I’m happy that I persisted in this quest regarding the perfect system for organizing Shep programs. For Shep’s Army I renamed the tale “Boredom Erupts,” as that is its relationship to life in the army. What I regret is that the focus of my book of compilation and transcription of army stories is not an appropriate setting to include Shepherd’s varied and amusing build-up to this story. The prolog described in previous Parts discusses arcane physics and movie fistfights among other minor detours before engaging us in the approximately twelve-minute main event that ends the broadcast—the boredom among enlisted men in the military. Grindingly uncomfortable and tiring tasks sometimes result in a mind-deadening nothingness. And one result is a sometimes growing hostility that leads to conflict—in this instance, in Shepherd’s witty take on obscure physics, metaphysics, and the meaning of time—to an army fistfight that is simultaneously cosmic and absurd.
The Eternal Shepherd Reference System!
The foregoing material about that broadcast is a rough example of what every Jean Shepherd show should have in a master database. The many hundreds of shows would encompass hundreds of subjects, each a part of the electronically cross-referenced spreadsheet, each living Word quivering with the excitement of knowing it is a part of The Eternal Shepherd Reference System!
I can envision the opus, which will forever expand as more newly discovered shows are added to the stockpile!
All known Shepherd programs captured thusly for easy reference!
All available for the casual Shepherd fan looking for his daily Shep-fix, and for the industrious researcher/author seeking the audio snippet of his desires!
Oh—the potential—unrealizable—glory of it!
SOME SUBJECTS OF THIS ONE SHEPHERD SHOW
CONTROL ROOM COMMENT
WEEKENDS IN OUR MODERN CULTURE
“SPEAKING OF MISTAKES”
ENGINEER IS NAMED (Keith)
ENGINEER (Commentary on)
METS—PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT: BASEBALL, SPORTS.
NEW YORK TIMES—he’s reading it
NEWS NOTES (refers to Times article
REFERENCE [QUARK] TO WHICH HE WILL RETURN LATER IN PROGRAM
JEWS HARP PLAYING (with accompanying recorded music)
LINDSEY (running for re-election)
NEW YORK (“Fun city.”)
PREDICTION (of Shepherd’s)
“PUBLIC SERVICE” provided by WOR
FISTFIGHTS (First mention of fist fights—it’s his prelude to the subject)
MOVIE STARS: KIRK DOUGLAS JOHN WAYNE
ORDINARY EVENTS—(one never sees in movies)
W. C. FIELDS
HUMOR (the nature of)
CRITICIZES THOSE IN CONTROL ROOM (Leigh Brown, his producer/lover?)
MUSIC (as scene-setting, under his talk)
MAN—HIS NATURE (Philosophical; musings)
SEGUE TO A STORY (of the army fistfight caused by boredom-induced hostility.)
How “Boredom Erupts” Starts and Ends
in Shep’s Army
START: The only fistfight that I ever saw–I’m talking about a real fistfight–not just guys pushing each other around or guys belting each other–happened in a tent….
END: ….Is it Zinsmeister’s contemplation of the eternal hourglass, or is it part of the quark theory of the quantum, dipole-estrogen theory of multiple, fourth-dimensional, time-curve-space factors? Who is to know?
“I think we’re more influenced by comic strip
characters than by anybody else….” –J. Shepherd
Comic strips played what appears to be a more important role in Shepherd’s life thinking than one might have expected.
On November 17, 1972, Shepherd spent nearly his whole broadcast giving listeners a “Comic strip quiz,” asking them to identify characters and the strip artists for numerous comic strips. His knowledge and memory seemed encyclopedic. In my EYF! page 274 I transcribe him saying:
I have begun to realize that my philosophy of living is based largely upon a firm bedrock foundation of comic-strip ideologies. This includes many subtleties of Right and Wrong or Good and Evil as evidenced in politics or just daily living.”
Also quoted in my book is what is apparently a glitch in Shep’s memory when he says that Smokey Stover [by Bill Holman] had been done by the same artist as had created “The Little Hitchhiker,” the little man who is remembered for his sign saying “Nov shmoz ka pop?” Actually that little fellow was in Gene Ahern’s strip The Squirrel Cage, A strange, strip about as weird as—or weirder than–Smokey Stover.
Smokey Stover was a fireman, and besides its maniacal side, the strip was chock-full of ridiculous puns that had the ability to make most people go cross-eyed and laugh—Shep once commented that he hated puns (but he used them once in a while). The firefighters in the strip were referred to as foo fighters, which became the name of a rock group years later.
Who do you think I always looked at? Did you ever hear of Smokey Stover? [Shepherd is talking to his engineer of someone else in the studio.] You never heard of Smokey Stover? You never heard of Smokey? Okay. No way to talk to you then….What was always said in the strip Smokey Stover? Did you ever hear the expression “Notary Sojak”?…It was a completely maniacal strip.
[See first panel for words on sign nailed to the wall.]
Shepherd then refers to another comic strip situation he mistakenly thought was from Smokey Stover:
I remember one time it was explained in the strip–one of the characters asks another character, “Well, how come he always wears that coal scuttle over his head?”
The other character says, “Well, he’s prepared.”
He said, “What do you mean—prepared for what?”
He says, “Well, you never can tell.”
The other guy says, “What do you mean, you never can tell? Never can tell what? What’s he prepared for?”
He says, “Well, he figures you never know when you’re going to be hit by a meteor.”
There he stood. With a coal scuttle. For some reason or another, this hit my particular sense of humor. And I would have to say that among all the things that have influenced me—that probably influenced me as much as anything else. [At the moment I’m asking people to come up with what strip it was–eb]
After amusing yourself over all the Smokey Stover puns and the NOTARY SOJAC sign on the wall in the first panel, pay close attention, focusing on the final panel, lower left corner. It’s been brought to my attention that, although I had determined the spelling of Brass Figlagee years ago based on Shepherd pronouncing it, there is good evidence (Note the copyright of the strip: 1945) that Shep appropriated the term from those strange, triangular entities referred to by Bill Holman as “PHIPPLED FIGLIGGIES.”
[Thanks to Shep fan Kip W. for this great info.]
As a matter of lesser interest (You may remember that in 1965, When Shep and Lois Nettletion probably split, Shep would sing mock-plaintively): ”Some of these days/You’re gonna miss me, baby/Some of these days/You’re gonna feel you’re so lonely.” On the woman’s jumper dress (HOP) is a manic cat singing his own punny version.
If that ain’t ‘nuf, as Shep’s broadcast on his “Comic Strip Quiz” nears its end, he concludes with a major comment regarding our lack of sufficient appreciation of creators of comic strips, and—by implication—creators of immortal, improvised radio programs.
He focuses on his idea that Americans are familiar with celebrities—such as from movies, and familiar with cartoon characters (such as Jiggs of Maggie and Jiggs—but don’t know the name of the creator! Artists who create a character that becomes a household name—such as Popeye.
Speaking over his Bahn frei theme:
Well, maybe I’m conscious of the whole idea of creating characters because this is what basically and essentially what my work consists of. I mean creating a character—Schwartz, Flick, and Bruner. These are characters, you know. To create character, that has ramifications of meanings….
This has been tonight’s lesson in Americana.
DESCRIBING A SHEP BROADCAST
(See my post “Missing in Action Part 1”)
What follows, in this and the following post, is a rough idea of the contents of a program–it would need to be put in a spread-sheet format and tweaked.
The description would begin with certain basics:
Jean Shepherd WOR broadcast, SEPTEMBER 16, 1969;
Length of iTunes recording: 0:39:16 (about 5 minutes missing);
ORIGINAL TITLE OF AUDIO=ARMY FIST FIGHT;
Theme music=BAHN FREI.
The program description would begin with 0:00-0:52, opening theme music; Shepherd begins speaking over theme about “sneaky people;” he warns that the show will be “real bad;” he indicates that it is a Friday night and he feels like indulging himself. Card catalog titles and subtitles for this first segment would include:
WOR; DATE OF BROADCAST 9/16/69; BAHN FREI (Theme music—use of); SPEAKING OVER OPENING THEME; WARNING THAT SHOW WILL BE “BAD;” FRIDAY NIGHT SHOW—HE CAN INDULGE HIMSELF.
0:2:04 Theme ends. Somebody in the control room apparently indicates that it’s not Friday, but Thursday, and Shepherd kiddingly calls them “old fashioned.” He says that any modern person insists that his weekend starts no later than noon on Thursday. Says today he saw a WOR executive going off with tennis rackets under his arms and another executive with a secretary under his arm. He says that the weekend doesn’t end anymore until roughly eight P. M. on Tuesday. Says that the engineer wants to hear him play his jews harp.
0:05:24-0:07:33 Rinky-tink piano begins and Shepherd plays along on jews harp, joined by other Dixieland instruments doing “In the Good Old Summertime.” Says that playing/listening to the jews harp helps clear the sinuses.
0:08:15 Comments on walking around town listening to people talking about the Mets. “Maybe sports is far more subtle than we think.” “Everything in New York wins.” Talks about being in a waiting room for an appointment. Do people subscribe to National Geographic, or is it only sent to doctors’ offices?—he says it’s a philosophical question. Now he’s reading the Times. Encounters article about smallest particle in universe: the “quark.” Says it’s a cute word, its sound suggesting a duck running around in a kiddy cartoon. A major category here would be SPORTS, with a subcategory of BASEBALL, and a sub-sub-category of METS. Of course QUARKS needs to be noted, as it will become an element in the fistfight story. Etc., etc.
0:12:20 Reads about elections and mud-throwing (we all start in life making mud pies, etc.) Sees a sign for John V. Lindsey’s mayoral campaign for reelection. Shepherd refers to one of his own recent predictions. Says that when we refer to sin, it’s always about sex and comments that “This is a limited view of sin.” Discusses Fellini’s film, Satyricon, saying it’s about all seven sins and WOR will send a brochure as a public service: “How to Get More Out of the Other Seven Sins.” He discusses the advantages of other sins. “Why don’t you get up tomorrow morning and just do it. Stand by your bed and swear about the other ones. Just get mad. Break the windows. Now this is all philosophical. Understand…” Again mentions his reading about the quark.
0:18:50 Says he watches TV and what’s always happening on TV is fistfights. Says that Kirk Douglas in a movie says, “You said what?!” and a fistfight breaks out. “How many have you ever seen in your life?” More fistfights in movies than love scenes. One never sees ordinary events in a movie such as a guy waiting for his cleaning. Shepherd segues from fistfights to ordinary events. In retrospect one can see that he is beginning to telegraph his punches regarding the forthcoming fistfight story.
0:20:10 He’s in the waiting room waiting for appointment where he’s going to be charged a lot by the dentist. He asks if you have ever seen the W. C. Fields short titled “The Dentist”? Shepherd describes it. “That is the essence of humor—to play it the way it is.”
0:22:58 Again mentions sitting in waiting room reading about the quark. “The smallest particle known to man!” Asks the engineer for Japanese koto music. (“Contemplating-the-navel-music.” He nastily criticizes either Leigh Brown or engineer for having trouble finding the music in the control room.)
“The most violent side of man” he says, “is not the violent side, it’s the contemplative side. It’s the side of man that sits there and contemplates the infinite. And makes fantastic generalities out of it. And I thought to myself, where did I hear ‘the smallest particle known to man.’? Where did I hear that before? Yes, yes indeed. And then the doctor’s office faded out and I see the whole scene before me. The only time I ever saw a full-blown fistfight. Just like the kind they have in the John Wayne movies. It did not come about in a bar, which is where everybody likes to think is where the fights happen. Like arguing over some chick, which is the way they always are in the movies. It came about over the totally nutty, irrational side of man.
“I wish you now, friend, to look into the incense of your mind, yes, you see that little old Buddha sitting there with the smoke coming out of his nose? You can hear the sound of the temple chimes, can’t you? As man counts those bits of straw and rice, those fish bones and those dry tea leaves of philosophy. And contemplates what it’s about. The smallest particle known to man. Now if you take an atom and you divided it up it has to be smaller, there has to be smaller. You can bust anything. And you get molecules, and then you break the molecules down and the thingies down and the radons down and the quasars down and the protons down and you’re left with what? A quark? Indeed a quark.
Study this. It will appear
in the next bluebook quiz.
“Reminds me of the poem ‘The Hunting of the Quark.’ No, they picked that name seriously. You think that’s a bad joke. It’s not a bad joke. It is a bad joke only to those without humor in their soul. [He laughs ironically.] You may now remove your seared ashes from the premises. Heh, heh. The quark, the smallest particle known to man. That’s it, drift it out now, Keith [his engineer should fade out the koto music] and I will describe the scene.
“Now the only fistfight that I ever saw, really a genuine one. Now I have seen guys push each other around, I have seen guys belt each other once in a while, but I’m talking about…”
0:27:12 Now he segues into his main story!
I telegraph my punch here by indicating that
the story is only superficially about a fistfight–
it’s not only about boredom
but about how we perceive time!
Clock from Dover Castle, 1348.
Flash! Top 4 songs in the USA on 9/16/1969 (date of “Army Fistfight” broadcast.)
END OF PART 2 OF 3
What do Shep and Ol’ Blue Eyes have in common?
Jean Shepherd and Lois Nettleton
Frank Sinatra and Lois Nettleton
Yes, but what else? My wife comments that some of my favorite creative people (Hemingway, Picasso, Mailer, Dylan, Shepherd, and Sinatra) have this in common: they could be not very nice people (to put it mildly). Probably the majority of people familiar with those names are not familiar with the ways in which each in his own way could be so self-centeredly cruel.
[Regarding creativity, how many know that Picasso wrote and that both Shepherd and Mailer drew?]
Recently, my interest spiked by an HBO two-part special on Sinatra, I encountered a short but succinct book by Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters (1998). The intro concludes thusly:
….Now Sinatra is gone, taking with him all his anger,cruelty, generosity, and personal style. The music remains. In times to come, that music will continue to matter, whatever happens to our evolving popular culture. The world of my grandchildren will not listen to Sinatra in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him. But high art always survives. Long after his death, Charlie Parker still plays his version of the urban blues. Billie Holiday still whispers her anguish. Mozart still erupts with joy. Every day, in cities and towns all over the planet, someone discovers them for the first time and finds in their art that mysterious quality that makes the listener more human. In their work all great artists help transcend the solitude of individuals; they relive the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E. M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter. So will Frank Sinatra.
Read the following, with Shep’s–or Hemingway’s or Picasso’s, or Mailer’s–name substituted for Sinatra’s, understanding that I recognize that there are differences in the correspondences:
Now [Shepherd] is gone, taking with him all his anger,cruelty, generosity, and personal style. The [words] remain[
s]. In times to come, that [voice] will continue to matter, whatever happens to our evolving popular culture. The world of my grandchildren will not listen to [Shepherd] in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him. But high art always survives…. In their work all great artists help transcend the solitude of individuals; they relive the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E. M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter. So will [Jean Shepherd].
A scrawled masterpiece by Marta Monteiro
Seeing the cover of the New York Times Book Review of January 17, 2016, I nearly passed it by as a nothing space-filler. But I began to look at it a bit more carefully. I became fascinated by its graphic sophistication masquerading as a childish scrawl.
Picasso is quoted as saying that it had taken him decades to learn to draw like a child. This childlike drawing contains a plethora of visually and intellectually fascinating details. My interest in fine art, my training as an industrial designer, and my career as an exhibit designer all train me to see and understand. I feel visually and mentally invigorated just thinking about this piece.
The image shows many people, from the back, wending their way past a title and its list to their right, and the section title: BOOK REVIEW. The colors are, roughly, red, white, grayish blue, and black. The color areas are nicely balanced in zigzag arrangement throughout, starting with the most realistic depiction of the red sole of a man’s shoe at the bottom, expressing his and the entire crowd’s movement. Major red items continue a bit higher up on the far left with a woman’s head scarf; move up to half of a man’s red jacket; centered to the right, a woman’s red coat; further right is a red scarf and coat; one continues the zigzag movement to the center. A red-jacketed man whose red-soled shoe repeats the motif from the bottom of the crowd, but, on the other foot, as though the two feet are part of the one entity—the crowd–re-emphasizing the crowd’s forward motion. Above, a girl’s red coat; to the right a round red hat; left a red coat; the zigzag continuing, diminishing in size with a number of small red spots: all, with smaller red strokes moving the eye up into the far distance. One can as easily follow the rough zigzags of blue, black, yellows, and a couple of greenish tans.
Most of the solid color areas follow the shapes of the clothing, but yellow and blue sometimes serve both as parts of objects and as extensions beyond their objects, becoming parts of the abstract zigzag patterns that help move us up into the distance at the top of the page. A good part of the blacks also serve as outlines, helping define objects, such as the many black-textured scribbles that amusingly define a great variety of hair styles, and, on the lower left in the white of a man’s coat, a long jagged line (seeming by itself to be an arbitrary stroke just for composition’s sake), defines a sleeve and its wrinkled connection to the coat’s shoulder. Check out for yourselves other color and shape areas to see how they assist the overall graphic composition.
Halfway up on the left, a blue-textured smudge seems to be a couple of far-off trees. The man with the checkered jacket holds on his head a red-outlined flat box, graphically, roughly echoed by the black-outlined cooler to his left, and much higher up and further away, a blue-outlined arc-shaped container on a head, and above that, another outlined box on a head. The tiny shapes in the furthest distance are somewhat recognizable as people, then further up, abstracted into pure color blobs beyond our recognition, but we know what they are. They become even more anonymous than the closer members of the human throng.
Near the bottom right, a blue shape with a pattern of vertical black lines denote a coat with sleeve, and the wearer’s large white bag on his/her back serves as background for a very sketchy man’s head and shoulders with scribbled blue sweater, scribbled black hair, and yellow outline of head and ears. He is almost the nearest to the viewer and, being transparent, lets us see beyond him, giving us a psychological sense of being maybe at the back of, but definitely a part of, the moving crowd. (Graphically illustrating this “psychological sense” because, when we are in a crowd moving, we sometimes don’t see some parts of those around us and then sometimes those pieces of the crowd are revealed in the shifting movement—yet, seen or not, we know that they are all there.) It is as though humanity, en masse, including ourselves, travels up the page and far beyond our ken.
I’d never heard of artist Marta Monteiro, so I googled images of her work and found many that I liked. Yet my favorite is the finely designed sketch of migrating humanity gracing the cover of the Book Review.
[Among elements I’d failed to note earlier is that the vertical box, low, left, is diagonally oriented to help the zigzag move up toward the right, where several people, facing diagonally leftward, dramatically form a visual element with the red-outlined box on the head, in all, strongly aiming the direction back toward the center in the zigzag design.]
I emailed my original comments–above the centered diamond shape–to Ms Monteiro (where she is located in Portugal) and she graciously responded:
Dear Eugene Bergmann,
thanks so much for your interest on my work and your kind words.
I usually say that I communicate more successfully using images than words. When I try to use words they fail on me all the time but images don’t. So I wish I had the time to do a quick drawing about how happy I felt when I read your e-mail.
Everything you wrote is on that image. The childlike approach to drawing, the zigzag of colors and shapes and the (sometimes) abstract design of figures/people. All descriptions are really accurate and I couldn’t have said it better….
NEEDLES IN HAYSTACKS
Let’s examine how, in the original context of his broadcast, one of Jean Shepherd’s army stories began as preliminary odds, ends, and diversions. And how might that broadcast, in a comprehensive examination, be the prime mover for a vast and supremely important project just waiting for an audacious, cataloging virtuoso who would achieve immortality in the glorious creative world of Jean Parker Shepherd?
Despite the many army stories Jean Shepherd told, many of which are easily found in audios of his radio programs, more than half of his thousands of broadcasts have not even been located in any form, so we don’t know how many army stories remain among the missing. (And, of course, so much more material of all sorts.) Many broadcasts may never be found because they were never recorded by his listeners, or those that were recorded have been lost. Note that this implies what seems to be the case: that despite statements that, at least in his early New York years, Shepherd recorded all his shows, and his station, WOR Radio, probably recorded some, only those “airchecks” made by dedicated listeners seem to have survived in any numbers.
Photo of Shep
Courtesy of Dorothy Anderson
Among the available broadcasts, some of his army tales are clearly named, but others are hidden because the titles of the broadcast audios, given by the original recorder or a subsequent supplier, don’t include the army material in their names because some other Shep-subject was chosen to highlight. As the author of various works about Shepherd, much of my writing involves finding within the broadcasts, commentaries he made regarding various subjects. Trying to locate Jean Shepherd riffs—army or otherwise— can be very difficult.
The problem—and the glory!—of his works is that each broadcast of 45-minutes, or even longer, incorporates numerous Shepherd-subject per program. This is especially frustrating for at least two reasons. For one, those who save and distribute his radio programs are faced with a limitation of only about twenty-five characters in which to identify a radio program’s audio on internet’s sources such as the Brass Figlagee’s podcasts on iTunes, Insomnia Theater’s site, and the various distributors’ descriptions of Shepherd audios. (By the way, probably all distributors of these audios seem to have exactly copied or made copies of copies of the original sources’ audios and titles, and since some broadcasts were given different names by different fans who taped and distributed them, some programs are repeats with different names.)
Second, the original recorder of the audio, using those few letters and spaces, had to choose a short title based on the many subjects within the broadcast. Sometimes, whoever he/she was, chose a subject (appropriately for the audio or not) other than the one I seek. Seeking audios to include in my book of Shepherd’s army stories, I was faced with the realization that sometimes the title didn’t do a sufficient job of identifying the essence of the matter and some good stories are not even noted in the existing titles. All this seems beyond a practical solution.
As an example, let’s examine the program with a complete designation of “1969 09 16 Army Fist Fight.mp3.”
Some Highlighted Shep shows
from Brassfiglagee, including “Fistfight”
It consists of several subjects that Shepherd talked about, some for no more than for a few moments, and some for several minutes. More than twenty-seven minutes into the show, he segued into a story about a fistfight in the army. I nearly passed this by as I imagined that it would not suit my purposes for Shep’s Army, a book of circumscribed length. But, determined not to miss any important matters in my research, I gave it a try. I found that the story’s essence is not the fistfight itself, but something very different and very relevant to the subject of life in the home-front army. It has to do with the practical, the psychological, and even the philosophical nature of time passing for all of us, and, as Shepherd saw it, especially for those in the military. Sometimes this drag on the psyche leads to boredom ending in frustration and maybe even fistfights. I transcribed it and used it, titling it “Boredom Erupts.”
The only solution for the basic difficulty caused by the multiplicity of Shepherd’s subjects in most of his programs, would be to listen to every one of the many hundreds, most of them forty-five minutes long, along the way making notes of every subject encountered. (Realize that the present Shep-fanatic, before this extensive research project occurred to him, has already heard almost all of these once, twice, and more over the years. Some hypothetical researcher would need to have sufficient fortitude in addition to world enough and time.) That hypo-researcher would electronically file a description and a list of subjects for each show and cross-reference all of them by those subjects. Some sort of vast spreadsheet version of a library’s card catalog. What a marvelous resource for one and all and especially for a serious Shepherd buff! A nice ideal, but I’d guess it ain’t gonna happen.
But, to see how it might go, let’s separate that fist fight program into its elements. Then we can see how the army portion has been plucked out of its surrounding diversions and foreshadowings, and one can also get some idea of how Shepherd programs, with their embedded stories, exist as multifaceted creations. What follows is a description of the program’s subjects with time indicators. Note how many subjects are meant for cross-referencing in the catalog.
End of Part 1 of 3
The ever-so-exciting saga of how to find
a Shep in a haystack
Think about a sitcom based on Jean Shepherd’s career. There was word that one might have been in the works a few years back, but the whole focus was altered and nothing happened.
My idea would be somewhat like the popular WKRP in Cincinnati which originally aired from 1978 to 1982. It dealt with a small radio station. I’d deal with a fictional WOR in New York City. The details would not follow what we know actually happened, but would have some connections to it, with some of the major characters, and would conflate calendar events as well as invent much, somehow based on our understanding of some real people and actions. Inspired by. And, I think it might have less simple comedy and more Shepherd-like humor. Maybe instead of sit-com (for comedy), it could be called, for humor, a sit-hum. Speaking of hum–the opening theme song would be “Bahn Frei” played on kazoo.
All names and some recognizable detail of characters would be changed.
Never fear—or hope—the chances of this coming to fruition are infinitesimally small.
of the immensely successful future sit-hum to be titled
EXCELSIOR, YOU SLOB
Photo below does NOT represent
the cast of Excelsior, You Slob
Photo above does NOT represent
the cast of Excelsior, You Slob
ALL NAMES BELOW ARE TOTALLY FICTICIOUS
(AND WILL BE ALTERED TO AVOID LITIGATION)
A Midwestern radio guy who comes to New York to make his mark and create great art in many fields in the entertainment capital of the world. He has a special, captivating way of improvising his shows. He begins to create in other fields such as writing stories and television. He works hard at becoming an actor and artistic celebrity.
He pulls some noteworthy pranks such as an I, Libertine-type hoax, and various mills set up to disturb the tranquility of the populace.
A young woman living in Manhattan, who is immersed in the arts. She knows many young creative types in the Village such as Shel Silverstein, Rip Torn, Herb Gardner, Jason Robards Jr. When she meets Shepherd she is smitten by his mind and eventually will try to seduce him.
Eventually Shepherd hires her as a gofer, and she little by little works her way up to be his producer and much more.
A young, beautiful, and intelligent actress who, captivated by Shepherd’s innovative radio work, has recently married him. She sometimes shows up at the station to Leigh Brown’s chagrin.
The station’s General Manager. He likes Shepherd, listens to his complaints, and is a sharp observer of all that goes on at the station, including the relationship between Leigh and Shepherd.
The only engineer at the station who understands and likes what Shepherd does.
An attractive young woman who begins at the station, marries Herb, and acts as Shepherd’s producer when he and Leigh are off somewhere busy creating wildly creative projects.
These klutzes do not understand Shepherd’s talent and disparage him when they can.
These klutzes do not understand Shepherd’s talent, but he sells product so they accept him.
Assorted Close Friends of Shepherd’s such as
Shel Silverstein and Bobby Fischer
Talented, young, creative types and celebrities frequently show up.
Hugh Hefner peeks in to hand Shepherd checks.
Village Voice luminaries arrive once in a while to cause trouble (i.e. Norman Mailer).
Occasionally drops by to talk about nothing.
Assorted minor figures
Station engineers, many of whom dislike Shepherd; breakfast-cart folk bearing tepid coffee, frosting, and sprinkles; cleanup people; repair people; security guards who protect Shepherd from *(see below); deliverymen on bikes carrying large orders of chicken with bean sprouts, egg rolls, and BBQ spare ribs (on the bone); etc.
Every year on Shepherd’s birthday, his mother shows up from Homan (yes, Homan) bearing a dripping brown paper bag full of what she knows is his favorite meal (me-lo, re-ca, and ma-po).
And a leg lamp salesman with, in hand, a large sample which does not light–salesman improvised by Robbin Williams or Tim Conway. Or both.
*(Shep-Cuckoos—who inevitably crash and burn.)
[By the way, maybe this could work? I solicit editorial suggestions
and contacts with entertainment bizz VIPs.]
“Deep down inside of me there is a little violin playing
that says, ‘Yes, why, why me?
Why am I the Flying Dutchman,
forever sailing over the seas–
the seven seas of this benighted globe?
Always looking, always searching,
hunting and never finding?'”
TRAVEL HOMILIES OF A NOMADIC AMERICAN
Jean Shepherd liked to talk about his enthusiasm for traveling, and he enjoyed promoting the advantages of travel to his listeners. In short homilies on various radio programs he promoted traveling. Some of his comments about travel can be found in the various travel posts on this blog. Here are a few others.
I’ve often said that there is nothing in the world—and I mean nothing in the world—to change you completely, irrevocably, and for all time, than travel. And I mean real travel. There’s a difference between traveling and touring. A tourist often sees the world through the viewfinder of his Brownie. He sees it out of the window of the car that hurries him though the countries he’s going to. And that’s touring. The world is very unreal when you do that. It’s as though you’re on some kind of a trip on a toy railroad and the scenery’s moving past you and you’re just sitting still. That’s a crazy feeling. But when you learn to travel, then you begin to change. You cannot get around it.
I’ve never taken a tour in my life. I just walk around and dig the scene, see. And when I see a dirty, rotten, crummy, smelly alley, I go up it. I mean, if I feel like going up that alley, and if I don’t, I don’t. I see a lot of country and I see a lot of the world this way.
As far as I’m concerned, travel—I have found to be one of the most—oh—use all these clichés, but it is the one thing I find that really, truly, does give me a kind of a final sense of involvement and satisfaction.
I love the sensation of being completely removed from my known environment, and just looking out—just being able to walk through a street that is—that is completely unknown to me—to look at people who are unknown, to go into a place that is unknown—a restaurant to look at—the sky is unknown.
You know the one thing I think keeps most people from really enjoying travel—in fact enjoying life itself—is groundless fear. I wonder where we develop these fears—early in our lives. The fear of strange smell, for example, you know? How many people have these fears? The fear of strange food. Yeah, that’s right! The fear of strange names. Just the name, for example—Tel Aviv sounds foreign. It sounds vaguely dangerous. I suppose most people would feel better if it was called Circleville—you know—or Littleton, or some name that you can handle like that.
Yet I do feel that fear—groundless fear—keeps most people from actually—genuinely enjoying their lives. I’m talking about fear of all kinds. Sexual, esthetic, and we could go further and further and further until finally you don’t know where it ends.
If you ever have any doubts about spending any money on traveling, friend, forget it. I’m serious. The people that I always feel sorry for are people who are old and are about to depart this mortal coil, who have never traveled. Who have never really seen the world. And it doesn’t take a lot of money, you know. Really doesn’t because it’s amazing how people tend to spend a lot of money on junk.
Book cover choice 3.
My first 2 choices for covers of my Shep’s Travel book
I posted in the beginning of these travel posts: Parts 1 and 4.
Thus endeth Shep’s travels a la eb.
[It would still be so nice to see all my transcripts of Shep’s travels book-bound.]
Onward to other travails.
“Improvised” is a descriptive term we use for Shep’s radio broadcasts (The vast majority of them). The term may not be quite comprehensive enough to describe the works of John Cage, but there seems to have been an affinity that Cage had toward Shepherd’s work because apparently he was an early listener to Shepherd when he was on overnight (1:00-5:30 from January to August, 1956).
In a 1971 radio interview for KRAB-FM in Seattle, upon hearing that a Cage program follows the interview, Shepherd comments:
I’ll tell you one thing you may be interested in—John Cage was one of the very first men who called me at WOR when I first came on the air in New York City. John Cage. And he called me up—and we talked a lot. One of my first listeners. And then he got the idea one night when we were talking on the phone–of the thing that he did at Carnegie Hall with all the radios? Well, that came out of him listening to my show. That thing he did with all the conglomerate radios up on the stage.
On one of his broadcasts, Shepherd commented that Cage was going to use a bit of his (Shep’s) live broadcasts in one of his upcoming compositions. This would appear to have been during Shepherd’s 1956 overnight period, as he remembers it in the interview.
According to an Internet source, Cage wrote “Imaginary Landscape No 4” for twelve radios in 1951—four years before Shep came to NYC.
The source says: “In the mid- to late-1950s Cage would write three more works for radio, namely Speech (1955), Radio Music (1956), and Music Walk (1958),… The source says that “Radio Music” was first performed on May 30, 1956 at the Carl Fisher Hall in New York City “with artists John Cage, Maro Ajemain, David Tudor, Grete Sultan and the four members of the Juillard String Quartet.” Thus, it seems likely that Shepherd refers to “Radio Music” performed (not at Carnegie Hall, but Carl Fisher Hall) on that May 30, 1956—just a few months after he began broadcasting overnight in NYC.
I’ve done some Internet research, but have not encountered an audio done during that performance. Maybe it exists out there?
With Shepherd’s considerable interest in all manner of sounds and the nature of unscripted performance (including his own talks and the nature of jazz), he is likely to have been curious about Cage’s means of working and the resulting audios.
(3) ROSE, MUSEUM COORDINATOR AND ARTIST
Starting in 1967 when I began as an Exhibit Designer at the Museum of Natural History, and for many years, one of my coworkers was Rose, who coordinated information and general communications between me and curatorial departments for which I was designing exhibits—mostly the Invertebrate Hall and the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians. She was very good and efficient at her job, and at the same time a sweet, caring, and gregarious friend to everyone. We became good friends.
When one opened a communication from her (in pre-Internet and pre email days) one was often delighted to encounter her cartoony and witty illustrations dominating the page, which usually referred pointedly to—and enhanced– the memo’s content. [Be sure to click to enlarge.]
Some of her artworks were also full-page and larger. I collected all of her illustrated pieces she sent to me, and also those sent to others willing to hand them over. [The above two yellow memos are on yellow paper, but the yellow and other discoloring of backgrounds are due to age.]
Although she was a bit embarrassed when someone such as myself showed off her work to others, one day, after I’d accumulated dozens of her pieces, and she seemed to be slowing down on her cartoon-work, I decided to do an exhibit of them. While she was out during a lunch hour, I pinned dozens of her works on the walls of the empty cubicle by which most of the employees would have to pass to get back to work. (That her anarchic wit filled a heretofore empty, sterile, and fascist cubicle, should be noted.)
[Back then, these almost instant-photos were known as “Polaroids.”]
She was shocked (as well as pleased)
and insisted that I take them down.
Eventually I did.
I’ve collected her works in a scrapbook,
and larger ones in big envelopes.
As designer of the “Herp Hall,” I got invited too.
Rose enjoyed giving parties, and enjoyed decorating for Christmas!
I always encouraged her to do more and more stuff, but she’d tapered off and stopped despite entreaties from me and my exhibit of her work.
I maintained my collection even after I retired. I framed several of her stand-alone larger pieces. Allison and I mounted a couple of them on our stairwell. Here’s one below. It’s about 11″ X 18.” We see it nightly from our living room. [The imperfectly matched halves of the rooster is caused by the two scans of these halves of a single sheet in the original, imperfectly joined by technical glitch–either in my ability or in the blog’s obstinacy.]
I wonder how she is now, and what she might be doing as joyous and creative as what she had done decades ago for the few brief years when she’d brought pleasure to the rest of us by combining her personality and efficient work with her spontaneous creativity.
WRITING AND TALKING ABOUT TRAVEL
Traveling is one of Shepherd’s favorite activities, and the previous posts about his wide range of sites visited should give some sense of this. From the following list of original radio audios used for the transcriptions, one will note that the sequence I’ve used is not a chronological one–I organized by what I thought made an interesting variety of stuff to read.
SOURCES FOR JEAN SHEPHERD RADIO AUDIOS
Of Jean Shepherd’s comments regarding his enthusiasm for travel, all originating in his radio broadcasts on WOR Radio, some come from my original transcriptions found in Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd (Applause Books, March, 2005). Several originate in additional audios subsequently encountered.
There are several sources of Shepherd audios. Most come from Max Schmid’s WBAI-FM broadcasts and his commercially available cassettes and CDs of this material. Many, originating from Max’s material, are also found on the internet’s iTunes/podcasts/brassfiglagee, where they came from Jeff Beauchamp’s no-long-extant Jean Shepherd Project. A short written comment by me about the Beatles trip comes from the Program Notes of www.RadioSpirits.com CDs, composed of syndicated shows virtually unheard before the early 2000s.
Note that broadcast titles are not “official,” but are those given by the person providing the material, lo these many years ago. Dates of the broadcasts are those provided by the recorder of the broadcast, and though considered rather standard, they might not be definitive.
In the majority, travel episodes found in these posts come from a single radio broadcast or from a series of broadcasts extended over several days. In a few instances, Shepherd’s comments found here in a particular chapter might come from isolated comments made by him on some broadcast made later. Note that the audios we have for the Lebanon visit of 1958 date from radio reminisces in 1973 and 1974. He did, however, write a bit in his Village Voice columns soon after he returned in 1958. (Bits of these have been included in the travel posts.)
A couple of broadcast audios were forwarded to me by Jim Clavin of www.flicklives.com. and a couple of others by a Shepherd enthusiast who wishes to remain anonymous. Although some of the audios can be found in more than one source, listings here are based on the version I used for this book: Clavin; iTunes; Schmid; Syndicated.
March on Washington: 8/29/63 Schmid
Maine Deciding to be Beautiful: 9/15/66 Schmid
The Middle East: 2/25/73, 3/4/74 Schmid; 1966 6/6, 6/7, 6/8 Schmid; 1966 6/9, 6/11 iTunes;
1966 6/10 Clavin
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Shep 11/2/64, 11/7/64 iTunes
Irish Blood in Me 3/17/67 Schmid; 3/17/72 iTunes
The Last Time I Saw Paris 6/15/66 Schmid
Around the World With Shep 4/4/72, 4/5/72 Schmid; 4/10/72, 4/13/72 iTunes
Australia 1965 4/14, 5/8, 5/13, 5/18 iTunes; 1969 9/17 iTunes
Amazon and the Headhunters 1965 9/2/ 9/16 9/17, 9/18 iTunes; 9/7v Schmid
Nigeria 3/21/63, 2/22/63, 3/23/63 Anon; 4/29/63, 8/5/66, 1976 Clavin; 7/4/63 Schmid
?/64 or ?/65 Syndicated
Sailing the Windward Islands 12/10/75 iTunes
Maine is a Foreign Country 6/17/65 Schmid
A coupla books about travel
In doing some research about the act of travel. I encountered various books and articles describing the pleasures of travel. A number of them describe, as Shepherd later did on his programs, the difference between a tourist (A person who encounters superficial aspects in the places he/she passes through), and traveler, as Shep prided himself on being.
I encountered the works of Paul Bowles, and by cherry-picking his 1949 “Novel”–or not-a-novel, The Sheltering Sky, I found some of the comments that give Bowles credit for perceptive ideas about traveling. If Shepherd had encountered these perceptions (as I would guess that he had), I would expect that he would have agreed with them and maybe incorporated some of them within his own sensibility:
“[A]nother important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”
“Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.”
“The only thing that makes life worth living is the possibility of experiencing now and then a perfect moment. And perhaps even more than that, it’s having the ability to recall such moments in their totality, to contemplate them like jewels.”
WHY WE TRAVEL—By Pico Iyer Saturday, Mar 18, 2000 SALON.COM
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate….
Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle….
But for the rest of us, the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head. If a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism), a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism). And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal….
Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit….
So travel, for many of us, is a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing; I, at least, travel in search of an innocent eye that can return me to a more innocent self….
Travel, then, is a voyage into that famously subjective zone, the imagination, and what the traveler brings back is — and has to be — an ineffable compound of himself and the place, what’s really there and what’s only in him….
THE ART OF TRAVEL by Alain Botton, 2002.
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival….[travel] whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia or human flourishing.”
Here, repeated from the beginnings of my travel posts:
Shepherd would probably be pleased to find a link between himself and his revered forebear in a sentence from Twain’s preface to The Innocents Abroad. Shepherd might have written it for his own travel tales: “I offer no apologies for any departures from the usual style of travel writing that may be charged against me—for I think I have seen with impartial eyes, and I am sure I have written at least honestly, whether wisely or not.”
With his own distinctive brand of wit, Shepherd shares with Twain
his sharp-eyed observations and a penchant for truth.
The following I find fascinating because it applies to travel, as well as to national and international affairs, and to every other other thingamabob we encounter in the world:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” –D.Rumsford (a former public figure)
The next blog post includes various Shepherd comments on traveling.
Illustrating the difference between comedy and humor might most easily be done by using Shepherd’s most popular creation, the movie A Christmas Story, and from short stories related to the movie. When little Randy can’t get up after falling in the snow, the image is funny, as it is when he raises the lid of the toilet seat (“the pot”) and the visual cut to the kitchen where what’s being raised is the lid of a pot of red cabbage. The old man getting his Christmas present gift, a bowling ball, dropped a bit too heavily in his groin is comic, as, on the crate carrying his leg lamp, the stenciled sign is missing the initial “T,” reading “HIS END UP.”
A great comic description from the short story “Duel in the Snow or Red Ryder Nails the Cleveland Street Kid,” upon which the movie is largely based, includes:
Scattered out over the icy waste around us could be seen other tiny befurred jots of wind-driven humanity. All painfully toiling toward the Warren G. Harding School, miles away over the tundra, waddling under the weight of frost-covered clothing like frozen bowling balls with feet.
This is a funny image, but doesn’t achieve humor as here defined. But rising to that level, incorporating Dorothy Parker’s requirements, is the moment that Ralphie decodes the Orphan Annie message and decries, “A crummy commercial?”
Criticism and “a disciplined eye and a wild mind.” We recognize the criticism of the deception inflicted upon Ralphie; his realization that show biz, even that directed at kids, is a commercial scam; and his dawning realization that the world he is growing into is one filled with manufactured illusions—deliberate deception. The immediate audience reaction is a laughing out loud at the pointed joke; but, for me, the humor in it is that Ralphie encounters and recognizes that the world is full of two kinds: those who dupe and those who are duped. We retain the realization that life is full of subtle and not-so-subtle deceptions.
In the end, from a deceptively innocent, nostalgic past, the grownup warning that even some minor desires are dangerous, will need to be faced. (“Be careful what you wish for.”) Yet even now, Ralphie’s golden-age-of-nearly-innocent-fantasy—of killing the bad guys with his gun—will have a near miss, a non-lethal twist: ready to fire his first shot with his present, Ralphie has attached the paper target to an obviously discarded but salvaged large metal advertising sign. A sign that will ricochet the BB back at him, nearly shooting his eye out. But before that near-fateful shot is sent winging toward the bull’s eye, the sign itself—which may be plotting revenge for its eventual, ignominious demise—bent out of shape and turned on end, can be seen for an instant by the sharp-eyed movie maven (Quick! look at it! Read it sideways!), its beautifully scripted, two-word, return-to-sender proclamation ironically says it all with its simple-minded, nostalgic, not-so-innocent manifest: “Golden Age.”
By the end of the film, we adults recognize the overly-cautious, yet truthful saying that, with a weapon, “You’ll shoot your eye out!” And, making the entire film’s quest for a gun into the overriding humor, we recognize the truth that the cliche of shooting your eye out, overprotective as it is, might–in the real world–also be an important, universal truism–the BB might ricochet–be careful with that dangerous weaponry!
For all his wit and humor, Jean Shepherd has also be described as childish and even silly. For example, a Shep-fan wrote:
Here is a grown man sitting in a little studio at night telling fictitious bedtime stories, playing really obscure music while he beats on his head or plays along with such classical instruments as the jews harp and nose flute. Mature? I think being immature was what appealed to kids. With Shep we saw it was cool to be an old kid and we didn’t have to worry about becoming old, boring, cookie-cutter people like those we were in contact with every day. Shep was like that wacky favorite uncle you would only see at family gatherings who would be the life of the party… .I enjoyed being a kid and to me Shep was still one too.
Yes, Shep was sometimes a kid at heart. Sure, Shep was silly at times—when he did some of those things for which he could be called “immature.” But it seems to me that most of the time on the air, Shepherd was a mature adult telling us things about himself, life, and our culture and our humanity. And to be “immature” at times is to have the self-confidence to be able to play, to be “silly,” to see the surreal and to summon it up with the wonder and innocence of childhood. Picasso said it took him a lifetime to recapture the visual attributes of childhood, and the well-known photo of Einstein with his tongue out shows the recognized genius with the self-confidence and understanding of the broad range of human nature to be at times “silly.” Especially in public, silly is funny and silly is valuable in expressing our wonder (and dawning skepticism) toward the world as experienced by a child. To be so silly is to perceive the richness and complexities of our human condition and to even so, stick one’s pointed essence at it. Maybe such silliness is the highest form of humor. Oh, powers that be, forever preserve in me the life-enhancing ability to be at times silly–eb