Requiem for one of life's true storytellers

Posted4/26/2012 5:00 AM

We talk often these days in almost mystical tones of "storytellers" and "storytelling."

I don't like the term. It is a glaze that calls attention to itself more than the precious act it describes. It has the ring of marketing vernacular. Consultants delight in it. They talk of "spaces" in the same way. "Future storytellers will have to occupy the social media space," they will say. "Another type of story telling will occupy the print space."


Our language is sprinkled with talk of "resources." Or "benchmarks." Or "interfaces" and "critical timelines." Or of ideas formed into a "closed system" and structures conceived as "open architecture."

It all sounds so pretty. So smart.


Then there was Bill Granger. Copy boy. Newsman. Columnist. Author of 28 -- count 'em, 28! -- books. Here was a man who could tell a story.

"The American dream came to Khursheed Alam two weeks ago.

"It is a yellow 1972 Olds convertible with a white top and 442 horses under the hood.

"They don't make dreams like that anymore.

"For two weeks, Khursheed has walked around in a slight daze, a smile fixed on his face and his eyes glittering.

"His dream cost $150."

Bill wrote that for the Daily Herald in 1996. He wrote this in 1997:

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"This is a very sad story.

"Three kids who came from DeLaSalle High School on the South Side are accused of trying to kill a black kid because he played on his bike with his pals in Armour Square on the north side of Comiskey Park.

"I went to DeLaSalle. I have rarely felt so low about a news story. Because it involves me. I went there. I am part of it."

And this in '98.

"We were the Catholic boys and girls. Our parents saved dimes and dollars in a jar in the pantry that went every year to the school for tuition.

"Our fathers were truckers and streetcar conductors and icemen and steelworkers, and our mothers kept house in the apartments where we lived, saving American Family Flakes coupons and washing clothes in the tub by hand.

"In other words, we were the same as non-Catholics in the city, but we knew we were very, very different each day we went to school."

Bill's distinctive voice -- "In a contemporary newsroom carefully rigged to suppress sound, it booms across the industrious quiet like the call of wildlife across a marsh," I described it in a piece explaining the disappearance of his column from the Daily Herald -- was effectively silenced in June 2000. A stroke had stolen his memory from him. Now, this gentle bear whose passion for "the clarity and sweep" of Hemingway and Steinbeck and the "strong and direct" poetry of Carl Sandburg sustained him as a child of Chicago slums couldn't remember at the end of a 600-word column what he'd started to write at the beginning. When I think of the cruelty of fate, I think of Beethoven losing his hearing and of Bill Granger his ability to read.


Reading, he told me around that time remembering his childhood, "kept you from being lonely."

"Now, in the age of television, nobody ever gets lonely anymore, apparently," he said.

Hmph. Maybe. I don't know. I do know that when I heard of Bill's death this week, I felt the hollow ache of something important missing. A wave of regret swept over me for all the stories I'd not been able to hear him tell over the past 12 years. 9/11. Steve Bartman. A pennant for the White Sox. Economic collapse. A Chicagoan in the White House. Todd Stroger. Toni Preckwinkle. Rod Blagojevich. The end of another Daley era.

When Mike Royko died in 1997, Bill recalled his own long-running feud with the Chicago legend and the night it ended in the kind of celebrated drinking binge that once defined our profession. He decried "the p.c. takeover of newsprint by tongue-cluckers who would have boiled J. Swift in cholesterol-free oil for suggesting the poor Irish babies be parboiled to feed starving English workers."

Dear me, I wonder what Bill would think now. Something leads me to believe he would not be pleased.

Ah, but the stories he would tell.

• Jim Slusher,, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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