What do I believe? Carry on—I believe in persistence. A little bit of Galahad, a touch of Lancelot, a touch of Alonso Quijana, and thus perhaps, a touch of the idealist—which is to say, the fool in search of intellectual adventure with no protective covering but an endless supply of stuffing, which is to say, excelsior! We each have our own quests: Shep for more fame and acknowledgment; little Ralphie Parker for a BB gun; and I—well, you know my heart’s desire, so now, as the Lord of La Mancha sings it, “My destiny calls and I go.”
(Photo: Curtis Brown)
I frequently pat myself on the back regarding my research and writing about Shepherd. Early during research I’d created subject categories regarding his work, and I found that everything I encountered could logically fit into one of them. As I continue listening to more old broadcasts and reading more articles, things he said which many listeners might pay little attention to, strike a chord for me as I fit them into categories and patterns I’d earlier discovered.
But in addition to the pat on the back, I’m at times startled to encounter cause to give myself a swift poke in the ribs. For example, I recently reheard a program from a Saturday early afternoon in 1960, when he was still in the more pervasively philosophical mode that he later entered less frequently.
From time to time though, he would speak with pride of his perceptions, which often led to accurate predictions. Yet regarding one such prediction, I’d failed to mention his musings of a few minutes further into that program when he’d noted—at the very beginnings of the 1960s—what he saw as a disturbing trend in America. Back then, he could not have known, as we do now, how his forebodings would be confirmed by events in that turbulent decade.
SOON TO COME IN THE 1960s:
He led up to his pessimistic view of the near future by mentioning an old soldier in a movie talking about peace and brotherhood—all the ideals—and then Shepherd questioned whether people were basically peaceful or warlike. He’d questioned this from time to time, sometimes associated with his stories of the not-quite civilized cavemen, Og and Charlie. But here he was concerned with another aspect of human foibles—a mentality that was growing out of unrest—an idealistic belief that “peace“ and “justice,” and all those other good things, were being thwarted by some ignorant and self-serving people who, in effect, were “evil.” If only we could get rid of those bad people and their attitudes! If only some drastic act could be carried out that would ignite the smoldering, disenchanted masses. So that the disenchanted would burst into action and change the world for the better.
He said that “what we think we are is not what we are.” He proceeded with a commentary that we must understand came several years before the political and philosophical divide that he would see as being, in part, behind the assassination of President Kennedy in late 1963. The divide that he would see as having precipitated the conflicts to come between what he saw as naïve idealism of student radicals and status quo of the self-satisfied establishment. Remember that this 1960 commentary of Shepherd’s came over three years before the Kennedy assassination and over four years before the University of California at Berkeley demonstrations—the “Free Speech Movement” and the mid-twentieth century’s uses of civil disobedience and confrontations that as tools for social reform could turn violent:
There is a great unrest during peace, and let me tell you, there are some fantastic signs, and I’m going to say it right here, though it’s Saturday morning, that if you look at the paper very carefully, the little items not the big items, there is a profound unrest that is running through the world that is not —I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, or whether it’s— who knows, you see. You cannot cast forward in history.
For example, it was unheard of for maybe 18,000 years for a group of high school seniors to boo their principal—when they were graduating from high school. Now this is an interesting thing. It seems to me that there is rampant in the air a kind of uncontrolled—rebellion. Now I don’t mean—see, I’m certainly not for conformism. I’m 15,000 levels against conformism of any kind. But on the other hand you cannot confuse non-conformism with anarchism. That’s another thing entirely.
And it’s fascinating to me to see all sides, everywhere you look, all sides, there is developing a kind of fuse that seems to be already lighted. That all it takes, I think, and I suspect that all it will take one day, among the youth of today—I’m talking about the very youthful youth of today—all it will take will be some guy to leap up, who has “a plan.” And the next thing you know, we [laughs]—Nellie, bar the door!
Particularly if more things, more pressures, are exerted on America from outside our borders. All it will take will be some guy because—this is the same sort of anarchism that was breaking out all over Germany in the very early 1920s among the very young people. A kind of “let’s march,” and no one knows where to march, a kind of “let’s get angry—arrgggg!” You know it’s very important to be angry today—if you’re not angry you’re just nowhere. And it’s a kind of anger that burns like a flame but has no direction at all. Just burns. A kind of profound unrest with life. Just a-a-a kind of disgruntlement. I mean, how long has it been since you’ve really been gruntled? (July 2, 1960)
Part 2 to come