THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts
and Extenuating Circumstances
“Just a philosophical question. I mean, who does who in–in life?
Or–and this is the worst question of all to ask–
do you do yourself in?
“Oh no, it can’t be! No, no, that’s ridiculous!
No, no! Society did it to me!
Rotten, crummy, evil society!”
(Jean Shepherd, January 22, 1966)
The scheduled time slot (overnight) for which he was one-of-a-kind got changed to his style’s detriment (so say some of us–it was a different kind of genius).
The medium in which he was fully prepared and the outstanding genius, faded in that aspect in which it–and he–excelled.
The audience for which his original style excelled, changed and expanded into adolescent acolytes who overwhelmed him–positively with their adulation and overwhelmed him negatively by overcrowding him in his personal space (Remember that WOR had to hire a guard to keep them at bay).
The audience, for whom he was an important mentor, included his two children for whom he was an abominable parent.
Apparently, the pursuit of greater respect, renown, dough, and additional outlets for his art produced a broadening of his professional endeavors.
The extraordinary fields and activities in which he excelled, diminished in popularity:
Radio as a medium.
He was a modern jazz aficionado–
evidence of change:
“A few years ago I was deeply involved in jazz—and in fact in my private life I still am. … I used to work in jazz a great deal.” He names many major performers he worked with and mentions the Loew’s Theater late-night concert featuring Billie Holiday. (November 23, 1971)
He does not explain why his interest has diminished to just private–but not public manifestations; during this program of jazz-nostalgia he plays not just snippets but complete jazz recordings, naming the performers and commenting on the pieces, just like the knowledgeable disc jockey he used to be;
I, Libertine hoax mentality;
(Blame the popularity of TV).
Culture-determined, diminished attention span of audience;
The varied skills he possessed to a high degree, failed to adequately replace, in other media,
his loss of radio as his prime medium.
Could/would he have continued to produce his unequaled radio art if increased money and desire for celebrity not been a factor?
That his frustration and anger at the world’s unfairness sometimes overwhelmed the better parts of his persona may well have been inevitable.
Larry Josephson: “I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive–to be on the air five or six nights a week and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being. You have to get up and concentrate the energy–drive, whatever–to be a performer. It narrows your ability to give warmth and love to kids, women, and friends….I’m sure here and there there’s somebody in the world who was a very great creative artist and also a nice person, but I can’t think of anyone.”
We’re all born butterflies. Each one of us. With these beautiful, magnificent wings ready to fly in the sunshine. For those slow barrel rolls and loops. And slowly, oh, ever so slowly we burn those wings off–in flame And we wind up where we are now. Me sitting here. You sitting there….It’s a funny thing. We loose our wings in the sneakiest way possible, and it’s when we least expect it’s about to happen. (Jean Shepherd, November 25, 1958 [?])
I mean, anyone who looks at life with a cold unprejudiced, agate eye of truth must realize that life is basically in extremely bad taste. (Jean Shepherd, date unknown)
We ought to have a Dream Collection Day….As a kind of public recanting, you see….Everybody would have to do it together–all together, we’ll clean out all these broken, old, sad, poor, wonderful, idiotic, debilitating, defeating dreams. (Jean Shepherd, November 22, 1959)
[Note above how early in his NY career he said these things.]
Shepherd from time to time commented on the discrepancy in life between what we assume is reality to be expected and the actualities of life. Therein lies much irony. Should examples of this be called “humor”? In a reference I recently encountered, a Lois Rubin has been quoted: “The great American joke” is “the incongruity between promise and reality, things as they should be and as they are.” I find this discrepancy as commented upon several times by Shep, but I’m not quite sure he was sufficiently aware that it also applied to him. And I’m not so sure he’d describe this as humor. He expected much more, and this is a good part of his tragedy.
Close friends of theirs say that in their final years (In Sanibel, Florida) Leigh drank and both of them lived like recluses. I don’t even like to think of them that way–a way in which they seemed to have given up. Laurie Squires: “After Leigh died, I called, and he sounded like a broken man….”
A Reality, 1997.
For Me, the Reality Always.
We are not the “vast hordes” he once described us as being, yet–yet still
–we three here represent part of the small horde
of Shep enthusiasts.
And Jean Shepherd still speaks to all of us:
Hear it? Listen, listen–you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I have been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it.
Did you hear that?
You know, it’s going to be summer soon.
–Jean Shepherd, 1960?
º º º º º
THE END–BUT WAIT! I RECENTLY ENCOUNTERED
WHAT WAS TO BE THE FINAL SUMMING UP
OF ONE OF MY “MISCELLANEOUS” SHEP BOOK MANUSCRIPTS.
OH YES, AND A RECENT BOOK
ABOUT A ROAD NOT TAKEN.
SO SEE THE NEXT POSTS–
A SUMMING UP OF ALL THESE LAST
* See EYF! last page of text, p.439-440 for longer quote.