Studs Terkel | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Studs Terkel 

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Studs is still going strong. The beloved nonagenarian mined his long-running WFMT radio show, The Wax Museum (1945-'90), for material for his latest volume, And They All Sang: Adventures of an Eclectic Disc Jockey (The New Press), and though it doesn't have the cultural weight of Working or his other, sturdier oral histories, it effectively charts the development of a host of musical genres from the points of view of principal practitioners--and presents a clear portrait of the "eclectic disc jockey" of the subtitle to boot. A series of interviews with musicians from high culture (opera, classical) and low (blues, rock), it reads best when Terkel follows his subjects to the intersection between their craft and the greater cultural forces that surround it. In that rarefied space, a 22-year-old Bob Dylan speculates on the difference between the 30s and the 60s: "It seems like everything back then was good and bad and black and white and whatever. . . . [Now] it doesn't seem so simple." Canadian heldentenor Jon Vickers derides the decadent Nietzschean thinking that inspired Wagner's work. Leonard Bernstein marvels at pirated Soviet productions of West Side Story that exploit its "anti-American" tropes. And bluesman Big Bill Broonzy recalls, on the eve of his death, the shock of recognition he felt upon playing for crowds of Senegalese fans. Terkel himself emerges as a figure as beguiling as any of his subjects, at home among all manner of humanity and incapable of the reductionism that plagues so many historians and journalists. Fri 12/16, 7 PM, Borders, 2210 W. 95th, 773-445-5471; Sat 12/17, 2 PM, Burke's Books, 116 Main, Park Ridge, 847-692-2300.

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