SHEP AND MARK TWAIN—THE INNOCENTS ABROAD
Regarding American humor, Jean Shepherd has always been proud of his lineage going back to Mark Twain. In 1869 Twain published his book, The Innocents Abroad, a quirky, true/fiction commentary.
Twain’s experiences and the ironic tone he took toward American and European culture, plus his characterization of American tourists faced with far-off oddities and treasures, makes his and Shepherd’s takes on travel mostly unlike each other—not the closest of kin here, they seem rather like distant cousins.
Yet, Shepherd would probably be pleased to find a link between himself and his revered forebear in a sentence from Twain’s preface to The Innocents Abroad. Shepherd might have written it for his own travel tales: “I offer no apologies for any departures from the usual style of travel writing that may be charged against me—for I think I have seen with impartial eyes, and I am sure I have written at least honestly, whether wisely or not.”
With his own distinctive brand of wit, Shepherd shares with Twain
his sharp-eyed observations and a penchant for truth.
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival….[travel] whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia or human flourishing.” –Alain Botton (The Art of Travel, 2002.)
Jean Shepherd, on his broadcasts, told many travel tales. I’ve transcribed quite a few of them and I hope that they will someday be published in print. They make a fascinating handful of far-off experiences told in Shep’s familiar style and turn of mind. And, I believe, they are almost entirely true to life (as opposed to the basically fictional nature of his kid and army stories). They range from his bus-trip to the “March on Washington”; to delivering cough drops and candy to Peru’s Indian natives, previous headhunters of the Amazon; to his week as a “fifth Beatles” in Great Britain for his Playboy interview of them; to much more around the world.
There is much more to say about Shep’s travels.
“Mr. Shepherd, “Excelsior,
I assume?” you fathead!”