Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs

November 7, 2008

BILL MOYERS: In just the last week, our country has lost two of its most original progressive voices, and I've lost two friends.

So much has been said about Studs Terkel, there's no need to embroider any further a remarkable life spent listening to America. But I'd like to share with you a scene or two from a documentary Studs and I did back in 1984 for CBS News.

TRAIN CONDUCTOR: Amtrak welcomes you aboard.

BILL MOYERS: We traveled by train from Chicago to San Francisco, on the Amtrak Empire Builder, the train that crosses the Northern Great Plains to the Pacific Northwest, then down the West Coast from Seattle. Along the way we buttonholed anyone who was willing to talk, and Studs and I, well, we just listened.

STUDS TERKEL: What's your big worry in the world today? What worries you?

MAN: Benjamin Franklin said something to the effect that with all the technological advances that they had had at that time, and we've had much more since, it was such a pity —he expressed it much better than this —that we had not had moral progress.

BILL MOYERS: Here's a moment I remember when Studs started talking with a young mother-to-be.

STUDS TERKEL: All right, that baby. Pretty soon?

WOMAN: Three months.

STUDS TERKEL: Three months. Okay. What sort of world do you want that baby, boy or girl, to have? What sort of America?

WOMAN: I want this to still be available. I want this to be accessible, and I want that baby to have the same opportunities that I've had.

CHARLIE FIKE: Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound...

BILL MOYERS: You know, you asked a lot of people on this trip, "What —what are you worried about?" Let me ask you, Studs Terkel, 72 years old --


BILL MOYERS: -- seen a lot of this world, a lot of this country. What are you worried about?

STUDS TERKEL: I'm worried about what Einstein was worried about. And if he's scared, I'm scared. He said, "We've taken such a leap in weaponry and technology and science. Unless we take that same leap as far as understanding one another in this society and in the world, we're in for a catastrophe." And wouldn't it be good if we had more passenger travel and if all these roadbeds were fixed, that have been on the bumpy side? And I'm always thinking one less missile and so many roadbeds and so many passenger trains traveling. Wouldn't that be something?

BILL MOYERS: Oh, yes, Studs, that would have been something. A few weeks ago Studs sent me two of his many marvelous books —"Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression," and his own memoir, "P.S.: Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening." He taught us all how to listen, and in the best progressive tradition made noteworthy the lives of the folks he called the "Non-Celebrated" —the people who keep the wheels going 'round.

The other friend who just left us was John Leonard, one of our most prolific commentators, critics, and essayists. A frequent contributor to CBS Sunday Morning. He was possessed of an insight that saw the early promise of such writers as Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maxine Hong Kingston.

Like Studs, he had a knack for perceiving what was at the heart of American society and our culture. Even though he was at the end of a long fight with lung cancer, one of the last things John did before dying was to get to his polling place Tuesday so he could cast his vote for Barack Obama.

So long, John and Studs. It was good to know you.

That's it for this week. I'm Bill Moyers.

Moyers Podcasts -- Sign Up for podcasts and feeds.
Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ