June 13, 2016

Studs Terkel with Tony Parker: Interviewing an Interviewer

"I'm looking for the uniqueness in each person. And I'm not looking for some such abstraction as the truth, because it doesn't exist. What I am looking for is what the truth is for them."

Louis "Studs" Terkel (1912-2008) is an iconic oral historian, Chicago-based radio broadcaster, and author. Above and below is excerpted exactly as presented from an interview with Tony Parker, often described as the UK's own "Studs".

There was a black woman one time, I saw her standing in the street, with two or three of her kids round her and she was looking in a shop window. And as I'm walking by, I look to see what it is she's looking at -- and you know what? There's nothing in the window, she's looking in an empty shopwindow -- looking at nothing. So naturally I'm curious -- naturally I'm curious -- so I say 'Excuse me ma'am -- but what are we looking at?' She doesn't seem to mind being spoken to by a stranger, and she doesn't turn her head around to see who's asking her or anything, and after a moment or so she says 'Oh' she says, 'Oh, dreams, I'm just looking at dreams.' So I've got my tape recorder and I switch it on and I say 'Good dreams, bad dreams...?' And she starts to talk. Then she talks a little bit more, and a little bit more. And her kids are playing around her, and they can see I'm tape-recording what their mom is saying, and when she stops talking after eight, maybe ten minutes or so, one of them says "Heh mom, can we listen to what you said?' And I ask her if it's OK with her and she says yes, so I play it back and she listens to it too. And when it's over, she gives a little shake of her head and she looks at me, and she says "Well until I heard that, I never knew I felt that way.' 'I never knew I felt that way!' Isn't that incredible? The way I look at it, it's like being a gold prospector. You find this precious metal in people when you least expect it.


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