Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD More Turkeys & (152) ARTSY NYT interview

JEAN SHEPHERD More Turkeys & (152) ARTSY NYT interview


They’re going under the car. They’re very dumb—they think it’s the sky.  One turkey gets caught under my differential in the back.  I can hear him under the floorboard, gwaglewaglewagle, and I have to get out and pull him loose.

One thing you are probably not aware of regarding turkeys.  Turkeys en mass are extremely gamey.  That’s all I gotta say.  And furthermore, they’re very uninhibited—their personal habits are not exactly the kind you want in your living room.

I’m driving forward and it’s like some surrealistic nightmare.  The farmer ahead is waving the lantern, the guy behind me has his lantern, and the entire entourage moves across the landscape like a scene out of an Ingmar Bergman movie, The Turkeys.

It must have been an hour-and-a-half.  We finally get to the end of this road and they’ll either have to take the crossroad left or right. I’m going to wait.  Which way are the turkeys going?  When they go one way, I’m going the other.  Well, the guy in front turns right, the guy in the back turns left.  And I’m stuck.  Two flocks of turkeys.  I’ve got my choice.  It’s either that or drive straight over the pumpkin field ahead of me.




These days, the Sunday New York Times book review section has a page where, one author per issue, they ask each interviewee similar questions about their reading and writing habits.  I’ve frequently thought about this regarding my own work, so it occurred to me to ask myself and respond as though I’d been questioned by the Times.

What books have you recently read and are about to read?

I recently read Susan Cheever’s biography of E. E. Cummings. Years ago I’d read two previous bios of Cummings, but Cheever’s especially impressed me with how her insightful and sympathetic approach gave me a significant sense of his whole conflicted being. I look forward to reading the revised edition of E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany.

What “great books” have most impressed you and why?

Tristram Shandy, Moby Dick, The Ambassadors, Leaves of Grass, Ulysses, U. S. A. Trilogy: They each gave me an unexpected and strong intellectual/emotional/esthetic sense of the author’s created world.

Which writers most inspire you?

Ernest Hemingway. When I was an impressionable teenager, my cousin, Raymond B. Anderson introduced me to Hemingway’s controlled and forceful writing when he loaned me Death in the Afternoon. I eventually read virtually all of Hemingway, and am especially impressed and influenced by how Carlos Baker’s Hemingway: The Writer as Artist, explored what Hemingway did and how he created some of his fiction out of his actual experiences.

In recent decades, I’ve been very inspired and impressed with the entertaining mental agility with which Norman Mailer made every subject he handled a worthwhile intellectual reading experience.

What kind of books must attract you these days?

In recent years, I mostly read books and articles that focus on various aspects of the subjects I’m writing about: humorist Jean Shepherd and my totally true, authentic experiences in art expressed in short, illustrated blog  essays titled ARTSY FARTSY.

These ARTSYS include info/commentary on: “The Garden of Earthly Delights”; artists’ books such as Mexican Codexes and Blake’s “Jerusalem–The Emanation of the Giant Albion”; discovering a secret in Cezanne’s “great slash” atop his Mont Sainte Victoire; constructing a classical guitar and Japanese shakuhachi; correcting MOMA’s Picasso mistake, and my vending of “The Guernica Colorization Kit”; Abstract Visual Relationships; Suzanne Farrell’s ballet slippers, John Curry, Torvill and Dean; Machu Picchu, Vietnam Memorial, and New York’s High Line; fondling in awe the 24,000-year-old Venus of Lespugue, and the world’s greatest netsuke; my 34-year unique design adventures at New York’s museum of natural history (including the sex of grasses in the Komodo Dragon exhibit); my 50-year-old love affair with the New York Times; my encounters with Brother Theodore, Moondog, Seinfeld, three hours with Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, and having tea with the Vampire Lady; and much more stuff.

What kind of books do you avoid?


What would you like to discuss with one of your favorite authors?

I’d like to ask Walt Whitman, whose writings up to the early 1850s were the most maudlin tear-jerkers, what altered his being—what inspired him into making the extraordinary creations in his 1855 and subsequent editions of Leaves of Grass.

Who would you most like to write a biography of yourself?

Susan Cheever.

What few written words seem among the most memorable and powerful to you?

Lyrics co-written by Barry Mann in 1961 with Gerry Goffin:

I’d like to thank the guy who wrote the song
That made my baby fall in love with me….

Who put the bomp
In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp
Who put the ram
In the rama lama ding dong….

Darling, bomp bah bah bomp, bah bomp bah bomp bomp
And my honey, rama lama ding dong forever.

And when I say, dip da dip da dip da dip
You know I mean it from the bottom of my boogity boogity boogity shoop.



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