I’ve spent a good part of my waking hours for the last 13 years thinking and writing about Jean
Shepard Shepherd. When my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! was published in 2005, I was asked by an interviewer whether I thought Shepherd would have damned or praised me for what I’ve written. My answer is both (I’d hope).
Just as his third wife Lois Nettleton thanked me profusely for having written that first book in praise of Shep and all he’d created, I think Shep would have been happy to see some sort of book published about him—books, you’ll remember, were extremely important to him since he’d been a grammar school kid, even before he’d first gone to a library. So I believe that Shepherd would have been happy to find that so much of his work in all media, objectively described, would have a relatively permanent place in the printed world.
Of course my written and spoken words about him consist of more than objective description—there’s subjective description, interpretation, appreciation. Besides all that, regarding his personal life, there’s a bit of description and a tad of suggested interpretation.
Of course, there are the times I put words in his mouth: my play, Excelsior! and my fake interview of him in a manuscript. But I make clear that I’m—in the field of artistic interpretation and playing around—giving my own view of what his thoughts might be.
HE WOULD HATE THESE, I KNOW IT!
Despite my focus on his creative works, I do devote a bit of time to his treatment of his kids, his damning of radio, his unpleasant treatment of others: engineers, wives, children, fans, etc. He would intensely dislike much of the plain descriptive nature of putting parts of his life in print for the world to see. But there is a certain logic to this in my mind as his very personal style of radio persona—telling of himself and his ideas—lend one to examine to what degree these represent a truth to his life as he himself implied on the air.
There’s my questioning and musing on some parts of his enigmatic nature. For example my educated guess/interpretation of what I believe his motto “Excelsior” is all about. Joel Baumwoll and I have had some interesting interchanges about ways his life and art regarding “Excelsior” are inextricably connected. Sometimes there is not quite so obvious a connection.
The edited transcriptions of his army stories—he’d have edited and elaborated significantly in his own special way, as he did with his printed versions of stories first told on the air. Of course I would never have attempted any creative additions to his words and ideas. But what I did, in only making necessary and gentle edits to his spoken words, has given a number of people the sense of hearing his voice on the printed page—I’m proud of that. (Some in years past have said that they find his own transcribed/ edited/augmented/published stories also did that, but I feel that my rather straightforward versions do it even more.) Even though Shep wouldn’t have done it the way I needed to.
For example, the quote from Publishers Weekly:
“Editor Bergmann attempts with much success to simulate a posthumous memoir of author, comedian, and radio personality Jean Shepherd’s army years. Utilizing years of broadcasts and taking advantage of multiple retellings of the same events, Bergmann has assembled a surprisingly unified and confident account of oppressive years spent in the army’s Signal Corps from 1942 to 1944, with factual commentary between chapters providing context. Shepherd was never shipped to a warzone; thus the incidents recounted mostly concern the accommodations at a series of stateside camps, the cruelty of the fellow soldiers, and the sometimes Kafka-esque bureaucracy. His service was not without the defiance of death, and seems to have damaged both Shepherd and his compatriots; the pessimistic tone may surprise fans. The collection is otherwise a compliment to Shepherd’s usual storytelling and the exaggerated melodrama of his signature narration style, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments in a presentation that, against the odds, captures the energy of an oral telling.”
see, I did some good, didn’t I?
Wherever you are
(high above or low below)
forgive me my sins!
We are all sinners!
We all misinterpret you at times!
We even bad-mouth ya!
Sometimes we think we know better’n you do!
(Oh, the HORROR!!!)
Oh, fergive us our sins,
fergive us our treps-asses
as we fergive dose what treps-ass again us,
Oh, Wise and Wonderful Wizard of Shep!
[Oh–and forgive us for all future unintentional and intentional sins as well–thanks!]