Home » Comments about Shep » JEAN SHEPHERD–“Syndicated” Shep 2 of 2

JEAN SHEPHERD–“Syndicated” Shep 2 of 2


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.

life is image

-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set

Life Is

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.


pomp and circumstance image

-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.

the fatal flaw image

-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? ” 




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