Shel SilversteinAn Absurdest on Reality

My name’s Derek Peters and I’ve been working as an intern this summer on the Studs Terkel Radio Archive project at WFMT. I host a radio show on my college radio station where I interview writers of all kinds about their craft. Listening to Studs this summer made me reconsider how I interact with people, both on-air and off. It might be obvious that I could learn how to better formulate an on-air introduction of a guest by listening to Studs and how I can turn an interview into a conversation. What might be less obvious is how, by listening to Studs and reading his books, I learned how to have a more genuine interest in all different types of people.

There’s currently a crew of construction workers tearing down the building next to mine. They’ve been working all summer—roughly the same amount of time I’ve been listening to Studs. Early in the summer, I’d walk by them on the jobsite in the morning and not think about them at all. I’d walk right by, only glancing at the heavy machinery to make sure I wasn’t about to get showered with debris. But now, after two and a half months of listening to Studs interview everyday people with the same attention and interest he affords to stars like Muhammad Ali and Woody Allen, I find myself thinking every morning about the workers on that jobsite. I walk by each day and see if I can gauge their progress from the day before. I wonder how they might feel about the work they are doing. Are they satisfied with the progress they’re making each day? Is the foreman stressed because they might not finish in time? Do the crane operator’s hands shake, knowing that one bump of the controls could have devastating consequences? These are questions I believe Studs would ask them and they’re questions I’d genuinely like to know the answers to. Everybody has a story. Studs taught me that.

Both Studs and Shel possess the gift of being able to discuss profound themes with simple words. While Studs reveals the human condition in the words of a bricklayer, Shel comments on the folly of man with a cartoon and a caption. It’s clear that they recognize this gift in each other, and from the opening minutes of the interview they have a genuine rapport. Together, the two criticize the softening of children’s stories in the name of political correctness, assess the aesthetic integrity cartoons, and debate the vitality of the younger generation. Often, they appear to be foils, but at the end of their conversation, when Shel makes an impassioned plea for more original voices in the world, it is clear to me that they are similar: both intently driven towards preserving the individuality of vox humana—the human voice.