THE MYSTERY SALVAGER OF SANIBEL STORY
(What Jean’s heirs may have abandoned)
Reports indicated that immediately after Jean Shepherd died (October 16, 1999), two people entered his home on Sanibel Island, Florida, went through it, and carried stuff off. These people are assumed to have been two of his heirs, and thus, one would like to hope, somewhat knowledgeable about his legacy. Some time later the house was sold.
A man we’ll call Mystery Salvager (MS) tells his tale. He says he got the salvage contract to clean out the house and the right to keep whatever he found there. He says he did not realize to whom the house had belonged until he entered it and recognized the name, because, coincidentally, he had had some slight contact with Shepherd years ago up north.
Here is MS’s story. He says he was amazed at what he found abandoned in the house. As proof of his story he sent to Jim Clavin, a few photos of things he carted off for safekeeping. He sent a photo of the cast bronze Hammond Achievement Award Plaque Shepherd received in 1981, part of which says:
Hammond Achievement Award
Honored by his Fellow Citizens
Of Hammond, Indiana, for Outstanding
Achievement in the Fields of
Literature, Radio Broadcasting & Television.
Among other objects of interest that MS says he now possesses are a framed New York Times crossword puzzle with a reference to Shepherd (a photo of this has also been seen); the marriage license of Jean Shepherd and Leigh Brown; Jean Shepherd’s ham radio equipment; a box of manuscripts with titles that indicate they might be unpublished stories.
Should this tale be true, and the photo of the bronze plaque seems to bear some proof, one might think these objects have sentimental and historical value. Some of them have financial value, and the unpublished manuscripts, if authentic, would have considerable artistic value as part of Jean Shepherd’s legacy. What about tapes of broadcasts? One might wonder what other objects—cast-off salvage—might have been abandoned.
As an indefatigable salvager of Shep material myself, I follow the leads. I talked to Jean‘s son Randall, and he remembers that the ham radio equipment had effectively been retrieved from the house before salvage operations, and he rescued his father’s Morse code key (which he subsequently said that he’d given to a ham radio person). He doesn’t think there were manuscripts of unpublished stories but only scripts sent to Shepherd for his approval and other such matter. (What about the unpublished army story book-manuscript Shep had announced several times? Even the titles would be worth knowing.) He comments that from the condition of the house when he visited it after his father’s death, Jean and Leigh had neglected even basic house-cleaning for what appeared to be years. Mystery Salvager must have had quite a job doing cleanup. For his own odd and infuriating reasons, MS has disappeared.
He holds many salvaged Shepherd treasures, possibly some of the highest artistic order,
but, maybe with a stash of tapes under his arm, he has vanished into his private swamp.
Part 2 coming
In 1983 WGBH Boston did a series of seven “Bumpers” with Shepherd to fill time at the end of Masterpiece Theatre. They dealt with early movie subjects including Harold Lloyd, D. W. Griffith, and special effects.
Jean Shepherd at the Movies
Photo: Dan Beach
“Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait,” Produced by PBS in 1987, is similar to those videos on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Babe Ruth, in which Shepherd participated with his intermittent commentary along with about a dozen others. Judging from his enthusiastic comments, he seems familiar with Rockwell’s work over the decades. Much of the program deals with a sense of nostalgia regarding Rockwell’s illustrations, but other interviewees as well as Shepherd point to the keen eye and mind that could depict so much of the everyday experiences of ordinary folk. Shepherd contrasts Rockwell’s two different kinds of depiction of service men in World War II. He mentions the “entertainments” that most people remember of the GI “looking cute and wearing a little fatigue hat and that kind of stuff.” Shepherd continues with what would very much be in accord with his own realistic eye, that “Then he painted the other war. Most people don’t remember that. In fact, his painting of the machine gunner is one of the great paintings ever done of a combat soldier at work.”
As he so often did, here Shepherd alerts us to an easily overlooked significant aspect of a subject at hand. He has expanded our perception—we can’t always respond to Rockwell with the same dismissive back-of-the-hand we once did.
For the 1998 HBO television documentary, “Babe Ruth—The Life Behind the Legend,” nearly two dozen people, including Shepherd, spoke about Ruth. Shepherd, then 77, looks old and grizzled, as he does in the Thanksgiving and Christmas short interviews done at about the same time. He gives nearly a dozen short comments, including one about the widely believed, but apparently not-quite-true story, of Ruth pointing to the centerfield bleachers and then hitting a home run ball there: “It’s a harmless little myth. Hell, a lot of people believe in Santa Claus. Nothing wrong with it.” To the end, Shepherd remained fond of some forms of probable unreality.
SOAP STORY VIGNETTE
A rather surprising news article appeared in 1961 (the year the program was cancelled) stating that Shepherd would portray a TV producer in the daytime soap, From These Roots, but we don’t know if it really happened. Shepherd in a soap?! Any old soap opera fans out there?
Thanks to Jim Clavin’s http://www.flicklives.com for many of the above details.
(13) CHALK DRAWINGS
The combination of visuals–with or without words–used to create meaning has been an important part of my life–such as my exhibit design career and my interest in artists books.
Two artists I’m interested in drew with chalk on black surfaces. They assumed that these works would have a very temporary life. One used colored chalks to illustrate complex, philosophical, mystical, concepts on blackboards. (“Chalk-talks,” they might have been described, but that is too superficial-sounding for the kind of stuff I describe here.) The results were erased, the black slate made ready for the next lecture. One used white chalk on the temporary black paper pasted by subway employees charged with keeping the large poster ads current on station walls.
I read a review and visited an exhibit of Rudolph Steiners’ blackboard drawings.
Steiner (1861-1925) had multiple interests including mathematics, physics, chemistry, literature, philosophy, and his modern, all-inclusive theory of education. (His American grammar school, Rudolph Steiner School, is at 15 East 79th Street, Manhattan.) In his lectures to adults, he drew colored chalk drawings of his philosophical theories on a blackboard. He’d erase the drawings at the end of his talks–until his colleague, Emma Stolle, in 1919, began covering the board with black paper, which he then drew on. She dated and saved the results. These are now in a permanent archive.
The essay by Lawrence Rinder, editor of the book accompanying the exhibition of Steiner’s drawings, begins:
A German museum director recently remarked that if Rudolph Steiner’s blackboard drawings do not fit within any current definition of art, then a definition must be devised to include them. Such theoretical gymnastics attest to the evocative and singular quality of Steiner’s pedagogical drawings, produced during his lectures on “spiritual science,” art, medicine, agriculture, economics, and other subjects.
What do these pedagogical drawings “mean”? Even studying the short lecture comments by Steiner included with many illustrations in the catalog I have, do not reveal meaning to me. To come close, probably one had to be enwrapped in Steiner’s talk as he simultaneously expressed his ideas with chalk on black.
Regarding a drawing, his comment (June 11, 1924), repeated on the back of the catalog:
The characteristic feature of everything on Earth is that
the spiritual always needs a spiritual bearer.
The meaning, the mystical essence of these images, is an enigma to me, though I’m entranced by the mind that fused ideas and feelings so captivatingly.
In the 1980s, before having seen the Steiner drawings, as my uptown Lexington Avenue Express subway train sped along, I saw simple white-chalk line drawings-on-black on station walls. (On the spaces meant for large poster ads, the plain black is pasted over old ads or other not-in-use spaces.) One day I got off at a local stop just to look at the drawings up close at my own pace. I was fascinated by the purity of image, the ultimate simplicity of iconic dog and baby with their cartoon lines of bark and glow. Whatever the “meaning” was, it was blatantly straightforward and in-your-public-face—not mystical. I appreciated how the artist could start without pre-drawn sketch and fill a panel so elegantly composed (shall I say “visually fulfilling”?). Part of the then-current graffiti world, these drawings were temporary–easily smudged and covered over, and only appeared where one expected visual info on stations.
Eventually I found that the artist, Keith Haring, was making a name for himself in the art world, but it was too late to find his art for free and rip it off the subway’s poster walls for my private delectation.
I went to a gallery opening of his work in the Village. I bought the catalog. I saw him standing by himself, went up to him, catalog in hand, and asked if he would sign it. He expressed pleasure that I’d bought it and said, “I might as well draw a picture in it.”
Original Haring felt-tip drawing in my catalog.
Haring’s work expanded into complex compositions and into other venues such as large painted murals in spaces such as children’s playgrounds, and a sculpture at what was then named Schneider’s Children’s Hospital, where Allison and I encountered it when we took our older son for treatment.
I saw his work in museums and in magazines. He no longer had to escape from transit cops on subway platforms. He was famous and got his name in the papers–where I eventually read that he had died of AIDS.
Steiner made rarified works and began a theoretical educational system still in use; Haring worked publicly—in the subways–and had widely admired art gallery and museum shows. The Steiner and Haring chalk drawings are wildly different in meaning, character, and intent. Both approaches are valued. Their works survive.
“Pretty Bubbles in the Air”
I’m forever blowing bubbles,/Pretty bubbles in the air,/They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,/Then like my dreams they fade and die./Fortune’s always hiding,/I’ve looked everywhere,/I’m forever blowing bubbles,/Pretty bubbles in the air.//I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,/I’m building castles high./They’re born anew, their days are few,…
No wonder Shep would sing some of the lyrics–they exemplify his philosophy.
Some of the little-known or unrealized Shep projects
Over the years, Shepherd claimed to have a play in the offing, and a movie he said he was working on as late as 1998, the year before he died. None of these has appeared. Maybe they were mere pretty bubbles.
In a major film made in 1964, Light Fantastic, Shepherd plays a dance instructor. The film, apparently released only in Europe, has not been available in the United States.
Shep plays the part of Frank, the older Dance instructor. “In this romantic drama, a plain, lonely secretary wins three dance lessons. Her handsome instructor tells her that she is quite talented and cons her into signing a long-term contract. She soon finds herself in love with him, and an affair begins. The normally cold-hearted instructor is surprised when he finds himself genuinely returning her affections. Trouble ensues when she dances with another instructor who gives her exactly the same sales pitch.” Source: IMDB – Written by Jim Sadur.
For a video documentary of 1974 that hasn’t been seen for decades Shepherd narrated “The Great American Balloon Adventure” about a ten-week tour of America in an eighty-foot balloon. And a number of other projects have been reported. Two “Fisherman’s World” videos (1969, 1970) show Shep fishing for salmon in Michigan and ice fishing in Wisconsin, with a gag showing him being served drinks on the ice by Playboy Bunnies.
In An Answer, a half-hour documentary about an early 1963 visit by President Kennedy to Naval and Marine facilities to observe military might, especially on the high sea, Shepherd gives a straight narration of what obviously was material scripted by the armed forces. That he had the opportunity to be involved must have gratified him, as in his eulogy of JFK only a half year later, he said that he had always been “a Kennedy man.”
Another film project recently uncovered is No Whistles, Bells or Bedlam. In 1972, Shepherd appeared in and narrated this half-hour film for The National Technical Institute for the Deaf. I encountered this title on the internet’s IMDB.com, and I emailed Raul daSilva who had written the description of it there. To my surprise he was the filmmaker, and he sent me a copy of it. What delights me is that such a basic attempt at contact led to a positive resolution to this little quest.
Among Shepherd’s media projects that started well but never achieved their hoped-for success was an hour television pilot he wrote and narrated, Phantom of the Open Hearth, with the same title as his earlier PBS TV drama. The pilot, for a weekly series, focuses on Ralph, shown as an incredible klutz, finding out that he was the blind date. Another segment shows his father thinking he is a smart negotiator when buying a used car, but being depicted as an utter fool. These portrayals are quite mean-spirited—not something television in those days wanted in a sit-com. Shep, your sense of “realism” got out of hand and clobbered you!
More to come
“Honey, I think you and I were wrong.”
Allison and I are enthusiasts of much (but not all) rock-and-roll. Beatles, Bruce, Holly, The Who, Stones, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and lots more, but other than “Purple Rain,” we weren’t aware of Prince’s music or what he had accomplished in the world. (We were prejudiced, in part, by what appeared to be the one-dimensional aspect of his sexually explicit self and the lack of sufficient major media attention.) With his death, we know a little more–my favorite (political) television station did four hours straight on him the day he died, my New York Times did major stuff on him (I’ve always said that if the Times didn’t do anything about a subject, it didn’t exist) and now I know just a tiny smidgen. But, though listening to a bit of his music this morning and reading about his wide-ranging genius, I still don’t know about him. But maybe I begin to have an inkling.
Jean Shepherd Bobblehead!
Does Mark Twain have a bobblehead? Does George Ade have a bobblehead? Does Mort Sahl have a bobblehead? Only the truly great should have bobbleheads. Like George Washington and Derek Jeter. And Jean Shepherd.
This magnificent bobblehead will stand as a focal point in my SHEP SHRINE. In the shrine he will star and he will glow, he will be in the spotlight.
HE WILL BOBBLE!
With his magnificent cleft in his chin (coincidentally, I have one also, but it’s hidden by my magnificent white beard). Most of us never knew about the super spandex undergarment hidden by the deceptively, unprepossessing, white shirt.
Bobbling, he represents the early Shep, where he smiles out at us from the front of his first comedy album, “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles,” created way back in 1959.
So I present to you the unique, plastic, 6.5″ high,
Jean Shepherd’s true,
J E A N S H E P H E R D !
more overwhelming sight,
I never expect to see.
Presidents get bobbleheads, sports figures get bobbleheads–baseball, even hockey players I never heard of get bobbleheads. Checking on ebay, I noted 76, 799 bobblehead listings. (many, I know, are repeats.) For example, of Brooklyn Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese rolling wheelchair-bound catcher Roy Campanella out for his “Night,” there were 28. Yes, Queen Elizabeth 2 has one. There have been a couple of A Christmas Story character bobbleheads.
gets a bobblehead.
Somehow, Harvey Pekar, the creator of the strange and serious and really good-but-little-known comic (graphic novel) American Splendor, gets a bobblehead.
I gather that Pekar got his as part of the opening-night publicity for the movie about him, American Splendor, starring Paul Giamatti. I encountered one on ebay and it now stands in front of my American Splendor graphic novel collection. What must Pekar have thought when he got his? Amused? Proud? Splendid? Totally Unnerved? Did he smile and chuckle silently to himself, saying “How ridiculous!” ?
I have often said to myself (ironically and also seriously)
–and even out loud–
in the hearing of my darling wife, Allison,
that I won’t be satisfied until
has his own bobblehead.
Then I will know that he has really made it.
(Alongside Harvey Pekar and ted.)
He will have become a Great American Celebrity!
Jean P. Shepherd Bobblehead–
a phony paste-up job in my dreams.
This Christmas, December 25, 2015 A.D., Santa (through his assistant, Allison), came through for me (in a series of emails and preliminary photos of the work in process, and finally USPS Priority Mail), I now possess what is undoubtedly the only-in-the-world—
Jean Shepherd Bobblehead!
Recently arrived from a great bobblehead-conjuring-entity in the sky.
(Stay tuned for the grand unveiling.)
Here are ways that I have promoted my work regarding Shep:
•Interviews: on Internet, radio, one on TV, and Paley Center appearance.
•Responded to reader comments on Internet sites referring to Shep.
•Authored several articles about Shep in print publications.
•Appearance and talk at Hammond’s ACS festival.
•Contributed paragraph about Shep for Hammond’s ACS brochure.
•Discussion on two panels at the Old Time Radio Convention
(Thanks again to Jackie Lannin for the Excelsior banner).
•Two talks at public libraries.
•References on my blog, www.shepquest.wordpress.com .
•My occasional comments regarding some Customer Reviews
on www.amazon.com and my “Author Page”on that site.
•In all nine CD sets of Syndicated Shep,
my text about the audios and info about EYF!
(Shep book info layout by Radio Spirits).
•My Shepherd play, “Excelsior,” (2 performances!)
•My EYF! pin worn on very rare occasions.
(I designed it with my computer drawing program, printed it,
and took it to a pin-maker at the mall.
It’s 3.5″ diameter so ya can’t miss it!)
•The sweatshirt I designed and occasionally wear.
(Photo taken in front of my Shep Shrine wall in my study.
Note Shep-poster, excelsior bottles,
Shep drawings on paper towel, etc.)
•As always, I thank Jim Clavin for his constant promotion
of my work on his site, www.flicklives.com
Jean Shepherd promoted his own books and other creative works in a variety of ways.
•He talked about them on his radio program
•He did book tours to bookstores
•He did radio interviews around the country to talk about the books and other work
•He mentioned them during live-appearances at schools and other stand-up venues.
He referred to two of his books of short stories as “novels” because novels, in general, sell better than books of short stories. (By the way, Norman Mailer–whom Shep disliked a lot for some probably causes I’ve commented on previously)–was probably the greatest ever self-promoter of his own persona and work.)
Four opening titles of the movie A Christmas Story credit him. That his film and television stories use some of his short stories, by implication promotes his published stories. Lists of his stories used in ACS are familiar to many. Here, from www.flicklives.com, is part of its list of Shepherd short story subjects used in Shep’s 90-minute TV drama, “The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters”:
Wilbur Duckworth and the Magic Baton • The Blind Date • Scragging •
The Wash Rag Pyramid Scheme • Uncle Carl’s Fireworks Stand •
The Old Man’s Fireworks Display • Ludlow Kissel • Fireworks on the Roof of Roosevelt High
This above is not a negative description—all of this is good,
and standard operating procedure in our world.
In fact, “Shep Promotion Part 2” describes ways in which I have promoted my work about Shep.
Blowing Bubbles. Yes, as Shep sang various times, “Pretty bubbles in the air.” Publication-wise and publication-foolish, I had two strong indicators of a possible publishing contract for the kid book in December, 2015. Now, six days after April Fools Day, I’m still waiting and I still have positive indicators. Hence:
All aspects of book publishing contain unexpected travails as well as joys. In the process of seeking august celebrities to write glowing forewords for these kid stories—Hefner and Seinfeld would suffice–I encountered several short pieces. I cannot vouch for where they came from or for their authenticity. But, desperate as I was and am, I present them here for your edification.
by Mark Twain (aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
This fool thinks he can write about children and incipient adults. Well, he does better than most who attempt it, but that ain’t saying much. He should reread my Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He claims to be out of the Midwest, but he does not have one damn word of Midwestern accent or terminology in these otherwise well-fashioned narrative delights. My own Midwestern commentaries hurl bittersweet spears at unsuspecting psychic wounds. Shepherd does his work with more subtlety. Go for it, Shep!
(I only submit these comments because Shepherd mentions me by name and refers to my beloved Mississippi River.)
by W. C. Fields (aka William Claude Dukenfield)
Why anyone would want to spend his valuable time contemplating kids and even going through the shenanigan of writing about them, is beyond me. By the by, children cannot be trained, they must be wrangled. Children should only occasionally be seen and always need to be herded. Which brings to mind that, as an aficionado of the Zen habit of clapping with one hand, I applaud the yarn here titled “Decayed Tooth, Balsa Wood, and Silly Putty,” and the tale subtitled “Ah-eeeek ah-eeeek!”
If I had known Shepherd I could have enhanced his radio skills by teaching him how to perform the juggling of multiple balls and hoops and such in that audio medium. By George, he already did that by juggling with multiple narratives!
by Kafka (aka Franz Kafka)
I do not normally write or even read stories about children. I did, however, write a story that concerned a man who became a vermin. It was not meant to be funny. But I admit that I rather enjoyed several of the stories herein: the boy who cultivates worms; the steel mill youth who excels at ensnaring rats; the college student who suffers an epiphany while eating snails.
Anyone who can write tales about such matters that make people laugh as well as think is a strange fellow indeed, and worth keeping an eye on.
I apologize to the three worthies above for having stolen their thoughts and personas. However, needing all the noteworthiness and balderdash I can lay my hands on, I hurl them at you anywho.
They might be followed by an authentic introduction and extraordinary JPS fictions.
There are people who tend to consider artists crazy. In general, I consider artists to be the most clear-headed, perceptive, sensitive people in the world. Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and it also depends on how you define artist and how you define crazy.
Translations of that line vary, but inevitably contain the word “crazy” or “mad.” My interpretation is that he felt intensely obsessed about making art.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sometimes I sorta think of myself as crazy about (contemplating) art. I used to know someone (let’s refer to as D.) who was a very good artist and who was very enthusiastic about art (got me to appreciate Cezanne, etc.). Subsequent to my unsuccessful attempts to get my varied novel manuscripts published, I began a manuscript using a form similar to my other attempts: “true” and fictional chapters intertwined and inter-related. Thus, my novel-in-progress about a fine artist and the true-to-life issues that inspired me to deal with the conflict between making art and the artist’s conflicts regarding mental issues and society. It concerned D, who some would refer to as mentally disturbed, as some people incorrectly refer to Van Gogh’s art as issuing from a disturbed mind.
Many people think that Van Gogh was “crazy.” I’d guess that he was very neurotic, and it’s said that he may have had epilepsy. I consider him to be one of the greatest artists who ever lived. Somebody who could paint “Pollard Willows and Setting Sun” ain’t crazy. This painting is hardly ever reproduced. I encountered it for the first time at the Kroller-Muller Museum, where, to see one of the largest and greatest collections of Van Gogh paintings anywhere one drives deep into the woods to Otterlo, Netherlands. I bought a near-full-size reproduction, which I have framed on a wall in my study (aka my Shep Shrine). I believe the original is a bit lighter than shown here:
“Pollard Willows at Sunset”
31.5 X 34.5 cm oil on cardboard
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I wanted to express in my “Art Crazy” manuscript how D, despite some intermittent mental issues, was an accomplished, very fine artist. After about 200 hand-written manuscript pages, I put it aside and eventually realized that, even though I felt my idea was worthwhile, I couldn’t find a path to complete it to my satisfaction, and never would return to it. When we moved last year, with our large amount of literary and artsy stuff, to save my heirs the trouble of tossing the unpublishable manuscript, I beat them to it. As usual, I’d designed some possible book covers. The form of the subtitle was inspired by Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night—History as a Novel The Novel as History:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What’s up, Doc?
A recent newspaper article describes an exhibit in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, “On the Verge of Insanity,” focusing on Vincent’s act of cutting off his ear. Fortunately, according to an Internet article by Jessica Wong, CBC News:
Rather than an artistic genius whose madness fueled his output, Vincent van Gogh was able to create incredible paintings despite his fierce struggle with mental illness — including his infamous slicing off of his own ear — according to a new exhibition in Amsterdam.
On the Verge of Insanity, set to open Friday at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, challenges the romantic (and prevailing) notion that the Dutch master was a “mad genius” who found release by painting.
Despite what appears to be the intelligent emphasis of the exhibit, I’m outraged by the museum’s carrot-and-schtick mentality, which seems aimed at increasing admissions fees by pandering to the philistines.*
*(philistine, according to my Random House Second Edition Unabridged, 1987:
- a person who is lacking in or hostile or smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, esthetic refinement, etc., or is contentedly commonplace in ideas and tastes.)
A BOOK OF JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
Will this book ever be published with ink on paper? Will it be an electronic artifact on this blog? Of course, should one care to, one could create a word processing document and copy/paste into it each kid-story blog-post. Then one could have it and read it all together on a computer, or even on a tablet. One could print it all out and put it in a loose leaf binder. But. Official paper publication would be sooooooo nice!
Considering print publication in the near future, there should be an answer very soon. What to name the book and why? The title should be: accurate; descriptive; catch the attention of Shep fans; capture the attention of non-Shep fans.
JEAN SHEPHERD’S KID STORIES
This seems obvious, but there might be the implication that it includes all–or at least many–of well-known stories already published. It doesn’t–not permitted by copyright owner.
KIDS: JEAN SHEPHERD STORIES
Seems good, but doesn’t have sufficient zing–falls flat somehow.
SHEP’S KID STORIES: I WAS THIS KID, SEE
This seems obvious, but there might be the implication that it includes all–or at least many–of well-known stories already published. It doesn’t. (See above.)
Title I devised a while back
Photo credit: Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
I WAS THIS KID, SEE: JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
I like this best so far. This title, beginning with the phrase Shep so often used to begin one of his stories about kids, should be a no-brainer. Gives the familiar and intriguing Shep saying, gets Shep’s name and says what it contains. We’ll see what happens.
I wonder how many in-print copies it might sell.
In a year.
In forty years.
In as many years as Shep’s work remains recognized and enjoyed.
Further comments from the syndicated Shep sets. I wish more syndicated sets could be produced at the same price and format as these original ones.
-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set
In “Playing the Tuba,” Shepherd expresses his lifelong devotion to music. He organizes this show in a progressive sequence, commenting on the common habit of meaningless humming—then moves us from this mindless noise to the beginnings of artful sound. Only humming that constitutes a tune, he points out, is music. He tells us how in eighth grade he began practicing the tuba for his school orchestra and that from the beginning he was obsessed: “I was a dedicated tuba man.” In the telling, he has fun making a beginner’s awkward tuba notes with his mouth. Shepherd has always been a master at entertaining his audience with sound effects, especially ones he creates by using his mouth as an instrument to produce all the sounds one might expect from some zany orchestra, and here he renders the tuba (even adding some cuckoo kazoo) with utmost fun and skill.
He goes on to describe playing in the orchestra, commenting that it was the first time he’d ever created beauty. We are learning about his joy in making art. He concludes with a paean to great composers—especially of difficult, modern music—and to the musicians who play the music, explaining that no one appreciates great compositions as do those who have to perform them. Shepherd has done more than entertain us—he has given us his personal take on the evolution of sound from meaninglessness to art in a forty-five minute artistic riff on his own love of music. All music lessons should be this much fun.
-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set
Pomp and Circumstances
“Have you ever had the vague feeling, friend, that your life is almost totally ridiculous? That there is no dignity at all?” What a way to begin a program titled “Pomp and Circumstance.” Sometimes Shepherd likes to start out with an unexpected comment that shakes things up. We know that it will tie into his eventual theme. He continues, “You sit on the edge of your bed and you try to match your socks and you bust a shoelace and your nose runs and all that? And you have a vague feeling that to that truly great, this does not happen.”
Then he talks about his grandfather, who “walked through life exuding great propriety.” Already we can hear in our minds that music played during graduation in human memory, “Pomp and Circumstance,” especially when he follows with “we have an innate hunger for pomp-circumstances.” In the ultimate comic put down of propriety, he does a great absurd kazoo performance of the music. This alone is worth the price of admission. He evokes an image: “You are graduating from the Ohio Institute of Chiropractics and Metaphysics.” Picture doing that with great propriety.
-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set
The Fatal Flaw
“The Fatal Flaw” has to do with petty thievery and two kinds of death rattles. The thievery has to do with the lack of a sense of morality when encountering a gigantic, faceless institution, and the rattles have to do with the death of a Model A and the near death of a boy named Shep.
Shepherd comments that soldiers steal from the faceless army—and that steel workers steal from the mill, a circumstance illustrated by those working in the “tin mill,” who steal small piece of valuable tin until a detection device eliminates that thievery and they have to come up with another material to make off with. Some of young Shepherd’s co-workers in the mill decide to steal benzene for use as gas in their communal car. However, that theft leads to disaster because the benzene overheats the engine, which reacts by dying in a horrible meltdown.
The near death of young Shep happens because of a car out of gas, a long rubber hose, and a couple of jugs. We know all about the unlawful siphoning of gas from other people’s cars, the miscreant sucking until gas starts flowing, then quickly transferring the end of the hose to containers to capture the gas. As one can guess, Shepherd the sucker, new at the job, swallows over a quart of the poisonous stuff.
What makes the tales of tin, benzene, and gas down the gullet so entertaining is not the bare outlines of the stories, nor even the exact words of Shepherd’s verbal concoctions, but his style, his details, his tone of voice, and, especially in this program, his melodramatic vocal sound affects. The accelerating engine roar ending in a car’s histrionic death rattle, and then Shep-the-siphoner’s howls, yowls, roars, yawps, screams, screeches, shrieks, and near-fatal retching. Shep the master has struck again!
End of Part 2
Today is April Fools’ Day. On this date in 1968, Shep told the story about the April Fools’ Day trick played on him when he was in grammar school. He replayed the tape of that earlier broadcast rather than speaking live on his last day broadcasting on WOR, 4/1/1977. Near the end of the tape, Shep comments about the kid trick. (And, coincidentally/ironically, about what WOR had done to him):
“Humiliated before the entire world.
They heard! I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me.
Why did they do this to me? ”