“A Peculiar Kind of Galloping Disbelief”
Shepherd being questioned about the truth of his travels:
One of the problems is–I think–I don’t quite understand yet, it has not been explained to me. A growing–even in my own mind I can’t quite put the things together–there’s a growing, peculiar kind of galloping disbelief that people have in our country–in everything they hear. Can you explain that to me–seriously. Like, anything that a politician says, “is ridiculous political talk, and obviously is not true.” You’ve heard that many times. And the simplest statements today, are challenged.
For example, I have received a large number of letters from people (I won’t say a large number, but enough to make it significant) from people who doubt that I even went to Peru! Now, why would somebody come on with a whole big shlamou about going to Peru. And going to the headhunter country of Peru and so on, and it’s all just a thing in your imagination? Now I’m going to read a letter here. It says:
“Dear Mr. Shepherd, I was terribly sorry…”
(Now the only reason I’m doing this is to make a point about this peculiar kind of growing disbelief that is galloping throughout our soc–You know, I have guys come up to me after I do a Limelight show and they’ll come up and say, “Aw, come on now, Shep. now come on, just level with us–you never really lived in Indiana.” [laughs] Why would I invent living in Indiana!? I can’t comprehend this! And so, I don’t know quite what to say about that. Guys will come up and they will say, “Aw come on, Shep. You never really were a White Sox fan, were ya?” Well, I’ll admit, that’s hard to believe–that anyone would be a White Sox fan, but nevertheless they’ll ask you that as if you somehow invented that you were a White Sox fan. So I often will ask somebody, “So where do you think I was–where did I come from? If I didn’t come from Indiana? Why do you think I would have invented that?” They sort of look–funny look–they say, “Aw, come on, why don’t you just come out, why don’t you level?” I say, “Okay–Trenton. I’m from Trenton.” They say, “All right, fellow, why don’t ya just say it all the way!” That’s the end of that.
I don’t know. I’m just curious about that problem. And I can understand why politicians must be frustrated when they’ll come on–and I’m not saying all politicians tell the truth–I’m not saying that. Nor does anybody–tell all the truth about himself.)
Aw, Shep, now ya got it! “Nor does anybody–tell all the truth about himself.” You do recognize, don’t you, the extent that you don’t tell all the truth about yourself?
It may well be true that there’s a galloping disbelief in this country (in the radio interview of you in 9/1965) but–don’t you understand that there have always been at least a few listeners who felt that your stories–kid stories, army stories–were mostly pure fiction? (Your 1966 disclaimer in the first kid book, IGWT: “The characters, places, and events described herein are entirely fictional, and any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result faulty imagination.”) And if they were fictions, maybe your travel tales–to Peru or elsewhere, and maybe lots of other stuff you say–were fiction, also? I believe I can usually distinguish in your talk, what is mostly true/what is mostly fiction. I know the travel narratives are true, but don’t ya see that YOU caused the problem ya got with truth/fiction?
You want to hear that letter? Obviously an intelligent-type person:
“I was terribly sorry that you did not make that trip to the Amazon Basin in Peru. I told my husband how nice, Jean Shepherd’s going to Peru and he has asked all his faithful to say goodbye to him at the Pan American [terminal]. ‘Oh,’ said my husband, ‘it’s very nice that he can make such a trip.’ However, Saturday you were heard at the Limelight and not in Lima, Peru. This is not humor. We went along with Australia.” See, obviously she believes I went to Australia. “But will we go along with what you have to say about all those birds, snakes, and flora in the upper valleys? Oh, no….”
Now why is this? there are a dozen listeners who continually write me letters, who feel, deep down inside that what I do is go to different libraries and read up on a country and come on and do a whole series of shows about them. I don’t know why that is. I know that nothing I can say on here and tonight will convince them this is not so. They will say, “Oh, come on, of course you’ll come back and say that you did it. Come on. We know, we know better….”
I think that this is a growing, fascinating trend in our country. The person will say, “Why did I hear you at the Limelight?” ….I put tapes on the show that I [had] recorded. It was an old show, and I said that I was [playing] recording[s] all the time I was in Peru. Nevertheless there is a sizable body of people who feel that this was all invented….Maybe because there’s creeping show-biz-ism in our world.
Yes, yes,Shep, but it’s sort of like “hoist by your own petard.” They ain’t gonna believe you. Remember what you said in the Alan Colmes last interview when you were talking about your fictional stories:
“…that’s the best way to tell a good story, in the first person–that it sounds like it actually happened to me. It didn’t.
“It’s a story I invented but I put it in the first person so it would sound like–you know–a narrative, the guy telling the story.”
You want it both ways on the air–telling fiction like it really happened to you, though you know that some won’t be fooled (in your books’ epigraphs, you insist that the kid stories are your created fictions). But when your travel narratives on the air really did happen to you, you somehow want listeners to believe they actually are true. No surprise when some won’t keep your true-sounding fictions and your true-truths properly separated. With your elegant ability to conjoin fiction and truth ya got nothin’ to blame but yourself.
Don’t think that I’m criticizing what you do on the air–I’m just surprised that you find the problem to be part of society’s state of mind, without recognizing that a good part of the issue is the one that the style of your art’s varied formats have in themselves created.
Yes, in recent years, we’ve gotten proof that you were there with the headhunters in Peru:
I know you didn’t photoshop these from images taken in your backyard in Trenton.