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JEAN SHEPHERD Travel–in Maine again part 2 of 2

flag of_Maine.svg

Speaking of insight, I am whistling along through the dark through a gigantic, insane, Atlantic gale, a hailstorm, through Maine, and on either side is the primeval wilderness.  They really have it there.  You see this giant evergreen forest and once in a while a deer comes shooting out of the woods and wildly goes to the other side.

The wind is screaming up and down the road, and I see, as you always see in Maine, a little place carved out of the woods, and here is a miserable-looking shack that’s not the classical log cabin you know.  If it were you’d feel better about it, but these places look like somebody has gone around the county collecting a lot of old Pepsi Cola signs and nailed them together, and they’ve gotten themselves an abandoned Oldsmobile Rocket 88 that has been dragged to the backyard and has been slowly falling apart.

These Maine woods, by American standards, are truly the wilderness.  Are you aware that there are large sections of Maine that are till inaccessible by any form of normal transportation?  There’s about a third of that state that is not inhabited at all.  If you want to get to certain places you fly in.  You just have to fly in a little plane with floats, and set down on a lake and that’s about it.  Nothing there.  Howard Johnsons hasn’t made it, nothing is out there yet, and there’s a vast untapped area for dance halls and beer parlors and everything.

maine woods scene

There are signs, though, that America is everywhere.  That is one thing that has made this country totally inexplicable to other countries—you might say, the homogenous quality of it.  If you travel two-hundred miles in any direction in Central Europe, you’ve gone through at least three languages.  The architecture changes, the religions change, even the looks on peoples’ faces change as you go a couple of hundred miles, even sometimes ten miles in one direction.  You stop at the little border fence.  Achtung!  The guy comes over in a uniform and he checks your passport.  You go into the country ten feet!  And everybody’s got a different look on their faces. The food tastes different, you get sick a different way.  It’s an eerie thing.  So in Europe, this is the way it is.

But you can travel three thousand miles in America and find the same knot-heads.  All over.  We’re all made alike.  What did it?  Who knows?  A lot of things.

The coaxial cable, of course, is the most obvious.  Here in this darkness I’m riding along and I look into this little shack, this little house stuck in the woods.  The income of this family is probably about seven dollars a year.  Poverty is rampant in many of the far-northern areas.  But every little shack throughout Maine has a gigantic antenna in the air, a better antenna system than most of the top radar stations had during World War II, just to get “The Beverly Hillbillies.”  There through this little window, you can see the flickering blue light is on and you see a couple of huddled heads there looking at this thing.  They‘re in touch with the infinite.  They’re paying obeisance to whatever gods are out there.

There’s a strange sense of unreality you get coming from the world where all that jazz originates, that comes down the pike on the cable to the place where people are really living.  They’re really having trouble—it’s tough to get the bacon there.  They’ve got real problems.  You should see Saturday nights.

I’d love to do a documentary on the kind of discontent that is going on in the little towns in America.  That almost every last chick in America in little towns like Waterville, Maine, almost everyone is just waiting for that instant when she can cut out and go to New York.  I’m talking about the social discontent that exists among the girls.  Primarily the women want to go.

I want to say this about Maine.  Coming back is always a problem.  You see everything anew, briefly.  You see how unreal most of the things that are being done on the air about America are.  You hear people being interviewed all day long who have written plays, who have done movies.  And it has no real relationship at all with the life lived by a guy in Oakland, Maine.  None of the stuff they’re writing, doing, saying, anything!  Nothing! Oakland

Gateway to the Belgrade Lakes Region

(which includes Snow Pond Lake, site of Shep’s house)

What is it?  It’s become a separate entity in our world.  This whole business of show biz, writing, the whole jazz.  And you find as you get out there, that the great problems that surge through the minds of everybody up and down McDougal Street and over at the 92nd Street Y have not even touched anybody.  The influence doesn’t extend twenty feet the other side of the Hudson!  It begins to fade out at about West Morris, New Jersey.

The discontent is becoming evident, the terrible discontent that is felt by peasants everywhere, simple people who have somehow glimpsed some kind of strange rite that is being held off in the distance.  You find this true in outlying districts in Italy, for example.  There’s a great discontent about wanting to get to Rome and be part of some big ceremony that’s happening in the Vatican.  It’s a religious thing, you see.  Make the pilgrimage, go to Mecca.  And everyone today wants to go to New York, and, if possible, take up residence in Mecca.

I want to describe a scene that I ran into in a little town in north-central Maine.  This little tableau.  I’ve spent a lot of time in small towns in the Midwest so I know something about small town life.

They have a law that no liquor can be sold after one o’clock, Sunday morning.  I went into this place, about six-feet square, just before one o’clock and two guys are wildly making pizza and Italian sandwiches, and out in front all the local males have arrived in their ’46 Mercurys, in their ’51 Hudsons and they’re pouring into this place to buy beer!   They’re piling the beer on and in three minutes it’s going to close.  No more beer.  This is the thing I couldn’t believe.  Out of ten guys who came in, I never saw such insane drunkenness in my life.  Insanely pie-eyed.  It was like the whole town was drunk, wandering in and out of the streets, yelling and hollering and buying the beer, and nowhere could you find a woman.  Just a whole lot of men coming in to buy beer as fast as they could.

One guy has two cases of beer in his arms.  And the guy behind the counter has one eye on the clock.  He says, “No, I’m sorry, it’s too late.”  He says, “I’m sorry, Charlie, I can’t take your money,” and he takes the beer right away from him and throws it back in the icebox.  And the guy’s crying!  He’s standing there and he can see the whole weekend he’s not going to be drunk!  What am I gonna do!  The whole weekend!

I wonder when anyone is going to do a real documentary on the peculiar kind of discontent that is settling in on the small towns in America, because of the glimpse—I think it’s because of the glimpse they see every night, of this never-never-land that television lives in.  The wild, wild sense of unreality that’s beginning to take over.  Even the stores these days have a vaguely TV-commercial-look about them.  Endorsements by TV stars everywhere you look.  People living in a world that is bounded on one side by Channel 8 and on the other side by Channel 6.

And everywhere you can see in those hemlock trees of Maine there are these long, tall, thin antennas reaching for Parnassus.

TV antenna

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JEAN SHEPHERD and New Jersey & ARTSY (2) Venus

Jean Shepherd loved

to hate New Jersey.

“New Jersey–the most American of all states. It has everything from the wilderness to the mafia. All the great things and all the worst, for example Route 22.”  –Jean Shepherd

 Most everybody who lives in New York City and vicinity loves to hate that country-bumkin-and-gas-refinery-state. We all hate “Jersey drivers” and disparage those gigantic summer insects we refer to as “Jersey Mosquitoes.” (Yes, I know that Jersey-ites call ’em “Brooklyn Mosquitoes.”) As Shepherd prided himself on being a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city-guy, this may have been part of why he disparaged New Jersey frequently on his broadcasts. When he was doing his faux-run-for-emperor, he promised to set up gigantic fans along the Manhattan side of the Hudson River in order to blow the Jersey odor away from The City. He said that, while in the army, he spent some time in Fort Monmouth, NJ.

WORK

When Shepherd first moved to New York and began broadcasting on WOR from 1 to 5:30 AM,WOR, to save money, the station kept the 1440 Broadway studios closed and had him broadcast from their transmitter in Cartaret, NJ.  He claimed on the air that he would race his Porsche down the Jersey Turnpike to get to work and once said that he’d accidentally driven the Porsche into the transmitter’s cooling pool there.

HOME

1955 to 19?? New Milford, NJ. This was the period when he had just moved to the New York City area. Dates may or may not represent his actual, continuous residence.

1977-1984? Lived on a three-acre farm in Washington, NJ. It’s said that, when their apartment in the Village was ransacked, the police suggested that Shep and Leigh Brown move away, so this may have been when they moved to Jersey. Leigh was brought up in Jersey and had ridden horses on a farm there, so this may have been at or near where they lived for a time.

PASSING THROUGH AMERICAN CLUTTER

Jim Clavin’s www.flicklives.com describes a Jean Shepherd television special this way: “On October 19, 1984 ‘Jean Shepherd on Route 1’ premiered on New Jersey Public Television. Shep sits in the back seat of a limo and discusses such things as drive-in theaters, the George Washington Bridge, traffic circles, diners, road signs, junkyards, bars, Route 22, and the art of shaving.”

route_1_022_shep

Shepherd in limo discussing Jersey.

Shepherd: “This is the road that is truly the road of American clutter. We have right now, for your edification and your artistic enjoyment, a picture of American grubble at its most beautiful development, its fullest. The vines are rich and growing along this stretch of road. Everybody in his soul—at least in his American soul, has a Route 22—that extends right out of New York City into New Jersey. It’s the true bastion of the slob road in America in full-flower. And it’s got it all goin’.”

Shepherd delights in making fun of Jersey’s Leaning Tower of Pizza and the Margate Elephant:

creation of pizza

“Creation of Pizza” mural at Leaning Tower of Pizza Restaurant.

elephant photo

 

 Lucy, Jersey’s most famous hotel.

 elephant buttmargate elephant plaqueDid Shepherd know that Lucy is now a historic landmark?

Shepherd did a program featuring  the Margate Elephant.

PRINCETON APPEARANCES

Shepherd performed at Princeton University 30 times, giving New Jersey a yearly thrill. Gatherings of Shep-enthusiasts, called “Shepfests,” occur from time to time. Shepfest #4, 11/9/03 took place in the Triumph Brewing Company micro-brewery in Princeton:

shepfest04_032-ShepfestFall03pt1

Some Shepfest participants in Jersey.

CLINTON APPEARANCES

Shepherd appeared several times at New Jersey’s Clinton Museum, giving live performances.

.1977-10-06_022_Clinton_Concert_Ad

NEW JERSEY RESTAURANTS

Jean Shepherd loved food and sometimes talked about it on his show. Lois Nettleton, his wife from 1960 to about 1967, said that he was a gourmet cook and that after one of his great meals, she was happy to clean up and do the dishes. In the late 1980s, Shepherd wrote the intro/foreword to a book. One wonders if he delighted in or disparaged New Jersey restaurants. As of now, here is all we know about it:The New Jersey Restaurant Guide  w/ Ruth Alden, 1989. Hdl Pub Co. ISBN #10: 0937359459

Further Shepherd commentaries on the great state of Jersey will be welcomed.

im from New Jersey

(Actually, I’m from Queens–eb.)

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artsyfratsy 10010

The Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa are probably the best-known artworks in the world. And they are thus, probably the most cliché images of what art is in the world. I suppose they represent, to many people, “the beautiful.” A recent column by a very intelligent and learned and witty fellow who writes for the Wall Street Journal commented that people go to museums to look at beautiful things. Considering the nature of much modern art, isn’t that idea strange? Isn’t it strange that an ancient statue with its arms busted off is so glorified?

venus_de_milo

I believe that in part this is because its silhouette is so compact—and thus has such visual strength, and a sense of primitive elegance. (In my attraction to the tiny Japanese traditional sculpture called netsuke, I almost exclusively prefer the pieces that don’t have parts sticking out of them—much better are pieces that are compact and powerful in their essence. Besides, considering their traditional use as part of one’s apparel, parts sticking out would easily break off.) Imagine the Venus de Milo with its original arms, as some have done:

Venus_de_Milo arms

I doubt that I’d give it even a second look. It certainly would not be glorified as it is today–armless. It would still be “classic” historically, but would not be as highly regarded. We’d pay it little if any attention. What is “classic” anyway? As classic as is a classic portrait of Santa Claus. Having spent most of my life as a lapsed Lutheran, I still much enjoy the Christmas season, and I much prefer the traditional, classic Santa Claus. At home we always have a classic Christmas tree (I insist on a real one) and set out the nativity crèche my wife loves so much.

But sometimes I like to fool around designing a card.

Decades ago, when I made the card, the surround was white.

It has aged badly–is yellow the new white?
SantaVenus closed SantaVenus open

Santa de Milo card closed                                                     Santa de Milo card when open

with round cutout showing Santa’s head.                       showing entire image.                             

SANTA DE MILO

                                                                      by Gene B. 19??

Maybe such universally admired images we think are so classic deserve to be played with once in a while so that we are shocked into a new/fresh way of thinking about how much we adore their classicism.

monalisa moustache

MONA LISA WITH MOUSTACHE

by Marcel Duchamp

“One fun way of exposing students to famous works of art and studying the essential identifying features of the piece (style, subject matter, art material, technique, use of art elements/principles) is through remixing. An art parody, a type of remixing, often takes a famous artwork, recreates many of its elements, but through changes and additions, results in a comic effect or mocking of the original. Sometimes the parody is meant to send a political statement; other times it’s purely for entertainment.”  –Melissa Enderle

ARTSY ARROWS0010

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JEAN SHEPHERD Travel–in Maine again part 1 of 2

MAINE IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY

flag of_Maine.svg

Jean Shepherd has traveled around the world and, of course, he always returns to America, the country he loves above all others.    He even sailed on a bit of the same sea Columbus did when arriving in the New World.  This New World is so vast and complex in its delights and, sometimes, in its less desirable attributes.

Part of this World’s great pleasures for him is the time he spends in Maine, as we saw in an early chapter, with his focus on the bucolic landscape he enjoys with such passion.  One sees Shepherd as the observer and reporter, seemingly oblivious to social issues which are inescapable for anyone with eyes to see and heart to feel.  As quoted earlier, Shepherd has spent most of his public life on the radio exemplifying what he’d said to a friend: “I’m only going through this life as an observer.  I have no desire to influence or change anything.”   Shepherd almost never discusses politics and social matters on his programs.  The coldly aloof artist unmoved by some of the world’s harsh realities (except for such moments as his eulogy for JFK).

Yet, in Shepherd’s available radio audios, here is a rare, discordant, more compassionate side—which he possesses, according to statements by some who knew him—but which he almost always keeps separate from his radio persona.  So here is another narrative that he delivers in the mid-1960s about Maine, his beloved state.

Shepherd sees discontent stoked in part by the unreality promoted by television, and he sees real problems that surface to a heated pitch in the exciting and tormented 60s, and which remain unresolved decades later.

In that time there have been riots in the streets—and assassinations, including that of John F. Kennedy less than two years before, an event that had brought forth from Shepherd, wreathed in his elegant elegy of the President during broadcasts that week, a major statement about discontent in America.  Regarding his comments about Maine in June of 1965, exactly what elicits this new break in his usual demeanor?  Mainly the unreality of television? We don’t know for sure, but here it is.

welcome to Maine

I am back and I am twice as sneaky and four times as dangerous.  For the last two weeks I have been on vacation in my favorite foreign country—Maine.  I mean that literally.  I think as far as the mainstream of America is concerned, Maine is a foreign country.

I’ve come to some conclusions about travel.  Those of you who have followed this fiasco for the last twenty years know that I’m an inveterate traveler.  Whatever that means.  I like to fly the coop and split whenever I get a chance to, but it took me a long time to understand why this is so.  Why traveling and getting away, and getting into a completely foreign environment is as important to me, personally, as it is.

There’s a tendency on the part of every one of us to say, “You just want to get away.”  Well, that’s not enough.  What do you mean, “get away”?  Why do you want to get away? That’s saying something about what you’re at.  You say, “Oh boy, Charlie, isn’t this great to get away?”  Get away from what?  Well, it’s too simple really, to say, “My work.”

That means, probably, you hate your work, which is a bad scene right there.  If you’re going to spend eight hours a day for forty years doing some cruddy thing that you hate, well, dad, no two weeks is going to help you.  It’s only going to make it worse.  In fact, for those of you who have that problem, I recommend: Don’t leave!  Because you’ll come back and one day you’ll go out of the sixth floor trying to fly.

But to a person, it’s very difficult.  I have known people who have changed their environment.  Now that, really, is what “getting away” means.  Changing your environment is one of the great things about man that makes him different from other creatures.  It’s very difficult to get an orangutan to change his range.  You do, and you’ve got a problem orangutan on your hands.  He withers and dies on the vine.  It’s a difficult thing to try to get, say, a moose, to change his environment.

In Maine Again

Shep’s unusual verbal essay inspired by his favorite state.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of 2

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS

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JEAN SHEPHERD–A CHRISTMAS STORY AGAIN?

A CHRISTMAS STOR

The book of assembled A Christmas Story stories is promoted as “The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film,” though, deceptively, the book contains the previously published film-related stories from the books In God We Trust (1966) and Wanda Hickey (1971).  The A Christmas Story play, of several years’ seasonal duration makes the rounds. The musical based on the movie is good.

Every year one encounters news stories about kids getting tongues stuck to frozen poles, and they refer to the movie.  “I decided to try it because I thought all of the TV shows were lies, but turns out I was wrong,” said one kid.  Kids, want to prove it’s true without ripping skin off your tongue?  Touch your slightly moistened finger to an ice cube.  Sticks, doesn’t it?

Yes, ACS againI capitulated to its popularity long ago, giving prominent references to it in my own writing about Shep.  I’m an idealist and a realist.  We need whatever promotion we can get.  Especially as there seems to be some jinx working against Shep, with inadequate, inappropriate, and inaccurate Shepherd knowledge insinuated into the American cultural makeup.  ACS indeed! (As wonderful as it is.)

Talk about cultural makeup–as with many movies, it has a couple of subtle jokes.  A minor one, probably meant more for the movie makers’ own enjoyment than for its viewers, because it’s only seen in full for less than a second, is what’s either a sweet bit of longing for a bygone age or another example of skewed nostalgia: Ralphie has attached his BB gun target to a large, vertically propped-up advertising sign which proclaims in big, bold letters, “Golden Age.” Golden Age soda sign (see ACS prop for target) Those idyllic words are partly obscured by that symbol of symbolic hostility—the target.  The “golden age” advertising sign, apparently metal, is indeed the obvious cause of the BB ricocheting back, nearly shooting Ralphie’s eye out.

This great family movie, watched every year by millions as it’s played twenty-four hours straight on cable television, also has a couple of sneaky off-color references.  Probably not one in a million is aware of them even after many viewings.

A minor gag involves the poorly positioned stencils on the wooden crate containing the leg lamp.  The missing part of the F in FRAGILE on the top is not relevant, but above it, instead of THIS END UP, the missing T leaves a probable reference to the old man’s posterior: it reads HIS END UP.his end up

A visual piece of fun happens when Randy finally gets into the bathroom after Ralphie deciphers his decoder message.  Randy lowers his outer pants and then, as he lifts the lid on the pooping “pot,” the camera cuts to a close-up in the kitchen of a lid being lifted on red cabbage in a cooking pot.  When the fuse blows while the old man is working on the Christmas tree lights, narrator Shepherd comments that his old man “can change a fuse faster than a jackrabbit on a date.”  One only has to remember that rabbits are famous for reproducing rapidly in the time-honored way, and especially that they would be doing such on “a date.”  That’s the most startling, and it’s my favorite.

The movie looms so large in Shep’s legend.  One cannot get away from all things A Christmas Story. The house used for the movie exterior shots, located in Cleveland, Ohio, bought on ebay, has been turned into a museum of the movie.  They spent thousands returning it to the look of the movie inside and out, making it a tourist attraction.  They contracted four of the former child actors for the opening, and a Chinese restaurant has a tie-in regarding the Christmas duck dinner featured in the movie.  A leg lamp dominates the window of the house, and they’re selling all the collateral merchandise.  May The Christmas Story House live long and prosper.

Among the fairly new A Christmas Story products is a snow globe, a board game, a Monopoly game, a jigsaw puzzle, and the siding removed from the original A Christmas Story house sold in a collectible shadow box.  Obviously a major subject for millions of A Christmas Story enthusiasts, the leg lamp looms large. But despite the growing popularity of blow-up décor for every conceivable holiday season in my Long Island neighborhood, please don’t anyone buy me the recently available five and-a-half feet tall by two feet in diameter inflatable leg lamp lawn ornament. (I think it’s no longer available.)ACS leg for lawn

I’d love a photo of one taken on a lawn!

And as for some of the new variations, don’t buy me the Leg Lamp Soap-On-A-Rope, the Leg Lamp Head-Knocker, or even the Leg Lamp Wall Clock, with its pendulum like a leg, perpetually swinging back and forth, as, on the hour, the clock announces that immortal exclamation, “Fra-gee-lay!” And don’t get me from the catalog this new one for 2015:leglamp glass 2015

I’d rather drink my sweet vermouth on the rocks

out of a plain glass tumbler.

For the 2006 holiday season, the wireless phone company, Cingular, broadcast a TV commercial replicating parts of the movie with Ralphie requesting a particular model cell phone, wearing the pink bunny suit, and Santa shoving him down the slide with his big black boot.  Instead of “You’ll shoot your eye out!” the admonition is “You’ll run the bill up!”  A full-color editorial cartoon by Mike Thompson in the Detroit Free Press soon after the November 2006 elections in which Democrats gained control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives, replicates the scene in which Santa is asked for the BB gun, but Ralphie is replaced by a Democratic donkey, saying “I want an official full-blown Congressional investigation into the Bush administration’s conduct leading up to the war [in Iraq] with simultaneous passage of a wildly ambitious domestic agenda!”  Santa, about to send the Democrat donkey down the slide by shoving him in the face with his boot, says, “You’ll shoot your foot off, kid.”  An extensive New York Times article on the commercial and related A Christmas Story matters in their Business Section quoted a Turner Broadcasting executive as saying that for the twenty-four hour showing of the movie during Christmas, 2005, 45.4 million people watched at least part of it.  More recently, the count has gone well over fifty million.

I just noticed that the entire movie now appears on YouTube. But, after it being

a freebee, now one has to pay to see it!

A Christmas Story loomed large in the spring of 2007 with the news that on April 4th, the film’s director, Bob Clark, and his son were killed when an illegal alien without a driver’s license, allegedly drunk, driving on the wrong side of the road, hit their car.  Readers of the obituary were informed that the director had a cameo role in the film—when the old man goes outside to admire his “major award” leg lamp in the window, Clark is the man who questions him about it.  On the day of the accident, Shepherd fan Keith Olbermann, star of  television news and sports commentary programs, did a short piece on Clark and A Christmas Story.

In 2008, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the movie’s opening, the A Christmas Story House

in Cleveland held special events, and the movie was officially celebrated in Hammond.
hammond brochure

Gene B.’s contribution to the above brochure

(I may have posted this before):

“Jean Shepherd talked and wrote a lot about Hammond. He might sometimes disparage the place, but in his heart and mind the tribulations and joys of his childhood were inseparable from his hometown. Though he might attempt to disguise some connections, he kept letting them sneak in. Two examples: The town he wrote about called ‘Hohman’ he named after a street of that name in Hammond. In the movie A Christmas Story Shepherd’s fictional character Ralphie wants a BB gun as he also did in the earlier published version originally titled ‘Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,’ and we know that Jean Shepherd grew up on Hammond’s Cleveland Street. In some undeniable, enigmatic way, Jean Shepherd was the Cleveland Street Kid. He never got Hammond out of his creative works or out of his blood.”

As no one offered to cover all my expenses to Hammond or Clevland, I was forced to observe the occasion in my own very private—and enigmatic–fashion.

One year I was interviewed for a newspaper article about ACS, commenting in a way I’ve long felt but may not have quite articulated before:  “Because it’s so funny, I think people don’t realize that the funniness is in the bizarre negative outcome of so many incidents in the movie.  Shepherd’s philosophy tended to be that most things in life were going to end in disaster.  In this movie he was able to present that in an acceptable form, a form that makes people laugh and makes them not realize the darker undercurrent.”

A dramatic example of this is when the old man is reading the newspaper,

the neighbor’s dogs, heading for the Christmas turkey,

start tramping through–unseen by him

because of the newspaper blocking his view–

and Shepherd as narrator wryly comments:

“Ah, life is like that.

Sometimes at the height of our revelries,

when our joy is at its zenith,

when all is most right with the world,

the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

Merry Christmas!

[Joel comments on many of the positive/caring acts that occur in the film. Although comments appear on the blog where they are indicated, many may not look at them, so I’ve sometimes revised the basic post to include them, as I do here:

I think the observation that so many of the incidents in the movie end in disaster, yet are done so we laugh is the banana peel phenomenon. But the other thing that rescues the movie from the darkness is the love that is shown in the family. The scene of the ride to get the Christmas tree, singing in the car is one such. The father’s love when he points Ralphie to the treasured BB gun after all the presents are unwrapped (“well,” he says, “I had one when I was a kid.”). The mother’s tender care when she thinks an icicle wounded Ralphie. Her soothing him after his explosion beating up Scut Farcas, and not telling the old man about the episode… The scene in the Chinese restaurant where they laugh and enjoy the experience as a family (Shepherd remarks that the meal became know long after for the duck). The closing scene showing the warmly lit quiet house and the tree with the kids in bed, Ralphie caressing the BB gun and the snow falling outside is a real Christmas card.

I find it interesting that the movie portrays such warmth in the family home and among the parents and kids, when Shep’s reality must have been anything but that, given his father’s abandonment of the family.]

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel– The Windward Islands Part 2 of 2

SAILING THE WINDWARD ISLANDS

Pig Roast

Living aboard a boat gives you an entirely different perspective on the Islands.  Your whole world is water and if you love to swim and skin dive and scuba dive and just feel the wind on your face, sailing is the only thing, really, to do down here.

Probably the best sailing in the world is down here.  Sailors from all over the world come here to sail in the Caribbean, because it’s to sailing what—say—Garmish, Innsbruck, is to skiing.  Once you’ve sailed in the Caribbean—you’ve sailed!  The land is so interesting and the winds are great—steady trade winds blow all over these islands.

I am standing right now, standing in the sand in the darkness on the island of Dominica, deep in the heart of the Caribbean Islands down in the West Indies.  And they’re having a pig roast and I’ve just come ashore from a beautiful sailing yacht, the Sealestial.

In all my travels, having been many times to the Caribbean, I must say that this trip is very different from any I’ve ever taken, primarily because it’s on board a sailing ship.  This gives a flavor and a beat and a tenor to your life all day long down here that makes the entire trip a total experience apart from an episodic experience.

seaboat with name

These vessels are captained usually by intrepid Englishmen—almost all the charter captains are Englishmen who have gone tropic.  And they’re all licensed, master seamen and they sail these sailing vessels in and out of these islands like they’ve been here all their lives.  A different breed.  All through these islands you see people who are expatriates of all nationalities—British, Swedes, Russians, even an occasional American, and they’re all drifting in and out of these islands instead of melding into the background and into the scenery.  It’s that kind of a backwash of civilizations here.  There’s a kind of universal, unspoken, unheralded union around the world of people who are drawn inevitably to the tropics.  The absolute lure that the tropics have for some people is unmistakable.  And when you see it in action, you know that there’s never any come-back.  It reminds me a lot of Conrad’s stuff or some of the stuff that Somerset Maugham did.  You see many guys who in other years would be called “remittance men.”

We’re at a pig roast and any minute now the party is going to break out.  The music has been hot, the night is tropical and cool, the wind is blowing through the palm trees above me.  Truly an idyllic experience.  The band is now resting on its haunches, the rum punch is flowing freely, and it won’t be long before the first course of the first pig announces that it’s ready.  In the meantime, hang loose and watch out for that Caribbean rum punch that sneaks up on you like a godad about to spring out of the dark.

seal boat color frontjacket

So ends Jean Shepherd’s narrative of life during a yachting trip aboard the seagoing Sealestial–the final known radio description of his travel adventures. Although he visits several islands on this trip, it is the voyage on the boat that, for him, is the major adventure– literally, the traveling is the destination.

Stay tuned for a return to Maine and then

some final summing up comments

by Shep and others regarding

the importance of travel.

___________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–Humor? Comedy? Part 1 of 2 & ARTSY (1) Leglamp

silly walk sequence

H U M O R,     C O M E D Y,     A N D     S           I          L          L          Y

Humor and comedy are often thought of as synonymous, but this is an unhappy confusion misapplied by most Toms, Dicks, Harrys, and even Websters.  My dictionary plays too loosy-goosy with the terms, and, in an act of ignorance or cowardice, describes Dorothy Parker and James Thurber merely as “writers,” but does describe Mark Twain and S. J. Perelman correctly as humorists.  Dotty Parker, well known for her fine and crude distinctions, is quoted as saying, “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit.  Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”   In her introduction to The Most of S. J. Perelman, she comments, “Humor to me, Heaven help me, takes in many things.  There must be courage; there must be no awe.  There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism.  There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind.”  Laugh at calisthenics: laugh, be bemused, and think, because wit and humor work on your mind.

Jean Shepherd, critic with a disciplined eye, was a humorist (not a comedian).  He insisted on it.  Yet, he was witty enough to sometimes be silly:1960-08-31_022_secret-3

Knock, knock.

           “Who’s there?”

Kopfspielen.

(Shep’s performance, my dialog. Note that, as silly as the image seems,

the performance  is a virtuoso expression of knuckles-on-head.)

The distinction he made was the difference between those who told jokes, producing funny lines with great frequency, and those such as himself, who build up an amusing situation, a take on the human condition and what he called human foibles.  As these observations sometimes blindside us, we become a bit discombobbled, and, in retrospect, I hope, a bit wiser. Comical matter goes in one head and out the other (Thanks for this visual/mental image, Roger Price, a good friend of Shep’s).

[As I proofread this essay before posting it, I saw that I’d typo-ed: “Roger Price, a good friend of Sheep’s.” It should be: “Roger Price, a good friend of sheep.”]

in one head and....

For this book, Price’s price= $.100

(My mother and I laughed out loud lots while reading this book.)

Humor remains and sets us thinking about what we, as a human species, are all about. Humor amuses and leaves a persistent tickle in the mind.  (In his book’s commentary about George Ade, Shepherd wrote that, regarding one of Ade’s ironic  stories, “It is wise to note that the man who told the story obviously loved both of them.”)

Shepherd said that one difference is “the longevity of humor versus the short-time value of comedy.”  Comedy is, one way or another, sort of wise cracks that produce a laugh because of some surface turn; humor tends to suggest some inherent aspect of the human condition. Way back in the October 1960 issue of that subversive/funny/ significant, and therefore underground, periodical, The Realist, he commented that in comedy, the laugh was the end product, while with humor, “the laugh is the byproduct of what you’re doing.”  He seemed especially prone to make these distinctions in the late 1950s and early 1960s, probably because many of his peers were making it big nation-wide on television and with recordings by using their hip and astute cleverness in comedy routines that far outpaced, in popularity, his more contemplative style, which required time to build toward a more solid and long-lasting humorous effect.

seriously funny cover

“Speaking of serious comedy–

take my joke–please!”

Seriously Funny by Gerald Nachman covered much of the clever, modern comic field with chapters on: Mort Sahl; Sid Caesar; Tom Leher; Steve Allen; Stan Freberg; Ernie Kovacs; Lenny Bruce; Godfrey Cambridge; The Smothers Brothers; Mel Brooks; Dick Gregory; David Frye, Vaughn Meader, Will Jordan; Woody Allen; Bill Cosby; Phyllis Diller; Jonathan Winters; Jean Shepherd, Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding [Note that where there are commas separating names, those people share a chapter], Shelly Berman, Mike Nichols and Elaine May; Bob Newhart; Joan Rivers. Each chapter has an amusingly relevant title: the Shep/Elliot/Goulding one, relating to the medium of radio: “Out of Thin Air.”

Although not filled with rapid-fire jokes as were most of the comedians, a Shepherd creation often results not only in bemused nods of recognition, but in outright smiles and full-fledged belly laughs.  Besides which, as I noted in years past, those others and their cohorts decades ago lost their momentary–though highly deserved– stranglehold on our interest, while good ol’ Shep, with what must now be a self-satisfied smirk from the beyond, perseveres in widespread books, tapes, CDs, videos, a blog, and websites, as well as, more to the point, in the disposition and world view of those who take to their hearts and minds his “voice in the night.”

PART WON OF TOO. *

* “won” =”We persevered in the first of these fights,”

   “too”=”We hope to win Part 2 also.”

  [ Shep claimed he hated puns, but he produced a couple of corkers himself.]

_______________________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________________

artsyfratsy 10010

(1) LEGLAMP

“WE STAND SILENT AND IN AWE AT THE SHEER SHIMMERING, UNEXPECTED BEAUTY OF THE ‘MAJOR AWARD.’”

–Shep’s narration in A Christmas Story.

The honored, first Artsy Fartsy subject (See, this first one actually relates directly to Shep), comes from Shepherd’s first book of stories, IGWTAOPC, the story, “The Old Man’s Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.” The “old man” in Shep’s published tale entered a contest by a soda pop company: “The company trademark, seen everywhere, was a silk-stockinged lady’s leg, realistically flesh-colored, wearing a black spike-heeled slipper. The name of this pop was a play on words, involving the lady’s knee.”

Nehi legs

Many fans of Shepherd, and especially those who love his movie A Christmas Story, have their own full-size leg lamp replica that they put in the living room window every Christmas season.

I bought the smaller, $50 version. To my surprise, my wife–not a Shepherd fan but she loves the movie–suggested that we install it in the living room window all year round.

DSCN0556

She plugged the leg into a timer so that as daylight fades the lamp turns on,

giving our front window every night of the year the glow of electric sex.

*

“Artsy-fartsy individuals tend to be unemployed and enjoy finger-painting.”

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel– The Windward Islands Part 1 of 2

SAILING THE WINDWARD ISLANDS

sea boat map

The last known adventure Shepherd makes to far-off places is his 1975 trip to a group of small Caribbean islands from Martinique down to Trinidad, including among others, Barbados, Tobago and Grenada, all known as the Windward Islands.  Only a bit more than a year before the end of his nightly broadcasting, he speaks of the trip on several radio shows, focusing in good part on the actual voyage there aboard one of three sailing ships, each more than sixty feet long, with beams about sixteen feet.  Unusual for him, the main adventure is not the destination, but the pleasure of getting there—on a relatively small ship, powered by the wind and auxiliary engines.  In a way, this journey is the destination.  He may have thought that this might be his final travel tale. (In early 1977, when he left radio in New York, he and Leigh Brown married and moved to Florida, where they lived for the rest of their lives.)

He speaks of mankind’s need to go from place to place and he mentions some of the great explorers who traveled to far-off lands.  With implied rationale for his own inclinations, he speaks of what he considers the inherent nature of man to be nomadic—and maybe even, take off for a tropical isle forever.

His reference to American history’s tradition of people leaving relative safety to perform the scary feat of crossing the seas to brave an unknown land, weds him to an important tradition of the land and people he loves.  The subject neatly caps off his two-decades of quests to encounter the unknown—his constant urge for expanded intellectual as well as emotional fulfillment through new adventures.

Seafaring

Last week I spent a fantastic time.  The whole object of my trip was to retrace a portion of one of Columbus’ voyages.  For those of you who are just tuning in on us and don’t know what this is all about, I’ve been privileged—I’ve been invited by a group of yachtsmen who decided this year to retrace the route that was taken throughout the Caribbean Islands by Christopher Columbus when he discovered the Americas.  Retracing his journey throughout the Caribbean—we’ve been to several islands that he landed on.  I’ve read letters and notes and so on about the various islands.  For those of you who have never spent any time on a sailing vessel, you just don’t know what you’re missing.

seaboat full image

The Sealestial

Oh, what a great sound! [Shep plays a bit of audio of rushing ocean water he recorded] That’s the sound of the turbulent seas hurling past the hull of the Sealestial in a force-5 wind, the sun standing high overhead, the time, one-fifteen P. M., or, if you prefer, thirteen-fifteen.  The flying fish appearing before the bow, en route to the island of Guadalupe.

I think people basically, all of us—I don’t care who you are—man is a nomadic creature.  Not all animals are.  In fact, not many are.  They’re very rare.  Most creatures remain pretty well anchored to their specific range and they don’t move out of it.  You don’t see polar bears hitchhiking along Route 95 down through the Everglades.  Who is it who does that?  You guessed it, right?  It is not the dromedary.  One rarely sees an elephant trying to make his way up to the arctic wastes—just because they’re there.  No.  Who is it who does that?  Man.

Mankind, humankind—they are that.  Now you can say to yourself that you are not, and you wouldn’t be kidding yourself, but everybody has an itch down inside of himself to move over the globe.  Only man is attempting to land probes on Venus, to step on the surface of the moon.  There’s never been a recorded squirrel who looked up at the sky and said, “One day, squirrel-dom will land on Mars.”  It’s man.

Through much of human history, going all the way back to the very earliest days that we know of, prehistory days, much of man’s history is the history of his travels.  The Great Age of Exploration.  Remember when you read that in school?  In fact they named that The Age of Exploration, when people like Francis Drake and Hendrick Hudson, John Cook—now there’s a great man.  These were people who did what all of mankind secretly always wanted to do.  See what’s on the other side of the next hill.

seaboat drawing0007

And there’s no people—no people in the history of man, outside of possibly the Bedouins—that have been more driven by this curious urge—than Americans.  Maybe, perhaps, it’s because of our antecedents.  You know we’re coming into the big year of the bicentennial, and not much has been said about what makes Americans different from the rest of the world.  For one thing, in the very beginnings of America the continent was settled by people who took a fantastic chance.  Imagine what it would be like to leave everything, even if it’s bad.  To leave everything—your entire heritage, you physical homes, whatever security you had through having people, friends, relatives—and just head out into the roaring unknown.

I don’t mean just pull up stakes and move to Australia, which you may just think to do today.  That’s not the same as pulling up stakes and heading out across an incredibly dangerous sea in an inadequate vessel and fantastic hardships into the unknown.  Literally the unknown.  And that’s what our country was started with—with people like that.  Even people who came later were pulling up stakes, giving up everything, and coming to another country—in which they didn’t know where they would land or what they would do.

They didn’t know whether it would work out.  A lot of them stayed where they were.  What was the difference?  No moral judgment, they just were different kinds of people.  This is one of the reasons why the car is more important to Americans than it is to other people in the Western World.  Because we still remain basically a nomadic people.  We want to keep on the move.  People think in terms of when they retire—do they leave their hometown and go somewhere else?  It’s Americans who do that.  So, we’re different, and why do we do this?  For one thing, a lot of people that, when their job is over—now they can do what they’ve always secretly wanted to do.  Move endlessly over the landscape.  How many times have you heard people say, “Well, what I want to do when I retire is get myself one of those Winnebagos and I just want to travel all the time.”

seal boat color frontjacket

Sources of some material:

I discovered on the Internet that author and political observer William F. Buckley, Jr, was an avid sailor, taking a number of yachting voyages with friends and writing about the experiences. For the last of his three books on his boating trips, Racing Through Paradise (Random House, 1987), his boat of choice was “Sealestial” the same yacht that Shepherd had sailed on in late 1975. Taken from that book, images of Sealestial are by Christopher Little, the map by David Lindroth, and the descriptive paragraphs that follows are by Buckley:

I have found Sealestial the (almost–she is not air-conditioned) perfect cruising boat. And here is what you get when you charter a boat like Sealestial:

First, the tangibles. There is a crew of four. A skipper, a first mate, a stewardess, and  cook. There are three cabins. In descending order of luxury, the owner’s cabin, which includes a dressing table, a huge stuffed chair for reading and working, a private bath including shower; a smaller but commodious cabin with hanging lockers and two bunks, sharing a shower and separate toilet with the third cabin, slightly smaller but entirely comfortable….

The main saloon, as boat people call what at home would be called the living room, is square and would hold, comfortably seated, sixteen people….

Stay tuned for Part 2

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Happy 100th, Ol’ Blue Eyes

JEAN SHEPHERD—KID STORIES!

KID STORIES—FOR GOSH SAKE!’

I believe that among many Shepherd fans, his kid stories are the most popular. Among the hundreds that he told on the air, only about two dozen ever appeared in print—mostly in In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. We’re familiar with Ralphie wanting—and getting—a BB gun, and we thrill just to hear reference to various other stories. What about so many others that he told—we can access the audios to many of these, and listening to his compelling voice, for me, is the best, most authentic way of enjoying them.

But, as the astronomical sales of those first two books attest (well over two-dozen printings each of the two), there is something special (and undoubtedly more convenient) in holding a fistful of them in a book and reading, pausing, going back, re-reading them at one’s eyes and mind’s ease and speed.

igwt paperbackwandaH←Perennial sellers

 

 

 

 

$

As comparison shows, Shepherd added considerable text to the audios when he presented his stories for print. In Playboy, for example he added what he obviously felt necessary for that audience—expletives in army stories. In addition, he just beefed out the stories in ways that, for the most part, I feel are unnecessary. (Which is to say, in terms of conciseness and effect, I’d prefer that he hadn’t done it.)

For me (ego-centric that I am), that is one of the reasons I enjoy reading my transcriptions from his radio audios—which I very gently edited to retain his “voice,” not adding any words to his immortal voice-on-paper. I do very keenly feel his spoken voice in these transcriptions–see his travel narratives on this blog. Also see my Shep’s Army. I’m most proud of the Publishers Weekly review of it, which includes: “…a presentation that, against the odds, captures the energy of an oral telling.”

For the  feel of his voice and existence in print—a medium that Shepherd felt was supreme in his life from childhood on—I’d like to see as much as possible of Shep’s really good stories immortalized in book form for the historical record. So one can see why I want my manuscript of Shep’s kid stories published in printer’s ink on good old book-paper. And hey, publishers and agents, I believe the book would make:

→$←

kid stories cover 1

Photo courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

It’s a book full of minor despair and revelatory joy: left-handed disability and decayed teeth, crashing waves of words and Tinker Toys, April fool, dots and dashes, Mark Twain, Roman candles, pharmaceuticals and worms, steel mill with a tornado and catching rats, a date with flies and scragging, digesting snails and a Bugatti—putting hair on the chest and mind-broadening whacks on the ol’ noggin—encountering “an alive, magnificent, evil, sensual machine that lay low.…” All told*, making the kid a man.

pun

What will happen to all the kid-story transcriptions

beyond their appearance here?

(Yes, this also is part of the “Rant.”)

→?←

FYI: I’d tried to interest 12 agents in my first Jean Shepherd book manuscript back in the first days of the new millennium and got no takers. It ain’t easy getting an agent. That book continues to sell after ten years, now having reached about 8,000 hardcover copies sold at $27.95–it should go on for a few more decades as a back-list seller.

 ?

Recently it looked as though the kid-story mnuscript might get published, as an associate at a publishing house read the manuscript and told me it was so funny and enjoyable that it led to laughing out loud and that publishing it was a no-brainer. But at an editorial meeting, it was turned down, surprisingly, by those who’d never heard of Shep and who doubted its sales possibilities despite the connection to the movie A Christmas Story and sales of In God We Trust. They also feared regarding rights to publish even though the Shep estate had researched the issue and had said to me in an email that it was their understanding that Shepherd’s radio broadcasts were in the public domain.

SO–NO DEAL

I gave up, but another publication possibility appeared and I await news. Within the next month or so, baring miracles falling from up there in publishing heaven, I’ll begin posting the kid stories on this Shepherd blog.
 
Best Regards,
 
Gene

!

P.S.– To readers of this blog–
If necessary, I’d forgo ALL royalties for this
Jean Shepherd Kid Stories,
just to get it in print.

!

Stay tuned.

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JEAN SHEPHERD Travel to Nigeria Part 6

What follows is the final episode of Shep in Nigeria. Just as we’ve all heard him retell his fictional stories from time to time, here is an example where he tells somewhat the same travel narrative based on encountering an American in a Nigerian post office, but he remembers it a bit differently. He expresses how, whether one is a Caucasian traveler such as himself, or an African-American he meets in Africa, we Americans recognize ourselves as truly being American.

flag nigeria

“No Matter What I Do, I Am an American”

Well, fellow Americans, it’s the Fourth of July.  Good evening fellow Americans.  I think that since it’s the Fourth of July tonight, we might as well admit we’re all Americans.

u s flag

We may be bugged—but we’re Americans.  We may be demonstrating, we may be getting ready to blow up the courthouse, we may be ready to burn down city hall, but we are all Americans.  You really can’t escape that, no matter how many years a guy lives in Paris, he is still an American.  You really cannot escape it.

Well, one day I was in Ibadan, Nigeria, and this is a great kind of a day to tell this story.  Ibadan is extremely hot, steamy hot, even your skin is hot.  You want to take your skin off like you take your BVDs off, and your socks off—you want to strip your skin off.  Somehow your feel your bones will get cool.

I’m in the outskirts, and there are millions of people, it’s teaming, oh steaming, it’s just like a gigantic cake of yeast.  Life is everywhere.  Life is crawling, it’s flying, it’s humming, it’s buzzing, it’s coming out of the ground.  You breathe it in, it rains on you.  Life is just everywhere.  Just all kinds of life.  Bugs, insects, fungus, bacilli, the river, the crocodiles, people, everything—oh, the whole business.  It’s really alive.   You just don’t know how it is in Africa—no wonder people believe that life all sprang from Africa.  It just had to come from there because—is it ever going on there!

I’m standing in line in a post office to buy some stamps and I’m surrounded by thousands of Nigerians, all waiting to send stuff and get things stamped.  I’ve found, in most post offices, no matter where you go, you stand, you just stand.  You wait.  I’m waiting and waiting and waiting, and boy, they never heard of air conditioning in an Ibadan post office.  It is hot.

I finally get up to the window.  Up to this point nobody has said a word to me.  Of course English is the language there in Nigeria.  They all speak English, with varying kinds of accent depending on where you go.  Some of them speak it with an Ibu accent, some with an Oxfordian accent—oh, some of the most fantastic English accents you have ever heard.  “What kind of stamp you want, sir?”

I say, “I’ll have five airmail stamps.”

nigeria stamps

“Five airmail stamps, thank you, sir, thank you, sir, five airmail stamps.  That will be seven shillings, sir.”

And I give the money and I turn around to go.  (It’s very exciting to be in a place where there’s a lot of life.  Absolutely, life everywhere.  You cannot help but be excited.)  So I turn around and start to go, when suddenly, a guy in the line reaches out and touches my arm.  A great big black guy, about six-foot-six.  He’s wearing a white shirt, and he’s got a pair of these beautiful shorts that everybody wears over there, black shoes, and high white socks, all of which is a kind of dress uniform for hot weather.  He touches me and he says, “You’re an American, aren’t you?”

Immediately he could hear the American accent—he is an American!

I say, “Yeah.”

He says, “Man, you got any time?  Wait.  I want to buy some stamps.  Just wait for a second.”  He goes up to the counter and buys some stamps and he turns around and he says, “Man, you’re an American!”

I say, “Yeah.”

He says, “Ya got a car?  I got a car.  Can I take you anyplace?”

I told him where I was going.  Oh boy, we get out in front of the place and the sun—booooom!  The sun hits down on us as we get out on the concrete steps of this little post office and little winding road and shops going up one way and the other way, and all kinds of people are swirling.  Pigs are running around oiwowoiiiii and the sewers are running over our feet, but it’s a wildly exciting place!  You have an idea that would be terrible, but it isn’t, it’s very exciting when you’re there, and it has no parallel to what it would be like if the same things were going on here.  It’s very different, very exciting.

The street is teaming—bicycles, Volkswagons, guys on pogo sticks, guys carrying other guys in sedan chairs, oh, you can’t imagine!  A sea of humanity flowing and people yelling and hollering, big yellow robes and purple robes and blue robes and sun helmets.

One of the great sights that I’ve seen is a guy riding a bicycle and he has some kind of almost translucent, light blue silk robe.  It is the color of very light, sun-shinning blue sky.  Their colors are all like that.  Some day American people are going to discover Nigerian colors.  Incredible.  This light blue robe with a light blue skullcap.  On top of the skullcap is a gigantic wooden bowl, and in this enormous wooden bowl there must be forty-five yelling, hollering pigs.  Little pigs all tied up with their feet.  And they’re looking out of the bowl and wiggling!  Eeeee!  Eeeee!  Eeeee!   This guy is riding down the street on a bicycle that has wheels that are four times the size of any bicycle wheels I ever saw—going like the wind, and his robe is flowing out back of him like an enormous flag whooooooh!  He’s going along and his feet are going back and forth and he’s got this bowl on top of his head and the pigs are yelling and he’s just going along as calm—the wind is blowing shooooooh!  He goes down the street.  Boy!  Now there’s skill.  Guts!

So we’re out on this street and this guy turns to me and says, “Let me tell you, man, I can’t tell ya how great it is to hear an American.”

And I say, Man, what are you doing in this area?  Wow!”

We don’t know quite what to say.  I am so glad to talk to somebody who—for a strange reason you get very hungry for American things when you are a million miles away.  No matter how hip you are, you just do.  You get hungry for them.

We get into his car, which is a Nash.  Every car of any consequence at all in this place, the sun has practically beaten the paint right off.  Just pealed it right off.  They’re a peculiar slate color.

We set off and he says, “Man, you got any time?”

I say, “Yeah, I’m not going anyplace.”

He says, “Let me tell you how great it is to talk to an American.”  He says, “I’ve been inland, I’ve been here for seven months.  I just can’t tell you how great it is.”

Of course, I am delighted.  A big, handsome guy, about twenty-five or so, and I believe he went to Brooklyn College, and he’s working for an American film company as some kind of an export expert.

So we go over to a place and we’re having a drink and it turns out that he is, of all things—a “listener” from Brooklyn!  In the course of the conversation, this is what he said—I’ll try to reproduce it almost verbatim.

I tell him my name.

He says, “Oh boy, man, you’re putting me on!”

I say, “No, I’m Jean Shepherd.”

He says, “The ‘night people,’ man!  Oh no!  Listen—oh no, it’s impossible!”

We’re hollering and yelling and drinking gin and tonics.  In the course of the conversation he says to me, “You know, I had to come all the way over here to realize that I am first and foremost, no matter what I do, I am an American.”

It was a very strange thing to hear in Ibadan.  Not strange at all though, if you understand really, what you are.  If you really understand what you are.  You often don’t really know.

u s flag graphic

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JEAN SHEPHERD–GARRISON KEILLOR. & ARTSY (Intro)

KEILLOR

keeler photo

Many well-known people in the media have commented that they are fans of Jean Shepherd and many have been influenced by him. Among them, as we know, are Seinfeld, Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead comic strip), Penn Jillette, Andy Kaufman, etc. Most of us feel that Garrison Keillor has also been influenced by him, although it’s said that he has denied it. However we have some ambiguous pieces of evidence regarding this:

G.Keeler re Shep Bday                G.Keeler my career in radio0004

Good to see that Keillor, in public, recognized Shep’s existence on his radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac,” and on its accompanying website–nice to see that Keillor recognized Shep on his birthday.

But in his “Tanglewood’s 2008 Season” appearance, his little ditty printed here contains an ambiguity–or rather, an ironic denial. The ditty suggests that people who remember Allen, Bob and Ray, Benny–and Shepherd, claim he, Keillor, imitates them. And it’s only when those (misguided) old fans are dead will his true value (reputation) be secured. Really?! Not nice–especially in suggesting that fans of those older comics claim an influence (I never heard these claims), thus undercutting Keillor’s much closer resemblance to what Shepherd did.

To repeat from an earlier blog, here’s Shep’s blurb for Keillor  on the back of Keillor’s 1981 book, blurbed before Keillor became too big for Shepherd’s itches:

“I welcome Garrison Keillor to the ranks of a very endangered species.

Keillor makes you laugh, and that ain’t easy these days.”

happy to be here

I’d like input as to what ways Keillor may be similar in style to Allen, Bob and Ray, and Benny. And what about to Shep?  (Enough to be considered “influenced by.”) Is it just because they both talked, sometimes with a touch of humorous irony, about the old days when life was seemingly simpler–maybe with a sometimes subtle and unacknowledged nostalgia?

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artsyfratsy 10010

“Something supposedly highly cultural, but to the

regular sane person merely pretentious.”

–Artsy Fartsy definition found on the Internet–

Long ago (do some still do it?) on the comics pages some Sunday funnies had a less-important, supplementary strip below (or above). I believe that “Smokey Stover,” that cuckoo strip about firefighters, sometimes had one. Shep’s delight in describing “slob art” (such as his old man’s leg lamp) inspires me to add to the bottom of some of my future Shepherd posts, a few of my quirky commentaries about some art that we have hanging around our house (or, like the “Venus de Milo,” just hanging around my mind)—most of the stuff that, in the main, is in no way slob art, but that for me has some unexpected backstory wandering through my consciousness that may be of some wider amusement–(aren’t life and art strange and wonderful?). I believe that my decades of work at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and the widespread nature of my interests in the arts has led to some interesting contacts with such matters.

My Artsy Fartsy comments are not intended just to describe the art I like. My intent is to explore the quirky nature of why someone (yours truly, for example) becomes involved with particular creations and in what way they might have an interesting/unusual context that might surprise and delight regarding an encounter with the arts. Sort of like why the unexpected nature of Shepherd’s art of radio sound continues to fascinate me. Ah, yes—I also hope my comments are enlightening and entertaining. artsy cartoon

ARTSY ARROWS0010

“Artsy-fartsy individuals tend to be unemployed

and enjoy finger-painting.”

ARTSY ARROWS0010

NEVER FEAR–

SHEP AND MY OBSESSION WITH HIM

AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE.

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