I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord.
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this–the fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift,
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Shepherd, Jean, 2, 31, 314; as actor, 335, 378, 449n14; ad-libbing of, 14; age, discrepancies over, 451n6; and American rituals, 250, 251, 252; American slang, contribution to, 217, 218; on American society, 228,249, 250, 251, 252, 257, 258; in Army Signal Corps, 24, 64, 68; army stories of, 62, 63, 66, 67, 383; art of, 439; articles of, 15; artistic persona of, 20, 28; audience of, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 190; Audio magazine column of, 151, 333; awards, recipient of, 423, 424; baseball, love of, 21, 169; beer, tribute to, 393; on Jack Benny, 100, 101; birth of, 23; bitterness of, 127, 246, 247, 371, 420; and Leigh Brown, 294, 295, 296, 297, 299, 300, 301, 417–18, 419, 420, 421; and call-ins, 130; Car and Driver column of, 164, 332, 333, 340; cars, interest in, 164, 334, 392; characters of, 24, 72, 73; Chicago, growing up in, 17, 24, 38, 39, 42; childhood of, 14; childhood stories of, 26, 38, 41, 42, 45, 46, 47; children, attitude toward, 265; in Cincinnati, 72, 73, 441n2; at college, 69, 443n14; comics, influence on, 27, 272, 273, 274, 275, 319; common man, attitude toward, 106; as complex, 20, 429; contradictory nature of, 190, 414, 415, 416, 434, 439; conversational style of, 32; as cool, 415; as creative liar, 38; and “creeping meatballism,” 158, 210, 261; cult following of, 127, 134; death of, 16, 407, 412, 421, 442n5, 451n6; difficult personality of, 178; as disc jockey, resentment, of term, 445n8; discharge of, 450n22; divorce of, 121; drawings of, 168, 329, 448n5; and Dream Collection Day, 241, 242; early jobs of, 52, 53, 54, 443n10; early radio work of, 14, 140, 141, 144, 145, 345, 346, 441n2, 450n2; engineers, antagonism toward, 11, 288, 289, 290, 291, 447–48n8; as enigma, 127, 436; and escargot story, 57–61; estate of, 421, 422, 452n12; experience, appetite for, 161, 167; fabrications of, 36, 45, 325, 442n6, 442n4, 448n1; as failure, 417; father of, 43, 49, 50, 51; favorite phrases of, 214; firing of, 11, 134, 135, 369, 371, 449n13; and Bobby Fischer, 433; in Florida, 24; flying, love of, 165, 198; folk instruments, use of, 205, 206; formative years of, 14; as gadfly, 253, 254; Herb Gardner, lawsuit against, 446n19; good food, delight in, 163; guests of, 153, 285; haiku, interest in, 338; and ham radio, 51, 52, 71, 209, 287, 447n5; Hammond, growing up in, 24, 28, 38, 39, 42, 56; and head thumping, 207, 208; and homosexuality, 271; hostility of, 219, 283; on humor, 88, 89, 91, 92–93; humor, style of, 100, 331, 396; and I, Libertine hoax, 4, 15, 132, 133, 158; and improvisation, 131, 140, 150, 362; influence of, 10, 367, 372, 373, 424; influences on, 83, 84, 85; in-group, creating of, 10, 210; as insecure, 138, 180, 417; intimacy, sense of, 18, 181, 182, 259, 260; isolation of, 102, 191, 283, 340; jazz, on broadcasts, 181; jazz, influence of on, 15, 50, 140, 141, 142, 152, 153; jazz concerts, emcee at, 151, 152, 490 EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!158, 377; and Garrison Keillor, 451n3; John F. Kennedy, eulogy of, 107, 228, 353–55, 356–57, 448–49n9 (Part 6); knee injury of, 443n12; knowledge, obsession with, 245; Kopfspielen, as master of, 24, 208; on Krapp’s Last Tape, 1–2; and Stanley Kubrick, 446n18; legacy of, 371, 372, 407; listeners, emotional attachment from, 14; live concerts of, 379; and Mad magazine, 333; Norman Mailer, obsession with, 339–42; marriages of, 24, 73, 178, 265, 297, 299, 446n20, 446n21; mature radio work of, 345, 346, 347, 348, 350, 360, 361; memory of, 27, 34; memory, use of, 33, 35, 54; as mentor, 19, 182; metaphor, use of, 33; Midwest, growing up in, 47; military service of, 62, 64; and “mills,” 137; and Charles Mingus, 144, 159, 445n12; misogyny of, 178, 179; monologues, details of, 34; mother of, 48; motives of, 34; and movies, 402–5; music, fascination with, 199; name, spelling of, 43, 44, 449–50n15; and National Public Radio, 377, 384; in New York, 24, 79, 83, 115, 117, 122, 132, 158, 171; New York radio broadcasts of, 15; in New York Times, 334; “night people,” coining of, 131; nostalgic, accusations of, 112, 113; observation, talent for, 81, 233, 335; Og and Charlie, characters of, 235, 236, 237, 239; and opera, 200; as outsider, 310; parents of, 442n2; persona of, 24, 26, 30, 412, 450n1; in Philadelphia, 441n2; philosophy of life, 65, 219, 221–25, 226, 234–40, 244, 245, 410; in Playboy, 9, 42, 67, 114, 115, 320, 321, 334, 371, 376, 399; poetry, interest in, 336; and politics, 228, 229, 230; as private, 24, 162, 420; and radio, 10, 39, 74, 95, 97–98, 324, 345, 351, 352, 362, 363, 370, 371, 411, 413; and radio, use of, 31; recordings of, 16, 125, 126, 380–84; and religion, 228; remembering, as storytelling device, 35; retirement of, 24; rock and roll, dislike of, 202; self-confidence of, 410; as self-destructive, 410; as self-involved, 137, 178, 191, 209; and Shadows (film), 154; short stories of, 15, 114, 115; short story persona of, 12; sibling rivalries of, 48; and “slob art,” 203, 275, 276, 277, 278; as social critic, 101, 232; sound, use of, 195, 196, 197, 204, 205, 206, 207; sponsors, battles with, 11, 304, 305, 306, 307, 308, 309, 312; spontaneity of, 130; sports, love of, 169; sports metaphors, use of, 169, 170, 171; steel mill stories of, 54; stories of, 343; stories of, as allegories, 29; as storyteller, 12, 245–46, 317; storytelling style of, 64, 86, 87, 324, 370; stream of consciousness style of, 13, 52, 77, 78, 139; style of, 124, 144, 184; talking, love of, 209, 285, 286; talk radio, as originator of, 9; technique of, 331; as teenager, 52, 57; and television, 9, 11, 79, 363, 384–95, 396–401, 450n19; theme song of, 146, 196, 197, 442n7; themes of, 13, 91, 320; travel, importance of, 165, 166, 167, 168; tributes to, 429; trivia, fascination with, 105, 106, 109; and true humor, 94; truth, embellishment of, 37; truth and fiction, confusion between, 29, 30; truthfulness of, 26, 28; as unhappy, 414; unique radio persona of, 16; Village Voice column of, 129, 158, 319, 339; and wgbhtv, arrival at, 450n20; women, hostility toward, 264, 265, 266, 267, 268, 269, 270, 298, 299; at wor, 121, 128, 129, 134, 135, 183, 210, 291, 292, 304, 310, 312, 360, 365, 371, 413, 428, 441n2, 449n13; and The Wonder Years, 331; words, importance of, 317; words, use of, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216, 217; work, tone of, 94; writing style of, as descriptive, 324. See also individual works of
You say I took the name in vain.
I don’t even know the name,
But if I did, well, really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word,
It doesn’t matter which you heard,
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn’t much,
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
[Excerpted text from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”]
[Excerpted index from Excelsior, You Fathead!]
[Re: the song, see book: The Holy or the Broken by Alan Light]
I consider Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” a great masterpiece–even if it’s not quite coherent in most folks’ minds (mine included). HOWEVER! Just to undercut my own portentous praise of it, I include my following Shep-inspired parody. My apologies, Leonard.
There’s a pink flamingo on the lawn
It cost a buck and it looks forlorn
It’s just slob art but what’s it to ya?
I found it down at some yard sale
Now its upright in my chain-link jail
One-legged crooning hallelujah!
IT’S SHEP’S BIRTHDAY!
I just encountered this Google facepage today, and wouldn’t ya know, I was planning on posting my Shep postage stamp today!
So here it is ↓
I was this Shep-researcher, see. I encountered two matters
of interest. And I stirred them together.
1. An extraordinary photo of young Shepherd, obviously taken in his earliest days in New York, previously unknown to me, photographed by Roy Schatt (Who took the faux F. R. Ewing shot of Shep in 1956). This is one of the best pictures of him I’ve ever encountered.
He seems at ease and innocent (?) and happy, and he’s dangling the glasses that he probably just took off for the photo, which makes me wonder if this is not a transition stage toward his choice to appear nearly consistently without them. Note my reference in EYF! page 164, quoting his friend Helen Gee: “And he also didn’t see too well. He was wearing contacts. He was one of the first people, I think, to wear contact lenses–or so he told me…He kept boasting about his contact lenses. Vain. Oh, very vain…”
2. I encountered companies on the Internet that offer authentic U. S. postage stamps with one’s own choice of image.
I contacted Schatt’s widow, who gave me permission to use the Shep photo for the stamp. I designed and submitted the layout. The company’s response was that an image of a celebrity can’t be used.
What we have below are the two samples of my fake stamps.
I, Libertine Shep
Do not use these phony stamps.
(Do not try these in the real world.)
Only in yer dreams!
FAKE! NOT REAL! FAKE!
(But wouldn’t it a been neat if they were really fer real?)
These unexpected and higher insights/expressions are open to all of us, but mostly we are trapped in lower zones of our thinking and expectations. (One of my favorite comments, that might be used here, is that “They’ve found the missing link between lower primates and civilized man—it’s us!”) But sometimes other and higher expressions of reality are available through openness and a questing toward them. These heights represent an evolutionary potential—a greater, higher human level.
Van Gogh’s landscapes capture what seems to be all levels of appreciation. They express his feelings/thoughts that the visual world is a swirling, flaming, living entity—and his vision of it thus helps many others apprehend it. (I know that often, after experiencing an exhibit such as one of great paintings, as I walk out of that museum, seeing the prosaic world around me, I sense that surrounding world with some of those attributes the artist expressed.
Shreck 1 is quality trickle—especially with its directly imported class-act song, “Hallelujah,” composed by Leonard Cohen, with its elegant, metaphorical, arcane conundrums.
(On Youtube, Cohn’s is there in several renditions, but the Shrek version is by others.)
The highest expressions in the arts are not just there for those who directly experience them. The entire field from best to worst gains from what’s highest. It’s clear in every art that perceptions and innovations at the top are absorbed by other lesser practitioners and put into effect in their own, more easily understood forms, and are appreciated on a less sophisticated level at the width and breath of art–from the junk-food bottom all the way up.
From Stan Brakage (Dog Star Man
or from another similar work by him, 1962)
–maybe a fifth-of-a-second frame
Example: I used to attend avant-garde (“underground”) films in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. A technique used to express and convey visual information and feeling in some of those films was exceedingly fast cutting from one image to another–maybe 5 or 6 images a second or more. The technique got around and affected millions who never saw Stan Brakage’s Dog Star Man, 1962, or anything else by him or others in little makeshift movie houses in the East Village in the 60s. Soon that technique (with all its speed-up of input and audience’s growing ability to absorb it and be emotionally enraptured by it) became a fad in television commercials. And subsequently it could be seen in mass-market commercial movies, such as in the finale of the Warren Beatty/Faye Dunaway film, Bonnie And Clyde, 1967. The quick cuts work well to express the violence of bullets hitting bodies.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunnaway, 1967
(or dead body-doubles)
! ! !
Don’t deny and kill the best we humans can potentially attain—let it remain as a sometimes-achieved enjoyment, and when we can’t understand or even believe in it or we turn our backs to it–leave it out there in the world. As Don Quixote quixotically sang in “Man of La Mancha”: we can strive for it—as THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM!
! ! !
in his ballet of that name.
He dreamed and achieved his dreams.
! ! !
Jean Shepherd’s radio work, for decades, achieved the level of Maslow’s “Self Actualization.” His portrayal of a mind exploring (“questing” maybe?), finding, suggesting, raises our level of humanness, and thus affects our psyches in a form that will not go away. Over the years we pass it on to others in our everyday interactions. Our “excelsiors,” our impossible dreams, sometimes encounter holy grails and advance our sensibilities.
Excelsiors and impossible dreams coming true
as he performs his artistic essence.
From his voice to our understanding.
Whether we realize it or not.
! ! !
On an undated program Shepherd said, “Do you know that there was a restaurant in this town [Rosoff’s], right in the middle of New York City, right off Times Square, that had a Jean Shepherd Sandwich?…Are you curious what it was? Oh, what a sandwich, I wanna tell you! Whoever it was knew what I like. There’s nothing I like better than whitefish. It was a whitefish sandwich, a cold whitefish sandwich with very thin white bread and a slice of thin, very fresh Bermuda onion, with salt and pepper and with a touch—just a touch—of horseradish! Ahhh!”
That’s a happy fish reference, but remember shep’s allegory about when, after casting the lure “perfectly,” he got the fish hook caught in his ear–he told that in March of 1977, just a few days before his last broadcast on WOR after twenty-two years of “doing everything perfectly.”
[I sort of assume that he engaged in fly-fishing. I imagine that the image above represents the sort of bugger that hooked him in the ear.]
What Shepherd fan would have thought that fish played more than a bit part in his life? True, he talked of fishing as a kid from time to time, including his first published story in Playboy when he tells of his first fishing trip–fishing for crappies. As an adult he had participated in two “Fisherman’s World” television programs, in one of which, while ice fishing, he was served refreshments by Playboy Bunnies.
Also, from a few radio references over the years we understand that he was a dedicated fisherman. Jean and Leigh’s vacation retreat on Snow Pond in Maine, which they visited from about 1977 to 1985, was probably, to some extent, chosen because of the fishing. In her year 2000 interview about Jean, Lois Nettleton expressed surprise upon learning that he and Leigh had had a place in Maine. Without apparent wistfulness or jealousy she said, “Ah! That’s where we used to spend any time that we had. We spent our little belated honeymoon. And we’d go up there and rent a little cottage and go fishing all day, and he’d cook the fish.”
To what extent was Maine chosen because of Jean’s emotional connection to Lois Nettleton? A decade after the divorce from her, when Jean and Leigh bought the Snow Pond place, maybe none at all, as he claimed never to dwell on the past. Maybe it was just the fish.
! ! !
Jean Shepherd’s radio “art” is not for everybody. In fact, his radio genius is probably, as Donald Fagan put it, an art of “inherent marginality.” Is this good? Is this acceptable in a world of “majority rules”? What is the advantage of the existence of marginal ideas and styles and arts in any society—even–or especially– in one of mass-tastes such as those that dominate our culture and its media?
Such arts as opera, ballet, classical music, and poetry, and avant-garde formats of many kinds survive, it seems, only because they are supported by the wealth of a few and the largess of the state. Even the more popular arts such as the novel, have a more rare and unread form that involves style and/or content that is considered avant-garde and that most people don’t like—they avoid it. Maybe such elite tastes have no place in the world and should not even receive the miniscule amount of support they now get—why protect the elite tastes of a minority if the art cannot support itself through the Darwinian mandates of majority rule? Without necessarily implying that Shepherd’s work is part of the highest equivalent in the highest arts we know, or that I am the ultimate arbiter, here’s why, with two hard- to-explain, yet simple reasons.
! ! !
THE FARTHER REACHES OF HUMAN NATURE
Psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, who chose to study, not the emotionally disturbed, but the highest functioning people, used the term “self-actualization” to express that which individual humans at their highest potential can attain. His posthumously published volume is titled The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Maslow pointed out that there is a hierarchy, a series of levels of human needs, from the lowest level: we all need air, food, and a few other basics; a bit higher, we “need” a certain degree of comfort; higher yet we desire some freedoms; and ultimately highest, where humans may attain the ultimate—a full humanness, where there is the potential to think, explore, create on a much higher level than lower life-forms can.
→Click on the wonderful pyramidal image at the top of this post←
Evolution has put humans on this road to higher things, and over millennia we have moved upward to need and desire far more than air and food. So the baby evolves to the child, to the adult, moving from simple needs and thoughts to higher ones. So also does the human appreciation of “arts” evolve from a baby rattle upward to more elaborate/sophisticated vision, sounds, ideas.
Most people stop short of the highest levels, even though these levels are around us, mostly just for the choosing. (If they can’t afford tickets to the opera or ballet, they can enjoy such through DVDs and television broadcasts; for poetry and other “higher” forms of writing there are libraries.) Note that no one expects everybody to consume only the “highest” all the time. We all enjoy a binge of lower pleasures. My favorite junk food is strawberry Twizzlers and I seldom indulge in the highest, upper crust sorts of stuff.
Delightful Junk Food
(BTW, I don’t go for opera, other than enjoying a couple of the more popular arias. Though I don’t indulge in it, I would not want a dictatorship of the proletariat—a tyranny of the majority—to ban the support of it. I’m for promoting it even through public subsidy.)
Through the artists’ innovative perceptions and their expressions, there can be an expansion in our ability to understand the world around us in previously un-thought-of ways. The usual ways that we have understood more prosaically can be altered and expanded—we can get a fuller perception of our reality. It’s because such higher levels are indeed at the top of humanity’s thoughts/feelings/expressions, and are goals that should be seen as shining grails up there ahead of us–these thoughts and feelings and expressions need to exist and be nurtured. Attaining ever higher levels of humanity than we now have can create nothing less than higher intensity and joy in life. Better than bubble gum and Twizzlers.
! ! !
See Part 2 coming up!
In which I announce, propose, affirm,
substantiate, establish, promote, and stress
My publisher once asked me if there were enough good Shepherd stories about baseball to make a book. I’m rather sure that (only considering the audios we now know of) there are not enough of any kind of actual stories to make up a book. There are Shep’s occasional comments; there are short bits such as the three variations on his “old man” heckling a Yankee, who then hits a home run, almost hitting him; there’s the one of him playing ball for the United Brethren team, there are a couple of Shepherd monologs in which he complements the New York Mets playing ability and winning the World Series. etc. But even if all those and other descriptive pieces were included, there is not enough for a full-length book.
Anyone looking for Shepherd baseball stories would surely clamor for the one titled “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League.” That’s the one in which Shep and his fellow soldiers construct a baseball diamond in the tropics, play a game in the “raw,'” the nude, because of the heat, and are seen by the General’s daughter. He told that one on the air and then published a version of it in the May 1971 issue of Playboy. I would have included it and the “Troop Train Ernie” story (published as “The Marathon Run of Lonesome Ernie, the Arkansas Traveler” in Shep’s book A Fistful of Fig Newtons), and possibly other of the few army stories from Playboy in my Shep’s Army, but I was told that some day the Shepherd Estate might publish a book of his previously published-but-not-collected-in-book-form stories. Don’t ask me what or when–I have no further details. (But it does bring up the question of why Shep could never get his army stories published by his publisher, the gigantic publishing conglomerate, Doubleday–which must have made lots of dough on his first two books. No known logical answer there, folks.)
As I don’t have permission to publish “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game” story, I thought it might be interesting to quote a bit from a broadcast version of it with a bit from the printed version to see what Shep did, in part, to alter the spoken word for Playboy, where he had more freedom of expression and maybe even where he might have thought that Playboy readers would expect a more immediately harsh and militaristic start and some unexpurgated army lingo.
As the radio version came first, I begin with it at the beginning. One will note that on the radio–especially at The Limelight–
with its audience–where this version originated, Shepherd is more conversational and can give more extemporaneous background thoughts about army life. On the radio in those days, of course one could not even imply a “bad” word of any sort. He sets up the scene of hollow and enervating life in the tropics nicely, as he does a little riff on one of his favorite themes about the military–the incredible boredom of it all (especially on the home front).
Excerpt of the baseball-in-the-nude story
June 18, 1966 at the Limelight
I’m in the army, see. You want to hear an army story? You know, I’ll tell you why the army is such a great place to tell stories about. Because this is the circumstances in the raw. And that ain’t all you see in the raw. See a lot of things in the raw, and that’s what this story’s about, see.
I’m in this company, and we’re way down in the boondocks. We’ve been in these boondocks for a hundred years. And the only excitement that we ever felt was once in a while you could hear an alligator off in the swamps, calling for his mate. You ever hear an alligator calling for his mate? It’s really thrilling.
You’re lying there in your sack, see, it’s two in the morning. You hear the mosquitoes. And you hear the sound of your radar set. We had a radar set. That is what our company did, see, it was a radar company. And twenty-four hours a day this radar set was going aaaaaaaaaaaaa, and the big beaming arm would sweep over us. You’d hear it going past you in the night. Over your head it would go. And you’d hear the mosquitoes. And you hear the sound of this motor going. and our world was just one long sea of boredom.
Have you ever been so bored you could taste it? Well, I’ll tell you how boredom tastes. Have you ever put a nickel in your mouth? Yea, put a nickel in your mouth and hold it there for about three minutes. That is the peculiarly active, metallic taste of boredom. Tastes just like that. And after a while you can sit there, you know–feel it.
And the whole company is just sitting there. And once in a while somebody gets promoted to Pfc. And that’s a big day, see. We can all go down and watch him sew on his stripes….
You can feel it, see, the way Shepherd begins the story by setting the mood of boredom–which will soon be interrupted by the thrill of doing constructive work that will conclude in a positive, enjoyable result–the making of a baseball diamond to play on in the jungle.
In contrast, for the printed page in Playboy, Shepherd chooses to begin with the harsh (printed) sound of the sergeant’s gruff orders. After all, when all ya got is a story wit words, ya gotta grab dose Playboy viewers by da ears–if not by the cojones.
“GET THE LEAD OUT OF YER ASS, YOU GUYS! FALL IN!”
“That makes eight hunnert ‘n’ninety-six,” Gasser whispered under his breath.
“Eight-hundred ninety-six what?” I whispered out of the side of my mouth.
“I been countin’. Ever since Basic.”
Company K instantly fell silent. Only the steady drone of our Signal Corps search radar broke the desolate stillness. But that didn’t count since it had hummed day and night, 24 hours on end, until it had become part of the stillness….
I prefer the spoken version over the written one–with printed words he describes, but on the air he evokes: “aaaaaaaaaaaaa, and the big beaming arm would sweep over us. You’d hear it going past you in the night. Over your head it would go.”
The printed story then adds a few off-color utterances: “Kee-rist, what diddlyshit.” and then describes how the army, to lift morale, decrees that: “A program of morale-building activities is hereby ordered. Athletic-type equipment will be furnished through quartermaster channels….” They will clear part of the jungle and construct a baseball diamond on which to play. With the ball field built there is joy in Mudville (Company K) as they begin a game. Of course, as we know, disaster strikes–in the form of the General’s daughter, who innocently comes to watch and encounters naked male bodies sweatin’ in the midday sun.
Back at the Company area they get the bad news–the field will be immediately returned to the elemental wilderness from which it came. And Sergeant Kowalski added his nickel’s worth of hell:
“Aw right, you bastards. You blew it. I have often stated that if you played ball with me, I would play ball with you. We will now begin my ball game. Immediately following chow, we will have a company GI party. We will clean every inch of this area. For three hours, I will see nothing but elbows and asses.”
Company K was back in business. Baseball season was over. the long hot winter had begun.
So endith the Playboy printed story.
The Limelight story ends rather differently. Of course the troops have to unmake the ball field, but on the air, Shepherd continues. He comments that in later years, he found it difficult to tell this story to anyone. No one would believe it anyway. One day he is in the Veteran’s Administration office signing up for the allowance given to honorably discharged military personnel, and there is the first lieutenant he remembered from that day when the daughter of the general had seen the team naked:
“Did ya ever make captain?”
He looked at me for a long look. He says, “You’re a third basement.”
I said, “That’s right.”
I said, “did you ever make captain?”
A long, pregnant pause. “No.”
I settled back.
He said, “Did you ever make buck sergeant?”
[They continued the little dialog.] Until the first lieutenant said: “I wonder if it ever caused that chick any sleep.”
She’s probably been dreaming about that for years! And I sat back and I said, “I’ve been thinking about that once in a while myself.”
He said, “Yep, I’ll bet that was the greatest ballgame she ever saw.”
I said, “Yep.”
And then there was another long pause and he said, “I’ll bet nobody believes it if you ever tell them the story.”
I said, “Yep, I tried to tell it to a chick the other night.”
He says, “Well, I tried to tell it to my mother.” He says, “I just couldn’t, you know?”
I said, “Yep.”
I never saw him again. And let me tell you the funny thing. The last time I told this story, five minutes after I went off the air, the phone rang and there’s this voice at the other end and it’s a female voice and she says, “Hello?”
And I says, “Hello.”
She says, “Were you the third baseman?”
Of course this could not work in print, but only live before a Limelight audience or even before any live radio audience. The surprised pleasure in the Limelight’s audience laughing enhances the ending–as it’s only really effective with that live audience response, I like that.
The suggestion Shepherd makes by incorporating his supposed phone conversation after the basic story has ended, is that this is not fiction but a real story that a real chick has been a real part of and has called him about it. Do you believe that? I think that was a clever and amusing way to end this fiction–better than the downer that ends the Playboy version.
I do believe that each version accomplishes it artistic goal appropriately for its medium.
Hurrah for live radio performance!
among his many other claims to fame,
almost became a comic strip–named “JEAN SHEPHERD.”
He and the comic strip’s creator, John J. Roman,
had a syndicate’s contract in hand but it never happened.
Through my incomplete records of the early 2000s (the syndication attempt was dated early 1979), John had been listening to the audios of some Shep’ short commentaries for CBS radio and recording them. He drew some strips based on them and Shep agreed to the idea of a strip based on his monologs. John drew a couple of dozen strips and sent them to many strip syndicates, at least one of which sent a contract.
My remembrance of what John told me is that the syndicate wanted the right to alter some of Shepherd’s words in the strips–as one can imagine, Shep would not allow it–and the connection was terminated.
I asked John if I could reproduce a couple of the strips in my then-forthcoming book manuscript of my miscellaneous essays on Shep-subjects and he gave me permission. The book never happened, but I’m cannibalizing parts of the manuscript for my Shep blog. I recently tried contacting John with no success, but with his earlier permission, I feel it’s okay to reproduce the couple here.
In the proposal letter to syndicates,
one paragraph follows:
While this submission serves only as a basic sample to the strip, it truly demonstrates the applicability of Mr. Shepherd’s humor to a comic strip format. Considering the volume of material Jean Shepherd has produced in the past years, and having reviewed its applicability to this feature, we’ve concluded that years of material lie in wait for utilization for this strip. And in comparison to other strips on the market, we feel that none offer toe one to one bond between character and reader as Mr. Shepherd has proven so successful on his television shows, and as we have skillfully; adapted to this cartoon conception. Also, Shepherd has cast aside the nonsense gag that so many cartoonist rely on in favor of something to say…his commentaries on life today…and his nostalgic tours of yesterday.
(Click on image to enlarge)
SO CLOSE HE CAME!
He coulda been a contender!
Right up there with Pogo and Peanuts.
[Artwork copyright John Roman, used with permission.
Should John Roman encounter this, please contact me.]
Frequently Shep said that, “I’m an entertainer.” Yeah. And he was lots of other stuff on a rather high level of achievement, but was never as acknowledged as he felt was his due. I think that most of us (especially those who heard him in their youth) have felt that he helped them carry on despite adversity and be better at anything/everything than they might have been without him. This certainly included such luminaries as U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and comic Jerry Seinfeld. Probably not many Shepherd enthusiasts realize that besides entertaining us, he was often telling us something about life–often a bit ironically and always somewhat shy of total happiness. (One might remember the Mark Twain/Mississippi River/ Morse Code story he told about how, no matter how good one is, there is, somewhere, someone lots better! (For a partial transcript and some discussion of this, see my Excelsior, You Fathead! pages 357-360).
Probably only a tiny portion of Shep’s fan-base know that several of his stories have been reprinted into schoolbook anthologies for reading and study in English composition. More of these anthologies continue to be discovered. These textbooks usually contain “questions for study and discussion” and ”writing topics” for student essays. Considering his reverence for the written word, especially in books, Jean Shepherd must have been delighted. One such example is Shep’s “The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night, and the Tinfoil Noose,” that was reprinted in this college text:
Typical of such schoolbooks as this Outlooks and Insights, the collection concludes each contribution with a “Questions for Study and Discussion.” Among the topics for Shepherd’s story are:
7. What do you know of the narrator from the story he tells? What do you learn of his appearance? His personality?
8. To what extent does Shepherd use figurative language in his essay? Cite several examples of metaphors and similes. What do these figures add to his style?
And even fewer people know that Shepherd claimed in one of his broadcasts that he had given lectures in communication at New York University.
* * *
And even fewer people have known that Professor Quentin Schultze, PHD, of Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan), has taught courses in Jean Shepherd’s art of communicating his ideas and stories. Through my earlier contact with Professor Schultze, I told Nick Mantis about him and Nick recently interviewed him for his forthcoming documentary on Shepherd.
Professor Schultze, who teaches communication within a religious context, has studied Shepherd’s work in all media, and even had Shep participate in some of the class sessions. He got to know Shep about as well as anyone could. Schultze understands Jean Shepherd’s image of himself as a philosopher of everyday life (in America) and the common people, who carry on despite their problems. Schultze explains that Shepherd would look at everyday culture and pull stories out to illustrate his themes, showing in his stories how people live through the craziness of everyday life and survive it all.
Professor Schultze sees Shepherd as a “secular preacher,” and indeed, considering Shep’s rather negative views on life and people’s foibles, Schultz refers to him as a “Calvinist” secular preacher. One might note that Calvin had a rather negative view of the human soul.
I abide by Nick’s stricture that I not quote directly from the nearly hour-long raw-footage of the dialog, as much as I would like to have been able to record here large blocks of this fascinating interview. We must wait for Nick’s documentary and hope that a lot of Professor Schultze’s extended comments are included.
The interview clarifies, confirms, and greatly extends what we know of Jean Shepherd’s art and philosophy.
HERE IT IS!
THE JEAN SHEPHERD SHOW!
Jean Shepherd ended his WOR radio career in 1977 and he died in 1999. Yet his creations continue to be perpetuated through new and older enthusiasts who enjoy his works. Here are some of the major factors helping keep Shep’s vision alive.
Shepherd‘s own books continue to sell. In addition,
Eugene B. Bergmann‘s books, Excelsior, You Fathead! ( 2005), an overview and appreciation
of Shep’s career, and his Shep’s Army (2013), annotated transcriptions of
Shepherd army stories, continue to sell.
Caseen Gaines‘ book, A Christmas Story-–Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic
appeared in 2013 with considerable material on Shepherd.
Several books on radio and on humor appearing in the last decade or so contain
descriptions and appreciations of Shepherd’s radio work.
A number of schoolbooks for teaching literature each feature a story by Shepherd,
with study comments and hints.
Professor Quentin Schultze of Calvin College has taught courses in the art
of Jean Shepherd and had him as a guest in class.
DISTRIBUTION (audio, video, radio)
Max Schmid of WBAI broadcasts Shepherd audios and interviews as often as he can
in addition to selling CDs and DVDs of Shepherd’s works.
Jeff Beauchamp”s Jean Shepherd Project (no longer extant)
distributed CDs of hundreds of Shepherd broadcast audios.
Sellers on http://www.ebay.com continue to offer Shepherd books, audios, videos, etc.
DOCUMENTARY (in the works)
Nick Mantis is creating a major documentary on Shep’s world,
interviewing many important sources.
Jean Shepherd acolites gather from time to time to chat, eat, and
exchange enthusiastic comments about him. The most recent “Shepfest” was
at Katz’s Delicatessen on June 24, 20014.
Documentary video-maker at Katz’s.
From time to time–here, there, everywhere inaccuracies–grubbage–
about our mythic hero continue to pop up, scatter like a dandelion’s plumed seeds,
giving birth to equally erroneous progeny.
Of great importance is Jim Clavin‘s http://www.flicklives.com, which is the major source
of information on everything related to Jean Shepherd.
Two other websites (which do not remain current or active) have good material:
Jim Sadur’s “Jean Shepherd Fan Page” http://www.keyflux.com/shep
and Bob Kaye’s “The Shepherd Page” http://www.bobkaye.com/Shep.html
Various internet sites, including the brass figklagee at
http://jeanshepherdpodcast.blogspot.com, continue to feature Shepherd audios.
Fans communicate regularly through the email site: email@example.com
and on Facebook through the group: “I’m a fan of Jean Shepherd.”
An internet site features a “comic book” bio by Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall
of early V. Voice contributor John Wilcock, , including:
My blog, http://www.shepquest.wordpress.com
every third day posts articles and thoughts on everything related to Shepherd:
A variety of writings, interviews, and commentaries continue to appear,
created in print and internet publications (Gene Bergmann,
Donald Fagen, Keith Olbermann, etc.).
Irwin Zwilling, who controls Shepherd’s creative rights,
continues to be engaged on his behalf.
Turner Television continues to yearly broadcast A Christmas Story
to millions of viewers, especially for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve.
A few years ago, Gene Bergmann‘s one man play “Excelsior!” enjoyed
a very limited run off-off-off-Broadway.
In recent years, around the holiday season, a live theater version of
A Christmas Story, travels widely in towns and burbs.
Starting in 2013, A Christmas Story, The Musical appeared on Broadway.
Both theatrical versions of the film portray Shepherd as narrator/commentator
in on-stage performance.
TRIBUTES FAR AND WIDE
From time to time Shep receives some well-earned tribute
such as induction into the Radio Hall of Fame (posthumously),
The Paley Center for Media–Jerry Seinfeld tribute (posthumously),
and even while he was alive → 🙂 ← such as being given an honorary doctorate,
as seen below (pay no attention to his pants and sneakers).
HURRAH FOR SHEP!
Shepherd told many stories about American traditions. One of his favorite subjects was the 4th of July, and the favorite story is about the neighbor, Ludlow Kissel, and his disaster setting off a bomb. Another, lesser known Shepherd story is the one about him as a teenager helping out his old man during the Independence Day celebrations.
Fireworks were an integral part of my life as a kid. There were three things my old man was hung up on. There was the White Sox, used cars, and fireworks. He was an absolute nut on fireworks. He had gone into the business and he was selling them.
There was a law saying you could not sell fireworks inside the city limits, so outside of town, half the cops were selling them. For miles around you would see these little wooden stands that had been selling tomatoes and pumpkins and stuff suddenly have red, white, and blue bunting and a great big sign that would say EXCELSIOR FIREWORKS. Excelsior was one of the big names.
They sold fireworks at a stand until the evening when, with his unsold products, the old man had his own display to give joy to the neighborhood:
Everything has been going fine. Big pinwheels he’s got. He’s got great American flags that fly up in the air and come down on parachutes. Everything’s going. Finally he takes out the Roman candle, which he always loved more than any other kind. He lights it. Everybody’s waiting.
Choooo! Off goes the first one, a big green ball goes up and everybody goes “Oooooooooooh!”
At the third ball, just as my old man is winding up, that Roman candle shoots backward—right out the back end of this thing comes a ball—Woooooops! like that, right up his sleeve and right out the back of his shirt! He spins around, another ball goes out the front and then quickly two of them come out the back! He is going on like he is insane. He throws the damn thing, it flies up and goes into Flick’s backyard, right in the middle of the geraniums. Boom! Boom! Out both ends. He turns around and he screams bloody murder— his pongee shirt is on fire. “My shirt! Oh no, my shirt!”
He runs up the alley and we can see him trailing smoke and flames. He runs down in our basement and turns on the hose. People are pouring water on him and then rubbing goose grease on him. What has to be pointed out is that nobody worries, it’s just natural in the fireworks world. That attitude toward infernal destruction.
Five minutes later he’s out in the backyard shooting off rockets, shirt hanging out, shirttail tattered, one sleeve missing. That is a picture of an American celebrating something—but who knows what?
“Celebrating who knows what?”
Shepherd does not answer his own question.
It is an irony, a conundrum, a metaphor of something.
We might guess that Americans are celebrating any of it and all of it:
→the whole uproarious conglomeration! ←
Happy Independence Day!