I’m moving to the left, to the right, my mind is following the lefts and rights, I’m playing the horn, left counter-march, one, two, one, two, back and forth, we’re moving like some beautiful, well-oiled machine.
And now we are moving on out toward the thirty-yard line. Stinky motions for number twelve in the big book. This is the big one, the hardest number we have and it’s always one of the highpoints of our total show—“Semper Fidelis.”
Then he goes Pow! and we start playing it. Shepherd rips into the first chorus. Boy, moving like a shot! Everything’s cool and copasetic. Up to this point. Shepherd’s moving. Look at him! Up ahead you see Singleton, two days before his last day in the band, which we didn’t know at the time. And there goes Stunker moving on out making that beautiful right turn. I can see those knees moving all around.
Rump-pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump We have a beautiful pinwheel that we do at this point and we spin around. Sousaphones moving on out in that great big pinwheel! Each sousaphone is at the end of a line! Shepherd is spinning out there at the end! Right in the middle of it all is Stinky Davis—he’s at the hub of this thing! And he’s watching us. Then he blows two quick, short blasts Waa Waa like that and pum! We come back together again. Now we’re coming back. Shepherd’s moving sharp.
Pumpapapumpapapum! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Right in the middle of this third cadenza Pumpapapumpapa Stinky raises his baton and does something he had never done before! He gives two quick blasts of the whistle and then a long one. Wa Wa Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
What the hell is this?! What the hell’s goin’on? Then all of a sudden, all around me, I see marching figures going in all different directions! Crash! A trombone smashes right into me! I spin around! Where the hell am I going? I see three clarinets going this way. I see a sousaphone player going up and down and I follow him for a moment! He disappears! I see another clarinet going. I don’t know what they’re doing! And all of a sudden Shepherd is marching down the center of the field! All by himself! Aaaaaaaaaaaaa!
I see the band forming. I try to catch up to them again. There go three French horns around me again! I hear another quick whistle! And once again Shepherd is all by himself! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! And I see Stinky Davis. His eyes are two glowing coals. Is he bugged!
Teresa Brewer, Bob Dylan, Suzanne Farrell,
Norman Mailer, Marilyn Monroe, Lois Nettleton, Jerry Seinfeld, Vampire Lady.
(Listed alphabetically, so no one feels slighted.)
Relating a few brief encounters I’ve had with major celebrities of our day, the following short anecdotes describe how I happened to sort of engage with a couple of people whose names are familiar to most of us. These encounters include sharing the same physical space or sharing the same telephone connection. Oh, my goodness, how thrilling! (Some of this material you may find familiar, some not.)
A number of other people I interviewed for my book about Jean Shepherd also have rather august positions in our world, but as for those luminaries, I couldn’t manage to wedge them into this group—sorry, folk, you just did not make da cut. (I trust that, among others, U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and Hugh Hefner will find their omissions amusing.)
MEETINGS WITH MAILER
What I mostly admire about Norman Mailer is his mind. No matter the subject he chooses (whether an “important one,” or another that seems crafted to help pay alimony debts), as a fundamental part, he incorporates his serious philosophical themes and agile writing style that pervade his work and make reading him an intellectual pleasure. Thus, no matter the subject, he continues to capture my interest through his mental and literary guile. He entertains my mind and inspires.
(I wanted to continue in the present tense, but he died—
before being awarded the Nobel Prize he deserved.)
His earlier public performance persona (as one might refer to what got him into front-page stories rather than in the book section) was part of his bravado and manipulation of modern media for the financial solvency that came with notoriety, as well as for promoting his serious work. But with age, he was no longer the sometimes provocative and crude barbarian. The many times I attended his readings/signings of new publications at bookstores, he always dressed in a dark pinstripe suit and walked slowly with a bit of a limp. Like a conservative banker. During the question-and-answer session after his readings, no matter the shallow questions others asked, he looked the questioner straight in the eye and gave a serious, well-considered and extensive reply. He was an elder prominence and a gentleman.
Before attending each of his talks I would work hard composing a meaningful literary question regarding his work. I very much appreciated that he responded to me on an intellectual level, as though I were somehow, at least at that moment, his equal. I can only find one note I made–for the circumstance in February, 1991, in which I asked how he chose the subjects for what he would then write. In my partial note regarding his reply, he said that one should:
“…treat almost impossible themes with a modicum of decorum—
and that is my ambition.”
When I managed to locate an intermediary to present my snail-mail query regarding his acquaintanceship with the subject of my book on Jean Shepherd, his failing memory in written response was still sufficient for me to be able to use it in my book. When I had the temerity to send him part of one of my unpublished novels for comment, he had the courtesy and thoughtfulness to reply in a way that, for me, was not a “boiler-plate” response, but indicated that he had seriously contemplated my request and he had used a bit of the better part of his mind to respond: