[Remember the content of Part 1 of these “Foibles ahoy” posts]
So, without proclaiming his political biases, Jean Shepherd suggested that some human attitudes led to poor political beliefs. In this regard, some of the ideals of “liberty” and “freedom” from all restrictions had, in the recent memory, led to wars and atrocities. Much violence and various assassinations of the ‘60s soon confirmed some of Shepherd’s worst fears and predictions.
This idea of Shepherd’s, that the young especially were too naïve and sometimes went off too willingly to follow some leader toward idealistic and impractical goals, would cause him to be labeled a conservative, although it was clear that his overall tendencies, observed over decades of broadcasts, were unmistakably liberal. (He even, on the air, once confirmed his liberal bias.) And, giving the young much credit, a bit later in that same program, he said that he did not have this awareness when he was that young, and admiringly commented that “The very young are showing an almost frightening political awareness.” His thoughts, such as the one just discussed, would only deal with some current social issue in a more philosophical way regarding human nature, although several of his friends and his third wife, Lois Nettleton, have noted that he had very strong political opinions. He rarely ever directly hinted at those opinions on the air.
As folk wisdom has it, one should not discuss strongly held beliefs on politics and religion in public. As he nearly always adhered to this, and seldom made a direct comment, one has the impression that he was not traditionally religious. A listener remembers him once saying that his family had been Presbyterian. In this rarity, he mentioned the subject directly:
I am not a religious type—as you can probably tell from my work….Religion never played a role in my life. (August 13, 1973)
During the same program Shepherd said that he never attended Sunday school or church and claimed that upon joining the Army, a capital D was duly put on his dog tags when he insisted on being recognized as a Druid.
Regarding Shepherd’s attitude toward strongly held beliefs of various kinds, one occasionally encounters a comment. One of the many periodicals to which Shepherd contributed has recently come to light. Fact Magazine for their July/August 1967 article titled “America is Splitting Apart” polled “thirty well-known Americans to determine who they currently hold in high esteem.” Shepherd’s contributions, consistent with his usual questioning nature, began:
I think that the term “heroism” today has very little meaning because most of us define heroism as the thing we agree with. For example, a John Birch member thinks he’s a heroic person because he’s fighting against Communism. On the other hand, a person like Joan Baez believes she’s heroic because she’s maintaining a stand against Vietnam. And they do not even consider the other side.
John Birch Society, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez. Gee Whiz, what a combo!
The 1960s were a complex, exciting gallimaufry. I’m really delighted that I was alive for it all! Without suggesting my attitudes at the time, I report here that a friend arm-twisted me into attending a Birch Society meeting (“Just to see what this new phenomenon is like”), and, seeming to be in another world, I attended the Forest Hills Stadium, Joan Baez (non-political) concert in which, after the intermission, she introduced onto the stage to sing, a scraggly-looking guy I’d never heard of: Bob Dylan, who sang a weirdly monotone “A Hard Rain,” or maybe it was “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Whichever–I was so fascinated by the odd-sounding songs and voice that the next morning I went out and bought his first two-and-only albums. (Note that I do not comment on the political content of J.B.S., B.D., J.B. I was, and still am, in most ways, too likely to “see both sides” of an issue, and too naive.)
Part 3 to come