My Shep-quest is never-ending. Working and networking go onward and upward. Seeking, gathering, creating, promoting—however I can. Why? Spreading the word about Shep for its own sake; expanding the historical record about him; the thrill of the chase through networking and having unexpectedly enjoyable adventures; and let’s not forget the possible financial gain and ego-enhancement via book, or play, or film, or television.
Every day on the computer I check www.flicklives.com, the shepgroup email, and facebook-Shep-group chats and ebay for some previously unknown item, and I sometimes search a book site or http://www.google.com for Shepherd’s name in hope of some new gold panning out. Indeed, at times, I encounter a new nugget.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS galore
As of this writing, no new material has come forth from Shep’s will—all the known radio, TV, film, and writing has been available for years before Shepherd’s death. And the ACS musical, good as it is, derives from the movie, which comes from the printed stories, which come from Shep’s spoken work on the radio.
In mid-2006 a newspaper article featured the promotional efforts of Spalding Gray’s widow: a play, a CD, and a documentary.
a documentary, a play, what else?
One wishes that someone with the enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject and who has power and access to media would do the same for Shepherd. A proposed sitcom has not happened, but it would’ve had the mere ghost of a chance of having some value—it probably would have been written and produced by people without sufficient understanding of Shepherd’s wide-ranging and complex work and life, probably on the same dismal level as most sitcoms.
I push for news and I wait—like the kid who’d sent a quarter and a proof of purchase and now daily checks the mail for the equivalent of the secret decoder pin—like little Ralphie Parker.
I was the kid who sent a quarter
checking the mail daily for–
The Atom Bomb Ring!
One never knows what will turn up, what major recognition of our hero! A while ago I was surprised that recently deceased Harvey Pekar, creator of the serious, multi-issue autobiographical graphic novel, American Splendor, has his own rather diminutive bobblehead. I wonder how he felt about that. (I gather that it was produced for the opening celebration of the movie based on American Splendor.) But wouldn’t it be a nice recognition if our hero Jean Parker Shepherd could be so-honored? I know I’d want one to add to my Shepherd shrine, and if I know ol’ Shep, I’d expect him to do two things: conceal his secret delight; gather every-one he could find and smash their bloody slob-art bodies to smithereens.
Jean P. Shepherd Bobblehead–
In my dreams.
As I quest, I imagine a scowling Shep himself pacing and fuming from the heights of heaven or the depths of hell, praying that I’ll find the holy grail of early radio recordings. Will I receive the call from possible fans such as Bob Dylan, Dave Brubeck, Woody Allen, and who knows who else? Maybe a call from TV-land or from Hollywood saying yes, Kevin Spacey wants to play Shep in a Major Motion Picture—yes, yes, yes! All dreams.
J. S. K. S
Never the end concerning Jean Shepherd. Special announcements to come? Even more episodes to come? What has the picaro learned, and will he finally tie it all up into a neat bundle of profound truths? Listeners, the baton has been lifted—kazoos at the ready! Listen to that announcer’s deep baritone: “Don’t touch that dial!” Bahn Frei theme music starts here. Remember it’s a polka, so get up on your hind legs and dance.
“…let’s go out into the fields dressed as shepherds,
as we decided to. Perhaps we shall find the lady Dulcinea behind some hedge,
disenchanted and as pretty as a picture.”
—Sancho Panza to Don Quixote
in the final chapter
of their book of knight errantry.
DRESSED AS SHEPHERDS
Fields, Shepherds, Sancho, Rocinante, the Lady Dulcinea disenchanted, pretty as a picture. And of course, the grail. “This glorious quest.” “With my last ounce of courage….” Can you hear triumphant theme music? Is it from Man of LaMancha or is it that equally stirring piece of intoxicating inspiration, “Bahn Frei”?
Sancho Panza said that the great highway to glory looked to him just like the road to a little village where one could buy chickens cheap. Cheap chickens as ancillary compensations? Okay, you arm-twisted me into admitting it: the highways of the internet and the byways in the real world I travel by snail mail, phone, and loose-knees-assisted shanks’ mare; the peasants and lords and ladies I meet who assist me and give me gold to present in posts—the stuff I learn and experience along the way, are a joy. I enjoy the nuggets. Shep stories, Shep stories, Shep stories—the good, the bad and the sad, but I hope, all entertaining and informative. Essential for the historical record of Jean Parker Shepherd’s creative career and the quest it engenders. I get great pleasure out of this quest. It’s worth any number of my other potential creations that will never be. Ah—the thrill, ah the realization that the quest, the journey itself, with all its intermediate little defeats and triumphs, is indeed the best and ongoing treasure of the enterprise! Yes, it’s a good journey in the land of Shep. For all I desire that damn grail, “the journey is the destination.” See, I’ve said it, you Infernal Gremlins in the Works—no longer any need to torment me with denial! Destiny, you stingy, double-crossing son of a bitch, now that I’ve said that I might even be able to live without it, fork over that Holiest of Holies!
Come forth, Unknown Specter,
and dump your treasures into my sweaty lap.
Hey, man, you got tapes?
A comment of Adam Thirlwell in his The Delighted States, a book about the sometimes combative relationship between translation, style, and art. He is discussing a lecture on that subject that Vladimir Nabokov gave in 1937: “Life—this was Nabokov’s final point, in exile, in Paris—life, this succession of failures and mistakes, at certain visionary moments was structured with the deft formal properties of art.” Nabokov hunting
I hope that out of Jean Shepherd’s disasters and artistic triumphs, the gods-of-fate have been at least a bit artistic.
Were Jean Shepherd’s disasters and artistic triumphs worth it for him? Life short, Art long? Faulkner said art was worth any number of old ladies. Was Faulkner serious or was it a tasteless joke? What about any number of Shepherd’s friends and lovers, wives and children? Worth it? I’m not going to answer that one.
But how about us, milling around on this Great Playing Field of Life? We’ve discovered that Shepherd’s Art is not just a coldly calculated construction; that his Enigmas can coalesce into more solid figments than we’d believed possible; that this goofy Game we’re in, in all its unexpected surprises and connections–almost as if it had a mind of its own–had launched, as Shepherd might have it, a nutty fruitcake of existence careening at each of us across life’s shaggy infield grass. And that some of this phantasm even makes sense. Sure, as we lunge to make the catch we may bobble it a bit, but we snag the nutty confection going away. In the middle of our leap we twist into a 180 and sling the baked goods straight and true to first like a Yankee shortstop (Derek, in my mind, I see ya doin’ it).
in a 180,
slinging it fast and true.
So we grasp some of the fundamentals. We make the play (at least this time) because all our sensibilities are attuned to that Voice in the Night and we’ve managed to keep our knees loose.
Shep, ya did good!