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For coming-of-age, the escargot story, opening up the “Jean Shepherd” persona to a wider world of endless possibilities, in its specifics, is very probably a fabrication. The craftsmanship, the artistry he put into it! It’s so perfect and the moral so pat that it’s too good to be true. Building up the image of himself as the unsophisticated bumbler—never having been to such an affair, and then the “Oh, my God!” repeated so that one is tricked into assuming the worst until the revelation: “It is so good I can’t believe it!” Long after that moment of recognition while he’s just lying in the dormitory room he will remember this epiphany—“there’s an aftertaste.”
The Bugatti tale might be one of the few Jean Shepherd stories in this book that with justification could be considered, in the main, autobiographically true to his life. Ironically, his long-term memory seems to have failed him regarding some specifics (there are two similar but distinct Bugattis with nearly the same designations), but the incident leading to the epiphany is corroborated by accurate details regarding the where and when of the particular car he saw. The 57SC as retained in his memory as being so widely celebrated, subsequently owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren, was the centerpiece of a recent major exhibit of Lauren’s cars at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As the Museum’s director commented about the car, “It speaks a little of evil, I think it’s so wickedly designed. This black beauty, though, is extraordinary.” As Shepherd predicted, cars exhibited and esteemed in an art museum!
I wish some really serious biographer, instead of an automobile cuckoo—would do the life and times of Ettore Bugatti, because he is such a symbolic figure. Such a fantastic figure and it would take somebody who is a really top biographer who would deal with Bugatti the way you would deal with, say, a Picasso—and incidentally, he is very much in the same league. He is in the same league. Don’t you forget it. So I would say that a thousand years from now Bugattis will be in museums the way Picasso paintings are. And for the same reason. For their artistic values.
[END OF PART 11]
And so, Ettore Bugatti, this great artist, would create a car specifically for the man involved. And, by the way, money wasn’t the criteria. So, if you were a big bootlegger from Chicago, you couldn’t just go over to France and talk to Ettore Bugatti and say you would like a car. Not like you know, today, it’s money. You buy a car and that’s it. It doesn’t make any difference who you are. If you want to buy a Rolls, you can buy a Rolls Royce. Not a Bugatti. Many people were turned down by the maestro. And all cars were ordered personally. You didn’t go to your Bugatti dealer and order a car. Any more than you went to your Rembrandt dealer and ordered a Rembrandt painted up. And so if you came to the enclave there and he didn’t like the way you were, he didn’t feel that you were fit to be driving a Bugatti, you simply did not get a Bugatti. That was simply all there was to it. He would suggest perhaps an Isotta Franschini would be more suitable to you. Possibly a Maserati. But certainly not a Bugatti.
Now, you want to hear a little more about Bugatti? You know, we’re not used to thinking of the car as an art form. We’re used to thinking—beautiful cars—there’s a great–looking, maybe a classic car, and so on. But we’re not used to thinking of the car as an art form. But for a long time, considerably longer than we have, the Europeans have recognized it as such. It is an art form. And unfortunately, it is an art form that is in decline. And this is not anything to do with nostalgia, it has to do with the changing world, that the car has become a utilitarian object, pure and simple. It wasn’t always that way.
When Bugatti created his cars it was the day when dukes, duchesses, kings, rajahs, maharajahs, viscounts, field marshals, Ali Khans, people of that kind—when they wanted an automobile, when they wanted a car, they treated the car like the rest of their life. If they wanted a fine home they didn’t just go out and buy something off the plain pipe racks. There would be a fine house, a chateau that would be created for them. Their suits were done that way. If you were a maharajah you would travel to Savoy Row in London. Seven or eight thousand miles by boat and finally you’d arrive at your tailor—Bond Street possibly, and he would create a wardrobe for you. And it would take months. You wouldn’t just go there and get fitted. He would create a wardrobe. And so it would take months of fitting a client, who would stay in a magnificent suite at a hotel in London while he was being fitted. Well, his car was really a carriage—when he was out, his automobile was not a car, really, it was not a means of transportation (it was that of course), it was an extension of his personality, like everything else.
But it was a car the way you would never conceive of cars being. The difference between Ettore Bugatti’s 57SC and what we would consider a beautiful car today is the difference between one of those dollar coffee mugs that you buy with a picture of Donald Duck on the side, and a silver chalice turned out by Botticelli—to add style to the life of a Venetian grand duke, to the great world, a whole cultural world. In fact it sort of spanned time. Ettore Bugatti was a Renaissance artist who somehow had been reincarnated in the twentieth century, and he lived a baronial style. As a great artist should.
And he had helpers and devoted assistants who worshipped the ground he walked on. His factory was in France, not in Italy, but in France, and the Bugatti enclave is legend today among people who know anything about twentieth century art. And every car was turned out with a kind of care, love, and total artistry that, say, a Rembrandt would turn out his work. And incidentally, a Rembrandt also had his apprentices who would fill in the background and deal with the little details—or did you know that? Oh, yes. And so Bugatti—Ettore Bugatti–created this fantastic method, and I’d never heard of him! I just knew there was this thing called “foreign cars.” I didn’t realize that there was one man to whom a car was not a car, and he spoke in a universal language. It was an art—pure and simple. Ettore Bugatti.
Amazing how varied the simple wedding ceremony can be from couple to couple.
I married my Spanish wife in her church of the patron saint of Granada,
Spain, Nuestra Senora de las Angustias.
I translate that as “our lady of the anguishes.” Very sadly ironic as, for four years, starting on our honeymoon, I experienced anguish and cried nearly every day. I felt obligated to be tolerant of her traditional Spanish belief that people and cultures with different customs were inherently evil, and that some day she would recognize that I was not the Devil. (Note the fierce violence of the Spanish Civil War.) That ended on the Sunday morning as I was contentedly working on the construction of my Spanish classical guitar in our finished basement when she descended the stairs and threatened me with a carving knife. I defended myself with the rolled-up Arts Section of the Sunday Times. Did this really happen to meek, mild, innocent little Eugene B. Bergmann? Yes.
The next act of our anguish-filled, real-life Garcia Lorca tragedy, was narrated to me by the Queens County Sheriff:
He arrived at the house my parents had paid for and found my then-former wife at a second floor window threatening him with a pistol. He retreated and returned with a squad of the local police in bullet-proof vests. They broke in the front door, rushed up the stairs, and disarmed her—it was a toy plastic pistol. As she did not go gently, they had to remove her in a strait jacket.
I restrain myself from describing further scenes, but did gain from my Spanish experience: some little insight into the interior life of Andalucía; and inspiration for one of my unpublished novels.
Allison and I connected through a personal ad.
As one might note, folks, I robbed the cradle.
Encountering Allison and falling in love at first phone call, we wed on the first anniversary of our first date in a delightful, traditional church in Rutherford, NJ. We had the reception at a Jersey Ramada Inn’s elegant atrium complete with tropical plantings and a pool. A string quartet provided classical music.
We’ve been married for over 31 years.
Our younger son, Drew, met Linda in college. They’ve been significant others for 10 years. They were wed in June, 2018 in an outdoor ceremony and reception, complete with large backyard plantings, enormous tent for protection, and an inviting pool.
Brian, our close family friend since he was born, officiated. Years ago he’d told his family that he felt the calling and he began services with a few attendees in their family room. Soon he had a wife, two sons, and a crowded church. His congregation, CenterPoint, moved to a former synagogue on Jerusalem Avenue where he has about a thousand members. (They now have two other Long Island locations.) On the large front stage they have a Christian rock group in attendance, and are backed by three enormous video screens. Brian is forceful, entertaining, informative, and very personal in his talks to his congregation. I much admire his natural persuasiveness.
Brian performed a traditional, yet personal and loving ceremony. Linda and Drew read their own loving decorations to each other, the content of both bringing a surprising, wonderful, and emotional jolt to all.
Part of their declarations:
Linda, I love you because of your tenacious attitude, beautiful smile, and unique sense of humor. You are the only thing I need when the silk is rough, when the open road looks closed, or when I’m unemployed, broke, and wearing a linen suit. And most of all I can’t live without you because of how you make me whole every single day I am with you.
Linda, I vow to: Continue to dedicate myself to you first because without a strong US our family cannot survive
I vow to: Be a good father; Keep our family safe; Listen to your every need and desire; And become rich together, not just in monetary wealth, but family and emotional riches as well.
Drew, Out of all the many great loves stories out there, ours is my favorite Out of the 10 years we’ve been together there have been two of my favorite days. 1. The day u told me you loved me and 2.Today.
And it wasn’t because anything crazy happened, it was because of the way I felt.
So when things aren’t always so easy, like when u pretend to be awake and have a conversation with me, or when u take all the blankets. I promise to hold on to this feeling
I vow to always root for you, support you, bring out the best in you, I vow to grow old with u I vow to share my crazy dreams with you, I vow to make more favorite days with you.
You’re my best friend, lover, father to our daughter. I vow to continue to make our story the best love story.
I danced with the bride, I danced with the groom.
For all his success, Pastor Brian has remained (to my delight) a child at heart. As evening fell, Brian and Drew agreed to a little wrestling match to see who could throw the other in the pool. The moist result shows that they both won.
An important participant in the festivities was Linda and Drew’s
six-month-old daughter, the most beautiful baby in the world.
CHARLI GRACE BERGMANN
He talked about his college days in Cincinnati, at a time when, referring to two comic strips, he was “just beginning to see that there was more to the world than ‘Flash Gordon,’ there was more to drawing than, say, ‘Prince Valiant,’ and I was beginning to suspect things.” As he was, in the best sense, about to learn a lesson—in an extracurricular class one Saturday morning—it was appropriately a teacher who took him and a couple of other students to a garage in order to expose them to an extraordinary work of art.
We were looking at one of the great automobiles. I mean one of the great automobiles. By ‘great’—this car had appeared in probably two or three hundred catalogs of great masterworks—that specific car. Even today that car is almost priceless. It was one of the finest works of one of the great artists of the twentieth century–considered possibly his prime work. Ettore Bugatti. Did you ever hear of the name? Ettore Bugatti. The maestro. A man who created automobiles the way Michelangelo created altar cloths. He created them as works of art.
And there, resting on the floor under that flickering neon light was a dark, rich, plum-colored 57SC, one of the great moments in the career of Ettore Bugatti. An automobile that had been created for a French duke late in the 1930s—around 1937. A car built specifically for mountain driving. An alive, magnificent, evil, sensual-looking machine that lay low. It didn’t’ really squat on the floor, it just sort of lounged, stretching out low and flat—sensual. And looking at that car you felt flight in every inch of it. Not only flight but movement and statement. And a curious kind of truth. It was so honest.
What had captivated Shepherd about this low-slung Bugatti 57SC sports car back in his college days? Through newly encountered information, I’ve come to understand that Shepherd had, over the decades, obviously conflated two similar but distinct Bugatti 57SC models. The one he spoke of during the broadcast with such enthusiasm, the one famed as a great masterwork of widespread renown, is not the plum-colored convertible he had originally seen, but the more rare and bizarre, hard-backed 57SC Atlantic. Only three originals of it exist, including a blue one that sold for over twenty million dollars in 2010, and a black one owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren. From a race car historian: “The Bugatti Atlantic is one of those very rare, very great, very charismatic masterpieces of automotive art. Every line of it is thought-provoking.” From the director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, which had featured the Lauren one in an exhibit of elegant cars, “It speaks a little of evil, I think it’s so wickedly designed. This black beauty, though, it’s extraordinary.” Evil? Wicked? You have to see photos and videos of this beast!
Evil and wicked are responses to a design that creates jarring mental and emotional contradictions, going against ordinary expectations regarding this otherwise aerodynamic car. What had Bugatti done to accomplish this feat of seeming inconsistency, of wicked design? Reportedly some manufacturing problem had inspired Ettore Bugatti’s son, designer Jean Bugatti, with an artist-alchemist’s wicked caprice, leading to the birth of what appears to be some antediluvian oddity. One source suggests that the sheet metal surface of the body was to be a special alloy that would burn in the usual welding process. This circumstance, or a design decision growing out of an earlier such situation, led to a brutish-yet-elegant oddity in the erotically rounded, voluptuous, crouching beast—down the centerline of this otherwise fluid and carnal body—like a stark reptilian spine, lies a rigid, riveted flange pure and unadorned in its severity. Evil? Wicked? How can such a thing exist? How can such a being be described? Confounding ordinary assumptions with bold wit, Jean Bugatti created a technically ingenious aberration seemingly out of some lost-world fantasy—a sleek dolphin with spine crossbred from a small dinosaur, a wondrous creature about to vault from some primitive sea. He brought forth a piece of sublime art.
Enthralled by the 57SC and other masterpieces of automotive design, Shepherd extolled the art of Bugatti until the end of the program. His usual style in radio art was a jazzman’s manipulation of words into improvised compositions, but only rarely had he crafted a program with such thoughtful and seemingly preconceived precision as he devoted to the elegance of line and form in Ettore Bugatti’s sensuous art. Despite having a variety of unusual cars over the years, Shepherd never held title to a Bugatti, but he did retain that lesson in art taught by the sublime Bugatti 57SC, and some years later he held a Bugatti Royale limo long enough in his mind’s eye to own it by sketching it. And now I, Shepherd-cuckoo and new-born admirer of Bugatti, possess that sketch. Thus, in my eternal quest through Shepherdland, I’ve learned a bit more about Jean Shepherd’s eye, and he’s given me an introduction to Bugatti and to the esthetics of the automobile—to the car as art.
* * *
[My comment that appeared in the following Bugatti Club publication follows]
Although Jean Shepherd had an extensive memory, he occasionally conflated some details, as he seemed to do in his broadcast description of his view of the 57SC. The Gangloff [Bugatti 57SC] was the right color and in the right place at the right time for him to have seen it; however, the passing of a quarter of a century between his view and his remembrance, and the front-end similarity and body type designation of T57SC for both the Gangloff and the Atlantic, seemed to cause him a problem. The even more eccentric Atlantic and far more words and images subsequently devoted to it argue persuasively for it being the 57SC that Shepherd came to describe as “An alive, magnificent, evil, sensual-looking machine that lay low.”
My foregoing article—parts 1 and 2 here— appeared in the American Bugatti Club’s quarterly publication, Pur Sang Spring, 2010. At the club’s invitation, I attended their annual New York City luncheon at midtown Manhattan’s Sardi’s Restaurant. Parked out front were three Bugattis, one of which was one of the five reproductions of the 57SC Atlantic, so I got to see and photograph an exact replica. Jay Leno owns one of the other replicas. The photos in this article are of one of the originals, owned by fashion designer Ralph Lauren. (Many photos of two of the original ones can be found among Google’s images by searching for “57SC Atlantic.” However, a similar Bugatti is also shown there, as well as photos of scale models of the “evil, wicked” beast.)
Regarding my collection of Sherperdiana, the paper towel sketch of the Bugatti limo had been just half of the sheet, the other half consisting of a totally separate, rather elegant still life of table items. The combined length of the paper towel roll sheet was 57” by 12” high, a rather difficult size to frame in one piece. Through a tough rationalization on my part, based on the two subjects being totally disconnected in subject as well as style and separation on the sheet, I cut the them apart (having done so hurts me still) and framed them each, mounting them on the wall of my Shep Shrine side by side, almost visually connected.
AN EXTRACURRICULAR LESSON IN ART
Jean Shepherd was a connoisseur of many arts, including the design and driving of cars, motorcycles and the like. His interest in them extended to his role as emcee of the Greenwich Village sports and antique car rallies from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, to the scores of columns he wrote for Car and Driver magazine in the 1970s and, not least, to his penchant for racing perilously through the streets of New York City and environs on his motorcycle or scooter, in his Morgan or Porsche, or in some other exotic species of automobile, such as a funky little Goggomobil, whenever he could. He was, indeed, a motor-cuckoo—a car-cuckoo.
And I quest tirelessly for every immortal relic of his artistry, whether for the holy grail of his lost broadcasts or for just some lines on a scrap of paper. Through that obsession, which includes a daily scanning of ebay, I encountered and bought one of his creations, done sometime in the early 1960s, a large pen-and-ink drawing of an antique car. Shepherd’s drawing is in a loose style, done quickly, maybe because the impressive vehicle was about to move, or because he didn’t want to attempt a too-smooth rendition that would fail utterly in comparison with the elegant object in front of him. In short, my treasure is a lowly paper towel with a rough sketch of a fine car on it.
I wanted to know all about that car. My quest led me through innumerable glossy tomes filled with glorious photos of old cars until I encountered a possible match—had Shepherd portrayed a stately Bugatti? With a query and a photo of the drawing from me, the folks at the American Bugatti Club checked their meticulously detailed files and narrowed it down, not just to the species–Bugatti Royale–but to the exact specimen of that grand limousine itself, the Park Ward. Ah, to encounter such admirably precise authorities as these—what comfort for a cuckoo on a quest! My pursuit has a glorious culmination. As Shepherd talked about virtually anything and everything that interested him over the years, it’s no surprise to me that, in hot pursuit through my own meticulously detailed files, I encountered a 1976 tape of him discussing his love of antique cars and his special admiration for those designed and built by Bugatti.
I discovered that, although Shepherd usually dealt with many subjects during a show, this entire broadcast was devoted to the virtues of Ettore Bugatti and his cars, concentrating not on the Royale limo in my ink drawing, but on a low-slung, sporty model. He began this particular show by commenting that the world had created a new artistic form in the first quarter of the twentieth century: “It existed briefly for ten or twelve years in its really flowering form and then began to decline as all art forms do—they ultimately decline.” After this general introduction, he began his story about a Bugatti.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2