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JEAN SHEPHERD–the pos and the neg

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An epigraph in EYF! quoting Jean Shepherd:

“I thought you’d kind of like to know how it is

out there, gang. Just keep your knees loose.”

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Parts of two recent customer reviews of EYF! on Amazon:

“I looked forward to reading it but when in the opening pages the author said

the book would uncover a darker side, I said, I’ll pass.” (However, the “reviewer,” who said

he hadn’t read the book, felt confident enough to give it the minimum one star.)

“Mr. Bergmann seems to be obsessed with repeatedly slamming Shepherd’s

temperamental side & insecurities throughout.”

(I’m pleased that most of the so-far 53 customer reviews are very positive.

My publisher’s statement arrived yesterday for sales in all formats during

10/1/17-3/31/18 of 63 copies, for a grand total sales since 3/27/05 of 8,099 copies of EYF!)

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Some enthusiastic Jean Shepherd fans have been surprised to find in my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! that he was not only a one-of-a-kind genius and a radio mentor to thousands, but that he had a couple of serious personal flaws verified by reliable friends of his who had known him for years.  As I researched and interviewed for the book, I unexpectedly discovered these testimonies, and though I consider the book not a biography, but a description and appreciation of his genius, I decided that what I had discovered also needed to be a part of it. After all, as I quote him therein, he said on broadcasts on two separate occasions:

Something that bothers me is to find a man who—who will walk away from things which are going on because he doesn’t like them. This is—this is wrong—you should stand and look….And if you do stand off and look enough, you’ll begin to have this great love of it all, which is an undeniable thing.

I mean, anyone who looks at life with a cold, unprejudiced agate eye of truth must realize that life is basically in extremely bad taste.

Quoting from my book’s introductory section, “Enigma and Brickbats”:

Some who love Shepherd’s work, and find that it had a strong positive influence on their lives, express an understandable viewpoint: they don’t want knowledge of the negatives of real life to decrease their enjoyment of the art. A creator’s life and the art are two separate things in their minds.

This may be true. And yet the artistic persona of Jean Shepherd was such a special creation–one that relied in great part on the feeling of verisimilitude to the real Shepherd, one that insisted it had some real inkling into the human psyche–that some reckoning of the “truth” would be called for, even if “truth” is too strong a word and is sometimes unpleasant. Ignorance is bliss, but children’s naivete evolving into a more realistic and complete knowledge is a sequence that does not offer regression. Innocence is ever so pleasant, but leaving Eden for a more unsettling understanding is part of the tragedy and triumph of being a fully human adult. Shepherd insisted on it.

I also realize that Shepherd’s way-of-being on the radio didn’t seem like art at all, but purely just the way he really was. I also truly believed that Shep on the radio was just the way he really was–there is a contradiction in there that I cannot resolve–like all of us he had faults, some worse than others. Yet, in his essence on the radio, he gave sustenance–encouragement–and enhanced sensibility, to so many of us.  Anyone seeking the half-dozen pages-worth of negative biographical reportage in the 440 pages of reverent homage in EYF! is welcome to it. Just be sure to read my exultant final chapter, in which I consciously swing some positives and negatives back and forth, emphasizing Shepherd’s laudatory actions in his and our imperfect world. Then you can return to the end of my introduction in which I offer:

Recently I’ve gotten to know him a lot better, beginning when I read his obituary in the New York Times, and realized that I’d lost an old friend. It was then that I recognized how much he had meant to me—and means now. And how important his art is to American culture.

Excelsior, you fathead!

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8 Comments

  1. Tony Chopkoski says:

    And I will add that with the recent closing of the Village Voice, which Shep was very big in writing for the the late 50’s and early 60’s, all these former writers are noted by people complaining about its demise, but Shep is never mentioned. Too real for them I would add, so they ignore him.
    Shep did find the Voice becoming too maudlin later on and noted that on his shows. I wish I could remember the exact words. Maybe you can!
    Plus, he and Jules Pfeiffer never got along. I can see why…and I could be totally wrong here, but a far away memory comes back that Shep was friendly with Pfeiffer and got him his job at the Voice. They soon parted…is it (the memory) correct?

  2. Bud Painton says:

    Gene ~~ Among my most pleasant of a life’s worth of memories browsing book stores was the day I walked into a B Dalton in Menlo Park, New Jersey, and spotted “EYF” on a shelf. Immediately impressed with its sheer heft, but above all else filled with a sense of great excitement that an author had actually written a book about Jean Shepherd (!), I immediately purchased it and, in short order, one for a best friend, also an long-time Shep aficionado. It turned out that its abundant literary quality easily measured its heft. A fantastic read and one of my personal library’s most cherished possessions!

    • ebbergmann says:

      Bud, as always, I’m very appreciative of your continued support. I’m very happy that you’ve found EYF! such a great value! You keep me encouraged.

      • Bud Painton says:

        You are entirely welcome, Gene. You richly deserve all credit and thanks for keeping Shep alive for all of us fatheads, and for broadening our appreciation for his unique talents through your sharing of keen and insightful perceptions about the man and his works.

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