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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travels With Shep

SHEP AND MARK TWAIN—THE INNOCENTS ABROAD

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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.

Innocents A. titlepage

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.)

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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.

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“Mr. Shepherd,                                         “Excelsior,

 I assume?”                                                   you fathead!”

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3 Comments

  1. Hi Eugene,
    I quite enjoyed your Twain/Shep comments. You might then find the following of interest.
    My pals and I were drinking in NYC’s McSorleys Ale House in the 1990’s when the flood of Ukrainian immigrants from the recently dissolved USSR turned what was once an Irish neighborhood into a mostly Ukrainian one.
    Among them was a retired ex Soviet Colonel but ethnic Ukrainian, who was seated at our table, as sharing the limited space is a custom there.
    I was telling my friends of the time I chatted with Shep at Union College in NJ.
    The Colonel then related that at a Red Army American Studies school he attended, Mark Twain was mandatory reading(the Soviets maintained he was in effect a communist and anti American peacenik!) in order to understand the American mind.
    Also on the course as a supplement? Jean Shepherd!
    I found it fascinating that Shep was felt worthy enough by some of the smartest operatives of a great foreign power( whose people traditionally rever great writing) to be included with Twain.
    Thats a real compliment to Shepherdski, as they felt they were in a life and death struggle with us and they deemed Shepherd to be of vital help in understanding the ‘enemy’.
    The Colonel then went on to complain about the cost of bootleg cassettes of Shep’s radio shows, that his source would never come down from 2 cassettes for $10. Just hoping it wasn’t the Great Max from WBAI who was hosing him. Gene, if you ever go into McSorleys ask about the handcuffs on the bar rail that have been locked there since the 1800’s, it’s one of the great NYC bar icons and stories, or read about it in the wonderful, classic, Up in the Old Hotel. Stay loose buddy.
    .

  2. Bettylou Steadman says:

    Or, as Oscar Wilde replied on asking if he had anything to declare during his travels, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”Bettylou

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