Home » General subjects. Excelsior, you Fathead! » JEAN SHEPHERD–from MADEMOISELLE part 2 of 3



Mademoiselle cover with Shep article.

Part 2, again pasted from

This kid is on his way to his junior year at the University of Iowa, all the way Champagne Flight, all the way it’s been all of his life. If I Had a Hammer There he sat, honest tears a-coursin’ down those hardened, tan cheeks of his, hardened by so many hard, terrible, awful, wrenchin’ scrabblin’ weeks at Bar Harbor. WE SHALL OVERCOME He’s getting real bugged now. WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED The stewardess bends over to say, “More champagne, sir?” “Yeah, fill it up . . .” If I Had My Way I’m sitting there and all of a sudden I realize that today’s Lonesome Traveler travels only First Class. And more and more I realized that the plight of the Common Man is now in the hands of the Uncommon Man. With plenty of jack. One of the wildest things about this whole new Suffering Traveler bit that is spreading throughout the campuses today is that the higher a guy is in actual social status, the more he empathizes with the real strugglers.

More and more you’ll find that the “folk” groups are the most clean-scrubbed, most obviously well-heeled people you’ll ever see in your life. You just can’t imagine Peter, Paul and Mary ever hungry. Or Joan Baez, either, for that matter. There I sit with champagne glass in hand, trying to figure out just exactly why all this vaguely bugged me. It reminded me of something else that I couldn’t quite remember. Sort of like trying to remember just how Swan Lake goes, or something. The guitar hit a lovely A-minor chord as the feckless youth behind me plumbed even deeper into his social consciousness. The stewardess’s baby-blue bottom undulated up the aisle, toward Chicago. And suddenly I knew. Marie Antoinette!

And then I recalled something out of my almost completely forgotten European history courses. Marie Antoinette – now it came back. Just before the French Revolution . . . I could even remember a few pedantic phrases from my European History II textbook: “Just before the French Revolution there was a tremendous upsurge of interest in and empathy for the peasant on the part of the idle nobility. It reached the point where Marie Antoinette and her ladies-in-waiting, with selected noblemen and their pages, would spend weekends in the country, dressed as milkmaids and simple peasants of the field.” Aha! “In the forests around Versailles the decadent French court built simple peasant cottages in which to live the ‘rough’ life and to sing the praises of the rough singular man living his hard, stony life, tilling from the soil of France the barest essentials of existence. They actually did empathize with him.

There was a movement led by Rousseau, the Rousseau Naturalism Movement . . .” I toyed moodily with a morsel of Belgian mint jelly as behind me the Simple Peasant of the Field once again raised his sorrowful voice: This Land Is Your Land. My left hand made the chord changes instinctively as he sang out. Another section of European history came floating back to me on the scent of delicate candied baby yams: “It is difficult to imagine what the real peasants and laborers and milkmaids of France thought when they observed Marie Antoinette and the noblemen at play. Some French writers believe that the sight so enraged them that the course of Revolution was then truly set.”

Nervously, I signaled for more wine. I thought, high over Ohio, of the folk music audiences and singers I had seen. There hadn’t been many Downtrodden and Defeated people in those crowds. Could it be that the lower down a man really is on the social scale, the less he identifies with the Folk Freedom Fighters, until finally, in the actual slums themselves, you’ll find no guys singing: This Land Is Your Land I looked down through 37,500 feet of cumulus mist. I wondered how many guys were looking up out of tenements at this whistlin’ lonesome jet carrying all these guys in the Champagne Section, winging on their way toward Northwestern, Indiana University, U.C.L.A., the University of Michigan. First Class. A big blonde across the aisle, with an O.S.U. sticker on her Pan-Am flight bag, had joined in. Another white dove a-sailin’ and a-sailin’. I wondered if that chick knew what a tumbrel was. Hard to say. American people are not historically minded. She probably thinks that a tumbrel is a seven-letter word (46 Across) meaning “a small cart.”

Part 3 of 3 coming.




  1. Frank says:

    “My left hand made the chord changes instinctively as he sang out.” Did Shep play the guitar? In all the years that I’ve been a fan that is the first time that I ever recall him even remotely imply that?

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