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TV Interview on July 21, 2013 for SHEP’S ARMY
Here’s the complete text of the CBS Sunday morning interview by Dick Brennan with me. Until recently, this could be accessed on the Internet, but now, although the CBS page is there, the video won’t open. Fortunately for me, Jim Clavin, maintainer of the great Shepherd website www.flicklives.com had sent to me a DVD video of the interview, finely presented in a DVD box with his specially created, front-and-back cover:
Dick Brennan, CBS interviewer: He was the comic voice of a generation. Jean Shepherd’s radio show was a nightly tradition for many in the 60s and 70s. A new book is looking at a specific time of his career—his time in the service. It’s called Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles. With us this morning is the editor, Eugene Bergmann. Mr. Bergmann, thank you for coming in. I was just telling you that my connection to Jean Shepherd is that I produced for Barry Farber, one of the radio greats, who you interviewed for this book, right?
E. B. B. : For the previous book [Excelsior, You Fathead!].
D. B. For the previous book. And he’s a huge Jean Shepherd fan and he used to say, in his North Carolina accent, “I just want Jean Shepherd on my show very night!” So there is one great wanting another great.
What’s different about this book?
E. B. B. : This book is the first book of Shepherd’s stories to come along in a quarter of a century. They were never before in print. They represent stories that he told on the air about his life in the army. Of course–his life–his fictional life in the army. And to me, one of the fascinating things I found out about his life-in-the-army stories when I began researching them and listening more and more and wondering how can I put this book together, is that overall, of all the stories he told, they became almost a chronology that could be referred to as almost Jean Shepherd’s army novel, because they’re not just random stories. They really tell his induction into the army, his early Signal Corps training at one camp in Missouri, then his radar experiences in Florida, and some general experiences, and finally his last days in the army, and his finally getting out. And as he put it, “Thank God I ain’t in the army!”
D. B. : And, you know, no one can say it like Jean Shepherd. He has a very distinct voice, and may be the greatest storyteller ever on radio. Let’s listen to a clip right now of Jean Shepherd.
J.S. :audio: “Okay, you guys, you’re in the army. Alright, you’re in the army.” We have just sworn in. You know that wonderful swearing-in ceremony where Van Johnson talks and the guys cry? The thing where they play “The Star-Spangled Banner”? We didn’t hear anything! And somebody says, “What about the oath?” and the corporal says, “The oath? You just heard it. Get the potatoes out of your ears, mac!”
D. B. : Classic Jean Shepherd. Tell us one of the anecdotes that perhaps you like best from the book.
E. B. B. : Well, let’s see. There are so many. That was one in the book, and it’s about him being inducted in the book, and expecting some kind of major emotional experience, and instead, he was rather disappointed because they said, “Raise your right hand,” and all of a sudden they mumbled something and he’s in the army! Where’s the emotional kick that I was wanting out of this? And he didn’t get it—but he was always complaining about life—that it wasn’t really the way you thought it was going to be, or wasn’t the way it was in army movies with Errol Flynn and all those other people.
D. B. : Do you find it interesting—a lot of people who don’t know Jean Shepherd will know him from one classic movie—A Christmas Story—he wrote it, gets his voice in there, and sort of his own little story as he always tells his story. Do you find it ironic that he’s so well known for A Christmas Story when, in fact, it’s his radio days which everyone else knows him for?
E. B. B. : I think that movie is a really good movie. However, we real Jean Shepherd fans, as you say–purists—understand without question that Jean Shepherd’s greatest claim to immortality was his decades of improvised radio shows. Ah, wonderful!
D. B.:Thank you so much for coming in. The book is called Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles. For more information, head over to our website, CBS. Com.
Next Time, Back to Kid Stories.
“The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants
Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League,”
(From Playboy, 5/1971)
Shepherd told this story several times. It, along with “Troop Train Ernie” are probably listeners’ favorite Jean Shepherd army stories.
In the steaming heat of tropical Florida, to help build morale, Company K was given the chance to build a baseball field out of the jungle. They labored mightily and achieved their dream. The army supplied balls, bats, and other equipment. They started to play, and it was so uncomfortable in the heat that they all stripped down naked.
During the game a vehicle approached and stopped a distance away:
I looked back at the car. It was. In the front seat of a dark-green staff car, a stone-faced sergeant in full-dress uniform sat at the wheel ramrod stiff. From the back window, which was rolled down, peered a face—an elfin, alabaster, pert-nosed face under a cloud of cascading golden-blonde hair.
When they got back to Company K base, they got the bad word. They had been observed—naked—by the daughter of a lieutenant general. They were punished by having to return every grain of sand and blade of grass to the way nature had intended—no more baseball. The story ends:
Company K was back in business. Baseball season was over. The long hot winter had begun.
In regard to this story, I remember Shepherd telling his radio listeners that he once got a phone call from a woman who claimed to have been the general’s daughter who had seen them play that day. For me, this is an interesting way for Shep to double down on his implication as to the tale’s veracity— I believe it to have been one of his most amusing fictional creations.
NO MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
Netsuke are the small Japanese sculptures (mostly less than 3” long) that were traditionally worn as a “toggle” to prevent an object such as a medicine or tobacco pouch on a cord, from escaping the obi (sash) and dropping to the ground.
Hundreds of years ago, the first of them were comprised of a root or twig found and tied to the cord. Then, carvers began designing elaborate sculptures in many kinds of material (mostly ivory and wood), based on every imaginable aspect of Japanese life and culture.
After the Second World War, when most Japanese had given up traditional clothing for Western garb, netsuke no long served a function, but, among a few connoisseurs, they were a collectible art, especially in the West. Are they an art or just a collectible piece of apparel no longer used–tchotchke?
I understand that because of Japanese poverty after the War, one could buy a handful of fine netsuke for a couple of dollars, and in the West they were cheaply sold in small groups. Now, even an undistinguished real one costs hundreds of dollars. Highly regarded ones—ones I now covet and can’t afford–cost thousands. (Modern ones, mostly realistically carved figurines made in China and sold on ebay, can be bought for well under ten dollars. Occasionally a decent one, reasonably inexpensive, can be found among the thousands of cheap modern ones.)
Decades after the prices went up, before I knew what it was, but intrigued by an ivory frog on a lotus seed pod for sale at the members’ auction of the Japanese woodblock print society I belonged to, I bid and won. I found out it was a “netsuke.” So began my fascination, even though that first one was nowhere near “quality.” (The top side is nice but the underneath is very crudely carved.)
The next photo shows some of mine. Over the years I bought a few rather cheap ones, and became especially interested in the great variety of depictions of the shi-shi dog. One could make an impressive collection just with varieties of poses and styles of shi-shi.
Some of my netsuke, including three ivory shi shi
roughly datable by their styles:
upper left 18th C., missing front legs;
lower left 19th C., some detail rubbed smooth with wear;
far right 20th C., apparently carved with an electric Dremel tool.
The better, more classical netsuke, are carved in a compact form so that when worn, there are no parts that might easily break off. (There are some, very fine and revered netsuke that are very long and thin human figures, that contradict the previous statement.) I like to hold the compact ones in my hand and feel their form, somewhat like a clenched fist!
In addition to owning illustrated books on the subject, I’ve photocopied and compiled hundreds of my favorite images organized by subject matter. Here are a few: two pages of shi-shi; a page each of frogs; tigers; stag horn material (including those formed by cutting the horn near its base, thus leaving the stag’s hair for the carved head); rats, showing one of the most popular forms–especially in the middle row–two by Masanao. I have one carved by the last, 20th century descendant of the Masanao family of carvers.
THE AMA AND THE SQUID
One day, in one of those Fifth Avenue stores that sell overpriced stuff to tourists, I encountered among some modern netsuke, one of a squid and Japanese fisher-woman (ama) entwined in a compact embrace. I bought it for too much.
“Ama and Squid”
Eventually, in a photo book of netsuke masterpieces, I encountered the authentic, 18th C. unsigned one of elephant ivory with inlaid eyes and I realized that mine was a diminutive and crude knock-off. Through a contact in the relatively small field of netsuke enthusiasts, I got to visit the owner of the original at his Park Avenue apartment. He took me to his bank and, in the deposit-box vault, he showed it to me and let me hold (and fondle) it–and see the reverse side, which had not been publicly shown. I was surprised that the back was not voluptuously rounded but somewhat concave.
For the Journal of the International Netsuke Collectors Society I’d earlier written and had published, an article describing the original, just based on its photograph. The original, I’d discovered—unusually large at over 5” long–is widely considered the finest netsuke known. The owner said it would be the last one he’d ever sell.
About three years after my article appeared, a full-page ad by the owner of the journal that had published my article, showed the ama and squid at the-then highest price ever offered for a netsuke, $250,000. I don’t know why it was for sale or what it sold for. (As the journal owner was also the owner of the dealership selling the netsuke, I wonder if my innocently written article had helped boost the price.) More important than the price, I had held and fondled the piece that I (and, I assume, most netsuke connoisseurs), consider the ultimate masterpiece in the field. The final paragraph of my published article may prove illuminating:
What we have then is living, sensuous, aesthetically organized form and texture, a sculptor’s rendition of sexuality in phallic shape, an image of sensuality which, the squid shows us by example, we can both see and fondle. But we, mere flesh and blood in our “real” world, can only participate second-hand in the ama and squid’s artistically imagined ivory world. Yet what esthetic and salacious pleasure it must have been for those fortunate, anonymous, Edo-period Japanese gentlemen owners of this piece, to handle this part of their public apparel whenever they felt the desire—and to have it dangle pendulously from their prim kimonos.
Note to anyone not appreciating the ebullient, purple prose of that paragraph: either I failed miserably in the writing, or you should go back and re-read it a couple of times, snuggling up to it as best you can. If my comments and illustrations interest the reader at all, I suggest enlarging the page of my article and reading it. If I may immodestly say, I always find it stimulating.
I still enjoy my crude one and remember holding the original,
the reverse side of which I eventually encountered on the Internet.
(The two holes are for the attendant cord. Often 18th century
“Zinsmeister and the Treacherous Eighter From Decatur”
(From Playboy, 9/1970)
As of this writing, this entire story seems to be found on flicklives.com
Shepherd sets the barracks scene, describing some of his fellow soldiers and their part in the war effort:
…Company K, a hapless band of Signal Corps technicians that formed the very bottom of the immense heap of the Armed Forces.
Shep and Zinsmeister, among others, got passes and took the bus to town with a hoard of other soldiers.
The sidewalks were jammed from curb to doorway with a moiling wild-eyed throng of GIs on pass. They eddied to and fro like a pack of anxious mongrels sniffing for scraps.
They entered an establishment called HOWIE’S HAWIIAAN BAMBOO JUNGLE INN where they were overcharged for a drink apiece. They found a double room at the Chateau Elegante Arms. When they got to their room, they found that it was packed with army bunks and a dozen or more GIs. Eventually they became involved in a game of craps, and, of course, lost everything to a pair of cheaters.
They met up with some of their buddies on the bus back to camp. And lied, saying that they’d had a great time. Their buddies believed them:
Zinsmeister smiled his old, quiet, knowing smile. The buzzing in my head picked up a bit. I sat very still and tried to smile the way Zinsmeister smiled, like William Powell in The Thin Man, about to name the murderer. A legend had begun.
(35) ARTISTS’ BOOKS intro Part 2
Other precursors of the modern artists’ book include some of the unusual bits in the early novel that makes fun of the novel form, the 9-volume The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, a wild and witty burlesque of a novel, published in its first two volumes in 1759 by the Yorkshire clergyman Laurence Sterne. Among the self-conscious novel playing-with-form, is a solid black page, chapters that are unusually short, various squiggles representing visual representations of the book’s structure, and a marbled page (each copy of the book had to have that sheet masked-off and marbled separately and inserted into the book.
From the book,
the book’s structure
I’ve very much wanted to have a first edition of the nine volumes, but the cost is anywhere between five thousand and forty thousand (roughly), depending on condition and how much of a first are the first two volumes. I settled for a mixed set of third printings and up, printed in the later 1760s, for a hundred dollars. With some struggles, I learned to read–semi-fluently–the typography, which frequently uses an f-shaped letter “s.” Unfortunately, holding the volumes and turning the pages causes flecks of the paper to disassociate themselves from the pages and flutter to my lap and the pages themselves to crumble loose from the binding, so reading my treasure became a mess of gradual disintegration.
The marbled page from my copy
Another creator of artists’ books was the English poet, William Blake, who drew by hand a printing plate for each page of his books. As printing plates, they had to be lettered every word backwards so they would print frontwards. After printing the line block, as he’d taught his wife how to color, she colored each copy to his specifications. The melding of words and image makes them artists’ books. Small, simple pages in his Songs of Innocence, contained the poem and its illustrated tiger: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright….” For me, the most elaborate and spectacular is his Jerusalem. I have facsimiles of several of his books. He was an oddball and mystic–many consider him to have been mentally disturbed. But, as for artists’ books, he was a master.
“BANJO BUTT MEETS JULIA CHILD”
(From Playboy, 9/1967, Partial Image)
The tag for this story says: “in which the chipped-beef eaters of company k are recruited for a short-order cram course in haute cuisine—and precipitate an epicurean insurrection.”
Shepherd, in a French restaurant, is reminded of his far-off days in Company K, a radar unit:
Radar, a highly technical pursuit, naturally brought into its embrace a peculiar kind of soldier. Many wore thick GI spectacles of the type known today as granny glasses,…
He muses over the terrible food served by the Mess Sergeant, Banjo Butt, as he was affectionately known among the KPs, and comments on a military food specialty, S.O.S.:
…an indescribable pastiche of creamed chipped beef on toast, justifiably nicknamed with the initials that signified the international distress signal, but only in their secondary meaning.
Shepherd writes proliferously about the lousy food, until finally, the happy surprise one morning. He describes the gourmet food for chow then and over the next days, all accompanied by “white-coated dining room attendants.”
Eventually, after much Shep-wit, the soldiers find out what had happened. Company K had been the subject of an experiment regarding how experienced, gourmet-cooks, who had been drafted, would perform for regular GIs before being transferred to a high-level officers’ mess. Of course, Company K soon got ol’ Banjo Butt back again with his scrumptious S.O.S.:
We were back in the Signal Corps. The rain trickled down the tent pole and spread in a widening puddle beneath my bunk as I cried myself to sleep.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
(34) VIVIAN AND FROGS
Smile For Me, Babe!
Back when we were young, when I was really busy working on several Museum projects, my department chairman said I should hire an assistant. I interviewed and I hired. Vivian was smart, did well, and was cute and sexy. Eventually she was designated as a preparator, which meant working on various exhibits including my design of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians, realistically painting plastic casts of those animals. She found frogs unpleasant, even to look at, and asked not to be given any to paint. As she put it, “They gross me out.” We did our best, but we ran out of reptile and amphibians to paint except for frogs. What would we do? What would Vivian do?
Someone had a bright idea. In one exhibit we were to show a series of painted casts describing all the stages of growth from an egg up to a fully developed, adult frog.
A Diagram From the Internet.
First we gave her a plastic egg to paint, which was no problem for her. Then the next stage, then the next, up through tadpoles, one stage at a time. Along with the stages, Vivian evolved in her ability to cope. Finally, after painting all the others, she got the full-size frog cast to paint. No problem. She painted it.
Vivian and I became not just coworkers, but friends. We gabbed; sometimes we two went to the revered Julian Billiard Academy on 14th Street to shoot a couple of games of pool; when she said she’d like to buy a house in the Catskills, upstate New York, I told her about an elegant little vacation house there for sale by my close friend Dick. She bought and loved that house in Pine Hill, eventually living there full time before moving to Cambria, California. A year before she died, she sent me a Facebook note—I wonder now if she’d realized how ill she was and was reminiscing about some of the good things in her life:
Had I not met you, I wouldn’t have worked at the AMNH [the Museum], wouldn’t have gotten my house in Pine Hill, wouldn’t have met my girlfriend in the Catskills whose grandparents had a house in Cambria. Thank you so much, Gene!
Vivian and Charlie,
Her Beloved Dog.
“THE SECRET MISSION OF THE BLUE-ASSED BUZZARD”
(From Playboy, 12/1968. Partial Image.)
In this story, Shep is in Company K in the Everglades [Camp Murphy, a radar unit in or near the swamps of Florida.] But he begins the tale years later as he watches a TV commercial featuring a pilot. It seems so glorious and it reminds him of a “bright, clear, balmy Florida day….” He relates that he’d begun military service when he was seventeen. [Department of Defense records indicates that he’d begun service at age twenty-one.] He says that he had been a corporal in the Signal Corps. [Actually a near-equivalent one, a T5.] He was an expert in the maintenance and use of secret airborne radar equipment. This, remember, was in the early days of radar.
He got orders assigning him to “detached special duty” with the Air Corps! A fantastic moment in his life! He reported to the nearby airfield and got a flight helmet, a pair of green goggles, and testing devices for the secret equipment to be tested in flight. He met the flight crew that he described as a First Lieutenant Ralphie, who “had obviously just shaded twelve” years old, and Captain Charles, who was just thirteen.
They got the plane in the air and it was obvious to Shep that the two officers were adolescent, manic, and seemingly incompetent. But they landed safely. Shepherd handed in his test results for the plane’s radar equipment, written out with his “phony figures on the clipboard.”
Before he realized it, he no longer had the glamorous life of an Air Force technician, but was back in Company K, and demoted to boot. As he encountered Gasser, his friend commented, “I knew it was too good to be true. Nobody never gets out of here.” Shep ends the tale:
Company K, at the very bottom of the barrel, slowly marched on.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
Pacific Hall–More Margaret Mead
With more thought about my February 22, 2016 ARTSY post on my design of Margaret Mead’s Pacific Hall, I’ve added more to the story of Mead herself, and my relationship with her. Plus more on the Hall and my relationship to it. A small portion is a repeat of the previous post. I find it all interesting and I hope others will also.
Among my most treasured memories of decades designing exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History were my several encounters with the country’s mid-century cultural icon and most famous anthropologist, and the years I spent designing and supervising the installation of the permanent Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.
As Senior Exhibit Designer at the Museum, I was told by the Exhibit Department Chairman that a major re-installation of our Pacific Peoples Hall would be designed by an outside design firm and that I would be responsible for its supervision and realization in its new space. It had originally been designed by a former Museum designer and had been universally criticized—The New York Times review was titled, “I Could Cry, I Could Just Cry.” That previous installation was very cold in feeling, largely because of its dominant white paint on walls and columns, the disorienting see-through glass cases, and the omnipresent ceiling lighting which shed a blandness that failed to distinguish artifacts from surroundings and created reflections and confusion. I think the museum’s administration now feared an unpleasant result from another of its own designers. I was dismayed that I, a full-fledged designer, would be responsible, in such a diminished position, for overseeing someone else’s design and having to do the clean-up job regarding every possible design flaw—and then be blamed for any unavoidable problems that resulted.
We held meetings with our Museum Director, curators in the Anthropology Department including Margaret Mead, Public Affairs administrators, my Chairman, and the outside design firm’s designer. I saw that the designer’s proposal had a major flaw that would have resulted in an anthropological disaster beyond anyone’s ability to correct—the design was to dispose of the scores of existing cases that held the carefully determined, anthropology-based organization that Margaret Mead had devised in her years of work on the old hall. Her work would have been replaced by five enormous cases, one for each Pacific culture area. In a meeting, I asked how the material would be organized in such deep cases, and was startled by the designer’s simple answer—the hundreds of objects would not be organized by anthropological understanding of culture, usage, and significance, but by distance from the viewer–small objects in front, large objects in back! I still wonder today if anyone but I, among those learned and experienced Museum folk in that meeting, recognized the import of such an anti-content proposal.
I surprised the group by unveiling my new floor plan presenting my own re-design solution, reconfiguring the layout of the culture areas, but not altering the organization of the case contents. The director gave me the chance to compete. My mockup using a portion of the still-standing old hall, by altering color, lighting, and other features, convinced all those learned and experienced Museum folk, and I was given the assignment as the new hall’s designer.
Margaret Mead had been a curator at the museum for fifty years, but she was known worldwide as a major force in anthropological studies of Pacific Peoples, bringing her knowledge and insight to her very popular books and to her widespread public media appearances discussing social issues in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a force to be admired and reckoned with. (I originally wrote “feared,” which was also true.)
When I ascended the narrow, winding stairs to her tower offices in the Museum, for the first time meeting her one-on-one to discuss my thoughts for her hall, I was nervous. My hands were sweaty and cold, a factor I knew she felt when we shook hands. We spent half an hour discussing the hall and my design ideas. At the end she commented that she knew that we would work well together and produce a superior hall. When we shook hands goodbye my hands were warm and dry. She knew how to deal with the underling essential to her permanent hall’s legacy. Or so it seemed.
For structural reasons, the hall was somewhat narrower than the old one, so the five large cultural areas would be reconfigured in my design, while at the same time I made them more visually distinct from each other. I told Dr. Mead that a few individual cases would need to be repositioned within culture areas. She responded gruffly: “Mr. Bergmann, I see that you do not have a sufficient regard for geography!” Immediate intimidation. I realized later that she had envisioned the hall itself as a stylized, yet geographically accurate, map of the Pacific, including the placement of individual cases! Had she thought that a case’s minor shift would consciously or unconsciously affect the visitor’s understanding of content?
Apparently recognizing how much she, the famous and all powerful, had visibly rattled me, the humble and relatively powerless, when we met the next time, and apropos of nothing we were then discussing, she mused aloud, as though speaking to herself alone, “Maybe I’ve been too concerned with geography.” Maybe it was as close as she might have gotten to a rethinking and an apology? I silently accepted her comment with its attendant little victory for the success of our hall.
The Museum, lower left, fronted by
Teddy Roosevelt on his bronze horse,
and there, towering above somewhere there,
Margaret Mead’s abode.
In the following months I would go across the street from the Museum and meet with her in her apartment, spreading out my floor plan of the hall on her living room coffee table, and we would arrange plexiglas model exhibit cases for each section of the hall’s plan until we were satisfied with all aspects of the design.
Then, having advanced to the very minor design details, I could no longer get appointments to see her. I learned that she was suffering from a fatal disease, and she soon succumbed. This saddens me, as I highly respected her and appreciated her importance in mid-twentieth-century culture. And, in my small way, I had known her and enjoyed the intense feeling of working with her.
To help me complete those final details, I had been assigned a curator as a Margaret Mead-substitute. We finished the Hall, but he must have been too shy to be interviewed for the opening publicity. That left me, Margaret Mead’s designer. I was interviewed for a dozen periodicals nationwide and did a TV news program’s walkthrough of the hall. Got my name and photo published hither and yon. The Pacific Hall, Margret Mead, and me—a plethora of ARTSY experiences!
SHEP’S NOT-SO-EASILY-AVAILABLE ARMY STORIES
Shepherd army stories not available for me to choose among for my Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles, because the Shepherd Estate thinks it may someday want to publish them themselves, including all those previously published in printed form: “Troop Train Ernie” (published in Shepherd’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons, Doubleday, 12/1981 as “The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”), and four published in Playboy: “The Secret Mission of the Blue-Assed Buzzard,” 9/1967; “Banjo Butt Meets Julia Child,” 12/1968; “Zinsmeister and The Treacherous Eighter From Decatur,” 1/1970; “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League,” 5/1971. At some point in Shepherd’s past, “The Secret Mission…” was to be the title story of his never-to-be-published book about the army, a short story collection he apparently referred to as his army novel.
In Shep’s Army, I really would have liked to include “Troop Train Ernie” and “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League.” I describe all five stories so that those who have trouble accessing them in other ways will at least have some sense of what they’re like in print.
(From A Fistful of Fig Newtons,)
(No Image in Book. Photo here from Newport News, VA:
U. S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Road
Port of Embarkation, June 3, 1943
For Service Overseas)
Shepherd told this story on the air several times, each version a little different. “The Marathon Run…” appears as though it was meant to depict the transit of Shepherd and his Company K from Camp Crowder, Missouri southward. Because Shepherd suggests, and the troops expected, it seemed as though they were being shipped out to a war zone during World War II. Those knowing a bit of Shepherd’s actual biography might realize that the fictional company was heading to another army facility, Camp Murphy, Florida. The story starts:
The troop train had been underway for about three hours when the saga of Ernie began….
Company K was awakened two hours before revile and told to make ready to fall out on the company street. Shepherd wrote some of the usual expletives and bawdy innuendo found in his printed army stories–that he couldn’t use on the radio in those days. The regular personnel are there: Gasser, Sergeant Kowalski, Lieutenant Cherry, and Zynsmeister, [note spelling here]. Lt. Cherry addressed the troops:
“Company K is about to embark on a great adventure….This troop train will be sealed, since we are part of a highly secure troop movement.”
Under way, Shep, Zynsmeister, Gasser, and Ernie were assigned to KP in the incredibly hot, sweaty, chow car. After hours of serving, they were moved to the cleaning car to work on pots and pans, taking over from:
Three guys armed with hoses spewing scalding water and cakes of taffy-brown GI soap capable of dissolving fingernails at thirty paces and long-handled GI brushes, [who] struggled to clean what looked like four or five hundred GI pots.
Eventually, the job over, Shep, Gasser, Ernie, and Zynsmeister got to rest in relative comfort as the mess sergeant opened the car’s large side door, letting in some relative coolness. The sergeant leaves for a few minutes. The train has unexpectedly stopped and the men look out to see a building with the word BEER on it:
There are few words that mean more under certain circumstances. All the thirst, the hungering insatiable throat-parching thirst earned during our sweaty backbreaking twenty-four hours of KP engulfed the three of us like a tidal wave of desire.
Ernie is chosen to get off the train and buy beer for all four of them. It takes a while and the train begins to move and Ernie can’t make it back on. The last paragraph comments in part:
There are times when I awake at 3 A.M. from a fitful sleep hearing the clink-clink-clink of poor Ernie’s dog tags. Ernie, lost forever in Arkansas, wearing only his GI underwear, forever AWOL, a fugitive from a sealed troop train.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS Addendum
(Black, White, Hermaphrodite)
I commented previously in my Full Color Newspaper Wars:
“The New York Times, from time to time, has published some esthetically lovely photographs. Beautifully composed, wonderfully colored.”
Indeed, I have subsequently seen and appreciated others. But the only one that I’ve felt compelled to comment on at length regarding its composition, is the large image that dominated the front page of the Times Arts section, illustrating a major article on “Where He Meets She: Sexual Ambiguity as Old as Humanity.” The subject is hermaphroditism as depicted in antiquity and specifically by a marble sculpture believed to be a Roman copy of the original Greek. What I’m sure enticed and disappointed many other Times readers previously is that the paper had only shown the back of the nude person, leaving those who hadn’t seen the original on view in the exhibit at New York’s Met to wonder about how the front view illustrates the subject. The more recent article satisfies our curiosity (not on the first page, but on the backside, page 2), in a smaller frontal view. By curious happenstance or carefully contrived page-layout, (which I noted as I was about to cut out the newspaper story for reference) the come-hither front page and the reverse side, page 2 article itself, overlap and together encompass the complete paper sheet of pages one and two. You should not and cannot cut them apart.
It’s the carefully arranged large photo that especially grabs my attention. It’s in color, but the subject matter presents a basically black-and-white composition. (My printed copy of the Times has it almost totally black and white, while the image on the Times website, reproduced here, has more warm tones, especially in the marble figure and the background tone. One might wonder which the photographer would have preferred–and, indeed, whether the photo was manipulated for publication to exaggerate the black-and-white contrast.
My description applies more directly to the black-and-white effect on paper in my printed Times, but also applies to the image as shown here. Central, the tones alternate white and black: moving from bottom to top we have, (1) after the gray base as bottom border, the nearly white pedestal top; (2) the figure’s slim black shadow and its base; (3) the white marble reclining figure itself; (4) beyond, the small exhibit case’s black base; (5) the white upon which the case’s figure lies; (6) the small black figure itself; (7) of that case’s clear, transparent hood’s top, the narrow white highlight, which forms a subtle upper border to the entire photographic arrangement.
The overall background of the scene is a medium gray. Acting as visual borders/columns in the composition, are two shadows of people (presumably visitors to the exhibit), who, either by happenstance or by contrived, compositional arrangement, are also perfectly positioned psychologically by both having their backs to the photo’s subject. (On the Times‘ paper, the two people-shadows blend more into the background tone.)
Is the entire image a kind of Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment,” a fortuitous happenstance recognized and captured? Too damned coincidental. Rather, I would like to think that, when snapped by the photographer (RICHARD PERRY/THE NEW YORK TIMES), all of my above description represents an observed, preconceived, and manipulated composition.
As for this photograph, in addition to so many others
I’ve appreciated in the Times,
I wish I’d taken it.
I recently noted an LP record titled “The Best of Jean Shepard.”
So I thought, why not a “Best of Jean Shepherd.”
This proves to be a difficult task to compile, in part because there are so many audios of his broadcasts and so many published stories and other works. My memory is deteriorating and I can’t listen to and reread all his published work. I’d appreciate suggestions about what to add to my list, including sources/dates and reasons for the choices.
As a representative selection for possible inclusion with my EYF! (which never happened–it was nixed by the publisher as too expensive) and for eventual distribution as a premium for WBAI, I compiled a CD-worth of excerpts from Shep programs.
Assume that, as a given, I choose the broadcasts below because I feel or assume they are well-told besides having the particular attributes that especially gab me.
I, Libertine,.First comments and suggestion of a hoax. (4 ?/??/1956) One of the great “Holy Grail” Shepherd broadcasts. I have not heard it but I have thought about it and read little bits about it so often that it is a permanent part of my “memory,” and it must be one of the great moments in literary and shepherdian history.
March on Washington. Narrative told the day after the March. (8/29/1963) Shepherd describes his trip, not as a reporter, but as just another American. This conforms to his attitude as an informed and enthusiastic American patriot.
JFK Assassination. First day back on the air. (11/26/1963) Shepherd, from time to time, had described his feelings about psychological issues in America, and he takes this opportunity to reiterate some of them and link them to the assassination.
“Blues I Love to Sing.” Program I describe and partly transcribe in EYF! (6/16/1957) Shepherd interacts with the singer on the record and expresses his joy in the narrative situation he depicts. This but a ten minute portion of the four-hour program. He uses what is a familiar image from his earlier days of the “figure tattered and torn.”
“Why I am Such a Sorehead.” Discusses Mark Twain and Morse code–I describe in EYF! (1/6/1965) He integrates into his narration, Twain, one of his favorite predecessors. He develops the metaphor of the Mississippi as a dangerous path in life, and relates it to one of his favorite activities, Morse code, suggesting that we all have some activity that, in reality, we are not as good at as we think and hope we are.
“Shermy the Wormy.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/4/1964)
“Fourth of July in the Army.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (7/3/1963)
“Lister Bag Attack.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (6/17/1966)
“Boredom Erupts.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/18/1969)
“Private Sanderson.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (1/13/1971)
“Naked Baseball in the Army.” Told on the air, published in Playboy.
“Troop Train Ernie.” Told on the air, published in Shep’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons as
“The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”
“Og and Charlie.” He told stories several times about these two cave-man-type-near-humans. They were a good metaphor for how Shep felt that humanity still was–not quite the mentally/emotionally advanced race we think we are.
Peru–The whole group of programs focusing on his trip, from how it came about to when he got home to contemplate the experience. At the time, he felt it was the best travel experience he’d ever had.
In addition to all of the above, one must add some of the innumerable bits and pieces of his delightful and cuckoo musical interludes on his silly little instruments–including on his sometimes silly head.
I made my own classical guitar. I’m fascinated by how the shape/formation of objects combine form with function. (It’s my design training still influencing me after all these years.) How does the form of a guitar contribute to its sound? Encountering a two-semester, adult evening class in constructing (not from a “kit”) a classical guitar from the raw materials one buys in a shop that supplies such to professionals, I took the course.
I kept notes and I took photos. Two parts of the classical guitar that might vary are the shape of the head and the luthier’s (guitar-maker’s) choice of how to configure the inside structural supports for the top of the body. I designed a simple, classical head, and chose internal struts for the body’s top that I thought would enforce high notes on the higher strings, and lower tones for the lower strings. I redrew all the instruction pages for the instructor’s future use–the upper left of the head is one of my pages.
An eb element of the rosette
around the sound hole.
I also designed and made the wooden rosette with my eb initials, and designed and installed my label.
While I was peacefully working on my guitar construction, my then-wife, from Granada, Spain, threatened me with a kitchen carving knife and I grabbed and rolled up for protection, my Sunday New York Times Arts Section (Yes, the Arts Section–it was the closest at hand), and that’s as far as I’ll take that true story. Except that I did incorporate the episode into my fact/fiction unpublished novel, The Pomegranate Conspiracy.
I completed my guitar at the end of the course, and practiced playing, struggling
for several unsuccessful years. Now my guitar is hung on a wall.
I love classical guitars and guitar music. I also like looking at Picasso’s guitar collages. So much so that I played around with one of his collage reproductions. First, with a color copier that scans one color at a time, I let it scan the first colors, then slightly shifted the original for the scanning of the black. Then I printed it and applied black-and-white photo prints of the underneath side of my guitar top, half on each side, with, in the middle, a photo of myself playing my newly completed guitar. One might title it:
“The Picasso/Bergmann Guitar Collage.”
I’m Conflicted About This Artsy Of Mine.
Is it a witty, clever, personal homage to an artist I greatly admire,
done by manipulating one of his works
(that he had first made by manipulating and reconstructing stuff),
or is it a fartsy, esthetic travesty for which I should be ashamed?
→ It is a unique collaged collage ←
Would Picasso have liked it? *
My ol’ pal, Shep?
There have been people, including at least one reviewer, who think I actually knew Shep–one reviewer refers to Shep as my friend. Those people obviously skimmed a couple of my statements as suggesting that I knew him (read all of pages 17-19, where I say that I spoke to him once on the phone during a program, and once asked him to sign my I, Libertine) without paying attention or remembering this, from page 19: “Although in fact we spoke only those two times, it had always seemed that he was speaking directly to me during all his broadcasts.” The book, in general discusses my personal experience of what Shep’s radio broadcasts expressed to thousands of us.
N. Y. Times best seller list?
On page 29, I refer to In God We Trust as having been on the Times bestseller list–as Shep had said it had been. People continue to say and publish this as fact, but my research has not found any indication that it had ever been on that list. Please, someone, was he on any bestseller list?
“Marshall McLuhan said that…”
I’ve tried to correct this misapprehension numerous times, but people still get it wrong: McLuhan didn’t say (write) that Shep was writing a new kind of novel (or words to a similar effect), McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media that “Jean Shepherd of WOR in New York regards radio as a new medium….” Emphasis mine, indicating that Shep regards, not that McLuhan himself claims. See my page 31.
“South side of Chicago”
Shep with football on the South Side
Photo courtesy of Bill Ek and Steve Glazer
I mention the South Side of Chicago on pages 42-43, but only after EYF! was published did evidence appear that, even though Shep never seemed to tell tales of this location, other than in Hammond, Indiana, he actually spent the first few years of his life in Chicago, until he moved to Hammond.
Date with a minister’s daughter
Near the end of the army life section of EYF! I mention Shep’s metaphorical story of having a date with a minister’s daughter right after getting out of the army–she gets falling-down drunk in a bar. (He told at least one other version of a date right after release from the army.) I remember the minister’s daughter version clearly, but nobody has yet alerted me to the audio of this broadcast.
More parts to come
(24) ARTISTS’ BOOKS
There are many stores in which one can see books about art and artists, but only a rare few that offer what I discovered one day. Browsing in New York’s Museum of Modern Art bookstore, I came upon a tiny blue box on a shelf. I plucked it and shook out the little accordion-style book. It had colored shapes, but the only words of the story were on a front page that showed small colored symbols with a descriptive term for each—it was a shape-equals-words table of contents. It was William Tell by Warja Lavater. Reader, I married it. (I show the first portion here.*)
I had discovered for myself an artists’ book, an object that had the form of a book that was created as an artwork unto itself. I found that I had encountered a previously unknown-to-me world of art unlike any other. A world that perfectly fit with my sensibility toward individual interests in art, words, and books, by merging them. It was a very small world, known (and of interest) only to a relative few, but rich in its variety and creative possibilities. The occasional books I’d previously seen that fit the criteria, were “books of hours,” some pop-ups, and some children’s books–I hadn’t known that they were in a rare class of their own. Thus began a new enthusiasm and collecting mania. Made in various publishing forms from one-of-a-kind to very cheaply mass-produced, I’ve got hundreds of them.
Artists’ books go back hundreds of years if they include some that the creators probably didn’t exactly think of in such a way. For example, the so-called pre-Columbian Mexican codexes I consider to be artists’ books. (These fold-out books begin at what we would call the back.) The large images describe important historical events and the small surrounding boxes with the colored dots and images (acting as we would usually expect to be straight text) are sophisticated calendar notations of days, months, and years, the isolated little images being months, similar to our month of July harking back to the one who gave it its name, Julius Caesar. Almost all of these books were destroyed by the early Spanish conquistadors. A few of the survivors can be had in facsimiles such as seen below. A modern, collaborative artists’ book by Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Enrique Chagoya, and Felicia Rice, comments dramatically on our society and its history, using the form of the ancient codex in their fold-out book, Codex Espangliensis.
Also, the one-of-a-kind medieval Books of Hours, which combine religious text, illustrations, and surrounding minor flora and fauna, combine words and images/decorations that create objects (books) that are artworks of very high quality—the entire book is the work of art. They were usually made by groups of artisans working together. I have a number of facsimiles, including the over 150-page Visconti Hours, below, the most elaborate one I’ve seen.
The emergence of artists’ books has led to some recently published standard novels and other books that incorporate words-plus-visuals such as Nick Bantock’s widely popular Sabine books with artsy letters inside, and such works as an unusual, visual-expressionism-throughout, 200+ page biography of William S. Burroughs.
The variety of forms that artists’ books take are beyond one’s wildest imaginings.
[The “preview” version of these blog posts do not necessarily show what this draft or posted version will be–so the format of what you see posted will be somewhat unforseen by me. I was not, here, trying to create an “artists’ post.”]
MANY MORE PARTS TO COME
*Note: Undoubtedly the artist, the MOMA Junior Council,
and other collectors felt bamboozled by the printer’s cheap
paper turning brown after only a few years! I own and will
show more of Warja’s work
(produced on quality paper).
Continuation of my thoughts on Shep’s Army stories regarding funny or not:
PART 4 AN ARMY EDUCATION: INDEPENDENT STUDY
“Casual Company Education” Army language FUNNY
“Private Sanderson” A soldier who gets way with anything/everything FUNNY
“MOS Chicken Technician” Plucking 400 chickens FUNNY
“Passes Denied” The company commander is unfair NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“T.S., Mac” He tries to get a pass. DISPARAGING & FUNNY
“Payday” A disappointing day on leave. NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“POWs” The enemy has a human face. FUNNY
“A Place of Rest and Comfort” He unknowingly sleeps on a dead GI’s coffin NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Separation Center” He’s getting out! FUNNY
PART 5 MUSTERED OUT AT LAST!
“Thank God I Ain’t in the Army!” He remember his last guard duty. NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
Well, gang, I’m surprised: I find, according to my personal opinion poll, only a few more FUNNY (Positive) than NEGATIVELY FOCUSED:
NEGATIVELY FOCUSED/DISPARAGING 20
(but let’s add PATRIOTIC as a positive=23)
Of course these were my choices of stories, but I tried to be as objective regarding interest, quality, and variety as I could. Still, I’m a bit shocked, probably because no matter how negatively focus/disparaging Shep’s story-telling is, for me, there is always a tone that I would describe, as best as I can, as being humorous or having some such positive aspect. For example, as negative as “Shorn” is regarding the cutting off of each new soldiers’ hair as an act of hostility to the individual’s ego, I do find its presentation funny!
Gerald Yowell, a Shep enthusiast comments about whether Shep’s army stories are funny:
A Shepherd story that’s negatively focused? SAY IT AIN’T SO!
Actually, I can see a lot of people might find his army stories a little less than “uplifting” and “patriotic”. That’s OK. That’s the way they were meant to be.
I think Shep saw the world as a dangerous and scary place, and there were only two ways to deal with it….1. Become some sort of “phobic”, e.g. agoraphobic, xenophobic, homophobic or some other sort of “phobic”, which is the path I think most people follow, or 2. acknowledge the danger, look for the humor, and move forward anyway. The former will see the negativity in his army stories.
I could be totally wrong, but that’s the way I see it (at least tonight). BTW, I found pretty much all the stories funny, a couple not so funny, but made me think, which is nearly as good as being funny.
Recently encountered in a NY Times book review:
“Humor is a delicate, personal thing. Either an author’s sensibility appeals to you, or it doesn’t. Some people undoubtedly find Faulkner funny, or those Geico car-insurance ads.”
Is my book SHEP’S ARMY—BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES mostly funny or something else? Some people have commented that there are many negatively-focused stories. To me, despite some downers, they’ve seemed funny. I decided to do a self-survey of the stories and grade them myself, in order of their sequence in the book, giving each a very short description. Remember that no matter how negative a story is, Shep’s approach, in telling, usually has a feeling one might call witty or funny or humorous–maybe entertaining in a humorous way.
PART 1: YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW
“Induction” Disappointment—he expects a patriotic ceremony NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Shorn” Outrage at being shorn of his “ducktail”– ego NEGATIVELY FOCUSED YET IRONICALLY FUNNY
“D is for Druid” He fakes-out the authorities regarding his religion FUNNY
“Being Orientated” Disparaging, with Broken Illusions NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Army Phraseology” He encounters soldiers’ wild vocabulary FUNNY
PART 2 ARMY HOSPITALITY
“Shermy the Wormy” He and his fellows are very cruel NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“GI Glasses” He can’t see out of army glasses. Authorities are incompetent NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Lieutenant George L. Cherry Takes Charge” Disparaging authority NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Pole Climbing” Sad/frightening description of pole-climbing danger NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Service Club Virtuoso” A “folk” piano player NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Fourth of July in the Army” He describes an army parade PATRIOTIC FUNNY
“USO and a Family Invitation” He’s given a sexual treat FUNNY
“Shipping Out” He leaves “Camp Swampy” for a tropical hell NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
PART 3 WARTIME IN FLORIDA IS HELL
“MOS: Radar Technician” He realizes that pole climbing is death-defying NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Radar at 15,000 Volts” Shep and fellow soldiers are afraid of radar equipment until someone plays a practical joke. FUNNY
“Swamp Radar” Military incompetence results in enormous loss of lives. NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Night Maneuvers” Goofing off during night training DISPARAGING & FUNNY
“Lister Bag Attack” Soldier in need of anger management stabs water bag. SAD & FUNNY
“Boredom Erupts” A fight over the meaning of “time” FUNNY
“Code School” Military incompetence results in code school students playing joke. DISPARAGING & FUNNY
“T/5” DESCRIPTIVE of his rank FUNNY
Stay tuned for part 2
I am a fanatical enthusiast of Picasso’s work (No, I don’t like it all, and, give me a particular example to defend, I may fail miserably).
After the first 8 of my ARTSY FARTSY essays, I got my first comment about them. Joe Fodor, in the facebook group, “I am a fan of Jean Shepherd,” said he appreciated my invention of the Guernica Coloring Kit. This stimulated me to add additional comments regarding a coupla Artsy encounters with “Picasso.” (Everybody must have encountered Picasso in one manner or another, but a couple of my connections are surely rare.)
Years ago, attending an exhibit of ceramics in a Spanish museum (I think it was in Madrid or Barcelona), I encountered a small plate propped upright in a glass case with a caption indicating that the drawing on it was by Picasso, titled “Abstraction.” As he virtually never did anything totally “abstract,” I studied it a bit–and realized that it must have seemed abstract to whoever described and installed the piece, because it was mounted upside down.
Visualizing it the other way around, I saw that it was a sketchy image of a man on a horse (Don Quixote?). I wrote a short note to that effect and slid it between the front panes of glass, in front of the piece, and went on my way. I trust that some museum person would eventually see my note and correct the error.
Some years later, attending the large, 1980 Picasso retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I encountered an etching of his with the wall label titled “image of the artist holding mask in center.” A quick glance told me that it was not a mask he held but a bellows camera. That night I wrote a note to the Museum and posted it regarding their error. The next time I visited the exhibit (I went five times), they’d corrected the wall label. (The catalog, published before the exhibition opened, retains the error.) I felt delighted that I had improved the content of this major Picasso exposition–if not the immemorial catalog.
Illustration in my copy of the catalog
(Part of my Picasso collection.)