's 27 years old at the time of the interview:
I never could understand why the Depression occurred. Perhaps that's why I've not been as sympathetic as I'm expected to be. You're supposed to admire them because they've been in the "Flaring Twenties" -- is that what it was called? -- where they danced a lot and drank gin in automobiles, hail F. Scott Fitzgerald! The connection is not made economically, but socially.

It runs from the morally errant generation of the Twenties, with the too-short skirts and the bathtub gin, the rise of the stock market and bad poetry. It's all confused in my mind. Prohibition comes in somewhere. I'm not quite certain whether it preceded or came after the Depression. And then there's Al Capone and people on film in wonderfully wide-shouldered suits, with machine guns, gunning down other people. It's an incredible, historical jungle. It's cinematically very mixed up, terribly fluid. [Hard Times 24]

Yes. Mixed up indeed.

1 comment:

JES said...

Yeesh. Wonder if Diane continued the already soaring arc of her career in journalism. I wouldn't be surprised if she eventually found a place with, oh, say, a certain cable news network...

I haven't read Hard Times. But I've got Terkel's Working -- another classic collection of interviews: people talking about their jobs.