[We’re “listening” to a Shep broadcast dated 12/30/59, in which he is making references to incense and silly college courses. He is having some sort of problem with his engineer who is doing things wrong. We are hearing it all–at least Shep’s side of it, as he integrates his annoyance at the broadcast situation with the stream-of-conscience style he is pursuing. Is he been over-the-top crotchety?]
….Just–just cling as hard as you can, to that water wing. That water wing. The one that’s taking in water–fast. That hasn’t done much flying. But nevertheless, is there waiting. So come on, daddy-o, let’s do it, you know?
I know how you’ve gone wrong! You have come to the right man–for the first time in your life. I–know–where–you– Yes. I know, you have done it again. You are wrong again. You are wrong again. STOP!
[Music stops.That damn engineer from Part I is still making mistakes! Why can’t they give Shep engineers who know their jobs? Love to know just how the guy is fouling up.]
Now look. Now look–we’re gonna level, we’re gonna level here. Just for one minute. And you don’t think that I’m here just–night after night just to entertain you, do you?
[It really does feel as though he’s talking to me, the listener, but he’s really talking eye-to-eye to that klutz of an engineer, right? Or he’s talking to both of us, right?? He is here night after night to entertain the finer parts of our minds and sensibilities, right? He is the only friend I have–as a new college graduate–who talks to me and tickles (entertains) the better parts of my mind. He is my soul-mate pal, my mentor–and forty years from then I’d realize how important he’d been and I’d begin writing a book about him begun soon after he died in 10/99 and finally published 3/2005.]
And furthermore, I’m going to tell you another thing. We’re gonna have to–this is a moment now, since its almost time to quit. Almost time to quit. We might as well shell it out. I’m not here to play it for laughs. I’m not here to entertain you, really, you know? I’m here for a much more devious purpose than that. To begin with, many people here at this very radio station do not even know I am here. they just see it on the log–“The Jean Shepherd Show.” They’re all home–they’re watching television. Doesn’t make any difference. They don’t know.
But I’ll tell you what I’m here for. I am here, and am an extension of–your conscience itself. I am here because I know where you went wrong. I know where you went wrong. The reason I know where you went wrong is because I know where I went wrong. I know darn well where you went wrong! So don’t give me any of that jazz! Do you hear me? Any of you! You have fouled up too! You are caught in the same thing. All of you. So don’t–give–me–any–of–your–lip. That’s what I’m here for.
[Music starts again. But he is entertaining me, at least! Take that last paragraph–please! He is simultaneously humorous and deadly serious. He is deadly serious. Deadly serious. That is what he is here for–to make us think, to make us feel, to make us laugh while seriously examining ourselves. I’m reminded of–regarding the clever twist of laughing and serious thinking–the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, in which we see bombers erotically refueling and then a bomber pilot in closeup, very serious expression on his face–we are proud and confident in our security from all dangers–especially war. Then we see what he is concentrating on–not safety-from-war but sex–it is an open copy of Playboy.]
Major “King” Kong Concentrating on Business
So play it cool and easy. I know. You know we should be honest for the first time. You are not fooling me and I am not fooling you. The thing to remember most of all is that you’re not fooling me. Just because I come out of that crummy little plastic box on the top of your refrigerator does not mean you can push me around. It is quite the opposite, you know. You have come to the wrong spot–if you think you’re gonna get off the hook, Mac. Baby. The wrong spot! The wrong spot! Yes, by the short ones.
[“The short ones.” A rare sexual reference from Shep?]
So, you know–in the end you’re just gonna have to rely on style. Because you got no content! So don’t try to get by with a message–you ain’t got it. Just learn technique-that’s all. And don’t come around here telling me, “Shepherd, I know you’re going wrong, you’re gettin’ commercial.” Ha! I’m getting commercial! Have you ever looked at the lining of your necktie, Mac? [Laughs.] Oh! Come Kerouac me no Kerouacs, Mac. I’ll take none of your lip. None of your lip. I am not here to play those old familiar melodies that all of you whistle in your sleep. Not a bit of it. Not a bit of it. I am not here to mouth those old familiar platitudes that fall like autumn leaves from the bottom of bank calendars. Oh no. I know where you fouled up. Because I know where I fouled up. And I know where we’ve all done it. Just like everything else you’ve done in your miserable, sneaking, crawling life, you’ve come to the wrong spot again.
This not your friendly station when I’m here. [Did the wrongdoer comment to Shep that he should be as friendly as their station claims to be? WOR during one period claimed to be “the friendly station,” and “the family station,” and Shepherd, from time to time would claim that WOR was hypocritical when it said it was friendly and like a family behind the scenes.] Oh no. Not bit of it–any friendlier than you are! Look at your own reflection again. You are not friendly–so why should we be friendly? Give me one answer to that–that makes any kind of sense and I will concede, I will toss in and we will deal them again. And we will play your game this time. Personally I’m a pinochle man.
[We are listening to our intellectual/artistic hero who, at the moment,
is being over-the-top-crochety.
Is he using the engineer’s error as a jumping off point?
Is he just really focused on we listeners and the life-lessons
he sometimes imparts about the fallibilities of all of us—
especially as we face the insistent finger-pointing of our revered mentor,
who knows none of us individually,
but who “knows” intuitively, our collective imperfections?
How far is this going to go?
Will he totally self-destruct in Part III ?]
As you come into Bangkok in the direction that I came in, you fly over Burma, you fly over some very, very wild country. The kind of country that, if the airplane ever went down, they simply wouldn’t hear from you again. That’s the end of the ballgame. When you come in over Burma, you fly over mountain ranges, you come in over several river deltas.
The pilot who was flying us had a sense of history. He got on the PA system a couple of times, describing the country over which we were flying, and one of the places was the Irrawaddy River, that flows down through parts of Burma and it was part of the world of Joseph Stillwell, the general. I had just finished reading a great book and I recommend it to you. Stillwell and the American Experience in China by Barbara Tuchman. Fantastic story. And you’ll understand a lot more about why we’re in problems in China and Southeast Asia. A lot of battles of World War II took place in and around the Irrawaddy River, including battles that included Merrill’s Marauders. It’s the Burmese jungles is what it is. It’s the same country that The Bridge Over the River Kwai was about. I had read a lot about that world just before I flew into it, so it was really interesting to hear about it.
We come into Bangkok airport which is rather small for a modern airport and it lies on the outskirts of the big, flat city. Coming in, you can see water glistening everywhere. This airport is in a state of total chaos being rebuilt. Being rebuilt in an oriental way, which means that you walk through great puddles of mud that they have boards laid over, great lakes of mud that you think if you fall in you’re going to be eaten by leaches.
There are a lot of GIs going through the airport. You can tell them all the time, even though they’re wearing civilian clothes. A GI always looks like he’s vaguely dressed by Sears Roebuck.
The road that takes you right into the city is a long, narrow one and on each side are rice paddies and tea paddies. And the first thing that hits me are these trucks. The people in Bangkok decorate their trucks magnificently! They put what looks like hammered silver on the fronts of them. They love their trucks. (In the Orient, as a matter of fact, they pay homage to machines.) Their trucks are yellow and green and blue, and they put what looks like great big silver eagles on the sides. Enormous silver scrollwork on the hoods and the dashboards. Every four or five miles you see seven or eight trucks filled with Thai soldiers.
The Thai soldiers are very small. Thai people are very small. You feel like you’re a giant when you’re in Thailand. Tiny people. Not many are much more than five-feet three or four or five. The girls are tiny and absolutely exquisite, they’re magnificently beautiful girls.
A large part of the population of Bangkok lives on water. This is the place where the famous floating market is, and one of the great tours, in fact, one of the great experiences as a tourist—take that morning trip that leaves around six o’clock and they take you along though the canals and along the rivers and past all these houses.
So I’m taking the “limousine” into town. It’s a little truck, actually. We’re riding through the town. It’s such an exciting place to go into because there’s great life among the Siamese and the Thai and they’re very happy. The whole feeling of the city is upbeat—it’s a happy place.
The Thai people are among the world’s most felicitous. I just doubt whether you’ll find people anywhere in the world that you will more instinctively and immediately and continuously like than the Thais. They have the kind of attitude and the kind of personality that, I suppose you might say, you would associate with the Hobbits. And you’ll think you’re living in Oz, and the country is a little bit like Oz, especially Bangkok. Everywhere you look are these beautiful temples and strange, other-worldly, Oriental qualities. Not the Orient of the Japanese or the Chinese, it’s almost so theatrical that you tend to begin to believe that it was put up there for you to see it—for tourists! After a while you realize it’s true. Everywhere you look you see little hanging mobiles. They love hanging things that just hang with the breeze blowing them.
I couldn’t recommend a visit to Bangkok too highly, but I’m afraid that in a few years it’ll be—with the influx of great numbers of people going through and various wars and invasions that are happening in the area—the Thai people will join the rest of the human race. They’ll become like the rest of us. It’ll have to be. Knocking down a buck whenever you can and the whole bit, which you find in the Orient pretty much. But at this point now they have the genuine nature of “flower children.” They really are—beautiful people.
And the movie houses, by the way, are incredible. Huge posters—giant, lurid posters of movies. They all look like illustrations from really bad True-Detective-like magazines. Painted in yellows and reds. The one I remember specifically is of a guy beating another guy who’s lying on the ground in incredible pain, and the other guy’s beating him with a bicycle! Now that’s a curious, Oriental touch. Maybe it’s a big scene in the movie.
They wear exotic costumes when they dance. Old embroidery. And almost all of their dances involve their hands. Their hands fly like birds and when three or four dancers are dancing together—two girls and a man or three men, or three or four girls, their hands float like whole flocks of birds.
Birds chirping—the tropics right in the middle of the city. Here are night sounds from a tape. The sounds of the deep night in Bangkok. I’m glad I have it on tape. The sounds of Thai music. And the sky is like velvet here, not far from the equator. It’s warm and lush. You can smell flowers just drifting in and you can smell the river and in the middle of the city you can smell just the edge of the rice paddies. An occasional car off in the distance.
Have you noticed that the sounds of a thing bring it to life much more than pictures? Just hearing that sound of nighttime in Thailand. It’s eerie how you can sense—you can practically feel that you’re there. No picture could ever do that. And people are out walking. And the Thai men are all dressed pretty much the same when they’re on the way to their offices. They have snowy white shirts—spectacularly white. Very starched, and they wear black, very tight pants. That’s it. They walk very efficiently on their way to work. The heat. You can smell the flowers. You see pictures of Siamese fighting fish everywhere. They are one of the symbols of Siam and they have mobiles in the shape of fighting fish and you see windows full of silk, and you see these strange, little, odd, happy people, who are curiously worried now.
Stay tuned for the news.
The newscast consists of reports of clashes and casualties between North and South Vietnamese. The U. S. Defense Secretary says additional air and naval units are being sent into Indo China as insurance against a communist takeover of South Vietnam. President Nixon urges the world’s major powers not to encourage aggression by other nations.
Shep’s “philosophical broadcasts” are some of my favorites (if that’s an adequate description for a somewhat varied grab bag of delights), and I know that for others, different sorts are preferred–for example, his stories (which, of course, I also like a lot). I recently encountered a transcript I’d made on 2/15/2002 at the then-named Museum of Television and Radio. The program is dated 12/20/1959 (so it’s an early, Sunday night, 9-1 AM, NY one–before he began his 45-minute nightly broadcasts). Reading it now I laugh out loud numerous times–it’s that good–for me. For me, Shepherd’s philosophical comments and attitude when he is very laid back is one of several forms in which we can really get some inkling as to his way of thinking and his personality–even when, as in the following, he is being serious, humorous, and a lot cantankerous.
At the Museum, now called the Paley Center for Media, one sits in a dim room in a line of listeners’ open booths, each listener/viewer with earphones and silently serious expression, trying to catch every word.
I had to pause the machine scores of times to write it all down on the eleven pages of 8 1/2 X 11″ yellow ruled pad. I must have missed the beginning. Reading this transcription, try especially hard to imagine his voice saying this mock-curmumudgeonly stuff.
[Remember that 1959 was near the beginning of the strange phenomenon we call “The Sixties” with its flower children and incense and holy community–its college courses in significant-if-unexpected subjects to help you become one with the universe. Also remember that Shep’s programs back then sometimes had a more insistent stream-of-consciousness, “rambling” style that flowed along at a more leisurely and–dare I say it–gently humane–pace. So relax. Slow down your intake control. Try hard to comprehend this early version of Shep’s style, from 1956 to 1960, only four years–that led to what we are more familiar with for the next seventeen years. (Fewer of these were recorded for later contemplation–not many inexpensive recorders were available then; the style is harder to remember in its details; and many enthusiasts were too young to hear these early shows when they were originally broadcast.) Note Shep’s considerable annoyance with a control-room problem and we have here a kind of controlled pandemonium afoot]:
…each one of us. Someone who stands off to one side and tells us how we can get it all straightened out. How we are going wrong. How we faulteringly missed the step on the eternal roadway of damnation. Always. I think there is a giant monkey on the back of everyone, It is truly. It is the–it is the individual corrective agent. The giant monkey of, “Now look, you’re going wrong and I know how to fix it up. I know how to cure it.” It might be a man, it might be a woman, it might be an incense burner for all I know. But there is a monkey on the back of everyone.
And nothing seems to deter them. They’re always there. They’re always there waiting for their moment. And it’s no wonder–it’s no wonder that a good portion of mankind continues to believe in black magic of one kind or another. That woman who looks out of the television screen,
[Grasped out of the googlesphere= “The Black Magic Woman”–by ‘inspizel’ ?]
out of that commercial with great flashing teeth, and she says, “I have just discovered the new wash-day miracle.”
It’s gonna straighten it all out! All of it! Happiness will flow through your family like a great river of Karo Syrup. A new miracle. And somehow it seems to be true–there is a new miracle. Until the next miracle. Until the next miracle. The next miracle and the one after that [piano music starts], the one after that!
Yes, be the first in your neighborhood, friends, to burn Lucky-Me-Joe Incense three times a week. According to the directions on each box. The sweetness will last for days. Your friends will love to visit you–and remark on the delightful perfumed fragrance that fills your home. The burning of incense for luck was a secret belief known to the ancients and people of many different ancient, ancient, ancient, long-forgotten cults. It drives away your enemies and brings out those who will in the end be your true loves. Now, there is no guarantee that this will happen. We only say that it has happened in the past. So burn it, burn it.
And look at him standing out there. Look at him there–with his compassionate gaze. You know, one of the Eastern colleges is now teaching a course in compassion? “Compassion I and II.” [Shep’s voice is rising mock-dramatically.] You have to have a course–two or three preliminary courses, I and II. One of them is “Creative Friendliness I and II.” And, of course, then comes two courses in “Adjustment.”
And you’re ready! So burn that incense and burn it clean and hard. Just keep–what’s the matter, Eddie?!
[We interrupt this program to point out here that Shepherd seems to have begun to react to something unexpected and annoying occurring in the control room. He is talking to an engineer one supposes, yet, knowing that he is also talking to his radio audience, he blends his attempts to control the control room with his broadcast patter–Oh, if only I could plug your ears into Shep’s sweetly curmudgenly, broadcast-theme-oriented, universal-continuum as he plays his two disparate, yet simultaneous, communications! His repeated words and phrases suggest that he is really upset, yet the effect is rhythmic and, indeed, poetic.]
Just bring it up! What’s the matter? Is it running out?! Oh, there we go. So keep it going. Keep it going. Never stop, for crying out loud. It’s the time–but then again the time always shall be the time, the time, the time. Pick it up, Stan. Up over there on top again. There’s always one above and one above that, and one above that. Now look–I’ll tell you how to straighten it out, Mac! You have slipped again. Again and again and again.
Can’t you see Pandit Nehru coming home after a hard day as a statesman. There must be somebody. There must be somebody–there must be somebody who says, “You’re getting commercial, Pandit. You’re fooling again. Now get back on that–” And there always has been and there always will be. You’re doing it wrong! Oh, a…a….You have made another mistake.
End of Part I
You know, I’ve noticed that there’s a fantastic amount of news here lately on the cockroach. Can’t explain it. Oh, I guess I can explain it—they’re taking over the world. As a matter of fact, the biggest cockroach I have seen in recent years—and I’m quite an aficionado of the cockroach—I saw in Tehran. I’m telling you, what a mean-looking cockroach. I was sitting in a restaurant in Tehran and I was reading a newspaper, published in Iran, and they had a news item on the front page that said that there were over one-thousand-six-hundred types of cockroach in the world and that, “We here in Iran, have over eight-hundred of those varieties, right here within our borders.” I don’t know whether this was chauvinism or not, but nevertheless, they just let it hang there. Well, I ‘m happy to admit, he was not in my hotel. As a matter of fact, the hotel that I was staying in was so elegant that I felt a little embarrassed even being there. Apparently in the Middle East there’s only two kinds of people. There’s the very elegant and there’s the rest of ‘em.
I see our president is going to drop by Tehran on his way back from Moscow, which is a kind of roundabout way of getting back from Moscow. But nevertheless, he’s dropping by Tehran. I can give him words of advice. There’s a rather shifty silversmith who keeps up the appearances of his trade in the bazaar and I’d stay clear of him. He tracked me for about a good four-hundred yards, plucking at my elbow all the way, and barking in Farsi at me. At first I thought he was trying to sell me silver, but from the leer on his face, I knew it was something else, which we will not go into. I’m not even going to say what it was. I have no idea, but I have suspicions.
For those of you wondering what this is all about, as you probably know, last week I went around the world. And before we get into some of these tapes I made in various places, understand that I do not interview people when I go places, I have a terrible thing against interviewing. If you’ve got any Chinese punk around, start burning it, and at the same time get somebody to set fire to your rug and get some cheap, dime-store perfume. Mix it all and you will have the heady, unforgettable aromas of the Iranian bazaar, which is guaranteed to put you off your food for a couple of weeks.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, you know, it’s well known that the early Romans traveled all over before their empire collapsed. And before the British Empire went down the drain, one could hardly go anyplace without running into some Britishers, bringing civilization to the natives. Well, I have to admit that now the American’s totally ubiquitous.
There’s an almost insatiable desire on the part of—particularly elderly ladies with blue hair and tennis shoes, bearing strange knit shopping bags—to travel all over the world with dogged determination, dragging behind, their tired, protesting husbands.
You find this everywhere and they carry notebooks—very serious. And one of the most exotic crews that I ever ran into was a crew in Tehran, and they were in a bus. To me, this was almost more exotic than anything I saw in the whole city. It was a determined-looking group of what appeared to be retired dentists and retired schoolteachers. Ladies with flower-print dresses with low, sensible shoes and they were doggedly travelling in this bus. A tour that had begun in Afghanistan and they were taking a bus to Munich for some curious reason. Now get out your globes. You’ll see that’s one hell of a bus-ride. Here they were. They were running around in Tehran. You could see that there was ill-concealed hatred in this little crew that had traveled by Iraqi bus over bumpy roads from Afghanistan, and they’d now arrived in Tehran, which is about half-way through the trip. You could see underneath, clenched teeth, and you could see who the horse’s you-know-what were in the crowd, you could see who the passive ones were. It was like a ship of fools. And you could just see there were life-long hatreds being formed on this trip. Somehow I got thrown into this mob for one brief moment. It was like suddenly being thrown into a hothouse.
They began to pluck at my elbows: “Don’t get near him. There’s something wrong with that one.” Five minutes later the one that they’d been pointing out was plucking me on the elbow: “Don’t go near that one.”
They were right in the middle of Tehran and there seems to be something uncontrollable about little old ladies who travel. I don’t know what it is. American old ladies. And the husbands always look resigned, very tired, and they have the look in the eye of the man who wonders: “Why? What the hell am I doing here?” You see them once in a while getting away from the crowd and sitting in the bar looking off into the middle distance and they’re usually drinking Jack Daniels—doggedly.
While in Tehran, among other things, I decided that the one thing you don’t want to do when you get into any of these places, is get involved with the so-called classical tours—although I did take the occasion to go and see the Shah of Iran’s crown jewels. Fantastic scene. It’s totally beyond my comprehension why people—. The design reminded me of the kind of things my aunt Clara liked. Paisley shawls and stuff like that, beads all over them. But I went there and I saw this. I was instantly reminded of Topkapi, the movie with Peter Ustinov in it. Where they run a big caper on how to steal the crown jewels of Istanbul. All the ladies crowded around to look at the largest diamond in the world.
So I finally split away from that hothouse crew. In Iran, which was ancient Persia, a lot of ancient Persia still remains. It’s a curious modern/ancient city. They talk about Omar the Tentmaker.
This is his country. They talk about him as if he was just working in front of the local newspaper office a couple of weeks ago.
When in Tehran, you’ve got to go to the bazaar. They don’t know when it began, but it goes back a couple of thousand years and it’s right in the middle of Tehran. You seem to go underground in this thing. It’s not one building, it’s like a giant rabbit warren. It’s thousands and thousands of passages between buildings and it’s covered over. I don’t know anything that’s even a parallel to it in our country. It stretches for miles, with water trickling and little burros walking around and stepping on your feet and millions of guys yelling. This is the bazaar, the end point of many of the caravans that would go all the way to Europe in the medieval days and later when they would travel to the ancient and storied East, to places like India, for spices and gold. This is where they came. It would take them years to get, finally, to this bazaar, which is the center of all the Eastern, ancient bazaars.
So I went down there in the middle of the afternoon. You could smell everything—no way to describe the smell. Fantastic fish, there are goats and burros running all over the place. Thousands and thousands of peddlers, and you can just feel, in this scene that goes all the way back to the days before Christ, that they look exactly the way they did then. They squat in millions of little cubicles selling everything from buttons to balloons with Mickey Mouse pictures on ‘em, every conceivable thing.
As I walked into the bazaar by the main entrance, a big, arched gateway, that heads down into what looks like a subterranean cavern, I turned on my tape recorder, just let it run so you could hear the sounds of what the bazaar, the ancient Persian bazaar in Tehran, sounds like. [Sounds of talking, walking, motor scooters] “Like a giant human beehive.” There’re millions of samovars for sale, all kinds of ancient Persian bazaars. There’s a curious esthetic in that area. This is probably the worst world headquarters of slob art. You’ve never seen such terrible-looking stuff in your life. Glassware. In fact I saw a salt-and-pepper shaker made out of blue glass in the shape of two hippopotamuses wearing birthday hats. Figure that one out. These are all guys calling out the stuff they sell. You smell all of that strange Greek pastry they sell, dried fruit, raw fish, tea. At that point I was bumped in the back by a burro—just nudged out of the way. That’s the sound of the bazaar.]
There’s a curious thing about traveling. You get addicted to it. At this point in my life I couldn’t imagine not having in my mind another trip to take. I’d rather spend money on travel than on anything I can think of. For one thing, once you’ve traveled, that’s one thing you can never lose. You can’t lose it—once you’ve walked through the bazaar of Iran, it’s in your head forever.
After I left Tehran and that country, which was different from any place I’ve ever been, I was reminded a lot of Greece. And yet not quite. On the other hand I was also reminded of other places in the Middle East like Beirut, but not quite. Each one of these countries is distinctly different from the next.
After leaving Tehran, I flew on to other places including Lebanon, Beirut, Karachi—I’ve been in Karachi several times—Istanbul, and finally Bangkok. And then eventually I got to Tokyo and I think Tokyo is a far more relevant place to talk about if you want to study a place I’ve been.
I was in Tokyo once some time ago and I couldn’t believe it when I got back. Everything you have heard about Japan as being swinging, is minor compared to the actuality of it. As a matter of fact, I have to say that Tokyo is the closest to New York of any city that I have seen in the world. It feels like New York. I felt totally at home in Tokyo. Did not feel at any point that I was out of my element in Tokyo.
They have department stores in Tokyo that make Macy’s look like a little crossroads general store in Michigan. Incredible! It’s not tourists who are buying this stuff, it’s Japanese—by the millions. Crowding the stores. Entire families moving around the streets carrying their shopping bags.
You see a lot of curious things in Japan. For one thing, the Japanese love to have little uniforms. Whenever you see a Japanese tour or a group of schoolchildren, they’re all wearing little yellow hats, or they’re carrying little sticks with yellow balloons on the top so they can be identified, and there’s a little crowd of them all carrying balloons. They love badges with the things hanging down. And you just can’t quite get used to that and the Japanese men all look alike in many ways because of the clothing they wear. They tend to all wear dark, very conservatively cut black suits and white shirts. Japan must be the last stronghold of the white shirt. And knit ties. Look very elegant. And they always carry cameras.
Millions of Japanese cars going up and down the streets like mad. I got up late the first day, because I had been on this trip for what seemed like months by this time—by the time I got to Tokyo, so I just had to get some sleep. I had this elegant room that was in the tallest building in Tokyo—the Keio Plaza Hotel, a fantastic, modernist place, and you look out over the entire city. As I swung the curtain back covering one entire glass wall from floor to ceiling, I was looking at all of Tokyo. I was about fifteen or twenty stories up. Off in the distance—get this—drifting out of what looked like a haze, was Mount Fuji. It stands in the air like a curious ghost. You can’t really see the outline of it but you can see the outline of the snow. Like a Japanese etching.
Hokusai 36 of 46 views of Fuji
I flipped on the color TV set and what hits me is a Japanese ballgame in full swing on this Saturday afternoon. And I made some comments on my tape recorder—what a Japanese baseball game sounds like on TV. [The band playing, sirens, the teams are lines up one on the third baseline, one on the first base line. They line up and bow to each other. The band leaves the field, the players are running back to their dugouts. Now the teams are lined up and bowing to the people in the stands, and including the umpire. Of course baseball is the Japanese national sport and they have it highly ritualized compared to the American game. Great sections of the stands have the same team caps on and huge banners, all highly organized.
Another thing about Tokyo that I’ve noticed—it’s a little depressing to come from New York and realize that New York as a city is undeniably dirty compared to many places in the world such as Tokyo. Some areas of Tokyo have pollution and dirt and so on, but in general—the subways, for example—there is no comparison between the subways in New York and in Tokyo. I hate to say it but I think it has something to do with our national character. I think Americans’ attitude is—to hell with everybody else—is beginning to show in the streets. Papers, cans, dirt, cigar butts—all the rest of it.
I wish I could play more tapes now. Those were some comments that I was making to myself in the hotel room, and you are hit by that right away. For example it would be absolutely unthinkable for anybody in Japan—in fact, in most of the world—to do the things that we do to our subway cars. All the millions of names and stuff written all over the side. By the way, I have to think the greatest crowd-shovers in the world are the Japanese. I want to tell you! You get buffeted around in a Japanese crowd—they bang into you, knock you down, throw a shoulder into you, throw a cross-block at you, they give you a quick knee to the groin and move on without even breathing hard. They’re the ultimate crowd people.
By the way, I’m just slowly getting adapted into being back in the States. It’s like having one week at decompression after taking a week to travel around the globe. It was an entire circumnavigation of the globe—in a 747. I’m just getting over the fatigue. Oh yeah!
“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”
by Shelly Esaak
“Assuming that Picasso did say this–and seriously, I would love to learn of a verifiable source–I think the words “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” constitute one of the most misunderstood and misused creative phrases of all time. To me, it means the difference between aping and assimilating; between copying and internalizing; between being unoriginal and innovative….
“Every artist of every stripe builds on that which was done by his or her predecessors. It’s only the great artists who manage to take things to new heights, in new directions. That’s what I think; end of rant.”
I quote the above because I’m about to discuss two instances over the years in which Jean Shepherd, whom I consider to have been a fine creator in many fields and a genius in radio, seemed to have copied/borrowed/stolen from two of his favorite people. (Or maybe the examples are instances of what might be called totally innocent, independent creation?)
P. G. Wodehouse
Shepherd said that, as a kid, he’d read all of Wodehouse and considered him one of the best and funniest writers. The printed dedication to Wodehouse’s 1926 book The Heart of a Goof is “To my Daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.” This is Wodhouse’s self-borrowing dedication from his 1910 book The Intrusion of Jimmy (In England A Gentleman of Leisure
) which reads “To Herbert Westbrook, without whose never-failing advice, help, and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.”
A copy of Shep’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which I held in my hand
(and still highly covet) when I visited Lois Nettleton’s apartment
soon after she died, has Jean’s inscription to her:
What I’ll probably never know is whether this inscription is a
thoughtless/unpleasant dig at Lois, or whether Jean meant, somehow,
that he was so in love with her that he had been distracted from his writing.
(Also of perplexing interest is that the book is not a first printing and was published
at about the time +/- when they
were breaking up despite what are said to have been his protests,)
Whichever–of course this copying of Wodehouse was not
a public display, but a private act.
S. J. Perelman
Shep had Perelman on his show once (I recorded the talk), and therefore, I’m fairly sure that he appreciated Perelman’s written wit. I remember hearing Shep say once on a broadcast (anyone know when?), that some woman–his mother?–had on her head “aluminum rheostats.” Having a vague recollection of the phrase in Perelman, I recently searched for and encountered in the November 26, 1960 issue of the New Yorker, the Perelman story, “Monomania, You and Me are Quits,” with the following opening sentence: “My immediate reaction when a head studded with aluminum rheostats confronted me over the garden gate last Tuesday morning was one of perplexity.”•
I hope to never find another such worrisome item.
I’m sure everyone does these things–even Picasso.
Please, someone, comfort me in my distress.
[Well, heck, subsequent to the above I read David Kinney’s The Dylanologists (Simon and Schuster 2014) describing many of the obsessives who study every word and garbage scrap of Bob Dylan’s for “meaning.” Dylan is known for “stealing” material from prior creations, and he has explained that his borrowings are “quotations” and noted that it is a tradition, especially in folk music and jazz. Kinney refers to an extensive article by Jonathan Lethem in the 2/2007 Harpers, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” which includes:
…it becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production….Dylan’s art offers a paradox: while it famously urges us not to look back, it also encodes a knowledge of past sources that might otherwise have little home in contemporary culture,…Dylan’s originality and his appropriations are as one.
The same might be said of all art.
Well, heck again, yes, we all do it–and isn’t it amazing that I’ve only encountered two times (so far) in Shepherd?]
This trip—the great thing I’ve discovered about taking a trip of this kind is the curious insights you get—that you don’t get if you stay longer in a place. I’ve discovered as a traveler—and this is about the third time I’ve been around the world in one way or another. But this one—it’s the first time I’ve actually gone around the world in one week—just steady, just circumnavigated the globe—zap! right around the globe, that’s all, and I discover that something that I’d been told a long time ago by an old veteran traveler. He said, “If you really want to do something on a country—if you want to take great pictures, draw good things, do it the first twenty-eight hours or so when you arrive in a country, because after that you will begin to lose the sharpness of your eye.”
And each one of these places as you go—the more you go east as you begin this great world trip, the more you begin to see that a lot of the things which you had always thought were clichés, just ain’t. In fact, somebody described a cliché as something which is so true that people get tired of saying it. That is really true!
So I’m sitting in this plane and I’m flying along, and we land in Beirut. Incidentally, I was there back in the late 1950s when Eisenhower sent marines into Lebanon. Well, I was involved in that. I was on the carrier Essex, the Sixth Fleet. So I was there when all the UN soldiers were there, and there was firing going on up in the hills.
It’s quite an airport. It lies right on the sea, and over two decades later when I land there, absolutely nothing has changed in the airport. This is what hit me about it. All the other airports in the world are continually under construction. Even in New York, they’ve been making LaGuardia ever since I’ve been here. There’s always a big sign:
WILL YOU PLEASE EXCUSE US
FOR OUR ROTTEN AIRPORT,
BUT WE’RE WORKING ON IT.
I think that’s a standard airport sign. Except in Lebanon. They admit they’ve got a rotten airport—they just leave it there. It’s the same building when I was there including the same shifty-looking guys standing around outside selling dirty pictures.
It is a beautiful, ancient, strange-looking, exotic-looking place. Whenever I think of this part of the world, there’s a color to it. It’s sort of a red-yellowish color. The world is just a reddish-yellowish sun-drenched color, and there’s a smell in the air. It’s the smell, I guess, of baking rocks and ancient baking sand, and of camels.
And we take off on the way further east, and something has happened which I will tell later on, but it just hit me—Kipling was right. That’s all I gotta say! You don’t want to admit it but he was right.
[OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;…]
This is Tehran which is in Iran, and which not too many people talk about. It’s a city of three million people—it’s a huge city and in many ways one of the most modern cities I’ve ever seen in the Middle East. It’s rimmed by mountains. I’m in a hotel that is right on the edge of the mountains, mountains that just suddenly jut up, standing up like a great backdrop to the city, and you look off to the other side of the mountains and this big city is just lying there. The mountains are snow-covered, really high and the city itself is high.
You always think of the Middle East as hot—no—Tehran is cold. It’s a chilly, cold place, and the wind blows over the snow and down off those mountains. You can feel it all the time.So we left Lebanon and we are on our way to one of the cities that I had never visited—flown over it a couple of times but this is the first time I was actually there and I was going to stay there for a while and I’m glad I did.
But the bazaar, which is the center—right in the heart of this city, the bazaar in Tehran, is just like a gigantic mole heap, it weaves in and out. You can go maybe fifty miles—never see the sun—it’s all covered over. In and out of these ancient buildings and there are thousands of guys sitting there drinking tea, peering out of the darkness and they’ll sell you everything from kerosene lamps to stuffed cobras. It’s going on steadily, and all the women walking around, some still in purdah. You just know you ain’t in the Bronx.
I don’t travel the way most people do. I don’t have travel clothes or anything. I instantly meld into the background and guys were taking me for one of the sellers. I’m just walking along looking cool, with my glass of tea in my hand, looking like I’m on top of it. That’s the only way! You gotta blend in.
One of the things you should do is take an hour or two off and actually do the thing that the tourists do. In other worlds, actually go on a tour. Get in this bus and you go around and you see all this stuff immediately, see all the things which are in all the books. Once you’ve done that you’ve paid your dues. Then you can go sit in a bar, see, and look real mysterious.
There is nothing that gives the flavor of a country more than to go sit in a bar. Just go in and sit. So I go into this bar and sit down and the guy comes over, “Vha do you weesh?”
And I say, “I’ll have a beer.”
He gives me this native beer. Of course beer all over the world, every place you go, every country, has its own beer, and it’s a very wise man who drinks the local beer. Don’t sit down and immediately start hollering for a Schlitz or something. You drink their beer. It’s heavy beer, it’s rich and heady and it’s about the color of Karo Syrup. It’s got a head on it you could chip with an ice pick.
This is a very exotic bar—has beads hanging down—typical of what you think of the Middle East. Beads, and it’s got golden urns and stuff. And right away I get to know the bartender. We’re real good friends right there immediately. He can see I am a man of the world after my fourth beer, and I can see then, he is a man of the world too. We’re eating these cashew nuts and he’s drinking a beer with me.
We’re in there by ourselves and all of a sudden, in through the beaded curtains comes this whole crowd of little, fat people and large fat ladies, and they’re all chittering like birds. The whole crowd of them has these instamatic cameras. I say, “What the hell is this?” They gather around me and they’re taking my picture—me and the bartender, and I imagine when they get back to Milan or wherever they come from, they have a picture of a typical Iranian native drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon—me!
With that they all go scooting out of there. They don’t even have a beer or anything. They all go out and the bartender, a mysterious, Levantine native, sort of grins. He says it so well, it’s almost like W. C. Fields would say it: “Eh, Italian people!”
I say, “Yep, that’s right. They taka my picture.”
He says, “Mine too. They come in every day, take my picture. I don’t know what for. Can I freshen your beer?”
I say, “Yep.”
The trip around the world—a fantastic experience. I don’t know how to say it. It’s such a kaleidoscopic thing in my mind, but I’ll just give you a brief skimming now. I left Tehran on the way to absolutely my favorite city in all of the Orient—if not one of my favorite cities in the world. I really enjoy this city. I was really looking forward to getting there. And I warned people on the plane. “Be sure of one thing—it’s gonna be hot. Really hot and not only that, you’re gonna dig it, you’re gonna really love it.”
And, sure enough, about two hours later, we’re coming in over the green, fantastic landscape and you can see it all rolling out there before you. We have flown out over some of the wildest country in the world to get there and we’re coming down, and we have had to take a special route, because there’s war going on all around this country now. And believe me, if this poor country gets involved in this war, it’s going to be really sad. It’s Thailand, and the city is Bangkok.
And I really enjoy Bangkok. I like the people and the whole feel of the city. And five minutes after the plane rolls to a stop and I am going through that wild, fantastic, uproarious, totally disorganized airport that is in Bangkok and I get in the car on my way into the city, there was a funny feeling—I’m back here again. I spent some great times one time before on one trip around the world in Bangkok. But going through the streets—it is a curious, familiar feeling—it all comes back again. Just the people, the look of the people. And, incidentally, the people of Bangkok—the Thai people—have to be the most beautiful people on the face of the globe. They are incredibly pretty. Beautiful people. I mean physically beautiful people. And they’ve got a soul to match. I want to tell you, they are something else!
Going along in the car, I arrive at this magnificent hotel, with the palm trees and, oh, God, is it hot! Ninety-five degrees. I step down. I put on my pukka sahib shorts, I get out my pith helmet, and I get that look around the eyes of a Somerset Maugham character who’s spent too much time on the other side of Rangoon, where the sun comes up like thunder out of Burma across the way. Oh, God, what stories to tell, friends! Yup!
Shepherd sometimes talked about, or in other ways indicated, what arts and artists he loved
and even hated. What did he “vibrate to?”
MUSIC AND SOUND
He’s known for hating city-folk music and rock and roll. One wonders how much of it he’d heard, especially the later, most sophisticated styles of rock. It’s certainly understandable that he would hate the fad of relentless even rhythm of piano chord-plunking background that nearly covered the sound world of radio for an interminable time–back in the seventies was it? But how could he not vibrate positively to such masterpieces as “Satisfaction,” “Respect,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Great Balls of Fire” (surely, in its sound, the most erotic rock song ever!), “Life’s Been Good,” and “Who Put the Bomp”(one of the most playful, funniest songs I’ve ever heard!) Rock and roll expanded into so many sophisticated varieties over the decades, but I never heard Shepherd comment on rock after his early put-downs and his inaccurate prediction of its imminent demise. (His good friend in his last years says that they talked about rock and roll–but what did they say about it?)
We know he loved classical music, opera, and modernist jazz–and jazz was an essential part of his professional life as announcer, commentator, emcee, etc. And, of course, his style of talk flowed with the rhythms and style of jazz.
He turned many listeners (myself included) on to Django Reinhardt, whose two-finger style (necessitated by an old injury) had a lovely, lilting effect. I do believe that a major force in the great sound his group produced was his jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.
He much-enjoyed, for its cuckoo-ness, Paul Blackman’s “one-man-band.” He frequently played various Dixieland jazz pieces by various groups. (In a book I just read parts of, The Village: A History of Greenwich Village, it comments: “It was no coincidence that a renewal of interest in old-school Dixieland jazz occurred around the same time….Dixieland was big in the Village clubs throughout the 1950s.”) His favorite old jazz piece must surely have been “Boodle-Am Shake” by the Dixieland Jug Blowers. (See my EYF! page 409, the beginning of the final chapter, titled “These Guys Can Play at My Funeral Any Day” for the lyrics to “Boodle-Am Shake.” The book also includes my puny attempt to describe the sound, but one must see http://www.flicklives.com to hear a bit of it.)
He was also fascinated by the myriad sounds that make up the world–and that we hardly notice–such as those of airplanes and train engines.
He hardly had anything to say about visual art that he might have cared for. Picasso, maybe? He palled around with Don Kingman, Shel Silverstein, Leroy Neiman.
Shepherd loved reading, and sometimes discussed and read fine poetry (including haiku–undoubtedly for its precise concision, and the amusing–if not quite fine– Archy and Mehitabel for its sharp and quirky irony and wit),
novels including Moby Dick and Look Homeward, Angel. He once commented that “Nelson Algren is probably as close a–a blood brother as far as philosophical outlook on–on the world…as anybody I know in literature. When I say blood brother, I mean to me. If there is anyone I vibrate to it’s probably Algren.”
Among humorists/comics, he definitely liked Mark Twain, George Ade (sharp and ironic criticism of ordinary people), Paul Rhymer’s “Vic and Sade” (gentle but pointed commentary on small-town mentality), P. G. Wodehouse, S. J. Perelman. He gave an enthusiastic appreciation of Jack Benny on the air.
“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”
Shepherd devotes four programs to his seven-day trip around the world. Although the programs proceed in a rough geographical sequence, he varies his talk between background on the cultures, general descriptions and insights, specific incidents, and audio tapes of everyday events indicative of the particular country he’s in. His taping of local activity gives a feel for the environment he is in at the time, but can’t be translated into words on paper, so they are only included in a minimal way here.
These programs, disrupted by commercials, asides, and breaks of several days between broadcast segments, taken as a whole, are an entertaining montage, but there is some overlap and backtracking within programs and from one program to another. To give a coherent story of his trip, some organizing and editing puts it all together in a logical fashion.
And Here’s How it Happened
I have just returned from a voyage—a trip, the likes of which I doubt whether there is even a microscopic percentage of the people in the world who have ever done it.
Maybe a few airline people, but that’s about it. In exactly seven days I went around the world. I went around the world in one week—purposefully. You don’t do something like that accidentally, you know? You have to plan it. And it’s a very, very strange experience. I don’t know of any other travel experience—in fact I don’t know of any experience that you can have in this world that remotely approaches it. The world becomes—how can I say it—it becomes something that it was not before you left on the trip. For one thing, the world seems to be almost nothing in size. It’s frighteningly little.
Don’t immediately say, “You’re just doing what all the ridiculous American tourists do—they try to see the world in ten minutes.” You’re way off base there. That’s what I wanted to do. In other words I wanted the curious experience that a round-the-world endurance flyer gets. Or somebody who is attempting to set a record gets when he’s involved in some vast project.
Let me tell you this—flying around the world is one of the most tiring things that I’ve done in a long time. You think flying in a jet plane—gee, groovy—you sit there and they ply you with martinis. I want to tell you, after about three or four days, you are really beat.
Of course, it’s a combination of things that go to make that up. I suspect that the most insidious is what has become known to most jet travelers as jet-lag. There is a jet fatigue that sets in, too. And you know that scientists are not really aware yet of all the ramifications of why it is. For example, what subtle and curious things happen to the human body hurtling along through the upper atmosphere at around thirty-five to forty-thousand feet at six-hundred miles an hour in a pressurized cabin. On the surface, really nothing. Your heart is the same and your respiration is the same.
There’s been some talk about whether or not problems arise when, say, a head of state travels to another country and he travels, say, twelve-thousand miles to get there. He’s traveled a long distance, he’s gone through several time zones, he’s been at a high altitude, he’s been traveling at a very high velocity. What does it do to his judgment when he arrives? What kind of curious things result?
Well, I can tell you this—you get an odd sense of looking at the world through the bottom of a Coke bottle. It’s not that things are specifically, physically distorted, it’s that your mind skates over the surface of things and picks up some very odd—and interestingly enough—some quite profound insights which you might not have had, had you traveled at a much more leisurely pace. It’s that feeling of being almost on the edge of hysteria that gives you a fantastic insight. You suddenly see the orchestra for what it is. You suddenly see the singers for what they are. It gives you an odd sort of X-ray vision.
And here’s how it happened. A friend of mine who is an airline type—a friend over at Pan Am called up and he said, “How would you like to take a trip around the world in one week.”
I said, “Yeah.” You don’t turn that down, so I quickly made the arrangements and I took off. I’ll tell you the route that I took around the world. I left New York City from JFK at seven o’clock a week ago last Saturday night and headed across the Atlantic, and a few hours later—it seemed just momentarily later, because these 747s, when they’ve got a good tailwind behind them, move fast—you barely finish your meal. It’s scary. They come along and lay this food and drink on you and you’re lying there, lolling back, and already you’re getting the curious jet-malaise—you get a curious feeling that I always have felt guys who have lived all their lives in a really first-class harem must get. A sated feeling. Heady with rich perfumes.
And already the plane is coming down and we’re in Heathrow, London’s airport, and, of course, it’s raining and cold and the airport is curiously sterile and seems to consist largely of pieces of aluminum hooked together by pieces of dirty glass.
After a spot of tea I get back on the plane, which just makes one big, arched swoop—shooooom!—up, and shooooom!—it’s down, and now I’m in Frankfurt. I’ve been in Frankfurt many times, and no matter how many times you go there, there’s one thing you can’t get used to. In the john in the airport there are three ladies wearing these blue smocks who work there and they come in and they watch you. What do you do? You have to pretend that they are part of the furniture, but they ain’t part of the furniture, because the three ladies are roughly, 18, 19, and 20 years of age and highly nubile. It depends on the urgency of your need as to how long it takes to break down the inhibition. So you finally say, “I might as well.” You tip them a six-pfennig piece and you leave. It’s an enlivening experience at the crack of dawn.
So I walk out, and I’m on my way to Istanbul. Ah, now we’re getting there. Where you really taste the exotica. We land in Istanbul and of course, when you’re traveling around the world in a week, it’s like you’re traveling through all the out-takes of all the James Bond movies you’ve ever seen. The stuff on the cutting-room floor like the blurred shot of two cabs running into each other and two guys arguing at a cigarette stand in the background and a dog doing what a dog does on the left wheel of a Peugeot. You’re seeing all the stuff in these places that you ordinarily don’t see in the movies. So here I am in the middle of Istanbul, in the out-take world. And one of my problems as a performer, as an actor, is that—I can’t help myself—I instinctively, like a chameleon, take on the accents and the cultural coloration of the people, wherever I am.
So the minute I’m in Istanbul I begin to sit with heavy eyelids as if I’m ready to meet a mysterious lady who has just crossed over the border from East Germany mit der films and I have my information concealed in the hollow my left heel. You can’t help it, that place is ripe—any minute now I expect to see either Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers cleverly disguised as a streetcar motorman. But here I am, in the middle of Istanbul and I’ve just barely left New York. My head is still back in the Village but my body is in Istanbul. Partly. It never comes entirely.
It’s the old crowd! It’s everybody again! It’s everybody I’ve ever known again!…Oh! They’re all here again. All of them. All of them. I mean, why? Look at the confetti!
—-September 4, 1960. Jean Shepherd imagines
looking out of his window in the middle of the
night and seeing a procession passing by.
Was it the parade of his real/fictional life–
was it a dream, were they illusions,
shades out of his past?
Many listeners owe Shep their life
and a debt to him
because of what he gave them.
I am one of those listeners.
My first debt to Shep
There are many of us. When I was a sophomore in college I began listening to him in the early fall of 1956, just after he began his Sunday evening broadcasts. I sat in our kitchen and listened on my AM and FM, maroon, bakelite radio with the big simulated gold dial.
I was sort of a loner. I didn’t have many friends. I read a lot. All kinds of serious literature. Shepherd talked to me alone. He made me think and laugh–tickled my mind. He influenced me to subscribe to The Village Voice and The Realist. He was the next step up from Mad, which I’d been reading from the first issue. He got me to read what he suggested and listen to what he liked. He was my mentor.
My mother thought he was literate and witty. My father thought he was subversive. They were equally right.
An elegantly composed message says that Shepherd’s broadcasts taught listeners that observation and clear expression could be great rewards, that language was a vital thing when used both precisely and as spontaneously as one dared, and that the most sensible topic was the commonplace–which is full of nuance, humor, and grace. Many people express how wonderful Shepherd was for them, selflessly giving of himself through personal contact and through his program. Among these tributes are comments of many who found Jean Shepherd a guide and a comfort throughout their teenage years, such as one fan who remembers how she was struggling to survive adolescence, and through listening to him, Shepherd gave her a sense that she belonged to a sympathetic group who understood him as she did. She comments, “He saved my life.”
He didn’t save my life but he made my life better in many ways–in my way of thinking, my way of observing, my way of comprehending the world, and in other ways that I can’t even begin to grasp, though a friend of mine commented that Shep also must have made me a better speaker and story-teller. For all these probable and possible ways I’m grateful.
Back in 1956 I’d bought and had him sign my copy of I, Libertine. I continued recording and listening to him into the 1960s. I began watching his first series of “Jean Shepherd’s America” in 1971, but, because “it wasn’t like his radio programs,” I gave up on it. (Years later I’ve come to recognize the series as an imperfect, incomplete beginning of a potential Great American Television Documentary.)
After that I mostly forgot about him, I’m ashamed to say. Then, in October, 1999 (yes, 28 years later) I read his obituary in The New York Times and immediately realized that I’d lost an old friend.
My second debt to Shep
In late 1999 I began to listen and research and read a lot more about Shep. I made contacts with people in the world of Shep. I began to write hundreds of notes and stashed them into file folders because I was beginning to help accumulate information for a biography about him. Soon the author of the proposed biography disappeared from view (and, I later found out, had given up on the project) and I began to write–not a biography, but much more important, I believe, a description and appreciation of Shep’s work. Going through an arid period in my professional career, I spent much time working on my Shep-manuscript. It kept me occupied and excited.
Through that work on Shepherd, in 2005 I became one of my life-long dreams–a published author! I’d gotten to do fascinating research and learn lots of stuff I hadn’t known before. I got to meet and correspond with lots of interesting people. I got reviews, and media people interviewed me. I got royalties. I got compliments and appreciation for what I’d accomplished. I got cards and letters from people I don’t even know! I felt that I’d contributed to humanity!!!
I got another Shep book published!
I even got on TV!
My third debt to Shep
So far I can’t get another Shepherd book published, although I have a couple of completed manuscripts ready to go. I don’t know where I’ll be going from here. What will I do to keep my mind sufficiently occupied? Gee–with all my further ideas about Shepherd and the additional info I’m accumulating about him, why don’t I continue contributing to the Shep-world with a blog?
It keeps me researching and learning and keeps my aging mind active. I don’t know what I’d be doing with myself if I didn’t have my Shep.
59 years, Shep.
and seltzer bottle, too.”
• • • • • • • • • • • •
FRENCH FARCE. Part 2=LE RIOT.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
About ten minutes later we are now out in the night again, and fifteen minutes later we’re in the middle of St. Germain des pres. Wow, has this taken off! We are surging down a tiny street and we’re in the middle of a gigantic teen-age riot. I’m in a genuine riot. You keep hearing about teen-age riots? It’s a nameless, formless riot. The riots most of us are used to are riots with a purpose. This particular indignity or this particular civil right, this particular thing. And I was right there when it started. Right at the minute it started—in the middle of this thing. And we are surging down this narrow street and through it there are about seventy-five guys driving Renaults, Fiats, a guy with a Ferrari who looks like an Arabian prince on his night out and he’s with this nine-year-old girl and the people are jumping on the hoods and there are kids running around, all of them looking vaguely alike—it’s very difficult. If you think we’re having trouble here, it is almost totally impossible to tell a French male from a French female if they’re under eighteen. Impossible! You can get yourself into some very embarrassing situations in France. So here they are surging, yelling. And I’m in the middle of this with the French count and I say, “How the hell did I get myself in this?”
I’m with a count, with Felipe and Girard, and now Girard is beginning to get very angry at the Corsican because now it’s getting a little late and he wants to take his wife home and he realizes the hobby has gone far enough now. You sense any minute now that violence is going to break out in our own little crowd, and we are looking for our car which we have lost, and we are surging down through this little street when suddenly somebody starts yelling from an upper story window. He pears out and I think, what’s going to happen?
The crowd looks up and this guy has a great big pan full of hot water. Shoooom! Down it comes on the crowd and it lands all over me and about forty-five other guys, and instantly there’s a riot.
Paris riot, May, 1968
Instantly it starts to go and I hear windows crashing in and I hear that sound—have you ever been in the middle of a rolling, senseless violence? That sound—you hear that Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! and you see guys jumping up with that wild-eyed look and everybody’s in a nutty way when that happens. There’s always one group of people who enjoys it wildly and they begin to lash out, they begin to grab chicks, and you hear windows crashing and you hear AHOOAHOOAHOOAHOOAHOO, the French gendarme approaching with that really frightening riot car. They have about three different types of cars but they have one kind of horn that goes AHOOAHOOAHOOAHOOAHOO. It just goes insanely, and the lights are flashing and the gendarmes rush out and we surge down the street in the direction of our car and my coat is wet and I’ve been wounded in action—the whole business—and Girard’s coat has been torn and you see this wild, moiling gang of teenagers leaping up and down on the hood of a Jaguar—a beautiful XKE that is being destroyed by the mob. Some poor guy had left his car parked up on the sidewalk, you know how they do in the middle of the great big Saturday night scene in places like the Village and places like the Left Bank and these kids are jumping up and down on the hood and the policemen are coming. Oh, that poor guy. And I can hear AHOOAHOOAHOOAHOOAHOO, wild screaming French imprecations, and now all the people in the apartments above us begin to pour stuff down on the streets.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
Five minutes later we’re back in the car and we’re heading for the apartment after our wild night. After our night in “Le Drugstore,” “Paris 2,” the riot, and we are heading back towards the apartment and what is left of the cold chicken.
And with that, Reno turns to me and he says, “Of course zis kind of scene, zis never happened till the American was here.” And I didn’t see an American face anywhere. All those French faces, you know, yelling and screaming and breaking the windows. He says, “Zis did not happen until the American was here.”
I say, “Well, I guess it didn’t happen till I showed up tonight. Probably true.” And I bow down and I realize that the life of the American in 1966 ain’t easy.
I could see the lights in the sky as the kids were burning down the town, and the Eifel Tower was toppling, and we drove back toward that quiet apartment. Tomorrow night I’ll tell you the story of the French desert and the hang up that all the French have, and what they think of as the American Wild West.
I don’t know why people pay money to go to Disneyland when there’s nothing in Disneyland that even remotely approaches real life—for fantasy, for ecstasy, for passion, for exoticism, for eroticism—the whole long line, the whole plastic scene of the mid-1960s. “Zis is zee American hippy approach, you know.”
[ “The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay,
No matter how they change her,
I’ll remember her that way.”
–by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, 1940.]