Thursday, June 06, 2002

Hi, Monkey Nuts!

It's time for.....

**************Hero of the Week!*****************

Two, again:

Studs Terkel and Margaret Bourke-White!

Each of these Rock Heroes was devoted to documenting the truth of individual Americans' everyday reality, in indulgent, lavish detail, with all the shadows, umbra and penumbra lovingly articulated, magnified, glorified. The people they documented had surely never been listened to or seen so closely by strangers--in other words, they had never been loved so hard.

The one thing I have learned in my so-called career of corporate journalism, the one gift that gig has given me, is this knowledge: People need to be listened to. For hours. They need to ramble freely, to free-associate and reminisce and expose themselves to someone who is interested. No one, not even bazillionaire rock stars, ever gets listened to really closely.

Or seen. And, as Georgia O'Keefe said, it takes time to see--just as it takes time to have a friend.

Margaret Bourke-White and Studs Terkel were lovers and friends of man, and woman, and they were true American patriots because they were not afraid to see America. Really see it.

For those who don't know, Margaret Bourke-White was the first female professional photojournalist. The first issue of Life Magazine featured one of her photographs on the cover. She was the first Western photographer allowed into the Soviet Union, in 1929. She was also the first female war correspondent, and the first to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War II. She was one of the first photographers to enter and document the Nazi death camps.

Bourke-White wrote six books about her international travels, and her book of photos of the depression-era South, "You Have Seen Their Faces," is a masterpiece. (Though I don't care for the fact that the writer, Erskine Caldwell--her future ex-hubby--INVENTED the quote-captions. No wonder they broke up.)

Thanks to the Women In History website.

As you prolly know, Studs Terkel (who surely has the coolest guerrilla-journo name ever, next to Lester Bangs) is the pre-eminent oral historian of America. His books are can't-put-it-down good, toilet-seat reading that will expand your soul. People's journalism.

He's a listener like no other.

(He also is known for dressing in red and white, much like a certain Best Band In The World I don't need to mention. Coincidence?)

He compiled about 40,986 books (give or take!) on subjects ranging from work (Working) to death (Will the Circle Be Unbroken?), race (RACE) and war (The Good War).

Of course, these two are only the greatest of a proud American tradition. If you wanna get your mind blown, check out the web archives of the WPA Federal Writers Project "Folklore Project," wherein thousands of "average" Americans were interviewed by broke writers during the Depression. Do a key word search and see what you come up with. It's as fun as a pinata, and you're guaranteed not to lose an eye.

To close, the words of Studs Terkel at 257 years of age. (OK, 80-something.):

"Think of what's stored in an 80- or a 90-year-old mind. Just marvel at it. You've got to get out this information, this knowledge, because you've got something to pass on. There'll be nobody like you ever again. Make the most of every molecule you've got as long as you've got a second to go."



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