Home » Curmudgeon » JEAN SHEPHERD early daze- in 1959. Part I

JEAN SHEPHERD early daze- in 1959. Part I


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.

shep in gocart

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.

paley listening

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



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