Monday, 3 November 2008
II wanted to note the death of Studs Terkel and do something a little more substantial than that but I am run ragged for time at the moment and see that Ms Baroque has done an excellent job already so I am going to direct you to her. Thats what I call proper work.
Oral history is marvellous. There's a reasonable amount of it in Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, where he simply quotes a few voices. East Anglia has its own classic with Ronald Blythe's Akenfield. Terkel's way is tougher, more urban, more driven, more unsettled perhaps. His own site gives recordings here, and here he is in YouTube.
One question, and away he goes. The man can talk too. He turns away from the interviewer to the audience and takes off.
I would say more but am considerably tired tonight. Just read him, or rather those who speak to him, through him.
Oral history is about what is thought to be dispensible, ephemeral, what disappears without fuss, but is in fact the voice holding its space, placing itself, briefly, but squarely in it. A solid cube of breath. All it takes is a little encouragement, a great deal of patience, endless curiosity and a touch of kindness. Oh, and editing. The cube of breath is carved to be true to itself. You hear the voice in Mayhew, as a cry, a passing comment. Terkel gave people that and more.