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JEAN SHEPHERD–Making it Bookwise

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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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4 Comments

  1. Frank Reck says:

    Could Shep have been mistaken about which Kerouac book he was in? Maybe it was The Dharma Bums or another less well known work.

    • ebbergmann says:

      Possibly another Kerouac book. Who would care to read (or at least skim) the other Kerouac novels? It would drive me nuts (I’ve lightly skimmed a couple, searching), but I’d be delighted to get news about the matter!

  2. Steve says:

    Shep is definitely not referenced — directly or indirectly — in On The Road, even though such sources as Time magazine repeated the claim after Shep’s death. Kerouac’s “autobiographical novel” is based on his travels between 1947 and 1950 (with several references to President Truman, for example), and it was written in April 1951 on the iconic paper roll. This is all long before Shep had even moved out to New York and took to the air there. Instead, the book explicitly refers to “Symphony Sid” (Sid Torin), who was an influential all-night jazz DJ and host in the New York market for many years during the “bebop era.” Sid is sometimes credited with bringing the music to mass audiences. During the time period of On The Road, Symphony Sid was on WMCA (until June 1949), and then WJZ. Kerouac and his beat circle were known to listen to Symphony Sid.

    Nor is Shep likely in The Dharma Bums. I believe most of the references to radio in that book pertained to the two-way sort.

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