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Studs Terkel

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David Barsamian befragt Studs Terkel, den Vater des Interviews (am 19. Juni 2004 in Chicago, Illinois.)


Der heute 93jährige Studs Terkel war nie nur ein neutraler oder passiver Beobachter. Berühmt machten ihn seine klugen Interviews, in denen stets klare Positionen bezogen wurden. Von seinen 10 Büchern über Oral History, sind „Working“, „Hard Times“ und der Gewinner des Pulitzer Prizes „The Good War“ sowie sein letztes Werk, „Hope Dies Last“ die bekanntesten.

St.T:.
Ich freue mich, in den illustren Kreis Ihrer Gäste Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Said, Howard Zinn und Arundhati Roy aufgenommen zu werden.

B.:
Welch ein Lob aus dem Mund des Vaters der Interview-Regeln!

St.T.:.
Diese Regeln wurden bereits vor Tausenden von Jahren in der Oral History festgelegt, in deren Mittelpunkt die Alltagserfahrung von Zeitzeugen steht. Alex Hailey befragte in Gambia bei seinen Recherchen für „Roots“ zuallererst einen Geschichtenerzähler. Mein Leitstern ist Henry Mayhew, ein Zeitgenosse von Charles Dickens, er interviewte Strassenhändler, Dienstboten, Kaminfeger, Strassenkehrer und Hausierer und verlieh so in der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts den Sprachlosen eine Stimme. In den 30er Jahren des 20. Jahrhunderts waren die Kollegen der WPA, der Arbeitsbeschaffungsbehörde für Schriftsteller, mein Vorbild, sie ließen Menschen zu Wort kommen, die sonst nicht gehört wurden. Doch am meisten habe ich meinem Job als Radio Disk Jockey zu verdanken, durch den ich fast automatisch das Führen von Interviews erlernte. Begonnen aber hat eigentlich alles in der Männerpension meiner Mutter, wo ich mehr lernte als an der juristischen Fakultät der Universität von Chicago.

B.:.
War das  das ungrandiose „Wells Grand Hotel“?

St.T.:.
Ja, ich liebte diesen Namen und ich haßte mein Jurastudium, das ich erst im 2. Anlauf mit
etwas Glück abschließen konnte. Es war die Zeit der Depression, das Hotel war nicht mehr ständig ausgebucht, also wurde ich Beamter. Als ich bei einer linken Theatergruppe irgendwelche Statistiken kontrollieren mußte, boten sie mir einen Job als Schauspieler an und spielte den dummen Bösewicht.

B.:.
Sie interessierten sich schon immer nicht nur für Politik, sondern auch für Kunst, Musik und Film. Sie haben einmal geschrieben, dass der Film „Die Fahraddiebe“ von Vittorio De Sica  Ihr Leben völlig verändert hätte.

St.T.:.
Als de Sica die „Fahrraddiebe“ machte, war Mussolini zwar schon lange tot, aber die Faschisten waren noch immer da und sie waren noch immer einflußreich.
Der Held in Fellinis Film „La Dolce Vita“ ist ein Klatschkolumnist, ein Herodot der Moderne. Heute, 30 Jahre später, hat die Bedeutung des Trivialen sogar noch zugenommen. Britney Spears ist wichtiger als Einstein.
Nach meiner Karriere als Bösewicht wurde ich, was man heute DJ nennt. Ich legte Carusos Händel-Arien auf, Louis Armstrong , Woody Guthrie und eine Sängerin, die alle Schwarzen kannten, die aber bei den Weißen bis dahin noch völlig unbekannt war: Mahalia Jackson.

- 2 –

Politisch stand ich Roosevelt nahe, nur noch ein bißchen mehr links, ich unterschrieb alle möglichen Petitionen, natürlich auch eine für die „Freundschaft mit der Sowjetunion“.
Und dann kommt das Fernsehen. Das neue, unabhängige Medium, noch nicht das heutige politische und wirtschaftliche Machtzentrum. In Chicago gab es damals 3 berühmte Fernseh-Programme: die Jazz-Sendung von Dave Garroway, die Puppenschau von Burr Tillstrom und mein Programm „Studs‘ Place“. Es ist die McCarthy Zeit und plötzlich steht so ein Typ aus New York vor mir und behauptet, dass die Kommunistische Partei hinter der Petition für „Freundschaft mit der Sowjetunion“ stünde und dass ich alles zurücknehmen müßte. Ich tat es nicht. Ich konnte es nicht. Ich hatte Angst, ich war kein Held, aber ich nahm nichts zurück. Und dann kamen die „Schwarzen Listen“. Zum Glück wußte man in Chicago nicht so viel darüber, so schaffte ich es nicht bis in die „Red Channels“, die Bibel politischer Fanatiker, die dort die Namen all derjenigen festhielten, die sie für unamerikanisch erachteten. Aber ich war auf der „Schwarzen Liste“ des Berufsverbandes. Während ich mich mit 100 Dollar Folkmusik- und Jazz-Vorträgen über Wasser hielt, begann ein übereifriges ein-Mann-Amerikanismus-Komitee die Frauenklubs, die mich beschäftigten, mit Drohbriefen zu bombardieren. Doch kein einziger Klub ließ mich fallen. Im Gegenteil, sie erhöhten meine Gage auf 200 Dollar.
Die Gründung des fantastischen Musiksenders WFMT, dem ich 45 Jahre lang die Treue halten sollte, war die eigentliche Geburtsstunde meiner Interviews. Dabei spielte Mahalia Jackson, die inzwischen weltberühmt war, eine entscheidende Rolle. Sie unterschrieb einen Vertrag bei CBS nur unter der Bedingung, dass ich der Gastgeber ihrer wöchentlichen Sendung würde. Ängstlich und zähneknirschend stimmte CBS schließlich zu.
In der dritten Woche taucht wieder ein Typ aus New York auf, Ich sollte einen kleinen Zettel unterschreiben, eine kleine pro forma Loyalitätserklärung. Es geht hin und her bis ihm Mahalia Jackson klar macht, dass sie ohne mich nicht weiter auftreten würde. Der Mann verschwand und die Sendung lief wie geplant über die vollen 13 Wochen. Die Moral dieser Geschichte ist, dass Mahalia Jackson mutiger und amerikanischer war als alle Sender, Sponsoren und Generaldirektoren zusammen.

B.:.
Im 2. Weltkrieg sind vier von fünf deutschen Soldaten an der Ostfront gefallen. Im Juni feierten wir den 60. Jahrestag der alliierten Landung in der Normandie. Dabei wurde die Sowjetunion mit keinem Wort erwähnt. Und für Ronald Reagan veranstaltete man ein Staatsbegräbnis. Sind das die Symptome der nationalen Alzheimer Krankheit, von der Sie einmal gesprochen haben?

St.T.:.
Ronald Reagan ist dafür ein Paradebeispiel. Er war der schlechteste Präsident, den wir je hatten und der erste Spitzel, der Präsident wurde. Während der Depression informierte er als Vorsitzender der Filmschauspieler-Gewerkschaft das FBI über unamerkanisches oder subversives Verhalten seiner Kollegen. Neben Alzheimer scheinen wir allerdings auch an einer perversen Todesfaszination zu leiden. Ronald Reagans erste Amtshandlung war die Niederschlagung eines Fluglotsenstreiks und die Mehrheit der Amerikaner dankte Ronnie dafür, dass die Piloten, die ihn 1980 fast alle gewählt hatten, Amerika nicht länger lahmlegen konnten. Dabei gab es fast täglich Meldungen über Beinahe- Zusammenstöße. Die Fluglotsen, die für das Leben von Tausenden von Passagieren verantwortlich sind, hatten für ein bißchen mehr an Ruhe- und Erholungszeiten gestreikt, also für mehr Sicherheit für ihre Passagiere.

- 3 -

B.:.
Sie sagen, dass die Amerikaner nicht dumm sind, aber dass sie von den Medien über vieles einfach nicht informiert werden.

St.T.:.
Ich mache Ihnen das einmal vor: Entspräche unsere Körperhaltung unserer politischen Gesinnung, dann würden wir uns alle ein wenig nach rechts lehnen. Kommt dann jemand vorbei, der gerade geht, würden wir ausrufen, „Schau mal, ein deformierter, verrückter Liberaler!“ Und wenn sich jemand ein bißchen nach links lehnt, dann schreien wir „O Gott, ein Terrorist!“ So funktioniert das.
Wenn es heißt, unsere Medien seien liberal, dann ist das ist ja wohl ein Witz.
So wie sie über Noam Chomsky herziehen, könnte man fast glauben, dass er bei den unabhängigen Radio- und Fernsehstationen allabendlich auf Sendung ist.

B.:.
Aber wir hören doch immer, dass dies genau das ist, was das amerikanische Publikum hören und sehen will.

St.T.:.
Natürlich, wir sind ja schon geradezu auf Trivialität konditioniert. Tom Paine, den Visionär der amerikanischen Revolution schrieb bereits 1791: „Man verfolgte die Freiheit über den ganzen Erdball, nannte Vernunft Rebellion und aus Angst, unterdrückt zu werden, fürchteten sich die Menschen zu denken. Aber die Wahrheit läßt sich nicht unterdrücken und dann sieht der Mensch seine Mitmenschen nicht länger als Feinde, sondern als Brüder.“ Vergleichen Sie das mit unserem Vordenker George W. Bush, mit seinen Feinden, die uns umgeben, mit der Achse des Bösen, mit der Angst, die uns fürchten läßt zu denken, mit der allgegenwärtigen Angst vor Terroristen.
Übrigens, John Ashcroft und ich gingen an die gleiche Universität.

B.:.
Da kann ich Sie gleich nach Ihrer so genannten Ashcroft Theorie fragen.

St.T.:
Nun, während der McCarthy-Ära machte man sich verdächtig, wenn man die falschen Leute, also eventuell Kommunisten kannte, Heute geht es mir so mit John Ashcroft, der wie der Hexenjäger bei Arthur Miller alle des Teufels nennt, die nicht mit ihm sind und der uns den USA Patriot Act beschert hat.

B.:.
Erinnern Sie sich noch an Huey Long, der sagte: „Sollte der Faschismus in den USA jemals Einzug halten, dann wird er in eine amerikanische Fahne gehüllt sein.“
 
St.T.:
Wer kennt ihn nicht, den umstrittenen linken Gouverneur von Louisiana, der sein Land kannte und der wußte, dass Faschismus im Namen des 100%igen Amerikanismus daherkommen würde.

B.:
Sie erinnern sich natürlich auch, wie Präsident Franklin D. Roosevelt als Erster das Medium Radio zu beherrschen wußte.

St.T.:.
Er hat mich sogar sehr beeinflußt. Ich imitierte seine Kaminplaudereien, mit denen es ihm gelang, die Verzweifelten aller Alters- und Bevölkerungsschichten zu erreichen. Ohne ihn kein New Deal, ohne New Deal keine Fotografien des legendären Walker Evans, keine „Früchte des Zorns“ von John Steinbeck , kein Ende der Depression.

B.:.
Sie haben in Ihrem Leben viele Wahlen erlebt. Was denken Sie über die Wahlen von 2000 in Florida?

St.T.:
Das waren gestohlene Wahlen. Ein Staatsstreich ausgeführt vom Obersten Gerichtshof.

B.:.
Warum haben die Demokraten das zugelassen?

St.T.:.
Weil sie zu weit in die rechte Mitte gerückt sind, weil sie nicht mehr aufrecht gehen, weil sie Angst haben zu denken und weil wir alle an Gedächtnisschwund, an nationalem Alzheimer leiden.


Alternative Radio

STUDS TERKEL

Which Side Are You On?
Interviewed by David Barsamian

Chicago, Illinois  19 June 2004

Studs Terkel has never been neutral or passive. He has made a career of in depth interviews with people who take sides on important issues.  Studs Terkel is author of more than ten books on oral history, including “Working,” “Hard Times,” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Good War.”  His latest is “Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Troubled Times.” He has received the lifetime achievement award from the National Critic's Circle.

 B.:
Welcome to the program, Studs.

St. T.:
Thank you. It's good being with you, of course. I admire some of the people you've interviewed: Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Said, Howard Zinn, and the beautiful Arundhati Roy. I mean thoughtful and humanistic. That’s pretty fast company.

B.:
Coming from you, that's a real compliment. I appreciate that. You've kind of set the standards in doing interviews.

St. T.:
Standards were set thousands and thousands of years ago. Oral history. I'm called an oral historian. I have no idea what that means. It means I'm a nonacademic, really. When Alex Hailey wrote Roots, one of the first things he did was to visit Gambia, West Africa, the land of his ancestors, to meet a griot, storyteller. It's a tradition long before there was paper, long before there was pencil.
    But if there is one guide I had, who could be called a North Star, it was Henry Mayhew, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. Mayhew did something no other journalist did, certainly not in Britain. He wrote for respectable newspapers, one called The Morning Chronicle, and was read in London, Birmingham, and Manchester. He interviewed people who had never been interviewed before in their lives. These were the street hawkers, the chambermaids, the downstairs maids, the chimney sweeps, the peddlers, and the servants, who were like well-behaved children, always seen but never heard. And he gets them to talk. The interviews were 15,000 words. They appeared in The Morning Chronicle, in Dickens' time, the middle of the 19th century. And he was read everywhere. So they realized, Hey, there are other people in the world we don't know, take for granted, who think, who have intelligence, and who disturb us. Henry Mayhew’s book was London Labour and the London Poor. E. P. Thompson, the British historian who wrote the great The Making of the English Working Class, did a book on Mayhew. So Mayhew in a sense was my idol, as were the WPA, Works Progress Administration, colleagues of mine during the 1930s.
See, during the WPA the Writers Project came into being. You heard of the state guides? There are no state guides today in any of the 48 states, as they were then, as good as the WPA guides. The best of writers would be on them: Chicago had Nelson Algren, Richard Wright, Jack Conroy, and Saul Bellow. I was on it, in the radio division. But others were covering stories people told. For example, in the Florida Writers Project, Zora Neale Hurston covered the words of ex-slaves. Her boss was a young white kid named Stetson Kennedy. Did you ever hear of Stetson Kennedy? He's one of the heroes. But he was a white kid. He was the boss of Zora Neale Hurston, but, of course, he knew she was a genius at interviewing. And so Stetson Kennedy is the one who infiltrated the Klan, but he also spoke out continuously and was always left wing. So the Writers Project had a great deal of interviews with people otherwise not known. So they played a role in my life.
But mostly it was my work on the radio as a disk jockey. Interviewing came accidentally. I suppose if there is a beginning to whatever there is of me, it's at the hotel my mother ran. I was born in New York City, came here as a sickly kid, the third of three brothers, the beloved child of a family that was having it rough. My father was very ill, an excellent tailor. But luckily we borrowed some dough from a rich relative, which we paid back, for a rooming house in Chicago. Later on, my father wanted to come back and manage the hotel, a men's hotel. He died. My mother ran it. That hotel was more to me than the University of Chicago Law School ever was.

B.:
That was, as you call it, the not-so-grand Wells Grand Hotel?

St. T.:
The Wells Grand Hotel. I always loved that name. It was at the corner of Wells Street and Grand Avenue. When I finished law school, it was in the Depression, 1934. I hated the idea of practicing law. I dreamed of Clarence Darrow and woke up to Julius Hoffman. I wasn't much of a law student. I flunked the first bar. And 80% passed. I was one of the 20% that flunked. I passed the second bar because there were essay questions: yes, but on the other hand, no. And I'm good at that, because that's faking and that's my métier. And so anything but practice law. So having a 9:00-to-5:00 civil service job would be something sensational for someone of the Depression. The family was okay, but the hotel had more and more vacancies. It used to be a full house all the time. Working men lived there, and I'll tell you about them in a minute.
So I applied for jobs. Since I worked at the hotel, too, as a clerk, I wrote to the Mark Hopkins Hotel, the Plaza Hotel, the Claridge Hotel, the Drake Hotel in Chicago, saying, “I've been working as a clerk at the Wells Grand Hotel, and I'd love to be a clerk at your hotel, perhaps someday become a concierge.” I'd go to Berlitz School, learn a couple of languages. That was my dream, to be a concierge. It didn't work out. They all replied, every one replied; that's interesting, “We'll let you know.” And I had a civil service job in Chicago. But I had to do something aside from practicing law, which I had no intention of doing. I know less about law today, it's a Freudian block, of course, than a child, blocked out.
And so I became an actor by accident. It wasn't WPA at the time. It was called FERA, Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Harry Hopkins was the director. Harry Hopkins was the head of the WPA, but also this project preceding it. I got a job doing some statistical work there. And while there, I met a guy who was director of a theater group. I always loved theater and art movies. And, of course, the men's hotel was near the loop of Chicago, the theater area. And in those days press agents were easy-going. They covered the lobby of our hotel - the lobby was some guys sitting around - and they put up a poster saying They Knew What They Wanted, by Sidney Howard, with Richard Bennett and Pauline Lord. And I would get two tickets to see it. I could walk there. So I saw plays when I was 13, went to the Chicago Symphony, because of my brother's interest in music, when I was 14, 15.
And I became an actor. The role I played always in radio soap operas was a gangster, of which Chicago had more than New York and Hollywood put together. I was always a Chicago gangster, because the scripts were all the same. Guiding Light was about a young minister in trouble, Woman in White about a young nurse in trouble, Midstream about a doctor. And they always had the same kind of villains in them, either Middle Eastern villains or Italian gangsters, but mostly gangsters. There were always three of us: the bright one, the middle one, the dumb one. I was always the dumb one, the one who BLABLA. That's how I became an actor. One thing led to another. I was in this theater group. It turns out to be a labor theater group, a left-wing theater group. And I'm in a play called Waiting for Lefty by Clifford Odets. And that's how it all began.

B.:
And then you went on to act in Marc Blitzstein's The Cradle Will Rock. That had a pretty rocky opening.

St. T.:
I was not in the original The Cradle Will Rock. This is in Chicago. I was with the Chicago Repertory Group. We did some Federal Theater Project plays. We were not in the Federal Theater, but some of our members were. I at that time had become a member of the Writers Project, and I'll tell you about that in a moment. But The Cradle Will Rock was one of the plays we did. And years later, when I doing radio, I interviewed several members of the original cast at different times: John Housman, who was the producer, Orson Welles, the director, Will Geer, one of the stars. The same Will Geer who years later played Grandpa on “The Waltons.” It’s a folk opera written by Marc Blitzstein in the style of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht. It's set in Steeltown and what happens during a strike. I interviewed Howard Da Silva, who played the role of Larry Foreman. A wonderful actor named Hiram Sherman played several roles in it. The Cradle Will Rock that became a movie that Tim Robbins directed, unfortunately, included too, too much. If he had stuck only to the original it would have been wonderful.
The story of it is not mine. It's the New York company. They were banned. It was toward the end of the WPA. The Red Scare was under way, and the Federal Theater Project was under attack, more than the Writers Project. And that play, they put the kibosh on it. So Orson Welles would not allow that play not to be done. He was a great orator. Did you ever hear him speak at a rally? Nothing like it. He was unbelievable. He was mesmeric. So he says to the crowd gathered outside, they want to get into the theater, that's now closed, “Look, this play is going on. Follow us. We found another theater.” A friend found him an empty theater. So the whole crowd follows him along Sixth Avenue. And they fill the house.
Where is the play? It's an empty theater. The composer himself, Mark Blitzstein, is on the stage. This is New York. He plays. And they've got a couple of spotlights. The actors are seated in the audience because they can't go on the stage. It's an Equity ruling as well as the Red Scare. And what happened, one of the most exciting moments in theater, is Marc Blitzstein is at the piano playing “Steeltown U.S.A.” “Enter the whore,” or the girl, moll. The play itself opened with her singing a song, “Going home now, Call it a day.” As he says “Enter the whore,” the girl playing the role, I believe her name was Olive Stanton is in the audience, the spot hits her. She stands up and starts singing from the audience. And the rest of the program went that way. Every now and then somebody in the audience would get up and perform. One of the most exciting moments in the theater. In fact, Archibald MacLeish, who was poet laureate and Librarian of Congress then, spoke on opening night and he said something about it being remarkable.
We did a local production of Cradle in Chicago. Blitzstein visited us, too. We did it for about three weekends at a little theater here. Blitzstein appeared to like it very much.

B.:
You've always taken a keen interest not only in politics but in the arts, music and film, as you said. I remember your writing about visiting Italy and Vittorio De Sica, the great filmmaker of The Bicycle Thief. You wrote that  “The Bicycle Thief affected my life in ways that I cannot explain.”

St. T.:
Of course. Think about it now. De Sica's own story is a magnificent one. His Bicycle Thief  was post-Mussolini. The Italian dictator and his mistress, Carla Petacci were hanged by the heels in Milan by the Socialists. They had a song called “Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao, Bella Ciao.” And this is post-Fascist time. It was a very moving experience interviewing him. He would subsidize his own movies, because even though Mussolini was overthrown, the Fascists were still there and giving him a rough time. He would pick up a lot of money as an actor because he was a matinee idol, but he spent all his dough on films.
What affected me was the father and son, the little boy and the father. And I thought of the guys at the hotel talking about their kids. The humiliation. When he gets a job, the father, who is a non-actor, De Sica would hire non-actors, his bicycle is stolen. He needs the bike because he finally got a job as a paperhanger, of signs. And it's stolen. And in desperation, he needs it because the kid's family needs it, he tries to steal a bike. And he gets caught and humiliated. And he's left with the kid at the end, and the kid's hand in his. I said to De Sica, we had an interpreter, but we didn’t really need one, “Mr. De Sica, Bruno Ricci, the little boy, was so fantastic.” He said, “You, an American, remember the name of the little boy, Bruno Ricci?” I said, “Mr. De Sica, I saw the movie 12 times.” He described Italy today. He said, “You know what? We still have them around, the Fascists. We have to work like hell. The battle goes on.” And by the way, his office, where I did the interview, was only a block away from the balcony from which Mussolini used to speak. That was a moving interview.
The one with Fellini was a good one too. I interviewed Fellini about La Dolce Vita. I said, “You have chosen as the central figure a gossip columnist.” Marcello Mastroianni plays Marcello. I asked him, “Why a gossip columnist?” Fellini responded, “He is the Herodotus of our day. He's the Thucydides of our day. Who influences more than a gossip columnist?” And that was about 30 years ago. Now, it’s more than ever, Was he right on the button. Today trivia is covered as something of overwhelming importance. Celebrities. You have Britney Spears. She gets far more space than Einstein ever did. They're both celebrated, but for different reasons. And so it's value-free, of course.
I got into interviewing accidentally, by the way. I was a disk jockey. After I became a gangster in radio soap operas, I became a disk jockey, before the word was used. It was an eclectic program. It had a following of its own. I called it a select following. I would play, say, “Umbra mai fu,” a Caruso aria from Handel's Xerxes, and go into Louis Armstrong's “West End Blues,” and after that a Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl ballad. It was eclectic. And I would play the record of a certain woman I heard sing in the Greater Salem Baptist Church in Chicago. Her name was Mahalia Jackson. And I loved this record, “Move On Up a Little Higher.” All the black people in the country knew it. None of the whites knew it. So I played it, and so whites got to know it. Mahalia always said, “Studs, you're the one who led me to the white world,” which, of course, is untrue. She would have been known anyway. But that I did for a while.
In the meantime, because of the hotel experience and hearing all these arguments and talks, I became naturally a Roosevelt man, but more than that, more to the left. So I signed all kinds of petitions. I signed petitions such as anti-poll tax, anti-lynching, anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, which came out as a result of the Spanish Civil War and the refugees who went to other countries. I signed all those. I signed one, Friendship with the Soviet Union, because they were allies. Four out of five German soldiers were killed on the Eastern front. So that's there.
Now TV comes into being. You've got to hear the full story. Now TV is the new medium. TV is not the powerhouse it is today commercially and politically. It's a new medium. It was autonomous in different cities, the director, the writer, the actor. So Chicago had three programs. And at the time, John Crosby, a very eminent TV critic of the New York Herald Tribune, said “These three programs can be called the TV Chicago style,” and it could be something that this new medium, can be about.
And the three programs were Garroway at Large. Did you ever hear of Dave Garroway? He was a fellow disk jockey of mine. He was a jazz jockey with a tremendous following. And he was easy for TV. He made it to TV. And he was courted by New York. TV was on 6:00 to 10:00 at night. There was no daytime. And in New York his was the first face ever seen on daytime TV in a new program called Today that opened up the avenues. The second program of Chicago was Kukla, Fran & Ollie, with a marvelous genius, Burr Tillstrom, with rags in his hands, little puppets that he would make come to life. And it was wonderful.
The third was my program, called Studs' Place. It was some place in Chicago. I don't know what it was. It may have been a hamburger stand, it may have been a diner. And I had three gifted colleagues with me, one of whom was Win Stracke, who himself in real life was a lieder singer, a church singer, but was a handyman in this thing, an autodidact. Another was a marvelous actress named Beverly Younger. She played Gracie, the waitress. And the third was a jazzman named Chet Roble, whom John Hammond, the critic, loved. This program was improvisational, as I am improvising at this moment. And that's what John Crosby meant by Chicago style. We had a plot, but the dialogue was by the cast. It was always announced at the end, “Dialogue by the cast.”
So I became hot property, because at this time New York wooed an announcer here named Mike Wallace and John Chancellor and Hugh Downs. And a good number are courting me, too. Dave is in New York. And that's when a guy appears. The Cold War had begun, and Joe McCarthy now is in flower, as well as the pooh-bah, the big panjandrum, of the FBI, John Edgar Hoover, who is not only feared but sainted. So a guy comes from New York, and here they are in Chicago. And the show was in pretty good shape.
He says, “We're in big trouble,” he says. That's when I said, “Where do you get that we stuff?” You know, Tonto and the Lone Ranger story. And he says, “You signed all these petitions.” I say, “Yes, I did.” He says, “Do you know who is behind these petitions?” And I said, “No, I don't.” “The Communist Party.” And that's when, I have a tendency now and then to say something out of turn, I said, “Suppose Communists come out against cancer. Do I have to come out for cancer?” Archibald MacLeish once wrote a piece about that - I think I read it somewhere - about we're in thrall to them, the Soviet Union, they aren't in thrall to us. And he says, “That’s not very funny.” He said, “You've got to stand up and be counted in these times.” Suddenly he's a drill sergeant. So I stand up like Charlie Chaplin would. He said, “Sit down. That's not very funny either.” Finally, he said, “We've got a way out. And that way out is you didn't mean it. You were stupid, you were duped by the Commies, and you take it back.” I said, “I can't do that. Oh, no I don't do that. I don't believe in that.” He says, “What do you mean, you can't do it?” I say, “No, I can't.” And to this day - and I'm talking to you now - people say, “Why do you interview me?” for one thing. “Studs,” they say, “you were heroic,” like Trumbo will say. I said, “Are you out of your mind? The truth is, I was scared shitless. But my ego was at stake, my vanity was at stake. What do you mean? I'm dumb?” So that's how it came to be.
So now comes the Blacklist period. My wife, fortunately, was a social worker. They were the aristocrats of the Depression, $125 a month. That's why I married her, for the dough. She made $125 a month. But I was lecturing to women's clubs. By this time I was known in Chicago. I should point out that Chicagoans didn't know much about this. The trade did, but Chicagoans didn't care about that too much. If I were in New York or Hollywood, I would have been dead meat.
For example, I never made Red Channels. You know what Red Channels was? Red Channels was the bible, the scripture, put out by a couple of political thugs, listing people that were considered un-American. And all sorts of people are on it, people I admire: Arthur Miller, Zero Mostel, Lillian Hellman. Where is me? I don't find my name on it. And I felt like a blue-haired dowager who didn't make the Social Register. You know what I attribute that to? New York parochialism. I didn't make that list. However, I was on the Blacklist in the trade.
So women's clubs would hire me to talk about folk music. At that time I became interested in folk music and jazz, which I played on that eclectic radio program. By that time they paid me 100 bucks. But there was a guy in town, a legionnaire, who was a one-man Americanism committee. He set himself up, and I was his favorite pigeon. So he would write these letters, warning letters, to the local women's clubs not to have me. And to their everlasting glory, not one canceled.
But this one woman I'll never forget. She was elegant, aristocratic, old, old money, and Brahminesque. She was so infuriated by the letters, she said, “Mr. Terkel, we are doubling your fee from $100 to $200.” So what do you think I did? I wrote the legionnaire a letter, and I sent him a $10 check with a note saying, “Here's your agent's fee for the extra hundred bucks.” He never acknowledged my check.
So that's how it came about. I got along. By this time, this marvelous station, WFMT, came into being, and I became a fixture on that station for 45 years. That's when I started interviewing people. But in the meantime, Mahalia Jackson figures in this. I told you I used to play her records. She's now internationally known. And Mahalia Jackson is offered a radio network program by CBS. The other was NBC. Once a week. And she said, “I'll do it on one condition, that Studs is the host of the program.” And they tremulously agree. It's a 13-week program. It's in Chicago in the Wrigley Building, which was the home of CBS. And there is a studio there that seats 400 people, a little theater. And we would do it there. The audience would come in about 6:30, the program would go on 7 o'clock Central Standard Time, all over the country.
During the third week or so of the rehearsal, a dress rehearsal, about a half hour before the audience is let in, a guy comes on the stage, another guy from New York - this time it's CBS - with a little piece of paper for me to sign. “Oh, Studs, this is just a pro forma.” And it's a loyalty oath. It’s one of those things. I have not been, or you are not, and you swear. I said, “Throw it away. I don't believe in that.” He said, “You gotta.” “No, I don’t. I'm with the brethren. You know the brethren? I'm with the brethren. My yea is my yea and my nay is my nay. And that's it. I'm sorry.”
Voices are raised, and Mahalia is on her way to the piano to rehearse. Her pianist's name was Mildred Falls. And we had a new theme song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” She hears this argument. She knows all about me. She used to say, “Studs, you've got such a big mouth, you should have been a preacher.” She said, “Is that what I think it is, baby?” I say “Yes.” “Are you going to sign it?” I said, “Of course not.” She says, “Okay, let's rehearse.” He said, “Oh, but Miss Jackson,” and he's very diffident, “Mr. Terkel has to sign it. Headquarters, New York, the official word.” Mahalia says, “Look, I've got no time for this. You tell Mr. So-and-so that if they fire Studs Terkel, to find another Mahalia Jackson.” And you know what happened? Nothing. Nothing happened. The guy vanished. The emperor had no clothes. The show went through the whole 13 weeks.
What's the moral of that, the moral for 2004 as well as then, whatever that year was? The moral is, Mahalia Jackson, in saying no to the official word, had more guts in her, more real Americanism in her, than General Sarnoff, Colonel Paley, and all the networks and sponsors rolled into one. And that's what it's about.

B.:
You mentioned that four out of five German soldiers were killed on the Eastern front during World War II. In June there were two major events, one being the 60th anniversary of D-Day, in which, as far as I can tell, there was no mention of the Soviet Union; and, of course, the other event was the passing of Ronald Reagan. You've talked about this country having a national Alzheimer's disease. Talk about that.

St. T.:
Ronald Reagan is the best example, I think perhaps the worst president until now we've had, a man who knocked the hell out of the very thing that saved his ass and that of his father in Dixon, Illinois. His father got a job on the WPA during the Depression. Ronald Reagan is the first president I know who is an acknowledged fink. He was president of the Screen Actors Guild at the same time he was informing regularly to the FBI on his members he considered un-American or subversive. He even had a code name. I forget what it was. He was working for the FBI as an informer on his own membership. That's a fink. We also know he's one of our great dieticians, because he decided that ketchup is a vegetable, after all.
But also, the key moment, to me, came in 1981. Talk about national Alzheimer's disease. There is something else we maybe suffering from. Necrophilia. I think that something has happened to us, when I say us, I'm speaking in general terms, not individual terms, that makes us court death perversely, even more than life. And that is Ronald Reagan's breaking the air traffic controllers' strike in 1981. That was his first major act in office.
Let's go back to the air controllers’ strike. Four out of five Americans applauded Ronnie. “You stopped those guys from paralyzing America.” The air controllers’ union was one of the most conservative in the country. They voted in 1980 overwhelming for Ronald Reagan. And he blacklisted permanently 11,000 seasoned air controllers. All that time we had been reading about near misses. Within the air controller's world, every day is the life-and-death fate of thousands of passengers. Think how nerve-wracking that is. The strike was for more R&R, rest and recreation, meaning psychiatric care, meaning care in case of nervous breakdowns, meaning shorter, easier hours, meaning more safety for the passengers. So four out of five Americans applauded Ronnie for endangering the safety of ourselves. Just as we have a national Alzheimer's disease, what Gore Vidal calls the United States of Amnesia, so we have a little necrophiliac streak in us, too. I think that's come about since that time.

B.:
Talk about the D-Day coverage as well.

St. T.:
And the D-Day coverage. There was no Eastern ally. Churchill and Roosevelt did it all. Of course we know Stalin was a butcher. We know all that. But we're talking now World War II itself and the Russian people and the stand they took. 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, the book by Harrison Salisbury is remarkable, one of the great books. You know what they lived on? They lived on straw. That and art. They lived on art because there was a radio station. I've got a copy of the book here. Olga something was the woman to whom he dedicated the book. Salisbury was the American bureau chief for the Times. And over the lampposts there were PAs, and you would hear Mussorgsky music and Pushkin poems. And you would hear Verdi and Mozart. And that's what kept them going, too.

B.:
Historian Howard Zinn has made the comment that Richard Nixon broke into an office and he was impeached. Today, George Bush breaks into a country, Iraq, and nobody says a word.

St. T.:
This is the most amazing thing. Here again, the national Alzheimer's disease. Clinton was about to be impeached for his diddling around with an intern. And here's a guy, Bush, who lies to us, as Nixon did. Nixon wasn't alone. Remember, the Green Berets came about during Kennedy's time, too. There are a whole lot of people who don’t know about that. But here's an outright, outrageous lie, which hundreds of Americans, let alone the thousands of Iraqis who died. And it’s as though nothing happened. That's the aspect that's most astonishing. It’s the acceptance. We suddenly accept the fact.
Remember, we've got to come back to World War II in all this, we're the only major combatant in World War II was neither invaded nor bombed. Let's take them one at a time. Our ally Britain experienced a blitz, and God knows how many people were killed by that. France occupied; half collaborationist, half partisan,. Holland, of course, occupied. Denmark occupied. Russia. Or need we mention that? North Italy bombarded, Italy invaded. Japan. Need we talk about the fire bombings and Hiroshima, Nagasaki. We are the only country that was never invaded or bombed.
Admiral Gene LaRocque, whom I interviewed in the book, is a hero. He’s a member of the War College, a war hero, and one of the youngest captains of any battleship in action ever. And what Gene LaRocque says, “The U.S. has engaged in more military adventures elsewhere” - italicize the world elsewhere – “than any empire ever in the history of the world.” He starts naming the countries, from Grenada on. Grenada. We never heard of Grenada until Ronnie said Grenada is our enemy. I thought Grenada was the name of a Spanish folk song that you heard played by Pete Seeger. And it goes on. To come back to Reagan again, he warned us at one time, The Sandinistas in Nicaragua are threat to the U.S. They may go through Mexico and invade our country. And nobody laughed. Nobody laughed. During, this is free association, the House of Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1940s and 1950s, Adolph Menjou, the mustachioed actor who was the leading friendly witness, he was the great authority on communism, said “I read Das Kapital in the original Russian.” And nobody laughed. So that's what I'm talking about. There is an insult going on, an assault on our intelligence that is unprecedented. And that's what it's about, too.

B.:
You say that the American people are not stupid, but they may not be knowledgeable about things because of the media.

St. T.:
In my books are astonishing wisdom and eloquence of people who have never spoken of their lives before. I can give you evidence of that as we go along. But the media. Now we come to the perversion of our language. We haven't talked about that. Our language has now become perverted. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee should immediately read from the dictionary the meaning of the word “liberal.” Let me read. “Tolerant of the opinions of others, the freedom to speak as they -- and also work toward reform, without violence work toward reform and to betterment.” That’s what “liberal” means. You mean you're anti that? So liberalism has become gentility subversive. “I'm not a liberal.” In the 1950s, during the Red Scare, you would say, when something outrageous happened, like a lynching or an acquittal by the jury, whatever, you would say, “I'm not a communist, but I think…” Today you might say, “I'm not a liberal, but I think…” So our language has become perverted, too.
I've got to act this out for you. (Gets up) If our political posture were followed physically, our physical posture followed our political posture – you’ve got to watch me now - this is the way we walk. The natural way of walking would be this. See, I'm leaning now toward the right. A guy says, “How you doing, Charlie? How are the wife and kids?” Just then, a guy walks by erect, like this. “Look at that crazy liberal. Look at that guy. He's deformed.” You see? If the guy leans a little to the left, this way, “Holy Christ, a terrorist.” You see? What's happened? You realize I'm being W. C. Fields right now: I'm making nonsense of the whole thing. But it's accepted as true.
Liberal media. Of course, the joke of jokes, isn't it? Are you comparing the audience of Rush Limbaugh to that of Al Franken? Are they serious? Public radio, public TV. It began, remember, with Bill Buckley. We could start naming the guys. McLaughlin, Novak. You would think that Noam Chomsky is on every night, the way they speak of it. That's what I meant by an assault upon our native intelligence. And I know the intelligence is there, because I've met a good variety of people, whether it be at the hotel my mother ran or in the work I've done on these so-called oral histories.

B.:
But people like Limbaugh respond to you and say,” We're giving the American people what they want. If they didn't like it, they could turn us off.”

St. T.:
Of course. You get to fire me. Remember, we talked about trivia, entertainment? By this time you hear so much, you're conditioned. You condition people. There is a phrase I carry with me. Here it is. It’s by Tom Paine. I like to quote Tom Paine, of course. He was the visionary of the American Revolution. He was admired by all the guys who were around, especially Washington. This is Tom Paine. I carry this in my torn-up address book. Without this I'm lost. It’s a mess.  Here’s a thing by William Sloane Coffin. A thing by Jimmy Cameron. I'll tell you about that later. But I want to find Tom Paine here. I'll find it. Stick with me. Here’s something by Jimmy Cameron, the outstanding British journalist. Do you him?

B.:
Yes.

St. T.:
Tom Paine, 1791. This is somewhat after Common Sense. “What Archimedes said of the mechanical powers,” the Greek mathematician, “can be applied to reason and liberty. He said, [Archimedes] ’Had we a place to stand on, we might raise the world.’ The revolution in America” -- I touch that word revolution – “The revolution in America presented in politics what was only theory in mathematics.” And here's his line. “Freedom had been hunted around the globe, reason was considered as rebellion, and the slavery of fear” - now we come to the matter of how people accept it – “the slavery of fear made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth that all it asks and all it wants is the liberty of appearing. In such situation man becomes what he ought to be. He sees his species not with the inhuman idea of a natural enemy, but as kindred.” And that's Tom Paine. Compare that with George W. Bush, our current thinker: compare that with we see enemies all around us, axis of evil everywhere. And thus that fear makes people afraid to think, too - fear of the terrorist, which is the all-encompassing word.
I use a gag. Have I told this to you, that John Ashcroft and I are fellow alumni?

B.:
I was going to ask you about that, because you said you've developed an Ashcroft theory.

St. T.:
Oh, yes, of course. A favorite phrase in the 1950s was guilt by association. “I knew a certain so-and-so, who may have been Communist.” Or, “I knew a fellow traveler.” Guilt by association again. I am a fellow alumnus of John Ashcroft. At the University of Chicago Law School, I was in the class of 1934. He was in the class of 1967, I believe. But he's older than I am. I figured it out. He's at least 305 years old, because John Ashcroft appeared in a previous incarnation in Arthur Miller's play The Crucible set in Salem, Massachusetts, late 1600s. What was the terrorism then? Witchcraft. The town was in terror of witches. Generally, these would be elderly women, old women with cats. So here comes this prosecutor, John Ashcroft’s previous incarnation. Reverend Parris, Arthur Miller called him. And he's after the girls, pointing an accusatory finger at them, If you're not with me, you're against me. A familiar phrase. You are consorting with the devil if you don't name names. Then you're not with me and God, in that order of importance. So that's the theory. That time, that moment is when the U.S.A. Patriot Act was first drafted. And so I have this guilt by association. I don't believe that.

B.:
You did a public reading of Dalton Trumbo. You mentioned him earlier. He was one of the Hollywood Ten. He was blacklisted. He wrote a fine antiwar novel called Johnny Got His Gun. Tell me about Trumbo.

St. T.:
I didn't know him well. When he wrote his book, upon which the play that his son put together is based, we had a good three-hour interview here. And, of course, I admired him very much. He got a tremendous kick out of the interview. And I remember, I took him down to Riccardo’s restaurant, now gone, and there I had Nelson Algren and Mike Royko waiting for him. And he said it was one of the best times of his life he ever had. He hadn't laughed so long. Because they were outdoing each other, naturally, in their outrageous comments. And so when I heard about the letters of Trumbo being done in public, I wanted to take a shot at it myself, since I was a hambone actor, too. I said, “Oh, man.” I read the stuff, and some of the stuff we talked about during that interview I had with him.
After that interview with him, by the way, again I did see him in Hollywood. I was an interviewer for NBC during its bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, 1976. David Brinkley was the narrator, but I was the interviewer. And I suggested Trumbo. He was quite ill at the time. But, there again, those were the times I met him. So finally, a theater in Chicago asked me if I could do one night. And I did the reading. It was a great experience for me. The audience seemed to like it a lot and the critics liked it. It was like falling off a log, except I couldn't write as eloquently as this guy could. I loved that evening.

B.:
Do you recall the Kingfish of Louisiana, Huey Long?

St. T.:
You bet.

B.:
He once said,” If fascism ever comes to the United States, it will come wrapped in an American flag.”

St. T.:
Huey Long was so bright. And we know him, of course, from All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren book and movie. We know him as a crook and all that. But Huey Long knew this country as well as any political figure did. And he hit it right on the button when he made that comment about fascism. It would come in the name of 100% Americanism.

B.:
You remember FDR and how he used the radio. He was the first master of radio.

St. T.:
What he did affected me very much, without my realizing it at the time. The Fireside Chats. “My friends,” I would imitate him more than anybody. “My friends.” But it wasn't that. I remember his voice. It was not that of a man on the street. It was the voice of a Dutch patroon. He was an aristocrat. It didn't matter. He was not talking down to people. And then who was he talking to? His radio adviser, whoever it was, was a genius, who knew the medium and that it's intimate, it's one on one. FDR was talking to that old, old couple somewhere in the large city, lost and not knowing where to turn; he was talking to that young farmer who didn't know where to go; he was talking to the kids and the others and the elderly - each one thinking, He's talking to me, he's talking to me, when he said, “I see one-third of a nation ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed.” There again was a Federal Theater production, called One-Third of a Nation, of which we had a Chicago production, which I appeared in.
But FDR, I love this name dropping, made me think of Henry Wallace. In the 1948 election I was backing Henry Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket because when he was vice-president, and before that, two terms as secretary of agriculture, he was the heart and soul of the New Deal. We'll come to that in a minute. The Department of Agriculture, that included the Farm Security Administration. You wouldn't have had Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange and Ben Shahn. You wouldn't have had Virgil Thomson's documentary films. You wouldn't have had Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The story of Joad family and their move from Oklahoma to California. They've been beaten up and threatened by vigilantes and the big farmers, the legionnaires. They come to a place that says Government Camp, Federal Security Administration. And the director of the camp says, “It's yours. You make the laws.” They couldn't believe it. That was Henry Wallace. Then he becomes VP from 1940 to 1944.
By 1944, Roosevelt is very ill. So the boys who run the Democratic Party, who just hate Wallace, not because he's too friendly to the Soviets but because of what he did for people and made them independent of the hacks. So Ed Kelly, boss of Chicago, Frank Hague of New Jersey, David Lawrence of Pennsylvania, a guy named Hannigan, much like the Democratic Leadership Council is today, finally got to Roosevelt. And they beat him down, and he accepted a little boy named Harry Truman.
Truman, a year or so ago before that, was about to resign from the Senate. You  know who told me that? Burton K. Wheeler. This is a funny story. Burton K. Wheeler was once a populist senator from Montana, who turned to the right. And he said, “Harry came to me one day and said, ‘I'm going to quit.’ ‘How come?’ ‘Because they just indicted my boss, Tom Prendergast, in Kansas City.’” So this guy was nominated. The Wallace campaign was called a campaign run by Commies. Were there Communists in the campaign? I'm sure there were. But to say run by Commies would really make it subversive. And he wound up with only a million votes, and Truman pulled the big upset.
You know why Truman was elected? Because Henry Wallace ran. Let me explain that to you. Truman didn't have a ghost of a chance against Tom Dewey, even before Wallace entered the campaign. But a guy named Clark Clifford, who was as brilliant as he was corrupt, advised Harry. And this is in a marvelous book called American Dreamer: The Story of Henry Wallace. Clifford advised him, Take Wallace's domestic program. You can do all the baiting you want, let the others do it; you do it, too, as far as foreign policy. But take that minimum wage, take that health thing, take that rights of labor. So Harry Truman took Wallace's platform. And that's when you heard the cry, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” So Henry Wallace, even though he pulled a puny million votes, elected Harry Truman. This sounds like a gag, but it's true. A lousy million votes, the same number of votes that Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat, got without lifting a finger on a racist platform.
We worked on the Wallace campaign. Alan Lomax, the musicologist, and I were the producers of the election-week program of the Progressive Party. Then the FCC, bad though it may have been, and not what it is today, had to give us time. Truman had his hour with all the movie actors in the world except two. And the two who were not for Truman but for Henry Wallace, were Katherine Hepburn and Orson Welles. But that's not well publicized. But all the other actors were there. Tom Dewey was sure of winning. He spoke on NBC for 15 minutes. So we got ABC, and they had to give time to Alan Lomax and me. I will never forget that program. It was Henry Wallace and Paul Robeson. And Woody Guthrie. At that time he was becoming ill. I was saying to Henry Wallace, “Mr. Vice President,” I still called him that – “I remember something that Franklin D. Roosevelt used to do: Fireside Chats. You're talking to one person. You don't have to orate.”
I'll never forget Paul Robeson saying to Alan and me. “Boys, do you mind if I change one of the songs?” Do we mind if he changes one of the songs. “Instead of singing ‘Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel,’ I'm going to sing ‘Scandalize My Name.’” At this time Robeson was a nonperson. More than that, his name was equated with the devil. He was persona non grata. And he wanted to show that he had a sense of humor. “Scandalize My Name” is an old song. It's white and black. “You call that a brother? No. Scandalize my name.” I never forgot that program.

B.:
You've seen a lot of elections. You remember the Kennedy election in 1960, where some funny things happened here in Chicago. What was your take on the 2000 election in Florida?

St. T.:
What's to be said? It was thievery. What was really the coup d'etat was the Supreme Court decision drum-majored by another Chicago University alumnus, Antonin Scalia. He's not an alumnus. He taught there. I always thought, if only I were there at the right time, I could have been his student. I think he was teaching constitutional law or something there. So it was a coup d'etat pulled off by five rogues in robes, as well as the very obvious thievery that took place in Florida. It was a stolen election, of course.

B.:
Why did the Democratic Party simply acquiesce? Why didn't they contest it?

Why did they? Why have they gone so much towards the center? Let's go back to perversion of the language again. Remember, we talked about perversion of the American language? The center? What the hell is the center? The center means the right. Right now the center is right. The right is center right now. I described the physical thing, how if you walk erect you're deformed, leaning to the side is a normal way of walking. So we have been conditioned now to accept perversion of language as well as perversion of thought. And, of course, amnesia is part of it, national Alzheimer's disease is all part of it. And this assault continues upon us, does happen. And underneath it all it’s fear, fear, that's played upon, the opposite of what Tom Paine was talking about.

B.:
You're not too thrilled with Senator John Kerry.

St. T.:
It isn't that. Of course I'm going to vote for Kerry. John Edwards, his running mate speaks of the two Americas, which is a basic truth. They call it class warfare. But more than that, he adds electricity, that Howard Dean was getting from the young. I'm worried. Right now, I don't know what John Kerry is doing. He's floating on air or what. It's so easy for him to say what is so obvious: When I was a young man, I believed my president, and that was LBJ or Nixon, or it might be. And I went to war in Vietnam. And I realized it was a lie, and I came back anti-war. Do I apologize about it? Of course not. When I was a senator, I believed my president about the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, and I voted for it. It was a lie, and I defy it now. It's time we call it quits, time we find a way out. We should have appealed to the United Nations immediately. The arrogance of saying, “We're on our own. To hell with them.” So there it is.
The United Nations was formed here. May 8, 1945, was V-E Day. It was shortly after that the United Nations formed in San Francisco. And the mayor was Mayor Lapham, the grandfather of Lewis Lapham of Harper's, who, by the way, writes some of the best editorials in the country. And so the UN was formed here.
And all of a sudden we're an empire. You know what’s happened to empires. They all had their shot. The question to ask is, Are we finished as a society? That's the one to ask. Have we gone to such a state with all our power and the misuse of it, that we're nearing the end of a run? I don't know. The Romans had their run, the Ottomans had their run, the Dutch had it, the Spaniards had it. I know things are different, but we have people talking about a benign empire, haven’t we? Michael Ignatieff, a thoughtful guy, speaks of we should be a benign empire. What kind of bullshit is that, when people are discovering their own identity? I'm not talking about terrorists or Moonies. Which leads us, of course, to fundamentalism. Fundamentalism, we say Islamic. Fundamentalism is Christian, of course, and it's the great support that Bush has.  Fundamentalism is Judaic as well.
I remember maybe it was some 30 years ago, for the book Working, I was in a small blue-collar town outside Erie, Pennsylvania. And the subject of evolution came up. And I'm talking to a class of kids. And there were about 30 kids. About 20 of them are creationists; that is, they believe that's nonsense about this Darwinism. And that's when you realize the Scopes trial, how long ago that was, and now. So we still have a long, long way to go.

B.:
Tell me about your visit to Bertrand Russell in Wales in 1962 at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

St. T.:
It was arranged through a friend of mine. He allowed a half an hour. I was staying with this Welsh friend of mine in North Wales. We were driven there. And he comes to the door. He was about 90 or something. Gentile. My wife, our Welsh friend, and me. He comes to the door and he starts talking. He says, “One subject only, and that's the missile crisis. No other subject.” I want to get him on Bertrand Russell, on education, on everything.
By the way, that's how I almost goofed up. I'll make a confession to you. I'm inept. I have a tape recorder, that distinguishes me from my predecessors thousands of years ago. Henry Mayhew with a tape recorder. I don't know how the hell it works. I goof up. I press the wrong buttons. I can't drive a car. I fall off a bicycle. I'm very inept. This figures in this conversation.
So he says, “We' will talk about only thing.” And I wanted to talk about more things. He said, “By the way, who else have you seen?” I said, “A. S. Neill.” A. S. Neill is an old, old colleague in progressive education with Bertrand Russell. He started a school called Summerhill. And he said, “You have Neill, do you?” And I said, “Yes, I have him on tape here. I have it with me.” And I put the tape on. And he listens. “That's Neill all right.” I can’t do his gravelly voice. Jonathan Miller could do a takeoff on Bertrand Russell as good as anybody. And he says, “That's him. That's A. S. Neill.” Now I'm getting excited about interviewing him. He says, “One subject only, and that is the missile crisis. I wrote three cables, one to your President Kennedy, one to Mr. Nehru of India, and one to Mr. Khrushchev. I received a reply from Mr. Nehru and Mr. Khrushchev. They admire me very much and will try. I received no reply from your president.”
And then he starts talking, and I realize I forgot to take off the A. S. Neill tape. I did at the last minute. I recovered it. If I didn't, I would have lost both. Then I would have put my head in the oven. So I almost missed it. But then finally I did get him to talk. I said, “I read somewhere an old Percy Shelley poem.” I had it in my pocket and I'm looking for it, and I can't find the goddam thing because I'm very sloppy and slovenly. And I take out a ticket for a short beer, a ticket for the bleachers at Sox park. And I find this Shelley poem. It's about changing your skin. He remembered that. And that got him to talk a little about young people and his hopes. But I almost lost him because of my ineptitude mechanically.

B.:
You just mentioned the Sox. You acted in a film by John Sayles called Eight Men Out about the 1919 Black Sox scandal, when the heavily favored Chicago White Sox baseball team threw the World Series. The film was about labor relations and greed.

St. T.:
Oh, it's about everything. Eliot Asinof wrote the book and John Sayles adapted it. It's about the infamous, Black Sox scandal, when eight fine ball players threw the Series for the gamblers because their owner so exploited them. Charles Comiskey was the owner. And he was never touched. The players were kicked out of baseball. I remember who they were. One was Joe Jackson, one of the greatest left-handed hitters of all time, who was illiterate. He would sign with an X. One was Eddie Cicotte, who was a French-Canadian pitcher, who was wonderful, who was promised by the owner, now get this, if he won 30 games, 30 games, he would get a $10,000 bonus. He wins 28 games two weeks before the season ends. That's when Comiskey ordered the manager, Kid Gleason, to take him out, rest him for the Series. So Cicotte comes up to Comiskey and says, “You know I would have won the 30 games and the 10,000 bucks you promised me.” “You get nothing. You won 28 games.” That made him and other players easy prey for gamblers like Arnold Rothstein. And so that’s a perfect case.
Nelson Algren loved that whole idea. Nelson Algren is my favorite Chicago writer. He's the one who sees poetry, it seems to me, behind the billboards. And he says, “How come senators are so squeaky clean? How come the big boys get away with it and it's always the small timers who pay?” And that's part of it. I know when it comes to the matter of torture in the new today, of course we're going to have some of these guys, infantrymen and women, punished. But what about those from the top down? They're untouched, of course.

B.:
Their defense, you remember this from a previous period, We were just following orders.

St. T.:
Just following orders. Isn't that something? And the Nuremberg trial said that's no excuse. Just following orders. The Holocaust. Just following orders. Isn't that amazing? Just following orders.
I met this old Swedish seaman when I was in Sweden some time ago to promote a book. And this old Swedish sailor guy heard me on a radio program. He says, “Just following orders. You realize Hitler had signs all over, ‘Keep off the grass.’” He was saying, “Very clean. Just don't trespass on those people's lawns or they would punish you. Keep off the grass. You can knock off anybody you want, but keep off the grass.”

B.:
I notice that during the entire course of this interview you've managed not to say your trademark “higgledy-piggledy.”

St. T.:
Higgledy-piggledy.  I always hear that, all the time. That's the way I work, sort of. I guess you call that, euphemistically, improvisation. Higgledy-piggledy is another way of saying I'm sloppy, which I am. And you will see that where I work upstairs. That will cause you to pass out.

B.:
I make my living doing what you've done for so many years as an interviewer. And I kind of see you as a prospector.

St. T.:
I like that.

B.:
You're going out there with your tape recorder and you're putting your pan in the water and you're trying to find some nuggets.

St. T.:
There are nuggets. A couple of things. One of the first interviews was a young woman who lived in a housing project. It was mixed. It was in the early days of the New Deal. In fact, housing projects in the beginning were upward bound. A great woman named Elizabeth Wood was the head of it. She was fantastic, until she got fired.

B.:
What do you mean, upward bound?

St. T.:
I meant it's an upward rather than little tenements in which you live. A move upward. To live in a housing project was a step up. The original idea was wonderful. This was an early project. And I don't know if she was white or black. The common denominator was poverty. She had three little kids. Bad teeth because of no dentists. A pretty, skinny girl. And the tape recorder is still new. She was never asked about her life before. Somebody told me to see her. So the kids are jumping up and down. They want to hear their momma's voice. I said, “You be quiet and I'll play it back.” So I play it back. She had never been interviewed before, never heard herself before. I play it back, and the kids are all saying, “That's Mommy,” and they're laughing. I said, “Just a minute.” And she hears her voice say something, suddenly puts her hand to your mouth and says, “Oh, my God.” I said, “What is it?” “I never knew I felt that way before.” That's a great moment. Little moments like that.
But also, how do you explain people in their jobs? Sometimes it's fantasies to make the day. For example, I'm interviewing a gas meter reader, the guy who comes with a flashlight and goes to your basement to read the meter. I say, “Tell me about your day.” He says, “Well, it's mostly confined to dogs and women.” And I said, “Dogs and women.” And I realized the first is the reality, the second is the fantasy. “Let's start with the dogs.” He said, “Dogs. I don't mind those big dogs, the bulldogs. They don't bother me. Those little Pekingese pups, they're spoiled by their rotten mistresses, you know, so they gnaw at my leg and they're scratching my leg and they're biting it off. So as the lady of the house is going downstairs, I follow her. And I see that dog, and I whack it,” like W. C. Fields and Baby LeRoy. “I whack it to make up for the one I missed at the house before.”
I said, “Now let's talk about the women part.” He said, “No, nothing's happened. Nothing's happened. It's just that every now and then you come across a pretty lady, in one of these suburbs, you know. So I go there, and she's in the back in the patio. The sun is shining, and she's on her stomach on a blanket, on her stomach to get the sun on her back. She's in a bikini, and the bra is unbuttoned. You can tell, because she wants the sun on her back. What I do is I creep up very, very slowly. When I'm next to her I holler ‘Gas man!’ and she turns around. You know what? I get bawled out an awful lot, but it makes the day go faster.” I love that. He tells the truth, how you fantasize sometimes to make the day go faster. That's what I like about interviewing people and words come out.
A voice. A woman just died, Peggy Terry. Came from Appalachia, self-taught. Peggy was so eloquent. One of the leaders of the poor women, black and white, during the 1960s, a program here called JOIN, Jobs and Income Now. She worked for Rennie Davis. I think Todd Gitlin was involved. But Peggy was the voice of it. She had a natural eloquence. When she spoke of hunger, no one could describe it as she did. So that's the stuff that is all there. Thus far we've talked about the dark side. There is that other side, not yet explored, not yet exploited, waiting to be.

B.:
When you approach an interview, do you have questions written out?

St. T.:
I improvise.

B.:
You totally improvise?

St. T.:
There are two sides of me, or three sides, or four. Remember, during those 45 years at WFMT it’s not just the ordinary so-called people that have been the bases of these books. During that time, I read short stories, interviewed writers. So when it comes to writers, I read many books from beginning to end. Margaret Atwood spoke of me in the New York Review of Books about that. And other writers have also commented that they liked to be on my program. I know they did. Because I read their books. I mark them, and I sometimes put music in the program, too. Garry Wills is one of my favorites. He did a book on religion, one of his lesser-known books, called Under God: Religion and American Politics. He showed how the most religious, most devout church-going people in America are African Americans, by far. The role it's played in their lives. Every civil rights leader is a reverend - Reverend Martin Luther King, Reverend Andrew Young, Reverend Jimmy Bevel, Reverend C. T. Vivian, Reverend Jesse Jackson. So he speaks of that. But he also speaks of the Scopes Monkey Trial and William Jennings Bryan, this wonderful populist who was made into a fool because of his fundamentalism. I find a little song called “Bryan, Bryan, Bryan,” a 1924-25 song written by Vernon Dalhart, who was the most popular of all country singers. “The Prisoner’s Song,” a very famous one, was his. And it's called “Bryan,” and it's about how they loved Bryan and the rock of ages rather than the age of rocks. So I slip in a song sometimes that fits the book itself. Very often I would do that.

B.:
How important is listening to what the person is saying?

St. T.:
Listening is all, uber alles. You hear these reporters. The person is talking about, “And so my child died, didn't have to die. My child died.” And then,”Oh, oh.” And then the reporter says, “And then what happened? You were saying about the other thing?” It had  no register. It didn't register at all. “How do you feel?” A woman just left with a dying child, burned in a slum fire, coming out. “I guess you feel bad, don't you?” It's this sort of stuff. It's not listening.
The thing in my favor is my ineptitude. I'd rather people don't know me and my reputation. The irony. I’m celebrated for celebrating the uncelebrated or the noncelebrated. I'd rather they know me as the guy who goofs up. And that person helps me out.  Sometimes I press the wrong button. I lost Martha Graham, by the way, that way. I lost Michael Redgrave. I told you I almost lost Bertrand Russell. Sometimes the person next to me, this hard-working person, man or woman, says, “The tape is not moving.” ”What? Oh, I goofed up. I’m sorry, I goofed up.” And suddenly I realize, I need that person. Or, more important, that person realizes that I need him or her. I think to feel needed is so important. And they feel needed by me.

B.:
Let's say you're interviewing some muckamuck who says, “Look, I've only got 20 minutes. I'm really pressed for time.” Do you prioritize your questions?

St. T.:
I hardly interview those who say that. It’s not worth it. It depends whom I interview. Certain people are limited for time. I generally have an hour or so.

B.:
Tell me about your interview with Martin Luther King.

St. T.:
You know that one. That’s a good one. Mahalia Jackson became the favorite singer of Martin Luther King. And the song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” was written for her by Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, whom I got to know. Thomas A. Dorsey was a great writer of Gospel songs. He used to be the accompanist of Ma Rainey before he was saved. He was known as Georgia Tom. He wrote this song, and it became Martin Luther King's favorite song.
So one day Mahalia called and says, “Studs, come on over. Martin wants to talk to you.” Martin wants to talk to me? He never even heard of me. So I go over. He's in Chicago with several lectures. And one is at an important synagogue in Chicago. A friend of the mayor is going to have him talk. And now to be addressed by Martin Luther King is an honor. He had not yet won the Nobel. Maybe he did win the Nobel Peace Prize by then. So he's sitting on a bed. I know that he's in a hurry. Not that he's in a hurry but that he's being harried, because this guy is there and an agent is there and others are there. And I said, “I know your time is limited, Doctor.” He says, “No, no, you go ahead.” And then he remembered I introduced him once at a rally. But in this case it had to be something involving humor. Mahalia made me laugh because she is very funny. She made me laugh. I said, “Laughter. Dr. King, very often - and I've been told this by my friend the blues singer, Big Bill Broonzy - as you recount a moment of humiliation, you laugh, African American. Very often I find this the case. Why does a black person laugh at times, kind of chuckle? ‘And so they wouldn't let me in that restaurant and let other people in.’ Or Big Bill would say, ‘I taught this kid how to be a welder, a white kid. He became a welder and they fired me.’ And he chuckled. Why is that?” So I asked him about the role of laughter. “I know that Thoreau has played a role in your life and Gandhi, as well as your father. And yet laughter.” He says, “Without laughter we're lost, the laughter of adversity.” And then I added, “There is a blues lyric, ‘Laughing to keep from crying.’ Or today you would say ‘Laughter to keep from raging.’” So that went on. So that I knew would be it, laughter, because the rest he could talk about, the world situation and the four little girls killed in the church bombing in Birmingham. But laughter. So that became a pretty good 15-minute show.

B.:
You will remember that when King walked the streets in Chicago,  he was stoned and verbally taunted. If he were to walk those streets today, what kind of reception would he get?

St. T.:
Today it would be a little different. For one thing, he’s a world celebrated figure. There is a day named after him. Today he would be received with honor, grudgingly, but with honor, as a totemic figure. He wouldn't be attacked, no, of course not.
But we still have problems. Problems cut both ways. How can you even discuss crime without discussing poverty? When people are poor, there are more crimes. There is no mystery about it. When someone is hungry or someone after a while becomes part of a violent setup in which to live, you become that. We've got a long way to go. Obviously, it’s not just race; it's class as well. I can hardly separate the two, though we know the nature of employment and the nature of affirmative action and, of course, the attack on it, what's happened. We know that as a result of the attack on affirmative action, there are less black lawyers, we know that, there are less black doctors, though there are far, far more than ever before. So we have a ways to go. But I still have faith in getting at them, getting at them.
And that comes back to the means of communication, the media. We come back to that again, don't we? Remember, it's so instantaneous. Technology now plays the field. It's a field of which I know nothing. I have not accepted the 21st century. I still use a typewriter. And it's a wonderful thing, an electric typewriter. I still hunt-and-peck on it. So I'm not acquainted with what's happening in the world of Internet or Web sites. And, obviously, that's what set up Howard Dean to a great extent. And that has good possibilities as well as possibilities for working the other way, too. It depends who runs it. But I'm not up on that world, so I ask the advice of others, my son and you and others.

B.:
I'll just take a few more minutes of your time.

St. T.:
You can take as much time as you want. You know I love to talk.

B.:
A couple of people that you’ve interviewed really form a sharp contrast. Kathy Kelly is part of Voices in the Wilderness, a human rights organization that's done a lot of work in Iraq. She's currently in jail for committing civil disobedience at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Then there is Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima.

St. T.:
On July 2 Kathy Kelly will be released from prison, and a number of us will be there to greet her when she comes here by train. Kathy Kelly weighs about 85 1/2 pounds. You might say she’s a disciple of Dorothy Day. She taught at St. Ignatius, a very wonderful parochial school here in Chicago. And somewhere along the line she realized, through Dorothy Day, through other people she met, that a lot of her money is going to pay for the military, pay for School of the Americas, matters of that sort. And she worked out a way with the school where she would take only the amount of money that could not be taxed. And the school was so nice. Who do you want to send it to? Kathy Kelly formed a group called Voices in the Wilderness. She bears witness to, whether it's being arrested outside of Fort Benning or whether it's being in Basra and Baghdad bearing witness there. She was there during the bombings.
But the one story about her that most impressed me is the one that ends the book, “Hope Dies Last.” By the way, that title came from a Mexican farm woman, Jessie de la Cruz. When times are bleak, the phrase is “La esperanza muere ultima,” hope dies last. About a dozen of my friends have all been influenced by Kathy and have been jailed along with her.
So she goes to one of these missile sites. Do you know what a missile site looks like? A missile site is a little mound. It's very innocent looking. Along the highways. Missouri has about a thousand of them. A little white stick sticks out. In that is enough stuff to knock off 10,000 people at a shot, 100,000 at a shot. And she's going to protest the missile site. So she gets through the barbed wire and she sits on top of the missile site and puts up the usual signs, “Study War No More,” “Beat Your Swords into Ploughshares,” Isaiah, Old Testament prophet, whom Martin Luther King used to quote a lot.
And then she calls up the authorities. She wants to be arrested, and she wants to advertise the fact. And here comes the military. There she is, a terrorist, 85 1/2 pounds sitting on this missile site. And here come the tanks. And the commander says on the bullhorn, “Will the person on the missile site get up with hands raised and kneel on the ground.” Before that, Kathy planted some corn seeds, because corn doesn't grow, nothing grows, where you have a missile site. Nothing grows around there. And it's corn country. So you plant seeds of corn. So she obeys the order. She gets up with her hands raised and kneels.
And now comes a soldier boy. A kid from the South. He comes out with his gun at her head. And he's trembling because she's the enemy, he's told. He's a trembling kid. And she says, “You know why I'm kneeling?” He says, “Why, ma'am?” He's got the gun at her head. She says, “I'm praying for the corn to grow. Don't you want the corn to grow?” And the kid says, “Yes, ma'am.” “Will you pray with me?” “Yes, ma'am.” The other kids don't know what the hell to do. He lays down his gun and he starts praying with her, and she goes to a certain prayer. And then he says to her, the kid says, “Ma'am, are you thirsty?” And she says, “Oh, God, it was very hot, yes.” And he says, “Will you put your head back?” He opens his canteen, puts down his rifle, which is against orders, and he pours some of the water down her throat. And that's the kid. Now she goes to the truck, and he's still trembling.
So she sees him in the courtroom, and he's trembling. He thinks maybe he's going to have to testify. And she just winks at him. And then she said in the book, “I hope if this boy reads that book, I hope he will forgive me for telling the secret.” But that's the story of Kathy Kelly. And, of course, the judge wasn't too bad a guy. He wanted her to apologize. She wouldn't, so she spent some time in jail.
So that's Kathy Kelly. She represents one aspect. She's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, by the way, several times. Wouldn't it be great if she copped it this time? That would be something.
Now we've got Colonel Paul Tibbets. A very good-natured guy. He flew the Enola Gay, named after his mother, the plane that bombed Hiroshima that morning. He's describing the tense moment when they're reaching Hiroshima. He was told by Oppenheimer exactly what to do, when to turn, because once the bomb explodes the impact is such that they'll be blown to smithereens themselves. They had to somehow make a turn within 45 seconds. He had to rehearse it and rehearse it at Tinian Island. And he made it. He described it. Hold your breath. And he made it. They got out after dropping the bomb. Then I say, “Did you ever have any thoughts about what happened below?” He said, “Below what?” “Below, to the people.” “Oh, they were blown to smithereens, yes. Oh, yes.” “Do you have any second thoughts about that?” He said, “Why? We've got terrorists all over the world today. Would I do it again? Of course.”
So, you see, you have one aspect of it. That was doing his job. Truman, of course, honored him very much. He never forgot that moment when he sat before the other generals, next to Truman who tells him “If you ever get bawled out, you did the right thing”
I said, “The plane was named after your mother. What did she hear when the bomb was dropped?” Tibbets said, “Well, my father said her belly just jiggled and jiggled and jiggled.” So you have the two Americas as far as psyche is concerned.

B.:
In your acknowledgments in Talking to Myself, you say, “To my memory, a blessing and a curse.” What do you mean by that?

St. T.:
I mean just that. It's a curse, too, isn't it? Memory. I've still got words -- I must admit that I'm losing a lot of memory that I had, names of people that I used to know like that I forget. For example, I was a Giants fan as a kid, because I was born in New York City, so I could tell you the infield of the Giants: George Kelly at first, Frankie Frisch, the Fordham Flash at second, Heinie Groh at third, Dave Bancroft at short. I could name you the infield. I couldn't name what I did a moment ago. But the blessing and the curse. I don't know, it's there. Both the curse of remembering things that I should not have done or should have done and didn't do. And that's what the curse is. The curse is in regrets of things that I have failed to do or have done which I should not have done, things of that sort.

B.:
If you were able to go back into time, who would be some people you would like to interview?

St. T.:
George Bernard Shaw, of course, or Mark Twain. George Bernard Shaw. I think of all the people, I think George Bernard Shaw. Think of what he did. George Bernard Shaw was unbelievable. He helped form the Labor Party, can you imagine, the Labor Party of Tony Blair. Incredible. I'll come to that in a minute, Tony Blair. I have a theory about that. The writer of some of the most witty, thoughtful, and best plays. An orator, an authority on one thing or another. Bernard Shaw, just for conversation alone and letter writing, no one close to him. He's one, certainly.
And Mark Twain. I think those two. I think Shaw more than anybody, because it was the 19th century and much of the 20th century, past and legend and myth. The paperbacks. George Bernard Shaw. My English publisher, Allen Lane, of the first book - Allen Lane, Penguin Press - he and Bernard Shaw together got the idea of paperbacks so that people of modest means could buy -- the hardbacks are beyond the purse of the various others. Paperbacks are his thing, among others.

B.:
How about Tom Paine?

St. T.:
Oh, Tom Paine. If you asked what American journalists I would have liked to have been like, it would obviously be Tom Paine. I think that Gore Vidal says that, too. Tom Paine. My God, think about it now. Tom Paine, whom Teddy Roosevelt - let's get back to this - Teddy Roosevelt, whom we know he's now being celebrated, too. And to some extent for conservation. But also trustbuster. He denounced the “malefactors of great wealth.” He despised the journalists who exposed the trusts. Muckraker is a word he invented. He meant that as a derogatory term, the Muckrakers, referring to Ida Tarbell, who exposed John D. Rockefeller's depredations, Ray Stannard Baker. Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, and later on came George Seldes and I. F. Stone. Of all the journalists Tom Paine would be my first choice.
At a certain moment in history, too. Remember the moment of history that he represented, Paine. The first time there was such a society, in which a cat could look at a king, in which a commoner could tell the king to go to hell, as they did. You will have to ask Howard Zinn about that. What was the popular feeling in America at that time, generally? How many were for the Revolution, how many wouldn't mind living with King George?  Those who were getting along.  Was it 50-50? I'm very curious. And that's the point that interests me. It was the activists. Paine was an activist. Sam Adams, the Boston Tea Party. What is more active than that? Yes, Tom Paine, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw. That's not a bad trinity.

B.:
What about journalists today? Who's writing out there that you admire?

A kid named Tom Frank, who just did What’s the Matter with Kansas? He's a marvelous young journalist whom The New York Times Book Review did a chop job on. But there are a lot of journalists today. You as an interviewer, for example, and young journalists on alternative papers. Sy Hersh certainly has done an excellent job and a good number of others. I like Bill Greider. I wouldn't say young. Anybody 75 and under is a kid to me, so they're all kids.

B.:
What sources of information do you depend on for your news? Do you watch much television or listen to radio?

St. T.:
I watch TV. I watch baseball games a lot, of course. I watch the 6 o'clock news, Peter Jennings and Channel 11. I like Ray Suarez, who is very good. I like him.

B.:
He's on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

St. T.:
Yes, but I like him.
I do watch movies. That's about it. But to watch the panels, it bores the shit out of me, really, unless it's somebody quite unusual. Moyers has a good program.

B.:
That's being cut. He's retiring, and it's being reduced to a half hour.  And a couple of conservative talk-shows are being given new programs on PBS.

St. T.:
PBS is a joke. PBS is as much of a joke as Fox. Moyers is the one exception, and that's it. Liberal media? There again, we come back to the joke.

B.:
Do you listen to NPR, National Public Radio?

St. T.:
I do and I don't, both. I don't hear too well anyway. National Public Radio has gone considerably more and more bland. Bland is the word.

B.:
Since you don't hear well, then you read much more. What do you read?

St. T.:
I read all kinds of stuff. I find the Chicago Tribune has changed considerably since the Colonel McCormick's day. It's still a conservative paper, but I think it's a more honest paper than The New York Times. I get more out of the Tribune than, this is going to surprise you, than The New York Times. I believe it more. Except for, in The New York Times, I do admit I love Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, and Bob Herbert. That's about it. But as far as the rest of it, The Sun-Times is a rag. Once upon a time, it was quite a paper. Marshall Field III founded it. It was called the Sun. Then it merged. And then Murdoch got it. When Murdoch got it, it's been -- it's still Murdochized. He's not there, but he is there. It's a sad thing to say the Trib, but it is, to me, one.  And I pick up, naturally, The Nation, I was going to say The New Republic. That's my joke. The Progressive and In These Times are good. I watch The NewsHour to see what's going on. That's about it. The others I don't bother. And I watch  baseball games and - I'm a Neanderthal - an old-time prize fight now and then, too.

B.:
You're not a Cubs fan. You root for the White Sox.

St. T.:
I was a born dissenter. Remember, I came from New York as an asthmatic little kid. I was 8 years old. I lost my asthma in Chicago. And so I attribute my relatively good health, to being in Chicago. But the Cubs fans, to me, are not really fans. They're tourists. I've become sort of a Sox fan, though they're pretty rotten right now in many respects. But they're more raffish. And pretty racist, too. But I like the Sox because of their checkered history.

B.:
The Cubs last won the World Series before you were born.

St. T.:
1908. Hank Ettinger is a friend of mine. He's in a number of my books, an old retired printer, a socialist, who has written more letters to the editor than anybody ever. He’s the greatest letter writer. And he's a Cubs fan. He says, “I want to live to the year 2008 so it will be the hundredth anniversary of the Cubs winning the Series.”

B.:
What kind of advice would you give youngsters today who are thinking about going into journalism, being reporters?  What are some dos and don'ts?

St. T.:
I don't want them to lose their jobs, for one thing. Get a job, but find -- you would be surprised how much you can do, unless you have a Neanderthal as the owner, as is the case in many cases. Otherwise, there are some good young journalists at work in papers. I’ve noticed that.  In other papers. In New York as well.
I like Jimmy Breslin, by the way. I forgot to tell you. But Jimmy is not covered here. He's Newsday. Mike Royko was that in Chicago. Mike changed a bit toward the end. But Jimmy is solid, and I admire him very much, as the kind of journalist today that -- he's not the muckraker in the specific sense they were, but covers it, covers that area quite well. And also, he knows the idiom. He knows the idiom of the day, of the reader, of the person. And I would say he's still one of my favorites.

B.:
The economics of journalism has radically changed. You mentioned Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and these other network anchors. They make millions of dollars a year in salary. They're very privileged.

St. T.:
Of course. See, they have something invested. If they lose that, they lose a lot of percs, including money. (Omission) These are guys are pretty decent. We're not talking about O'Reilly, we're not talking about Savage, we're not talking about the Neanderthals. But they’re basically decent guys. But there are some things you say and some things you do not say. It's what you do not say. Remember, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, and that changed things around. The working conditions of the stockyards workers in 1912 were terrible. And all because of the book. Not for the reasons that people felt that they were horribly treated but for the expose that a lot of guys fell into the vats, and people were eating some of that stuff. So his famous crack was, “I aimed at the people's heart, and I hit them in the stomach.”
But he wrote a book in 1916 called The Brass Check, and that, I think, is what this is all about. The Brass Check is about the press. There was no radio or TV then. It was the printed word. He was writing about the brass check and what many journalists have to do to retain their jobs,. The brass check is what a guy going into a brothel, into a cathouse, would receive when he paid the madam or the pimp $2. This is before inflation. He pays $2, gets a brass check. He gives that brass check to the girl. At the end of the day, the girl cashes in all her brass checks and, say, gets a half a buck apiece.
He says, These journalists today are like that girl - brass check artists. So I'm not calling them whores and pimps. The pay is so high, I call them call boys and call girls.  Except that these guys you've named are decent guys. There is another group that's come in that's beyond them, and they're the ones who are the vulgarians, what I call the Neanderthals. Our great gift from Australia is the Australian Neanderthal, Rupert Murdoch. He's one of the most powerful media moguls in the country, aside from our own native, homegrown ones.

B.:
There used to be an adage in journalism, “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” A lot of people are saying that today it's the opposite.

St. T.:
Well, it is. That's a Pulitzer comment. The irony about Pulitzer - one thing leads to another - that's his famous “To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Yes, that's a wonderful phrase. Except that when Sacco and Vanzetti , there was a great journalist, the greatest of all columnists, Heywood Broun. Heywood Broun was a very popular columnist in the New York World and others. He's the one who founded the Newspaper Guild. No one ever thought of newspapermen and women as being organized. That's for blue-collar people. He did. He wrote some columns on  the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti. It was so fantastic. Pulitzer got pretty sore at him because Broun was attacking the Brahmins of his day. And his columns were so eloquent. They were fantastic. They were scriptural in their power about these self-righteous ones, the governor and the head of Harvard University and the others, who all allowed those Atticus wops - that's the word used - to be executed. And Pulitzer got furious. “You cannot write about that anymore.” And he resigned. But nonetheless I do like that phrase, that quote.
Today it’s the opposite. But I still don't think… here I am.  Is my faith being tested, my faith in the American people? Yes, it is, as a matter of fact. But I think, I'm convinced, that it's the fear. That's the key one. I see that 9/11 aspect, although it began long before that. It began with Reagan, of course.  That was a huge leap, a huge change.
Something else happened. It’s our irony. We can talk forever. But irony. The GI Bill of Rights played a role in this. This is kind of crazy. How can I describe it? It was a wonderful thing. It came out of the New Deal. After World War II, the first time a guy could go to college, and his family, also had mortgages and could live elsewhere. And suburbs came into being - Levittown, Park Forest - blue-collar suburbs. But something happened there. They came out of working-class families, a great many of them. But living there, and with the advertising you heard, a new psyche developed. They were suddenly, in their minds, middle class. And it is to that class which Reagan appealed, to a great extent.
And the word became middle class. In fact, there is no other class, as far as the media are concerned. There isn't. Because when Gore and Bush -- in the 2000 campaign, toward the end you couldn't tell one from the other, because both were saying tax cuts for the middle class. That was the mantra.  Fifty thousand to 500,000, middle class. So the word working class is almost a subversively used word.
So what happened were the new suburbs. It was a new life, but also a new psyche. And all those new ads that came in and the technological leaps that came in. And so there was a wonderful guy, Tom Migliori.  He's a New York architect. He speaks of the Italian people, his own people. He says, They forgot about the bread and the wine. They never heard of Caruso records, that meant so much. The Caruso records, that John Ciardi, the poet, used to speak about. A sound like no other.
See, this is full of irony as well. But it comes back again to means of communication. By the way, I know an awful lot of young people who are going to be good journalists. And we haven't talked about that, young Asians and Hispanics. Especially women. Guys, but especially women. And, of course, there we have young women active in so many things. There are so many groups, so many little ones. Alternative groups of one sort of another that may be quasi-socialist in nature. Maybe they're a minority, I don't know. But it has always been the minority, or what’s was known as the prophetic minority, that promote social change.
That's what Hope Dies Last is about, too. It's dedicated to Clifford and Virginia Durr, who were two remarkable people of the New Deal, who were among the white people of the South, who were ostracized. And they along with a few others used to march down the streets and they were attacked. And then in 1965, Selma to Montgomery, a march of a couple of hundred thousand people. And one of these 12, 13, people is Miles Horton. He founded the Highlander School, that was attended by Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and others.  He says, “Today we're celebrating at the home of the Durrs. Today 200,000 people are out. Do you remember us?” He's speaking of his colleagues, some of whom were there. “I didn't recognize one person, and not one recognized me. But wasn't that a wonderful moment.” So that, to me, that moment, is what it's all about, too. That's what Kathy Kelly and the Durrs and all these others are about.

B.:
What's your best advice for this November's election? Some people are saying it doesn't matter.

St. T.:
It does. Of course, you've got to beat Bush. Vote for John Kerry. Vote against Bush. Above all else you've got to oust him. That's number one. You may have sought another candidate. That's not it. If Bush is not ousted, then we're in for a huge something or other. It's going to be a roller coaster.

B.:
What do you think about the Ralph Nader candidacy?

St. T.:
I like the Tribune, because the editorial page allows me to say anything I want. So I had three columns on the 2000 election. Each one was different. The first, I was for Nader all the way. The second, I want to show why the Nader campaign will help Gore. And I felt it did at the beginning. When Gore made his acceptance speech, I was in New York at the Wyndham Hotel.  I jumped up. It was a Nader speech. It was wonderful. Gore did it. Then they got to him, they being the Democratic Leadership Council. Then it became the mantra; it became the middle class. The third column was urging that he withdraw. I did it a couple weeks before the election.
However, this time I wrote a letter to The Nation saying, You're not going to run, Ralph. I agree with The Nation that you're not going to run. Your job, your destiny, is to be public citizen number one. And when President Kerry is there, as I hope he will be, you will be after him, because that’s your job. I want to remember you as a guy who probably saved more lives than any other American of this century. Your Nader Raiders have done so much work. Don’t be associated with the word spoiler. Don’t be another Stassen. I don't think he will be that much of a factor in this campaign, quite frankly. It's possible Ralph might withdraw. Would I condemn Ralph Nader? Never. For the work he's done? Can I forget that? No, of course not. Should he run? No. The big thing is, obviously, to have a new regime.
Before we go, Tony Blair. Remember, I talked about George Bernard Shaw. What would George Bernard Shaw think of a Labor Party in which the leader of it has become Jeeves the butler. He's P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves to George W. rather than Bertie W. Bertie Wooster was a mindless young master, but this guy is a mindless and mean-spirited young master. And the Labor Party head is the butler. He's the butler to the American Bertie, George W. The Labor Party. So I hope he will be ousted. I assume he will be. The party of Bernard Shaw, of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, of George Lansbury.
You know Angela Lansbury, the actress?  Her grandfather was George Lansbury, The most beloved East End MP in the Labor Party. She's quite good, by the way. You ought to interview her. She would be a great on ageism and everything. Get her. And Aneurin Bevan, who is the father of national health, he was a Laborite. I think of that party. Today we have this pipsqueak, this butler, Tony Blair.

B.:
Who else should I interview, by the way?

St. T.:
Angela Lansbury would be very good. Kathy Kelly, of course.

B.:
I've interviewed her.

St. T.:
Well, you've done an awful lot of good people. There are a few around here. Barack Obama. Len Despres was our alderman near the University of Chicago, and he was the only dissenting voice when Daley the elder was the mayor, 1968. His was the only dissenting voice for a long time. And the neighborhood was black then, as well as the University of Chicago. He would be a good guy. He's not nationally known. But I'm thinking, who else would be a good interview?  Sandra Cisneros. You know her? She would be very good. Get her. I get a kick out of her. She wrote a wonderful novel called Caramelo. I call it a salsafied Grapes of Wrath. It’s terrific. A funny little Mexican girl, and they're going back to visit the family in Mexico City. It's the trip back and forth as seen through her eyes. It's funny, moving, and brilliant.

B.:
One final question, actually. And that is, dealing with grief, dealing with separation.

St. T.:
Dealing with grief.

B.:
You've lost your companion of many years, Ida; you've lost your best friend, Nelson Algren; you mentioned Mike Royko earlier.

St. T.:
Win Stracke, a friend of mine.

B.:
How do you deal with it?

St. T.:
I don’t know. That's a tough one. It's funny, when you sing that folk song. Pete Seeger sings it. You know that one? “I wake up each morning, gather my wits. I pick up the paper, read the obits.  If my name is not in it, I know I'm not dead. I eat a good breakfast, go back to bed.” It's a tough one. This is my life. And my son is a good one. But I miss my wife very much. Those are daisies. That was her favorite flower. And that is her urn right there. That’s her urn, that golden one. And Win Stracke, I told you about that. We called ourselves the Chicago Two. Nelson, Mike, all of them. Lew Frank, a wonderful guy. He was the amanuensis of Henry Wallace during that campaign of 1948. He was very close. But a lot of guys here.

B.:
Let me just ask you one final, final question. What are you going to do when you get old?

St. T.:
I'm working on a book now. It's a book on music. During those 45 years at WFMT, I interviewed all sorts of opera singers and composers, aside from writers of books, and jazz and folk song people. So these are interviews of some of those musical artists. It's called They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disk Jockey. So it begins with an eccentric figure named John Jacob Niles. They called him the Prelude. John Jacob Niles. How could I describe him? You know the song. “I wonder as I wander out under the sky.” People think that's a medieval carol. He wrote it, this guy from Kentucky. But he's also a W. C. Fields character, he's a medicine man, he's an evangelist. He's very funny. He sings in a falsetto voice. Old child ballads. And he's so American and so brilliant and funny and outrageously egotistical. And he's wonderful. So I open with him.
And then classical music. Tito Gobbi was a great baritone, known for his Scarpia. Scarpia was the John Edgar Hoover of Rome. Scarpia, before whom Rome trembled. It's in the opera “Tosca.” And so he's describing evil. But you’ve got to find even a drop of humanity in that evil person. So he describes evil and good. And good is a little-known Verdi opera, “Simon Boccanegra.” And the role of Boccanegra, who is a doge, the mayor of a city state, Genoa, in the 13th century, or was it the 14th?,  a man who sought peace among Genoa and Venice and the world. And he describes doing these two guys, good and evil. Or Jon Vickers, who was the great heldentenor of his time, Jon Vickers with Birgit Nilsson, “Tristan and Isolde.” He says he just despised “Tristan and Isolde. “ He despised Wagner.  But he also was Benjamin Britten's “Peter Grimes.”  And that's about the outsider. So I do that kind of stuff.
And then I go to jazz, different things, and folk, and then horsing around. So that's my project. It's the one I'm working on now. I hope I finish it. Andre Schiffrin is my publisher. Sydney Lewis is my transcriber, without her I'm lost, because she knows all my hieroglyphics and scrawlings. Maybe she's going to do an oral history of me. So basically that's about it. So right now music is on my mind.

B.:
Music is on your mind. I feel a lot like Margaret Atwood, the wonderful Canadian writer, who said, after being interviewed by you, “It was a pleasurable workout, an interview experience like no other. “And I certainly feel that way. Thanks very much, Studs.

St. T.:
You’re very welcome. I’m glad you could come to my home and do this interview.


(Due to time constraints some portions of the interview were not included in the national broadcast. Those portions are included in this transcript.)

Program closing music –
The Weavers – “Which Side Are You On?”

Other AR programs –
Tariq Ali – Delusions of Empire
Noam Chomsky – Democracy & U.S. Foreign Policy
Seymour Hersh – From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
Arundhati Roy – The Checkbook & the Cruise Missile
Edward Said – Culture & Imperialism
Kurt Vonnegut - In Conversation
Howard Zinn – Air-Brushing History