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