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JEAN SHEPHERD: Audio Books

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A couple of months ago, a New York Times front-page article appeared regarding audio books, noting that, “The story was  conceived, written and produced as an original audio drama for Audible, the audiobook producer and retailer.” This might indicate an increase interest in audio stories–such as Shepherd’s radio stories (and maybe his other broadcast material).

The article goes on: “Some see the current audio renaissance as a modern version of the Golden Age of radio drama….”

Shepherd sometimes talked about his view of how the whole world of storytelling on radio had so soon faded from away after a relatively short life:

It’s sad that a whole art form grew to fruition and suddenly disappeared. It would be as if somebody had invented painting and great painters had flourished for—oh, maybe twenty years and then everybody forgot about painting because everyone discovered ceramics. Or they discovered sculpture and—they—they just completely from that day on—because radio can do things that television and the movies and the stage can never do. It plays with the imagination and the mind [in a way] that I think no other medium can ever approach. shepherd-wor_1970

Yet the whole idea of radio acting—you know some great radio actors who in their field were as fine as, and in many cases even better than, anybody performing on Broadway, anybody performing in the Shakespearean repertory today. Some great actors rose to become really fine artists in the field of radio back in the 1930s and early 1940s. And the whole— the whole canvas is gone now. The whole thing is gone. It’s really a shame because this was a fine medium and is—it’s as though there was a big sleeping giant out there. A huge, sleeping giant that’s lying out there, that one time people hunted, that one time excited people and has now long since somehow been forgotten by the people. And it’s lying out there in the jungle there, just—just completely untouched as though it’s a whole new mind-land, let’s say, a universe of the—of the psyche is lying out there untouched, and will be untapped. (See my EYF! pages 97-98)

Shepherd (and others) had defended the special attributes of radio for creating a reality. The Times article quotes: “‘You can create a picture in your mind with sound that’s every bit as vivid as a movie,’ said the novelist Joe Hill,…’A lot of filmmakers who work in horror say what’s really scary is hearing, not seeing.'” The article also notes that, “Some are shunning the term ‘audiobook’ and trying to rebrand their content as ‘audio entertainment’ or ‘movies for your ears.” A new way of promoting audios, says the Times, is to”blend the immersive charm of old-time radio drama with digital technology.” This means incorporating sometimes considerable sound effects, music, varied voices, etc.

[Shepherd very much enjoyed the Paul Rhymer radio sitcom, Vic and Sade.

It played with the small minds and incidents

in American life.

Maybe not a serious example of great acting (?).

But exceedingly witty.

The main characters were Victor Gook, Sade Gook, and son Rush Gook.]vic sade rush rhymer

Vic, Sade, author Rhymer,

and one of the Rush players:

Art Van Harvey, Bernardine Flynn,

Paul Rhymer and Bill Idelson.

The Times quotes Jeffrey Deaver, described as a “lawyer-turned- thriller writer,” to end its article thus: “There are so many time-wasting alternatives to turn ‘The Starling Project,’ into a traditional book.” Deaver is hoping the project will help him: “This is an easier way for people to get access to good storytelling.”

Shepherd created his audio art with only his voice, and maybe a bit of crinkling paper or desk pounding–maybe he would have approved this technologically enhanced form of sound-in-stories.

Or maybe not.

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