Shepherd’s work belongs in the general category of “talk radio.” But, considering what talk on the radio by its most popular practitioners has essentially become in recent decades, he represents a contradistinction. He would not want to be categorized with those other talkers. Or by Alan Berg, a talk show host, an inflammatory and (unusual for most) a Liberal commentator, who paid the ultimate price for his style/attitude by being assassinated by neo-conservatives (white supremacists?) in 1984. More about Berg later.
Asked in 1998 if he’d consider returning to radio, Shep commented that he would not want to work in a medium in which one of the most flagrant, with his very high talents, broadcast (pandered) to hordes. Content of these talkers encompassed lewdness, racial prejudice, reactionary vitriol–riling them up like demented Neanderthals. A “shock jock” is a type of radio broadcaster who entertains listeners using melodramatic and confrontational exaggeration. Nasty, offensive, and corrosive, with their hundreds-of-thousands of rabble eager to be emotionally aroused—equivalent to fans of wrestling and demolition derbys of minds and emotions. (I’m not an expert on that form, but I think I get the general drift.)
Jean Shepherd entertained by being amusing, by commenting on the passing scene and human foibles, by advancing our sensitivities and knowledge in a mostly gentle and polite sort of way by what he said and how he said it in stories and other forms. Even though over a period of careful listening one might put together, from his rare implications, curmudgeonly grumpiness and surprising negativity, he could be anti-social, but he was by no means what one might consider corrosive.
Sometimes silly—definitely not corrosive.
Much of the following is inspired by something enthusiasts of Shep have been aware of: My EYF! puts it this way:
“Yet, biography is only grasping at an entertaining and probable hunch—especially unreliable if combined with an attempt to analyze a creator through comparison with the creator’s work. Even more perilous when trying to understand the slippery relationship between truth and fiction, as they interweave in what Shepherd gave as his life story.”
I continued by commenting that Shepherd seemed to have three aspects of his being. First, the biographically based Shepherd (As I wrote, virtually unknown). The second “persona was the storyteller who artfully conflated bits of the true Shepherd into the concocted biography of his life. Third, “the Shep who spoke on the air, the perceived here-and-now Shep, whom his listeners knew, giving real ideas and perceptions through his on-air persona.”
Recently I encountered online an essay from The New York Times, by Frank Rich (published 6/29/86). The Rich piece greatly augmented my ideas on the subject, and I quote his piece extensively in PART TWO
Where does Jean Shepherd leave off and
“Jean Shepherd” begin?
What do Lily Tomlin, Penn & Teller, Dario Fo,
Spalding Gray, and Eric Bogosian
have to do with all this?
Stay tuned for PART 2 of 3.