THE PARADOXES BY WHICH THEY LIVE AND DIE.
Harry Shearer, radio broadcaster, actor, “Simpson” video-cartoon voice, has been in and out of Jean Shepherd’s life–sort of. Way back in December 1963 SATYR MAGAZINE published an article titled “I, Libertine–SATYR Meets Jean Shepherd.” The subhead says: “Edited by Harry Shearer.” One wonders what that means, but we’ll get to that later. Soon after Shepherd died, National Public Radio did a two-hour tribute to Shepherd, “A Voice In the Night,” which was narrated by Shearer. (I’d found out that the show was in production and contacted them, saying that I had some early tapes of Shep. They invited me to their NYC studio, where they copied parts of my tapes. The first audio on that tribute, about being a museum specimen in the future, is from my tapes.) Around 2003, when I was working on my Excelsior, You Fathead! I twice tried to contact Shearer for an interview, but got no response. I guess that, in regard to Shepherd’s life, Shearer’s gatekeepers felt he should be not in but out.
Regarding the 1963 SATYR magazine, the contents page lists that article thus: “Satyr speaks with Jean Shepherd.” The article itself reads like a Shepherd radio broadcast, with italicized comments by someone else, presumably Shearer. So, whether the Shepherd part was transcribed from an interview or transcribed from a radio broadcast, is unclear. (No, I’m not gonna try contacting Shearer again–zilch twice, a decade ago, is enough. Even though I’d be delighted to talk to him.)
The article, which I encountered on the http://www.flicklives.com Shepherd site, is accompanied by an undated and unattributed photo I like a lot, because, like the iconic Fred W. McDarrah shot, it shows Shep the way I envision him:
The first page of the article has an italicized comment that includes, “Master of Psychology,” suggesting that Shepherd had a masters degree–this is very unlikely, and so far it’s unproven that he had a bachelors degree. What follows, starting with the italicized paragraph, presumably written by Shearer, followed by the Shepherd part, is of special interest to me because it deals with some creative Shepherd issues which make him special:
In a small, dingy radio studio in New York City, an Indiana-born Master of Psychology sits for 45 minutes each late weeknight, broadcasting his opinions about satire, advertising, politics and most everything else into the East Coast air. He is Jean Shepherd. What he does, or is, is hard to define–not just because few people outside New York have ever heard anything remotely like him. In a country where mildly funny superficial routines are acclaimed as piercing satire, Shepherd is a unique phenomenon: A social critic on a mass medium.
I guess I primarily want to amuse people. The word amusement sounds very light, but there are different kinds of amusement. There are people who get their amusement by watching other guys hit each other with pies. My idea of amusement is presenting the paradoxes by which they live and die. Some people have called me a satirist, others have called me a humorist, but that’s again a hard thing to say.
I don’t just talk on the air. I perform. I take different parts and characters. It’s like a little one-act play, or monologue.
Jean Shepherd does not frequently talk about the nature of his art, but when he does, I enjoy realizing that he is so conscious about how his creativity functions. Regarding the idea of amusing people, I like to say that he tickles the better parts of one’s mind. It seems as though he wants everyone to be aware that he is not just casually rambling on–that he is an artist. Also, he would like a lot more recognition from his listeners and the rest of the world, that indeed, they recognize him as a creative artist on a high level. As he puts it once, quoted in my previous blog about Shep’s creative issues, “That’s all I want. Just one little word here and there, of encouragement.” He says it in a way that mocks himself for thinking and saying it, because it is the only way he can get away with expressing it–by making fun of himself. But he means it!
Not sufficiently recognized in his own time–they* done him wrong!
*they= me, you, and other fatheads everywhere.