The last time I saw Studs Terkel, he was mad. We were speakers at an event at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago, and the radio station that had sponsored the program hadn’t properly advertised it. Studs thought it was a conspiracy. “They weren’t sure I would live this long,” he told me, “that’s why they didn’t use my name in the promotion. People are always waiting for me to die.”
That was true. The Chicago Tribune prepared an obituary for him in the 1980s. For several decades, people would say, “If Studs can make it,” instead of “When Studs gets here.”
Studs outlived most of those people, and outworked just about everybody.
My friend Rick Kogan, one of a legion of Chicago writers inspired by Studs, told me that he went by his place recently and the old man gave him parts of a new book he was writing and said in that raspy voice, “Tell me what you think of this.”
Another book. Holy Cow.
I thought of two lines in literature when I heard of Studs’ passing on Friday. The first was George Bernard Shaw’s line: “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and that as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live.”
No one gave more of himself to the community than Studs.
The second is the famous John Donne poem, Death be not Proud, especially the lines, “For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poore death.”
Studs’s spirit is going to fire the soul of this nation for a long time to come.
There are folks in Chicago saying that it is a tragedy that Studs passed before Election Day and Barack Obama’s victory party. I’m not so sure. First of all, this is Chicago, and death can’t prevent an inspired citizen from voting.
Second, I think God wanted Studs riding shotgun at the victory party in heaven. Together, they are going to be watching Barack take the stage in Grant Park on Tuesday night. Studs will say, “Take it easy,” as Barack approaches the podium.
And God will finish, “But take it.”