Touch and Go: A Memoir

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Overview

"Anyone who has heard Studs Terkel's voice, never mind met him, knows the vitality of this man, the liveliness, the humor and the largeness of spirit." --Robert Coles, author of Children of Crisis

At nearly ninety-five, Studs Terkel has written about everyone's life, it seems, but his own. In Touch and Go, he offers a memoir that -- embodying the spirit of the man himself --...
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Touch and Go: A Memoir

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Overview

"Anyone who has heard Studs Terkel's voice, never mind met him, knows the vitality of this man, the liveliness, the humor and the largeness of spirit." --Robert Coles, author of Children of Crisis

At nearly ninety-five, Studs Terkel has written about everyone's life, it seems, but his own. In Touch and Go, he offers a memoir that -- embodying the spirit of the man himself -- is youthful, vivacious, and enormous fun.

Terkel begins by taking us back to his early childhood with his father, mother, and two older brothers, describing the hectic life of a family trying to earn a living in Chicago. He then goes on to recall his own experiences -- as a poll watcher charged with stealing votes for the Democratic machine, as a young theatergoer, and eventually as an actor himself in both radio and on the stage -- giving us a brilliant and often hilarious portrait of the Chicago of the 1920s and '30s. He tells of his beginnings as a disc jockey after World War II and as an interviewer and oral historian, a craft he would come to perfect and indeed personify. Finally, he discusses his involvement with progressive politics, leading inevitably to his travails during the McCarthy period, when he was blacklisted and thrown out of work despite having become by then one of the country's most popular TV hosts.

Fans of Studs Terkel will find much to discover in these remarkable reminiscences. Others will be captivated to learn of the unique and eclectic life of one of America's greatest living legends.

About the Author
Born in 1912, Studs Terkel is the bestselling author of twelve books of oral history, including Working, Hard Times, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good War. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including a Presidential National Humanities Medal and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Chicago.
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Editorial Reviews

Dan Barry
The volume has been cobbled together, but is not a mishmash. Terkel, a proud technophobe, banged out some memories on a typewriter and resurrected a few others from several previous works…The rest has been rounded out by his conversations with an old friend and associate, Sydney Lewis. What emerges is an engrossing stream-of-consciousness meditation on the 20th century by a man who, it seems, never forgave himself for being born three weeks after the sinking of the Titanic, and so he vowed in the crib to bear witness—to everything. Imagine his life's checklist: the Roaring Twenties in Chicago, the Depression, World War II: done, done, done. The golden age of radio? Yep. The advent of television? Had his own show. The blacklist? Was among the so-honored. It goes on.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

After a lifetime of interviewing others, Terkel finally turns the tape recorder on himself. At least, that's what he would have us think. Terkel's memoir is more a medley of all the extraordinary characters he's encountered through his career, from the adult loners of his youth in Chicago's Wells-Grand Hotel, to New Deal politicians. Terkel details his long journey through law school, the air force, theater, radio, early television, sports commentary, jazz criticism and oral history. Surprisingly, a 12-time author who has built a career on emerging media is a hopeless Luddite. Unskilled with his tape recorder, the bread and butter of an oral historian, Terkel modestly attributes his knack for getting people to open up about their lives to his own "ineptitude" and "slovenliness." This memoir, however, is a fitting portrait of a legendary talent who seeks truth with compassion, intelligence, moxie and panache. Never one to back down from authority, Terkel cracks jokes in law school classrooms and filibusters FBI visits by quoting long passages from Thoreau and Paine. He pogos between decades, reminding the reader that knowing history doesn't mean memorizing chronologies so much as it does attending to the lessons and voices of the past. He laments the "national Alzheimer's" afflicting this country, and fears the consequences if we don't regain consciousness. Americans might get to know their collective past a lot better if all history lessons were as absorbing and entertaining as this one. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Publishers Weekly

In a match made in heaven, one of the world's great raconteurs and journalists has written his second memoir (a loosely organized stream-of-consciousness remembrance) and turns to one of the most recognizable voices in audiobooks to read it. Studs Terkel, still hard at work in his 10th decade, remembers his childhood in the rip-roaring Chicago of the 1920s and 1930s, his favorite screen stars and his awakening to politics. Norman Dietz takes delight in each word, rolling them over his tongue as if the memories were his own and the pleasure personal. Terkel's book is not strong in the organization department, but what it lacks in order it makes up for with verve. Dietz follows Terkel's lead, depending on enthusiasm to carry the day. Considering the respective skills of author and reader, it should come as little surprise that it does. Simultaneous release with the New Press hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 27). (Dec.)

Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
The Washington Post
Extraordinary, widely praised memoir from "the most distinguished oral historian of our time"
Library Journal

Having chronicled the lives of nearly everyone else, 95-year-old Pulitzer Prize winner Terkel (The Good War) now tells his own story. He recalls early days in New York and his move to Chicago at age nine. Personalities such as socialist labor leader Eugene V. Debs, statesman William Jennings Bryan, and lawyer Clarence Darrow emerge as Terkel comments on the politics of the 1920s and 1930s, his liberal tendencies apparent even at a young age. After serving in World War II, he worked as a disk jockey and then had a television variety show called Studs' Place. Most compelling, though, are Terkel's reflections on his activities as a progressive during the McCarthy era, when he was blacklisted and thrown out of work despite his show's popularity. He writes of FBI visits to his home and his struggle to make a living. Throughout these reminiscences, he maintains his sense of humor, interest in the common person, and love for the arts. While at times a little disjointed and jumbled, this memoir provides an insightful and fascinating look at America's last century through the eyes of one of its most astute observers. Recommended for large public libraries.
—Nancy R. Ives

Kirkus Reviews
The father of popular oral history turns 95 and finally turns the microphone on himself to craft an emotionally charged (but never sentimental), politically charged (but never formulaic) and energy-charged account of his days. A Chicago institution, Terkel (Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith, 2001, etc.) calls himself a "radical conservative," adding, "I want to conserve the blue of the skies, the potability of our drinking water, the First Amendment of the Constitution, and whatever sanity we have left." Getting to that position has required a long apprenticeship, beginning in an immigrant Chicago with a tailor father and a seamstress mother from the Jewish Old World. Chicago was a city of gangsters and speakeasies, of marked divisions between newcomers and natives. It was a city of radical politics and labor activism, a different place from today's city, which is very much like any other-for, as Terkel laments, "the unique landmarks of American cities have been replaced by Golden Arches, Red Lobsters, Pizza Huts and Marriotts, so you can no longer tell one neon wilderness from another." That's not just an old codger's cry for an irrecoverable golden age, though. As he writes, "I don't want to romanticize the past, become an old reactionary, an old fart saying, ‘In the good old days. . .' There were bad old days, too." Indeed, Terkel harbors little nostalgia, especially for the McCarthyite days in which he, though a popular DJ, was hounded from the airwaves for political reasons. He had his revenge, a tale unfolded in one of the more pleasing of the many pleasing anecdotes in this leisurely paced congeries of stories within stories.Whether recounting the lives of working people, getting inside the heads of political leaders or interrogating history, Terkel is a self-aware and self-effacing presence who happily knows he has been at the center of many things-stories he gladly tells. History from a highly personal point of view, by one who has helped make it.
From the Publisher
"Emotionally charged (but never sentimental), politically charged (but never formulaic) and energy-charged.... Terkel is a self-aware and self-effacing presence who happily knows he has been at the center of many things." —-Kirkus Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595584113
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 10/6/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 269
  • Sales rank: 1,484,628
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Studs Terkel

Sydney Lewis is the author of three oral histories and transcribes for and otherwise assists oral history maestro Studs Terkel. Studs Terkel (1912–2008) was an actor in radio soap operas, a disk jockey, a radio commentator, and a television emcee, and he is the author of Working and Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression.

Norman Dietz, a writer, an actor, and a solo performer, has recorded over 150 audiobooks, many of which have earned him awards from AudioFile magazine, the ALA, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, AudioFile named Norman one of the Best Voices of the Century.

Biography

As a young boy in the early 1920s, Louis "Studs" Terkel moved with his family from New York to Chicago, the sprawling, high-energy city he would call home for the rest of his life. His parents managed hotels catering to a varied and colorful clientele. Listening to the conversations of the tenants, young Terkel developed an early interest in people and their stories and a wide-ranging intellectual curiosity that would lead him in many directions.

He received his law degree from the University of Chicago, but never became a practicing attorney, Instead, he worked briefly in Washington, D.C., then returned to Chicago to take a job in FDR's Works Progress Administration acting and writing plays. In 1939, he married Ida Goldberg. The marriage endured for 60 years, until Ida's death in 1999. He joined the Army during WWII but was discharged because of perforated eardrums. Around this time, he embarked on a long, varied broadcasting career as a sportscaster, news commentator, and disc jockey. He ventured into TV in the 1950s with a relaxed, breezy variety show that helped define the Chicago School of Television, but returned to radio in 1952 with the a daily program of music and interviews that continued for the next 45 years. Among a constellation of memorable guests were Buster Keaton, Billie Holiday, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Tennessee Williams, Gloria Steinem, and Bob Dylan.

Although his first book Giants of Jazz was published in 1957, Terkel's writing career began in earnest a decade later with Division Street, a book of transcribed interviews with Chicagoans from every walk of life. Hailed by The New Yorker as "totally absorbing," this groundbreaking study paved the way for bestselling oral histories of the Great Depression (Hard Times), the working class (Working), WWII (the Pulitzer Prize winner The Good War), and growing old in America (Coming of Age). He also penned several memoirs, including Talking to Myself (1977), My American Century (1997), and Touch and Go (2007).

Active and engaged to the end, Terkel died in October of 2008 at the age of 96. In its obituary, the Chicago Tribune reprinted this epigrammatic quote from the iconic writer: "My epitaph? My epitaph will be, 'Curiosity did not kill this cat."

Good To Know

Terkel's famous nickname derives from the fictional character Studs Lonigan from James T. Farrell's 1930s coming-of-age trilogy.

Famously outspoken, Terkel was blacklisted from television during the McCarthy era for his "incendiary" political views. Fortunately, he found a wider audience when he was hired by Chicago's fine arts radio station WFMT, where his program was a daily staple for 45 years.

Instantly recognizable by his attire, Terkel always wore a red-checked shirt, grey trousers, and a blue blazer.

He appeared in Eight Men Out, John Sayles's 1988 film about the Chicago Black Sox Scandal of 1919.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louis "Studs" Terkel
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 16, 1912
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Death:
      October 31, 2008
    2. Place of Death:
      Chicago, IL

Table of Contents


Editor's Note xi Acknowledgments xiii Prologue xv Part I
1 Street Scene 3
2 Bound for Glory 19
3 The Rooming House 29
4 The Convention That Would Never End 39
5 Teachers of the Gilded Age 48
6 The Hotel 52
7 A Good Citizen 68 Part II
8 Seeking Work 79
9 The Actor 88
10 Observer to Activist 95
11 A Bouquet from the Colonel 98
12 Ida 103
13 Reveille 110
14 Lucky Breaks I 116 Part III
15 American Dreamer 129
16 Are You Now or Have You Ever Been ... 139
17 Blacklist 145
18 Lucky Breaks II 154
19 A Casual Conversation 169
20 The Feeling Tone 181 Part IV
21 Truth to Power 193
22 Didn't Your Name Used to Be Dave Garroway? 210
23 Two Towns Called Girard 222
24 Evil of Banality 231
25 ... And Nobody Laughed 237
26 Old Gent of the Right 240
27 Einstein and the Rest of Us 243 Postscript 255 Index of Names 257
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