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JEAN SHEPHERD–Making it Bookwise

bookstore

Shepherd believed in the importance of books. Various times on his programs he discussed the high regard in which he valued them. He talked about some books that had influenced him and he read from some on the air.

Thus it is no surprise that Shep wrote books; Shep wrote short and long comments in books by himself and others; Shep has been mentioned in passing and in more or less extensive ways in many books, and (even with the passing years) the number of which keeps growing.

There is an extensive list and images and text from dozens of these books in http://www.flicklives.com. under the main category of ACHIEVEMENTS/ BOOKS MENTIONING SHEP. The following list is from those flicklives pages:

Dictionary of American Slang; Explorations in Communication; Impolite Interviews;

Understanding Media; The Sense of the 60’s; The aesthetics of Rock; The Deejays;

Long John Nebel; The Great American Newspaper [V. Voice]; Land of the Millrats;

The Stars of Stand Up Comedy; The Writer As Celebrity;

Encyclopedia of American Humorists; Essays on American Humor; Indiana History;

Jeffrey Lyons’ 101 Great Movies for Kids; The Airwaves of New York,

Sounds in the Dark: All-Night Radio in American Life, Losing My Mind;

New York, Year by Year: A Chronology of the Great Metropolis;

How I Became A Human Being; A Native’s Guide to Northwest Indiana;

Secret Frequencies; The Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing

In The East Village; Seriously Funny; iPod & iTunes Garage;

Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America; Something in the Air;

Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors; Manhattan Memories;

Backing Into Forward: A Memoir; The Biographical Encyclopedia of American Radio;

Becoming Elektra; Endgame; Radio My Way; Cincinnati Radio; Fallen Idols;

Cocktails with Molotov; Whiting and Robertsdale;

Memoir of an Independent Woman: An Unconventional Life Well Lived;

Dig; 6 Degrees of Film; Eminent Hipsters.

As I’ve encountered them, I’ve added a few titles to the above list, as have Steve Glazer and others. For considerably more info about each of the above books, including specific references to Shep for most of them, see http://www.flicklives.com. As for my two book devoted to Shepherd (EYF! and S’s A. flicklives devotes prominent references to both.)

A couple of books not yet incorporated into that list are first,  John Strausbaugh’s  The Village, with good pages on Shep-in-the-Village. Another book is R. L. Stine’s [“Goosebumps” series author] autobiography for youngsters, It Came From Ohio!: My Life As a Writer. One might wonder if his comments about Shep will positively affect those young readers into checking him out.

The_Writer_as_Celebrity_cover

Maralyn Lois Polak’s The Writer as Celebrity seems the longest of the riffs on Shep and has some interesting comments, such as her remembrance: “…a voice that elliptically removed us from Innocence to Experience, a voice that ruminated on the mysteries of Existence, and shrugged.” Also, a quote from Shep that represents, in general, a good reason for him to complain about the world’s injustice–along with an oft-heard but questionable reference:

“I’m one of the great underground performers. In spite of the fact I have millions of fans,” he proclaims, “I can’t imagine why [someone] wouldn’t know about me . . . I’ve had three best-sellers, I’ve published forty-eight stories in Playboy. [By my count, 23 stories, one humorous article, and The Beatles interview.] Critics have done papers on me. I’ve influenced more kids. I’ve done thousands of shows at colleges. I’ve been on the Carson show many times and on the Merv Griffin show. I’ve had my own television series for years on PBS. And yet [some people] never heard of me. Now you’re understanding the nature of twentieth-century fame. It’s one of those things you accept as a fact of life, like the rain. Is the rain frustrating? No, it’s just there . . . . See, I was part of the whole beat, hip movement. And it’s very difficult to explain, I was part of that whole crowd. I came up–friends of mine at the time were people like Mailer and, ah, Jules Feiffer, this is, the whole Village crowd. I was really kind of one of the centers of it. In fact, I was a character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I’m the Angel-Headed Hippie, the guy they’re always listening to on the radio….”[I haven’t been able to find any reference to this in On The Road. My guess is that if indeed, as he said, Shep got a copy of the manuscript from Kerouac, it may have been in there, but was cut before publication -eb]

He seems to have total recall. “No, not at all. I’m a storyteller. My stuff seems like memory. It isn’t. I will see something happen the afternoon of a show and create a story about it, but I will put it in the past. Are you listening to me,” he says, laughing. So he was spinning short stories on the air? “Well, I was, yes!” he exclaims.

“Now, I don’t know what would have happened to me had I been, let’s say nine or ten, and read War and Peace. I think that’s why lots of kids grow up and their literature is so full of the kvetch, you know, life is hard, life is tragic, because so many novels are written like that. So if you’re ten and read Vonnegut, you’ll grow up thinking life is bad news. But if you grow up reading Shepherd, you’ll come away thinking life is basically a giant joke, life is an endless shaggy dog story. It always seems like any minute now we’re gonna solve it” – Jean Shepherd grins – “any minute now.”

Note: Don’t completely trust any references to Shepherd in any book or article, especially if the reference comes from Shep himself. Much of the misinformation comes from writers accepting what Shep told them without checking up on it, and some misinformation comes from the writers’ misunderstanding of info–Add to that, many writers simply copy previously published misinformation from other sources. (Unless I wrote it. Although a few times I’ve been mistaken–I’ve said for years (based on what I’d assumed was accurate info) that there have been about 5,000 Shep broadcasts–but it’s probably more like 4,000. I try to be fastidious regarding facts, through checking first with unimpeachable sources–Shep himself is an extremely impeachable source.) 

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Australia, part 8

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I was in Australia—and sort of drinking it in as much as I could.  I take large numbers of notes, I hear little snatches of conversation, I’ve got a whole notebook full of strange comments I heard people make.  In fact, I’m sitting in a living room with a group Australians, and these were “hip” Australians.  You might say, in any society there’s a certain group of people who are on top of it, who run the television stations, the big wheels in a society.  I happened to fall in with a little group that day.  Now don’t assume that that’s where Shepherd spent his time and they aren’t the real people.  I spent a whole day in a supermarket, running around talking to the little people.  In fact, they were so little that I got a crick in my back bending over talking to them.  And living with them too.

However, this particular group was discussing a national election.  There was a candidate who proposed upping the defense budget.  He said, “World conditions mean that we have to do this—Indonesia is looking with big eyes at us.”  One of the guys I’m talking with is very mad.  He says, “I think that guy’s out of his mind.  He’s an idiot, raising the defense budget like that!  I say we’ve got taxes enough and I think what we ought to do is let the Americans defend us.”

Let the Americans defend us!  The guy who said that is a top commentator on Australian television who is an Australian. The rest of the group agreed with him wholeheartedly.   I’m not saying that is a universal experience.  It is one experience—and a curious one, isn’t it?

On the other hand, it’s a wonderful country.  It’s an exciting country.  And every minute you’re there you feel all kinds of paradoxes.  You’ve heard that expression so many times.  They describe every ridiculous country you visit as a study in paradox.  Well, I submit to you that mankind is a study in paradoxes.  Because every country in the world is paradoxical.  It’s all paradox everywhere.

But very few places, from the standpoint of an English-speaking country that I ever visited—is more paradoxical, obviously and outwardly than Australia.  It’s a fantastic country for that.  On the one hand they are very, very Victorian.  Very Victorian  in their morality code.  They’re constantly banning books there.  On the other hand, here they’ve got a nightlife center that features truly obscene shows.  Openly and completely.  And grandmothers go to see it.  Now, what is it?  Which is it?  You don’t know.

Everywhere I went, the Australians did not like the English.  That’s an experience I had.  They love Americans by and large, but most Australians I talked to have a great anti-English feeling.  I suppose it’s the kid brother feeling.  After all, they were members of the Empire and the Commonwealth.  And this is a thing you hear all over Australia, from Darwin to Sydney and over to Melbourne—the great pride thay have is that almost all of them are descended from prisoners.  It was originally a penal colony.  Their comment is, “Of course, you realize, our population was selected by some of the greatest judges in England.”

australian convictsFirst Australian Immigrants

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That’s what Australia is fighting.  They want to be a modern, big, industrial nation.  Now, right below that article, is another to show you an idea of what really happens.  The nuttiness that happens all over the world happens in Australia too:

Naked Man Stops Traffic in Kings Cross Road

Traffic came to a standstill and crowds formed on the footpath when

a naked man walked nearly five-hundred yards down the white line

in the middle of Bayswater Road, Kings Cross last night.

As he walked down the road he gesticulated wildly.

Reactions were mixed.  Some watched in silent wonder

and others laughed and pointed,

and most of the women quickly turned away.

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I’m reading this clipping from the front page of a daily Australian paper.  It says:

kangaroo-laying5The Kangaroo is Out

“The kangaroo image of the Australian economy is out,” the Australian Secretary Roland Wilson assured the prospective U. S. investors yesterday. “Contrary to the impressions of many outside our shores, Australia does not consist exclusively either of water-less deserts peopled by wandering tribes of Aborigines tossing chunks of gold or iron ore at kangaroos, or of lush oases of green grass on which muscular young men and women pursue a small rubber ball with contrivances made of sheep’s intestines,” Sir Roland told his laughing audience.  “True, we have sheep and we owe a great deal to the intestines of the men who raise and sheer them, but the kangaroo is out.”

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“It’s an exciting country.  And every minute you’re there

you feel all kinds of paradoxes.  You’ve heard that

expression so many times.  They describe every

ridiculous country you visit as a study in paradox.

Well, I submit to you that

mankind is a study in paradoxes.

Because every country in the world is paradoxical.

It’s all paradox everywhere.”

–Jean Shepherd

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JEAN SHEPHERD & ANDY KAUFMAN again. Part 3 of 3

grant_g_kaufman_andy_64011

Again, that baffling book, Andy Kaufman Wrestling With the American Dream by Florian Keller (U. of Minnesota Press). The first 67 pages were mostly beyond my understanding. I understood maybe 20% of it–yet, the idea kept me going and I believe that, through my arguing with the book’s text and ideas, I’ve come to understand more about Andy Kaufman and maybe more, fundamentally, about Jean Shepherd. And, through the  catalyst of what this book seems to be saying,  I seem to better understand in what ways Shep and Andy were similar and in what ways different.

For me the beginning of the book  is mostly unintelligible, and the next part, on “The American Dream,” seems to be somewhat akin to the enigma that is Jean Shepherd. (By the way, I disagree with the author’s belief that Kaufman, in any conscious or unconscious way, is commenting on “The American Dream.”  I’m not aware of Kaufman on any level dealing with American cultural or social issues. He deals with humans’ specific preconceptions and attitudes.) I’d like to explain how the first and then the following parts of the book appear to me, not only because it’s interesting unto itself, but for a better understanding of how someone–such as myself–should go about discovering and articulating aspects of Jean Shepherd’s life and career–why did he do what he did?

Performance

We’re familiar with the feeling that Shep on the air is giving us the true gen–about life and about himself, that what he is on the air is his real self. An interesting comment quoted in the book about Andy is that he blurred the “distinction between his performance persona and himself.” Don’t we all believe that Shep-on-the-air and Shep, the 24/7 person, are the same? Shep in later years insisted that on the radio, he had been a “performer.”

American Heritage Dictionary: Perform, definition #3. To portray a role or demonstrate a skill before an audience.

One might think that to perform could mean to enact the reality of oneself, or, more likely, it suggests that one is enacting some sort of artifice (a “role”). I’m sure that I, as do most all Shep enthusiasts, firmly believe that on the air, he was being his true self (though not all of himself). I think that what Shep meant by describing himself as a performer and entertainer on the air, is that he presented his true self in a way that used the techniques of theatricality (such as sound volume, emphasis, pausing, exaggerating, some self-editing, etc.) in order to best entertain while self-presenting his real self. Might one say that the radio Shepherd is performing himself? Yet–despite Shepherd apparently telling his life and persona as it was, he simultaneously–without our knowing it at the time–contained many unknowns and contradictions–enigmas.

They both basically, truthfully performed as themselves. But though Shep  only performed as his one true self, Andy performed the roles of his many true selves–except that he didn’t perform a role as the exceedingly intelligent, clever part of himself that he was. He seemed to always bring his performing persona back to the essential childlike Andy that he seemed to mostly be.

Shep photo .drawing

J   E   A   N      S   H   E   P   H   E   R   D

(The image above is not the real Jean Shepherd.

It is a tracing

of an Internet reproduction

of a paper photo print

from a negative

taken through a camera lens

of a performer

being himself.)

A Richard Corless article’s title quoted from the 1981 Time magazine essay

about then-current/unusual comics is

“Comedy’s Post-Funny School.”

(More thoughts on Andy Kaufman Wrestling With the American Dream)

AWKWARD first 50 pages

of A.K.W.W.A.D.

What would an absurdly scholarly, overly pedantic article or book in an obscure university journal be like?

Use frequent quotes from obscure sources and frequently use quote marks for simple, descriptive words and phrases, while leaving the unexplained jargon quote-mark-free, as though we all know what it means.

Don’t write any sentence with straightforward words that can be clearly understood when one can slightly misuse more complex and scientific-sounding words that a highly, yet imperfectly educated “Foreign Man” would concoct.  Also use slightly altered real words that might–but really aren’t real. Such writing and usage would confuse and bamboozle the earnest and intelligent Kaufman enthusiast.

I find it more likely that Andy Kaufman is alive and wrote this book than that it’s the work of a coherent intellect with a cogent theory. I picture Andy doubled over on the floor laughing at us for imagining that this faux-analysis of him is for real rather than its being another chapter in his mind-bending, created world. My question: Was this book a self-description written by a postmortem Kaufman (ghostwritten?) in the style of an imperfectly over-educated “Foreign Man?” (I should say that there are some parts of this book that do make sense and that add to our understanding of Andy.)

andy-kaufman-straightjacket

Is this man a genius? YES.

Is Shep a genius? YES.

Are they both expressing truths? YES.

AK confounds preconceptions and expectations,

disturbing us and making us rethink things.

JPS expands our knowledge and sensibilities,

widening our world.

After reading this exasperating–yet interesting–book, what are my thoughts about Andy Kaufman’s agenda (“American Dream” etc.)?  I think he was simultaneously an innocent (playing like a child) and a very clever genius who sometimes acted the innocent-role, and who sometimes needed a stern editor. He discovered and expressed various seldom-surfaced aspects of how we think and feel and how we approach the world around us.

Has the book affected how I think about Jean Shepherd? Not in any fundamental way: Radio=genius; writing=good fiction-writer but nowhere up to his radio work; “American Dream”=not specifically, but he worked hard and successfully at describing and expressing himself regarding humanity and its character as revealed in Americans.

1.-creatingrealitycard1

(Promotional card for never-realized

lecture tour “On Creating Reality,

by Andy Kaufman,” 1984.) 

“Andy was ‘able to mine the fine line between stability

and chaos,…

audiences struggled

to comprehend the unpredictable,…’”

Michael Smith Dept. of Art & Art History, U. Texas.

Was it worth reading and posting all that stuff about AK

(Especially as it expands knowledge about Shep)?

Geez, I hope so!

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel. Australia Part 7

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The next afternoon I get invited to an Australian home.  I’m sitting in the backyard of this beautiful California-type home.  All glass and all tile and there’s a magnificent emerald-green swimming pool.  They’re serving steaks at least four inches thick, they’ve got seven bottles of wine, and the girls are wearing bikinis and the men are bronzed and they have not worked for six weeks.  They go in for twenty minutes or so and fool with a paper clip in the office.  Everything’s a game.  Here these guys are, bronzed, eating the steaks and sitting out in the sun, and out in the driveway is a Maserati convertible.  I can’t believe it—this is Australia!  Somehow you have the idea that Australia is rugged.  And I am beginning to feel that I am a primitive.

An Australian man is sitting opposite me and he says, “You know, there’s one trouble with you Americans.  You just got too easy a life.”  And he believes it!

I think, this is a peculiar scene.  We’re sitting there and eating the dinner.  You really realize that it’s another world and another way to live.  And you keep getting the impression that you understand it.

We finish eating and now the time has come for casual, after-dinner conversation.  We’re sitting there.  These beautiful women there are talking—the wives and the girlfriends, and I’m all by myself talking to these chicks.  And all of a sudden I get the eerie impression that the party has left.  And there’s only me left there—with the women.  All the men have gone!  Absolutely, every last man has disappeared and it’s just me and nineteen chicks.

I say, “Gee, where are all the men?”

And this woman next to me suddenly—it was a transition like I’ve never seen in a woman—she says, “All the damn fools have gone into the next room to talk!  This is an Australian custom!  They don’t talk to the women, you know!  You can tell you’re a foreigner.  You’re here talking to the women!  Australian men never talk to the women, you know.”

And all the women at once went on just like that—Boooom!  And you can see that every last Australian woman wants to kill every Australian man—in the dark, with a dull stiletto!

And I want to know what’s going on in the next room—what the heck are they doing out there?  So, here I am with all these women, and they’re all saying, “Gee, you just don’t know how it feels—we love Americans here!”  (These are the women, see.)  “You certainly treat women like human beings.”

And I’m thinking of the Village and I’m thinking of Playboy.  Treat women like human beings!  So I say, “Yes, that’s true.”

I’m an American.  All these women are gathered around me and they’re coming closer and closer and closer.  I’m beginning to sweat.  And the kookaburra birds are going cucucucucucucucu! and the koala bears are squirting up there in a tree.  And I say, “Excuse me a minute, girls.”  And I go into the next room and here are the men—and the men are telling dirty stories.

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This guidebook said one fascinating thing.  They said there are three stages through which you go with an Australian.  The first stage is you’re impressed by his unbelievable friendliness, and that is the truth.  An Australian is like a true noble savage in the Rousseau -ian sense.  He just says, “Hiya, pardner,” like Indiana cubed.  “Hiya, buddy, hiya, pardner.”  Oh boy, everybody talks that way.

This book is put out by Life Magazine.  It’s a beautifully written piece and very true.  They say the second stage is if you have made one false move, when you have made the slightest slur on Australian womanhood, the flag, the sky, the weather, you just look too long at a guy in a bar, or maybe you just walk funny.  This second stage you better get over very quickly.  Because the Australian hits very hard, very directly, and completely.

And the third stage is when they don’t even notice you.  Then you’re one of the people.  Then you can hit guys.  And that’s the way Australia is.  It’s like the last of the frontier.

You don’t really understand role reversal—where women are obviously becoming more masculine in America, and the men are going in the other direction.  You don’t really recognize this until you get to Australia.  The Australian men—you never saw anything like them.  These guys all look like they’re roughly nine feet tall.  There’s a kind of genuine being-ness about them.  And let me tell you!  Men—have you ever dreamed about the ultimate woman?  Each man has in his little mind’s eye that thing called “the girl.”  I’m not talking about your dream girl, but the ultimate woman.  Well, they still exist in Australia.  Women are really women.  Men are really men.  There’s a sense, in the middle of the afternoon, when you walk down the street, a kind of dialog that goes on.  You go into a coffee shop.  There’s a bunch of men sitting there.  And they’re really drinking coffee.  They’re not reading poetry, standing up there playing guitars, talking about their soul.  They’re sitting down there dropping down coffee.  And there are women sitting there drinking coffee and being women.  It’s a very exciting feeling.

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I don’t know what it is about America.  We’re the great dreamers of the world.  Are we the idealists or are we bubbleheads?  Or are we just plain dreamers?   I don’t know.  When you get out into a place like Australia and you walk around in the boondocks—they are only about an hour-and-a-half from Indonesia—they have a totally different view of the entire situation.

And it’s not a pessimistic view.  It’s kind of a realistic view that says, “Well, that’s the way it is.”  It’s a curious view.  You want to shake them—“What do you mean, ‘that’s the way it is’?  Why don’t we sit down and talk it over.” They just look at you and take another pull on their gin bottle.

I talked to one Australian who was a jet fighter pilot in the Australian Air Reserve.  I said, “Bruce, gee, it’s just a shame that the world is in such a mess, that it seems like every twenty years it develops a giant boil and it just comes to a head and it pops.  That’s all.  Just a terrible thing.  If we could only decide to become rational, blah, blah, blah.”

And he smiled.  For a while he didn’t say anything.  Then he said, “You know, you sure talk like an American.”

You begin to have a strange, perverse affection—for the nuttiness of your own country.  You really do.  We have a tendency to put our country down.  We like to think our country is the nuttiest of all countries.  This is a great illusion on the part of almost all the commentators I know.  Most of the guys I know who do commentary about the world—and I know many of them—have never really been anywhere.  You really begin to understand that Man is a really fascinating, paradoxical, nutty creature when you travel around the world and see Man—not just Americans or Indians or Englishmen—but just mankind.

I must point out that of all the countries I have traveled to in the last two or three years, the most paradoxical of all—it would be a fantastic feeding-ground for humorists if they really could get up the guts to do it in that country—is Australia.  Australia is a wildly divergent country.  In the sense that the people are very different from what they say they are!  On the one hand they have very strict laws about obscenity.  The strictest anywhere that I have ever seen in my life.  They look through your luggage, when you come into this country, with a fine tooth comb.  And if you’ve got a copy of Playboy, forget it!  The guy in front of me had a copy of Mary McCarthy’s The Group, which was a best-seller in America.  They confiscated it.

On the other hand, do you know that they have more of what you could call deviant clubs, openly operating right in the middle of their show business district, than any other major city in the world?  What do they stand for?  Which thing is the real thing there?

On the one hand, all the people that I talked to were talking about censorship and about Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  A couple of years ago that was a big issue in America.  Do you know what is being sold under the counter now in Australia?  Not Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but the transcript of the trial about it!  This book of the court proceedings is illegal to have in Australia.  The court proceedings!

lady chaterly trial

So, while I was in Sydney, they were talking on the radio and I could hear different people calling up, and panel discussions about that issue.  What was so curious about it was, hearing them talk, they were all against censorship—but they were all for keeping Lady Chatterley’s Lover off the stands!  They really were for censorship but then they really weren’t.  So you couldn’t tell what they were for actually. austraalia flag

People ask me, “Didn’t you find anything good about Australia?

Oh, yeah, of course!  I think Australia is one of the most wildly interesting countries I’ve ever seen in my life!  Fantastically interesting country.  But one of the things that makes it so interesting are these dichotomies, these splits between what they say they believe in and what actually happens there.

I went down through their version of Times Square, which is where three or four streets come together and it’s called King’s Cross in Sydney.  There are a lot of Chinese restaurants and shows and so on there.  I was struck by one thing—there were more outright—what you would call—“obscene” shows running.  Wild stuff—there it is!  And nobody says a word about it.

On the other hand, Playboy, which is just a comparatively innocent magazine—the little foldout is about as offensive as the yearly calendar from Ed’s Garage in some small town in Vermont.  And here’s the fascinating part of it.  I’m with some very distinguished guys—a judge, a publisher, a general manager of a TV station and they said, “How about let’s go out and having a little of Sydney’s nightlife?”

I said, “Gee, that would be interesting,” so twenty minutes later I am in the club with these guys and their wives.  We’re all going to enjoy nightlife.  What do you think we went to?  A transvestite review.  That is the biggest thing in Sydney!  There are about ten of them running full blast!  The entire spectrum of it—you talk about blue!  They’re incredible.  Everybody is just sitting there talking, and later we get in the car, and we have seen this insane show, but nobody’s talking about it.  We drive a bit and they get on the subject of censorship, and the man in front was very much in favor of them keeping that kind of terrible stuff, that would undermine the young, out of Australia.  That kind of thing like Mary McCarthy’s The Group.  And here’s the kicker—in this club there were at least thirty or forty kids, that I would assume were no more than thirteen or fourteen, watching this show.  So I couldn’t figure out which—

I made a little mention of this on the way.  I said, “You know, that was a pretty peculiar show we just saw.”

The response:  “Oh, wasn’t it charming!”
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I have to explain myself, first of all.  I do not pretend to be an expert on any of the countries I visit.  I do not go there for that reason.  I heard a man this morning being interviewed and he’s talking about people who go to a country and come back and they write a book and they become an expert on that country.  They’ve been there three days.  And I agree with him.  This is a real evil in our world.  But I am merely trying to tell you what it feels like, what kind of impressions are crowded  in on you, what kind of sensations you have, if you are an American suddenly dropped into the middle of a foreign country.

I like to go to a country with that feeling.  Just drop me down there and let me walk around.  And I make sure that I get around, as you can probably tell.  I really get around in a country.  I travel, I do as much as I can, I walk and try to experience a country.  I do not try to analyze the country.  Because even the country itself can’t be analyzed by those who are in it.  Even by those who have lived there all their lives.

   T O U R I S T   → ±   T R A V E L E R

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[Note: Shepherd traveled to Australia in the Spring of 1965;

Playboy was only sold in Australia from 1979 to 2000 (?)]

aust playboy 2.79

Stay tuned–just one more Australia  post.

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JEAN SHEPHERD& ANDY KAUFMAN again Part 2 of 3

Time Mag: AK: “The critics try to intellectualize my material. There’s no satire involved. Satire is a concept that can only be understood by adults. My stuff is straight, for all ages.” ….What makes Andy Kaufman great is his unassumed childishness, and cruelty, acknowledged or not, is as much a question of childhood as innocence.

In what ways are Shep and Andy dead?

In what ways are Shep and Andy alive?

Dead Shep?

Shepherd always insisted that, though many people were afraid to venture, that, because one only lived once it was foolish not to get the maximum out of one’s life. While his greatest pleasures were connected with the life in New York, why did he move to Florida–had he given up on that important part of his life? Had he given up on his eternal struggle to gain more fame and acknowledgment for his achievements? Why did he and Leigh (according to those who knew them best) become recluses in those last years? Why and how did he die of “natural causes” the year after Leigh died? Indeed, did loss of their mutual support  system strike the final blow to his need to live?

Yes, of course I believe that he really died. But, in terms of his artistic legacy, he still lives–audios, books, videos, films, Internet tributes, the power of his influence on his thousands of enthusiastic listeners, and influence on many current creators in various entertainment fields.

My most recently encountered popular media creators who claim Shep as an important influence are author R. L. Stine (young adult “Goosebumps” books) and bestselling author Kate Collins (“The Flower Shop Mysteries,” etc.) whose childhood home was two blocks from Shep’s and who considers him her mentor: “Jean Shepherd’s amazing books had a major influence on my writing style. I write a mystery series but with comedic overtones. You’d recognize his humor in them…. I was twelve when I read Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters,  and was immediately hooked. What a gifted writer, a huge talent. I always give him credit for stimulating my interest in writing.”

Dead Andy?

Andy thought that if he hoaxed his own death and people didn’t believe it, he’d “live” forever–be immortal. See below:

Considering all the ways in which Andy sabotaged reality, it’s only logical (?) that some dupes think he faked his death. Regarding his death, the more I read and understand what Andy was like and how he talked about and played with the idea of death in public and in private, the more I wonder if I am not one of those dupes. Am I racing down the road to bamboozlement?

jpAndy death cert.

Real Death Certificate.*

*Or Faked.

I’ve checked out lots of websites about Andy’s death. Through googling, find thousands of hits for variations of this:

IS ANDY KAUFMAN ALIVE?

DID ANDY KAUFMAN FAKE HIS OWN DEATH?

TAXI STAR KAUFMAN IS ALIVE!

The March 31, 2015 New Yorker has an article that begins:

Last month, when the fortieth-anniversary special for “S.N.L.” aired, speculation grew on Twitter that Andy Kaufman would make his big comeback during the live program, possibly by crashing it—an unlikely proposition given that Kaufman died, in 1984….

Kaufman’s posthumous reputation has grown in tandem with the rise of a cult that venerates him as a culture god, the harbinger of our comedy verité sensibility. One of the central tenets of this cult is that Andy Kaufman is really and truly alive….

An early trauma for Andy, it’s said: “Kaufman’s parents probably erred in telling a particularly sensitive young Andy that his recently deceased and beloved grandfather, Papu, had merely gone away on a long trip.”

It’s been said by various people who knew him that Andy was fascinated by the idea of dying–but then actually being alive. An elderly lady does a dance onstage during Andy’s Carnegie Hall appearance and “dies” at the end in front of the shocked audience, then is revealed to be alive.

A professional Hoaxer, Alan Abel (who wangled his fake obit into the New York Times), says that Andy questioned him about how he’d faked his own death.

I recently got a CD:

Andy & His Grandmother outside

Andy & Grandma inside

Andy playing with a mini-audio recorder,

messing with unsuspecting minds.

Culled from 82 hours of interesting stuff in this standard length CD, the final cut here has to do with a woman who is very angry that Andy won’t give her his surreptitiously recorded tape of her; there follows a dialog between Andy and his friend/collaborator, Bob Zmuda:

Andy: Wouldn’t it be great if she killed me, and then you have the tapes?…It would be better if I’m more famous.

Zmuda: [musing about how it would play in public] He took his own act into his own life. He played with people’s heads, not only on stage, but off, and it cost him in the end.

Andy: Wow. Wow. That would be great. Except I don’t think I’d want to get killed though. You know what I mean? I wouldn’t want that part. But we could fake it! When I’m more famous we could fake it….Then wouldn’t people hate me when it turns out I’m really alive?

Zmuda: No, no, because every few months you could die, right? ….And then you know what? And then—and then, for a while, everybody says, “Ah, he’s puttin’ us on.” Then, all of a sudden, you die. And I go on TV and say, “I swear this time it’s true. It’s no joke”....For one year nobody hears anything. We have a gravestone, the whole thing…. And then you come back again.

Andy: A huh.

Zmuda: You know how you come back?

Andy: How?

Zmuda: There’s the stupid “foreign man” like on the Dick Van Dyke Show, or something.

Andy: Yeh.

Zmuda:  Yeh, do it with the same [“Foreign Man”] act. People say, ah, that’s him, that’s him….Then, when you really die, nobody will believe it. Years will go by and they’ll go, “Nah.”….They won’t believe your own death, you’ll be immortal, you’ll go on forever.

Andy: That’s great!

[Unless this entire audio of the proposed death-hoax is itself a double-duty fake: a hoaxed-taped-proposal perpetrated about a death-hoax.]

death of A.K. DVD

America and “The American Dream”

Jean Shepherd and Andy Kaufman, despite some affinities, were, I believe, different in their sense of America and The American Dream.

I’v just read a strange book published by an American university, written by a “Fellow” at a Zurich University: Andy Kaufman: Wrestling With the American Dream. The idea of the author is that Andy, in a frequent way through his performances, commented on “The American Dream.” I don’t see that at all–for me, his actions reflected his take on what all of us think, feel, respond to life round us–especially to many seemingly minor things we don’t think sufficiently about. He manages to confuse us and make us do bewildered double-takes, making us re-think how we approach our basic surroundings. Recognizing  ways in which each of us has thoughtlessly failed to understand ourselves and our surroundings. I don’t think that Andy thought about or commented on America as a particular cultural phenomenon at all. Although he sometimes used subjects such as “Mighty Mouse” and Elvis, I don’t see his use of them as having a particular take on American culture–He seems to me to be essentially a-cultural. Where does “The American Dream” come into this at all?

Jean Shepherd in his commentaries, his American-based stories, his expression of our customs such as in his depictions of some of our American holidays (Fourth of July, Christmas, graduation, etc.), two Jean Shepherd’s America TV series, and his often referring to American ideas and foibles, examines the American persona. He loves America and often lovingly refers to our country in his stories.

JSA SUGGESTED 1

Unless otherwise noted, the quotes from Shepherd are from his radio shows;

the quotes from Kaufman are from http://www.andykaufman.com and other sources.

_______________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Australia, part 6

austraalia flag

They like to think they’re like Americans.  And yet they’re like “big-time-Charleys.”  And loud—you never saw such a crowd.  I get invited to a party and I figure, it’s a frontier country, informal.  Remember that I’m a traveler and you don’t carry patent leather shows and all that, but I figure I’ll get all dressed up.  I put on my white shirt, my paisley tie with the crawdads on it, my sports jacket and a fairly clean pair of slacks.

I get there and a butler leads me up the staircase and immediately I’m in the middle of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers party.  I’m surrounded by fifty guys wearing formal evening dress.  And I’m standing there and they’re making polite chatter, and this is Australia, a strange country of true contradictions.  They’ve got red faces, they’re real loud, yelling, hollering.  And what are they talking about?  You would think a crowd like that would be discussing the latest novel, they would be talking about Edward Albee.  Oh no.  I get in the middle of a group and one guy’s saying, “Oh, I say, should have bashed him the side of the head!  I say there, that damn referee!”  They’re all yelling about some idiotic football game in the most slobbish terms.  Talking like that, I realized—here’s another contradiction. After about two or three days in this atmosphere, it became suddenly, without any warning—Sunday.

ANZAC DAY

You have to understand something about Sunday in Australia.  If you can imagine an entire continent being turned off—like they just turned the switch!  It all stops!  It’s dead!  It just stops!  And I wake up and I look out of the hotel room and for miles around it’s as though there are just toy buildings—nothing.   The city has stopped.

On April twenty-fifth, a beautiful Sunday morning, it was ANZAC Day, commemorating the fatal attack at Gallipoli and in honor of all who had fought and died in Australia and New Zealand’s wars.  In the middle of town, at four-thirty in the morning, there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people gathered, having a silent religious service.  I had never heard about this.  So I observed this for a while and then came back and had breakfast.

And then it began.  This unbelievable, strange, folk-historical ritual.  And that morning I hung out of my hotel window because I happened to be on the main street where the parade was all happening right below me.  And I watched those marching figures.  It was not like any parade I have ever seen in America.  It was silent except for the drums and the pipes.  The men, and the women who were nurses, march in groups, all silently.

There is part of that paradox.  The Australians, on the one hand, like to believe they’re separate from England, and on the other hand, I have never been in a country that more celebrated the English way of life and the old Empire.  The entire city was ringing with that sound.  Broooom! Broooom! Broooom! And you could hear those pipers for miles and miles and miles.

I hear in the distance—one of the most eerie experiences I ever had—I’m standing on the fifth floor of this hotel and I hear in the distance the sound of bagpipes skirling.  And I hear drums.  The kind of drums that are not being beaten in Sunday-afternoon-friendly-fashion.  They’re genuine martial drums.  The kind that go Broooom!  Broooom, brooooom!  Broooom, broooom!    And they’re coming closer and closer and closer, and then I see millions of people have gathered.  It is ANZAC.

anzac poster

You know what ANZAC Day is?  It’s like being in Oz and seeing a great national holiday celebrated, with the Wizard himself up there in the front with the baton going.  How can you explain that back to the people in Cleveland?  I can’t tell you exactly what it was about except that it was the one time that I have been in an English-speaking country and I have felt completely, utterly, totally foreign.

Let me tell you what this was.  ANZAC Day is the biggest holiday in Australia.  It’s as if you took the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving Day, if you took Christmas, if you took every holiday we’ve got, piled them all on top of each other and then multiplied them by ten.

ANZAC Day is the celebration of the great battle at Gallipoli.  It was at that moment that Australia became a country—not just an island.  They became a country, and thousands of Australians died in a strange battle at Gallipoli.

Here’s what they do on ANZAC Day.  Thousands and thousands of people march in silence—but really march! You know, we’re used to parades in America and everybody sort of walks along, they’ve got a big sign that says “SHAME!” or they’ve got one:  “HOW LONG?”  In Times Square today there were seventeen different demonstrations going on simultaneously, most of them cancelling each other out.  And nobody paying any attention to any of them, guys handing out leaflets and yelling.  Free-form anger.  Whatever America does is rotten. Oh, wow, terrible, terrible, it’s all of us, you know.  We’ve done it all.

And to the Australians, this parade is a very—serious—and, in fact, almost a— religious occasion.  So, you see all these units.  It’s really a very peculiar sense of time, too.  Each unit, in all the armies going back fifty years, march.  All the old soldiers come from everywhere and they march in their unit.  Some units have only one man marching.  Maybe just one guy is carrying the flag of a unit where nobody is left alive.  They have a big sign that says “317th Artillery ANZAC Brigade.”  And there’s nobody alive.  The people applaud.  The next unit comes and you see this big banner that says “6th Infantry Brigade,” and underneath the banner it tells where they fought.  And there’s three guys left—one ex-corporal, one sergeant, and a lieutenant.  And they march.

anzac parade

All these people are marching past.  And they are laying a wreath at the base of the big monument that they have to all the soldiers who have died and all the ones who fought.  The last one in the parade is the most spectacular unit.  A group of spitfire pilots.  They have a big RAF eagle up in front and underneath it says, “Spitfire Squadron 614.”  This squadron fought at the Battle of Britain and had one of the highest percentage of casualties.  It’s interesting to see old fighter pilots twenty-five years later—walking in the sun.  An eerie sight—fighter pilots, remember, and they are marching along, and in back of them is a fife and drum corps.  Just marching.

Overhead, suddenly, you can hear this wild sound.  I can’t believe it.  I hear the sound of Bwawauuua!  It sounds like no other aircraft, anywhere else in the world.  It is the last Lancaster bomber in the world that is still flying.  Flies over just as these guys are laying these wreaths at the foot of this monument.  It is Sunday afternoon in Sydney, Australia.

And little old ladies lining the streets are crying.  And little old men stand there who fifty years before had fought at Gallipoli.  They just stand there in the sun.

I turn on the radio and I can hear this commentator giving the history of each battalion as it went past.  He says, “This is the Seventh Armored Corps, that fought at El Alamein, their casualties were seventy-five hundred over the period of eighteen months.  Their commanding officer….”  You hear them go past.

Now I ask you, as an American—what could have been a more strangely foreign celebration than to see this?  At the outset, this guy I am with and I, both looking down, thought it was funny—we thought, “Oh, it’s a parade.”  Because we kept thinking about American veterans who run around and throw water bottles out of windows and yell and holler.  But this is a solemn occasion.  And ten minutes after starting to watch it, we can’t do anything except sit and watch.

austraalia flag

You know what was playing on TV that night?  On the Beach.  It’s a story about the end of the world that comes as the result of an atomic war, and it takes place in Australia.  And the Australians keep running that movie.  It runs every night.  Somehow they want to think they’ll be the last ones left.  I asked an Australian about the kind of “To hell with it all” quality that comes through about Australian life.

He says to me, “That’s the way Australians believe.  I’ve lived here for over forty years.”  And he says, “Australians are on one long party.  It’s in the air, I guess.”  He says, “Every time I go to New York, I’m constantly amazed at how serious everybody is.  Everybody is doing something.  But in Australia it’s a party.”

austraalia flag

More Australia to come

______________________________________

 

JEAN SHEPHERD & ANDY KAUFMAN again. Part 1 of 3

There’s no way to describe what I do. It’s just me. —Andy Kaufman

When I perform, it’s very personal. I’m sharing things I like,

inviting the audience into my room.

—Andy Kaufman

“Andy’s gift was not his talent or his skills-it was his genius,

the genius of what he dared.” –Judd Hirsch

“He made it virtually impossible to distinguish between

his performing and his life” — Steve Bodow

The above, with some slightly differently translated words,

might well be attributed to Jean Shepherd.

 Andy portrait

I first posted on Shep and Andy on April 12, 2014. (You can find it by clicking on KAUFMAN, ANDY in the list near the left edge of this blog.) There may be a bit of repetition between that earlier one and these current three–I think that reading them all together might be the best way to gather what I hope to express about Andy Kaufman–and the artistic comparison with Shep. I’ve recently become (additionally) obsessed with Andy and I want to write about him to confirm, as far as possible, my own understanding of what Andy is and in what ways I vibrate to his essence. (Actually, I hope to understand better what his essence is.) I do believe there is something of value to fix in my mind in a communicable form regarding connections and differences between Shep and Andy. I hope I can find and articulate them. I discuss here only the radio-Shep because I believe that it is there that the two are most closely aligned.

Truth

Jean Shepherd often captured our interest by telling us truths that he encountered and that we probably never realized were true, and he told them in unexpected ways—we are unexpectedly confronted by them and this little shock of recognition is often where the humor and our smile come in.

Shep

A major aspect of one’s attachment to Shepherd is the sense that he is “telling it like it is,” truthfully in a way that few others can or do. There is also very much the feeling that Shepherd is speaking directly to the listener as a friend, and not doing a performance (even though in later years, commenting on his radio work, he said that he was indeed, a performer and a fictional-story-teller). Shep’s stories (and even his comments?) had us bamboozled into thinking that they were all true.

Andy

Andy in public (dare I accurately say “in performance”?) often presents himself, giving a real sense that he is being the way he really is—truthfully, in a way that no one else does—that he is what one sees and that he is not giving a “performance.” The more I see and understand Andy, the more I’ve become aware of this aspect of his public persona.

Andy Kaufman often disturbed us by poking us in the ribs in a way that we might find at first unpleasant, but which, upon reflection, we realize has fooled us by exposing our own mistaken or limited sense of reality. What an extraordinary experience it must have been for those who, not knowing Kaufman’s “act,” first saw him do his imitations as the “Foreign Man.” At the beginning the audience laughs at him–all the more powerful then, when he transforms himself into Elvis.

kaufman  immitate on Carson

“Now, but not to be the least,

I would like to imitate

the Elvis Presley.”

andy as elvis j.carson 1977

kaufman as elvis dank you

“Dank you veddy much!”

With his innocent-sounding foreign accent, he says he will do imitations. He does a very unfunny one of Ed McMann, and we laugh not at it, but at Andy (“Foreign Man”) for being so awful at it. We feel superior to him. He does one of Archy Bunker, equally bad and we again, with our feelings of superiority, laugh at Foreign Man’s innocence/ignorance. He says he will imitate Elvis and we again expect the worst possible imitation–an oafish result. We are shocked when we find that his Elvis is extraordinary. He has become Elvis. Andy has played with our minds and expectations. He ends by accepting our applause, but not as performer Andy Kaufman—he confounds us again—he switches our expectations by changing his perceived persona, again being Foreign Man with his “Dank you veddy much!” He is not Kaufman, the performer, who thanks us for applauding–it is Foreign Man who has done the great Elvis imitation thanking us! Andy imitating Foreign Man imitating Elvis.

Jokes

Time Mag: He is continually questioning then undermining the idea of what is funny. “Andy takes a lot of risks,” Zmuda [AK’s associate] says. “What performer in his right mind would go onstage and deliberately bomb?”

Shepherd often commented that his presentation was as a humorist, who builds up a story or commentary slowly, expressing some aspect of the human condition, and that the humor grows out of the situation, maybe producing laughter, rather than telling a joke as do comics. “Well, comedy is a process whereby you’re aiming at making a person laugh, and the end product is the laugh. With humor however, the laugh happens to be the byproduct of what you’re doing.”

Shep said: “There are guys who tell jokes, and those who don’t. I am not a teller. I can see the humor in the world. I deal in humor but I can’t tell jokes. I have never told a joke successfully, ever.”

Kaufman insisted that he was not a comedian—he did not tell jokes. Andy said:I never told a joke in my life.

Aspects of this similarity between Shep and Andy may well be why, in Was this Man a Genius? a book of interviews of Andy by Julie Hecht, he said: “I don’t think any sense of humor is funny. Rarely.  Jean Shepherd is funny.”

In another one of Andy’s successful strategies to confound his audiences, he created the obnoxious lounge singer, Tony Clifton. Once a good percentage of his enthusiasts were aware that Tony was actually Andy,  while his audience, watching “Tony Clifton” on stage and thinking they knew the truth–that it was really Andy–he double-crossed them by appearing as himself while someone else was doing the Tony imitation.

 

Andy.Tony_                   Andy              Andy or someone else as Tony Clifton

 andy wrestling

Doing his best to make audiences dislike him, he began wrestling women. He crowned himself Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion.

Why was Andy a Shep enthusiast? How was Andy inspired by Shep? Because Shep projected a sense of his real self. Jean Shepherd endears himself to us by being honest, perceptive, telling it like it is, a mentor—real. Andy Kaufman forces unexpected reality upon us by messing with our minds—by making us feel uncomfortable. They both tickle our minds, but in different ways.

One of the ironies in Andy’s professional life is that the Taxi people wanted his “Foreign Man” persona in the sitcom. Accepting the gig, Andy was forced to accept his character being hijacked into a rigid script, saying lines that he had not himself created. That is probably one of the reasons that Andy was so annoying to the others involved in producing that show. It’s said that the feature players complained strongly about Andy’s behavior at the time–but after he died, they seemed to be reconciled to his behavior because they recognized the quirky genius behind what he had put them through. It’s said that Andy, to get out of the straight-jacket of Latka, got Taxi producers to have Latka sometimes afflicted with “multiple personality disorder” so that Andy could enact other characters on the show.

Andy as LatkaGravis

Andy as Latka Gravis in Taxi

Unless otherwise noted, the quotes from Shepherd are from his radio shows;

the quotes from Kaufman are from http://www.andykaufman.com and other sources.

Stay Tuned for Dead Andy & Dead Shep

(   aka    “Live    Andy    &    Live    Shep.”   )

___________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD Travel–Australia, part 5

 

2010-0628_Sydney_DarlingHarbor_Panorama-thumb

Sydney

You know that the greatest house that I ever saw, the greatest single house that I have ever been in in my life was in Sydney.  I was invited to come out by this guy—and he wasn’t a rich guy either—I rented a car and drove out to a suburb of Sydney which was on a big hill.  I saw some other cars there and I parked.  It was a party they were having that night and I was the guest of honor.  So I’m all excited going there.  I climbed up the steps, a long row of steps, carved stone steps chopped right out of the undergrowth, just going straight up in the darkness.  I couldn’t believe what I saw.  This house was built on the face of a sheer rock cliff and it was built in four levels—carved out of the stone!  The stone was hollowed out like a cave and on each floor of the cave was a cantilevered floor walled totally with glass, and connecting the four of them was a circular staircase that hung in space, so you walked up the staircase with glass between each floor, with the bedrooms on the top floor.

You looked out of this thing—it was like four big glass bubbles hung onto this stone cliff and you looked out and you saw this tremendous expanse of Sydney laid out below you like an enormous carpet of blue and green and white glistening lights.  And beyond you saw the bay of Sydney, which is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.  You see the Pacific stretching all the way to the Antarctic.  I’m floored!  Here was this beautiful place and of course, traveling and figuring I’m in a frontier country, Shepherd has come tastefully dressed a new pair of chinos and his J.C. Penny sports jacket.  I’ve got my wash and wear Teflon shirt with a sponge-rubber tie, and I’m standing there surrounded  by this group of people all dressed completely to the total nines—these people were wearing tuxedos, evening dresses, in Australia!  Guy walks up to me and he says, “I hope you don’t mind, mate, we thought we’d go a bit formal tonight.”

I said, “I’m pleased that you thought about that.”  And I thought, “I’m in the most elegant place in the whole Western World!”

And this guy came up to me wearing a suit right out of a Fred Astaire movie, and the chick he was with dressed like Ginger Rogers and I thought, “This is the ultimate sophistication.”  They hand me a tray.  He says, “Of course I realize all you mates back there love this drink called a martini.”

I say, “That’s right, mate.”

And he hands me a martini, the most obscene martini I ever had.  It was like a martini made out of Diet Yoo-hoo with an olive in it and all of a sudden all of their civilization crumbled into nothing.

Martini Skewer 004

“Acquiring a taste for your martinis”

He said to me, and he was being nice, “I’m kind of acquiring a taste for your martinis, you know.” I thought, “Holy smokes, if he acquires a taste for this, where’s the next step?”

And so, friends, each man has to grab his own brass ring.

austraalia flag

End of Part 5

Stay tuned for ANZAC DAY

_______________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–and JAMES SALTER

james-salter

“The euphemism ‘writer’s writer’ has been applied so many times

that Salter visibly recoils at hearing it.

(‘That means nobody knows who you are,’ he told me….)

.

He admits that he writes with specific people in mind, but “enhanced a bit; not necessarily made more admirable, just made clearer or more appropriate to their role. You say, ‘Come backstage here just for a minute. I’d like to fasten this part of your coat—it looks a little funny when you turn profile—and then you’ll be ready to go.’ That’s about what it’s like.”

–Above, both  from the Village Voice  interview by Scott Foundas, 3/27/2013

James Salter, a ‘Writer’s Writer’ Short on

Sales but Long on Acclaim, Dies at 90

Salter obit0010

I daily note the subjects of the New York Times obituaries to see if someone I know of has died and to see if the main subject of the article interests me. I learn a lot that way. On June 20, 2015 the heading of the major obit struck me because I have a strong interest in literature, though the name Salter is only vaguely familiar to me and he never wrote anything read by me (my own construction–I’ve waited years to have the opportunity to use it). Besides, the “short on sales but long on acclaim” aspect in the heading struck me as possibly similar to Shepherd.

The obituary, by Helen T. Verongos, grabbed me–from beginning to its last words–for its thoughtful and sensitive elegy of sadness at the desire-to-achieve and its appreciation of what had been achieved. Indeed, I recognized similarities to Jean Shepherd’s life, aspirations, disappointments, and achievements. Quotes from the obit I record in bold type indented, and my comments are in standard type, full-width

James Salter, whose intimately detailed novels and short stories kept a small but devoted audience in its thrall died on Friday….

James Wolcott described him…as America’s most “underrated underrated author.”

“Small but devoted audience in its thrall” and “underrated underrated” seem especially appropriate regarding Jean Shepherd. The following comment rings a bell regarding Leigh Brown, acting as Shep’s agent, having to seek publication elsewhere when Doubleday, publisher of his first two books, turned down his The Ferrari in the Bedroom, and I, erstwhile promoter of Shep for publication, struggle with a certain amount of agony, to get my two more book manuscripts of Shep transcripts published. Salter’s publisher turned down a novel manuscript and only through a fellow-author’s influence did his A Sport and a Pastime achieve publication, subsequently highly regarded:

The print run was small, and the publishers, Mr. Salter said, “were holding it like it was a pair of dirty socks.”

 Bringing to mind Shepherd deserting his family in the blandings of New Jersey for the creative ambiance of Greenwich Village, is Salter’s way of dealing with suburban family life:

Living in the Hudson River Valley, he did his writing in New York in a room in Greenwich Village, where he befriended artists but felt himself to be their inferior. “I was from the suburbs,” he wrote. “I had a wife, children, the entire manifest. Even in the city I found it hard to believe I was working on anything of interest.”

That, indeed, seems to be what Shepherd feared and avoided–with his apparent heartless abandonment of his family.

The obit mentions several important literary prizes that Salter won, reminding one of the many that Shepherd also won–yet which didn’t satisfy their longing for even more and better.

Describing Salter’s 1997 memoir, Burning the Days,  the obit continues:

Though autobiographical in style and substance, it is almost indistinguishable from his stories, in keeping with Mr. Salter’s often-stated refusal to believe in the “arbitrary separation” of fact and fiction.

Not quite as Shepherd might have put it or admitted, but it probably indicates a shared affiliation they both had for the uses that their facts-into-fictions enjoyed. Early on (in a reminder to Shep fans of their hero’s desires), the obituary comments that:

But he never achieved the broad popularity he craved.

The obituary ends on a warmly considered comment on a creator’s legacy (Salter’s, and, Shep-enthusiasts should think, also of Shepherd’s):

…the book [his final novel] did appear on The Times best-seller list for a week, but never achieved the success he had hoped for.

At the end of his life, his legacy mattered. As Mr. Salter once wrote, “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”

Yes, Shep fans remember his comment on our penultimate fate: “Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory?” Yes, Shep, but even worse, what about beyond that by a couple billion years–when the Earth spirals down its orbit by plunging into the sun. But please, don’t let that stop anyone from fighting the good creative fight here and now!

____________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Australia, part 4

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I want to tell you this about Sydney, Australia.  For those of you who don’t know anything about Australia—and most of us don’t.  I’ll frankly admit I knew very little even though I read seven books on it before I went.

If you can imagine civilization as a big, mainline railroad track and all the countries are a different train and they’re all roaring along toward god-knows-what goal.  You know, we use that term, “progress.”  Now progress means movement, it means to be transported from point A to point B to point C to a recognizable goal.  I mean, this is “progress.”  But what is the goal?  Well, that’s a pretty hard thing to answer.  If you can imagine all the nations of the world on this railroad track, some of them are going faster than others, some of them have these fantastic, streamlined trains, like—America! And they’re going hell-bent-for election.  Broooooooorowaaaa!  And they’re barreling along that track. And then there’s another one going chuga chuga chuga chuga—it’s trying to make it and its hollering, “Wait for me! chuga chuga chuga.”  These are other little countries, they’re like England trying to make it, see, and you’ve got a couple of others like France, but they’re all on the same railroad track.

Now, if you can imagine one country that somehow has gotten off on a siding.  It turned left, or right, it got off the main track and is now in the roundhouse.  That’s Australia.  And they can see those tracks—way off in the distance, and they can hear those other trains going Woooooooowoo whoooooo! screaming off toward progress.  And they’re in the roundhouse.  They’ve been there for maybe ten or fifteen years.  They’re forty-seven-million miles from anywhere.  Ever looked at the globe?  This whole big mess, see, and everything is all swinging here—it’s all going—fistfights and bombs and everybody’s yelling and hollering and rock-and-roll is going on.  Way down here on the bottom, barely hanging on, is Australia.

australia on globe

Barely hanging on.

And once in a great while they hear from the other side of the world that something’s breaking out.  But what they hear down there is after it stopped!

They’re hanging down there.  I’ll have to explain something else about Australia.  I have a feeling that the physical surroundings that we live in have far more effect on us than we ever admit.  We’re much more like an animal than we concede, you know.  By that, I mean, a turtle that lives in a certain kind of pond, with a certain kind of water, is going to be different from the same kind of turtle that lives in another pond with another kind of water.  And another kind of weed to eat.  And that’s the way we are.  The people of Australia are affected by where they live.

Let me explain how Australia looks.  The first place you land, at least on the trip that I took, which came down by way of Karachi, Pakistan, came through Calcutta, came down through Singapore and then we finally flew over Indonesia.  Boy, that’s really gettinn’ out there, man!  And the pilot says in seven languages, “Attention, passengers, we are flying over Fiji Islands to the left, under the left wing you will see Borneo.  We will be in Darwin, Australia in forty-five minutes.  Will you please prepare to land.”  There I’m sitting, and underneath me is Borneo.  It’s dark and mysterious down there and the plane is flying at thirty-five-thousand feet, whistling along through that stratosphere, and then we begin to come down.  And you know when the big jet planes start coming down, your ears start popping, and they’re throwing in the brakes and they throw out the flaps and you hear this Whisgawhoooooooo and she sort of jumps and you can feel it sort of hovering in the air.  And there’s nothing but darkness out.  And it’s Australia.

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Pitch, stygian, tar-coal black.  And we’re coming down through that darkness Weeeeeeeeeeee!  Weeeeeee!  And then you see one or two tiny yellow lights, just flickering.  How exciting!  These are the lights of Australia!  People are living down there.  And you’re coming down.  And then you feel those landing gears come down into position.  Bragagagagaga! And you’ve got the seatbelt snapped.  You know that slight moment of panic when the plane is coming down?  Like—this is it—it’s been all for nothin’—to crash on a lonely, unsung, forgotten landing strip on an alien continent, ten million miles away from Hessville, Indiana.

I’m looking out of the window.  And then they turn on the landing lights.  Gunnnnng!  Reaching down through the darkness.  You see nothing!  Just a lot of mist swirling by Weeeeeeeee!  And then suddenly there’s that landing strip and you see green stuff going past and Guuuuuuuuung!  She goes Ayaaaaaaawuuuuu!  Gunnnnnnnng!  Whoooooooo, they reverse the engines and then the voice comes on.  They say it on every airline, believe me, if you’re crash-landing in Antarctica, that voice will come on:  “Will you please keep your seatbelts fastened until the plan comes to a complete halt.  Thank you.”

We’re rolling along and I’m looking out, and I can’t see anything!  We’re in Australia!  It’s black out there!  Pitch!  Stygian darkness!  And the plane is swinging around with the interior lights lit. You don’t know what day it is, what month it is.  You lose all sense of time and they keep bringing meals, I’ve been eating all the way from Central Europe.  I have eaten everything from rare Swedish hors oeuvres to Indonesian food, I’ve drunk nineteen kind of liquor.  You’re drinking martinis at seven in the morning.  Your head’s buzzing for one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand miles.  I say, “Oh, this I left the Limelight for?”

Now we are in the Outback.  The plane slows up and Weeeeee weeeeee, and you see those little trucks come out of the darkness.  The guys with the baseball caps.  And the doors open.  I get up and my kneecaps are crooked—I’ve been on a five-thousand mile trip.  No matter what they do—the in-flight movies and all that jazz, they give you fancy food—nothing!  They do nothing for your kneecaps.

I start getting off the plane and then it hits me!  I get hit with a wave of heat that just rolls over you—Boooooom!  It is the kind of heat that we get maybe once every ten years.  It’s four in the morning and it’s about a hundred degrees and about ninety-percent humidity.  You walk down the little metal steps and they give you a transit card.  And now I am in Darwin, Australia.

Let me tell you about Darwin.  Darwin has twelve-thousand people, very widely separated.  Darwin is a tropical outpost and we spend about twenty minutes there on what really amounts to nothing more nor less than an extended fighter strip.  In the darkness there are a couple of fighter planes.  It’s an airbase for the Australian air force.  That’s all.  They sell stamps.  It’s the native economy.  A plane comes in every seven months and people buy stamps.

Then we took off again and we’re heading out over Australia.  Australia is the size of the United States.  We’re going to Sydney.  It’s roughly like taking off in San Francisco and you’re heading for Portland, Maine.  But what’s in-between?  Indianapolis?  No.  The Howard Johnsons?  No.  What is in-between Darwin and Sydney?  Oh, ha, ha, ha, ha—boy!  You have no idea!  Between Darwin and Sydney is Hell’s own acre.  It is a desert, man, that does not stop.  This is the desert they created when they wanted to prove how rotten deserts can be.  It makes the Sahara look like Westport.  I’ve been over the Sahara and it looks magnificent when you’re flying over it.  I’ve been over Death Valley.  This is a desert that is really a desert.  It is deserted.  There’s nothing! 

outback

OUTBACK

They say that there are certain places in this desert where in all of recorded time, there has never been one drop of rain.  There are vast areas of this desert where nobody has ever walked.  And you’re flying over this thing.  You look down there thirty-five-thousand feet, and the dawn is beginning to break.  It’s like you’re flying over some vast, wall-to-wall carpet that is kind of coco-colored, and it’s like somebody has spilled coffee here and there.  That’s all.  And once in a while you see a little plume of smoke where there’s a fire that’s broken out just because of rotten-ness.  It’s like the earth is just being rotten—that’s all.  You have the feeling that this is the moon, it’s not the earth.  You can’t make contact with it.  We’re flying on and on and on and on and on, the plane is going on forever.

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And then, suddenly—Sydney.  Well, I can only say that Sydney is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.   Sydney looks like San Francisco squared.  Magnificent city, with that unbelievable harbor! sydney

Sydney–that unbelievable harbor.

These beaches, fantastic comers coming in, and these hills.  And there it is, sitting right there, and the old plane is coming in and the sun is shining down, and I say, “Oh boy!  This is what I came for!”  And she’s coming down closer and closer, and into that airport.  We stop.  And I’m out on the runway.  Sydney, Australia.

Well, I want to ask you—what does it do to people who are living forty-seven-million miles from the mainstream of civilization of the Western World?  Next to a desert.  You know, just about a hundred miles outside of Sydney, they got kangaroos, believe me, that are nineteen feet tall.  There was a lady who said to me, “Oh, ya, I used to feed the kangaroos every morning.  They come to the door, I feed them.”

I say, “How big are they?”

“Oh, they be big, like that!  They reach out and grab ya, almost killed me one day.”

Yeah, very affectionate.  They have mixed marriages there too.  Oh, kangaroos are very aggressive.  The men hate them—they go out and shoot ‘em and yell at ‘em.  It’s all jealousy.  You know that whole bit—it goes all the way back, deep inside.  So here are these guys, living a hundred miles from this!  This desert.  These kangaroos.

And right on the other side is the ocean.  What kind of an ocean do they have there?  Is it like Jones Beach?  Oh, no!  They’ve got sharks in that ocean—in fact, the sharks—you can see them out there, they are shoulder-to-shoulder.  It’s like Sixth Avenue in the subway at rush hour.  The sharks out there with their eyes happily looking in at you.  They’re just looking in at Sydney, and you can see their fins, they’re jostling, hitting each other, waiting.  They’re waiting for the surf boarders to come out.  And they say, “The sharks are not so bad this year.”  They mean that you don’t hear them yelling.

Here, these guys are living in between this!  On the one hand the sharks and the ocean.  On the other hand the desert.  What kind of a guy does this breed?  Well, I’ll tell you—you never saw anything tougher than an Australian.  I got a guidebook—one of these very polite guidebooks.  Every guidebook you ever get says the natives are nice—if you understand the native customs.  Like human sacrifice.  If you understand what it’s all about it’s not so bad!  They do it real quick with the boiling water, you know.

This guidebook said one fascinating thing.  They said there are three stages through which you go with an Australian.  The first stage is you’re impressed by his unbelievable friendliness, and that is the truth.  An Australian is like a true noble savage in the Rousseau -ian sense.  He just says, “Hiya, pardner,” like Indiana cubed.  “Hiya, buddy, hiya, pardner.”  Oh boy, everybody talks that way.

This book is put out by Life Magazine.  It’s a beautifully written piece and very true.  They say the second stage is if you have made one false move, when you have made the slightest slur on Australian womanhood, the flag, the sky, the weather, you just look too long at a guy in a bar, or maybe you just walk funny.  This second stage you better get over very quickly.  Because the Australian hits very hard, very directly, and completely.

And the third stage is when they don’t even notice you.  Then you’re one of the people.  Then you can hit guys.  And that’s the way Australia is.  It’s like the last of the frontier.

You don’t really understand role reversal—where women are obviously becoming more masculine in America, and the men are going in the other direction.  You don’t really recognize this until you get to Australia.  The Australian men—you never saw anything like them.  These guys all look like they’re roughly nine feet tall.  There’s a kind of genuine beingness about them.  And let me tell you!  Men—have you ever dreamed about the ultimate woman?  Each man has in his little mind’s eye that thing called “the girl.”  I’m not talking about your dream girl, but the ultimate woman.  Well, they still exist in Australia.  Women are really women.  Men are really men.  There’s a sense, in the middle of the afternoon, when you walk down the street, a kind of dialog that goes on.  You go into a coffee shop.  There’s a bunch of men sitting there.  And they’re really drinking coffee.  They’re not reading poetry, standing up there playing guitars, talking about their soul.  They’re sitting down there dropping down coffee.  And there are women sitting there drinking coffee and being women.  It’s a very exciting feeling.

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So I’m in Sydney now.  Brisk, clear, brilliant air, and these red-faced guys.  Everywhere you walk around in Sydney you see red-faced people.  Their faces are all bright red from two things.  The sun and gin.  This is a drinking country.

You know another thing, they’re maniacal about censorship.  Playboy is banned in Australia.  I arrived in Australia and immediately one of the local columnists  discovered a Playboy writer was in town.  And he called me. “I say, chap, you write for Playboy, don’t you?”

I say, “I indeed do.”

He says, “You realize, of course, you chaps are banned out here in Sydney, you know.”

I say, “I know.  I’m perfectly aware of that.”

“Of course it’s a ridiculous situation.  Everybody’s laughing about it, you know, but you are banned, you know.  What do you intend to do about it?”

I say, “Don’t say anything, but I have brought in my luggage, hidden way down near the bottom, where all my underwear and the soap is, a copy of the May issue of Playboy.  It’s an advance copy and I’ve got it hidden in a copy of The Christian Science Monitor.” 

And there I was in Australia with a contraband copy of this magazine.  How this columnist knew I was there I don’t know.  “What do you intend to do about it, chap?”

I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  I passed a coffee shop right down there by the hotel called the “Wimpy-Burger Palace.”  they have outdoor tables there, see, and I’m going to sit at high noon there at the Wimpy-Burger Palace, and I’m going to unfold my copy of The Christian Science Monitor.”  I’m going to order myself a double Wimpy-Burger and some iced coffee.  I’ll play it right to the hilt.  And then I will spring out my copy of Playboy and ostentatiously, I will unfold the center foldout!  At high noon, and sit there in front of the fuzz and say. “Miss May, oh, wow!”1965-02-dd_022_playboy_cover

February, 1965 issue–

containing Shep’s Beatle interview

He said, “Really?”

And I said, “Yes.”

He said, “By George, when do you intend doing this?”  He’s taking me seriously.

I said, “I will be there at high noon on Monday.”

Well, I had no intention of going at high noon on Monday and reading Playboy at the Wimpy-Burger Palace on Pitt Street in Sydney. But I found out later that he was there with two photographers and the Chief of Police.  I almost precipitated an international row.

They also have very strict drinking laws.  They’re maniacal about their drinking laws.  They have gigantic bars on every corner and they’re only for men.  Immediately after work they’re jam-packed with guys.  And they’re all laughing it up.  Because it closes at six.  Immediately after six, the streets are paved with drunks.  What a country!  It’s a nutty place.  It’s not only “down under,” it’s upside-down under.  Everything is slightly out of focus.

You may think they’re just like Americans—well, they aren’t.  This friend of mine I was traveling with keeps saying, the only thing they share with the English is they have a vague English accent.  Outside of that, they hate the English.  They’re always yelling about the English and they love Americans.  And they love American television shows.  When you travel around the world, being an American, generally you have a feeling of vague cultural inferiority.  You go to an English party and you feel kind of clunky, like a clod when you’re an American, but in Australia, for the first time, I felt very, very genteel.  Very cultivated and cultured—I’m from the home office.  I’m from where they created “Naked City,” I’m from the home of “Ben Casey,” I’m from where “Dr. Kildare” originated.  Yeah, me and Elvis, we come from the same root stock.

 austraalia flagEnd of part of Sydney

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