Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD-A Doozy of a Story [finished]

JEAN SHEPHERD-A Doozy of a Story [finished]



G:           Onward!  From what I know of you and Shel Silverstein, he seemed to live a more improvised life than you, though your radio broadcasts were a marvel of improvisation.  Would you agree, and which do you find preferable—improvised life or improvised art?

J:             I pretty much did what I wanted.

G:           Sometimes you got involved in projects that required sustained concentration.  Your television and film work.

J:             Yeah, but remember that even there, with Jean Shepherd’s America we chose our subjects and locations in a loose, improvised way.  And with our portable equipment we shot a lot of that stuff on the fly.  There’s improvisation, for you!

G:           Still, Shel seemed more of a wild guy, less tied down.

J:             His life is over but you still listen to my unscripted radio shows, don’t you?

G:           You mean life is short, art is long?

J:             Put it that way if you want.  One cliché’s as good as another.

G:           Onward and upward.  When you interviewed the Beatles, we know you didn’t like rock and roll, but you indicated that you found them to be nice young men, not overly affected by their fame.  Tell me your thoughts about their more sophisticated, later music and some of the better rock music in general that seems far superior to that which you earlier disparaged.

J:             Nothing can be all bad.

G:           There’s a hint in there that maybe you think some is good.  Do you ever listen to any of it?

J:             [Silence]

G:           That’s it?

J:             Give me opera, classical, or good jazz any day.

G:           Now for a couple of really important questions regarding your artistic legacy—our understanding and appreciation of your work.  Your early 1956 New York overnight broadcasts.  I believe they were not only unique but, in their freeform style, must have been very much a part of the improvisational and expressionistic forms of theater, painting, and bebop of the time. How do you think of those broadcasts?  Do you know of any recordings of them?

J:             I don’t know.

G:           Come on, Mr. Shepherd.  What about your artistic legacy?  Without old audios of Caruso, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, their work and our history of sound would be the worse.

J:             I don’t care.

G:           I don’t believe that!

J:             [Silence.]

G:           Come on, Shep. I want to hear some of them.  I’ve quested all over the map.

J:             Have you looked down here?  I’ve got a complete set we can listen to together.  Come on down.

G:           Down?  You’re down?

J:             Or up.  Kid, don’t bother me with details. Down or up, it’s all the same.  It’s crowded with teeny boppers and listeners of all ages.  My vision of paradise.

G:           Teeny boppers?

J:             I supply ‘em with chewing gum and eye liner and they cater to my every whim, if you follow my drift.

G:           I think our conversation has drifted.  Let’s talk some more about people of the female persuasion.  A number of women have been important in your life.  Tell me about them.  Start with your mother.

J:             What you’ve heard about and read about is what you get.

G:           And Lois Nettleton.

J:             We did so much for each other.  We were the perfect couple.  She was the one and only love of my life.

G:           And Leigh Brown.

J:             We did so much for each other.  We were the perfect couple.  She was the one and only love of my life.

G:           Two one and onlys?

J:             I wanted them both, I had them both, I needed them both.  They were very different from each other and both were perfect for me.  The story of my life and my career—I couldn’t have it more ways than one.

G:           Regrets about your marriages?

J:             That little Leigh didn’t outlive me (Pause.)  That I didn’t have her hovering over me at the end.  (Longer pause.)  That I died alone.  (Long, long pause.)

G:           Is that it?

J:             No.  Strike all that.  That—that I had to see her die.

G:           (I don’t know how to follow that.)

J:                Are we almost finished with this interview?  I’m getting tired of talking.

G:              You’re never tired of talking, so don’t give me that crap.  How’d you like my book?

J:                You and some of the people you talked to said a lot of nasty things about me.  You know I hate biographical shit.

G:              Most of it directly related to the correlation between your real self and your self-presentation in your commentaries and stories.  How your art and your life are intertwined.  Mostly some relevant truth.  Any closing comment about the overall effect of my writings about you?

J:                Posterity, are you listening?  Tell you what—I’ll give you what you want to hear—yeah, you’ve gotten a bit of me there, you fathead!

eb and shep posterShep and Me

(I feel blessed)

This interview occurred under such unprecedented circumstances that the reader may well wonder how I had the temerity to ask such questions and transcribe such answers.  The answer, skeptical reader, is that, as I have a fairly good sense of Shepherd’s turn of mind, I only asked questions for which I reasonably assured myself that I knew how he would respond, yet that these responses would provide some new understanding of Shep, and that they would thus be of interest to the reader.  The limitation is that some of the questions for which I would have liked answers, I couldn’t ask.  Damn!  But then, frustrated reader, we couldn’t have relied on his answers.




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