JEAN SHEPHERD—would he praise or damn?
[An all-for-the-fun-of-it photo
I had taken in 2004–at the same time
as my “author photo” for EYF!
I’ve spent a good part of my waking hours for the last 13 years thinking and writing about Jean Shepherd. When my EYF! 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 word.
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’s the times I put words in his mouth: my play, Excelsior! and my fake interview of him in the blog. 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.
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—lends one to examine to what degree these represent a truth to his life as he himself suggested.
LET’S ADMIT IT–HE’D HAVE HATED LOTS OF IT!
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,” as well as about other matters. Sometimes there is not quite an obvious answer.
[Two of my designs for potential covers]
KEEP YOUR KNEES LOOSE!
EUGENE B. BERGMANN
This book is dedicated to my wife, Allison, and our sons, Evan and Drew,
for their boundless forbearance during my work on the book.
And to the memory of two women who were so important to the life and legacy of Jean Shepherd,
Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown.
I’ll give you a word of advice. I’m beginning to produce a small booklet in my mind called, just simply, Keep Your Knees Loose! The Education of a Twentieth-century Man. —Jean Shepherd, humorist
Keep your knees loose. If you lock your knees, you will eventually faint and fall over.—Online advice for proper posture while singing.
I really want him to be recognized for what he was—a brilliant genius. The wonderful, wonderful unique—the wonderful thing that he was. —Lois Nettleton, actress, wife (1960-1967)
Knowing ANYONE is hard enough, but Jean is an unusually complex man, and his needs go much deeper than the average non-aware clown. I do not know if I can give him anything of value.—Leigh Brown, lover, producer, wife (1962-1998)
He really formed my entire comedic sensibility—I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd. —Jerry Seinfeld, comedian
I wonder how many kids are young Jean Shepherds running around out there. [Laughs.] I’m serious. They’ve got a jews harp in one pocket, a kazoo in the other, and a smart remark on their mouth. And a fat eye. —Jean Shepherd (July 27, 1965 broadcast)
You are Shep stuff as are we all. Do not fight your Shepness but rejoice in your Shepittity. —P. T. Bartman, Shep fan
MY BLOOD DANCED IN ME
…and never yet
Had heaven appeared so blue, nor earth so green,
For all my blood danced in me, and I knew
That I should light upon the Holy Grail.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from Idylls of the King, (1869)
The author beseeches all those potentially munificent fatheads who harbor miscellaneous Jean Shepherd holy grails to come forth with them now before their ignorant heirs toss them in a dumpster.
Some parts of the Keep Your Knees Loose manuscript have already appeared
in this blog. As I don’t expect those two manuscripts to be published in
anything like their current form, it should be understood
that the blogs are an overview plus much
new material of post-Excelsior, You Fathead! subjects
that have kept me busy (and off the streets) in recent years.
I believe that all this material extends our
understanding and appreciation of Jean Shepherd’s life and art.
(on AM and FM on your dial)