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When Shep Was a Tadpole
For the years in radio before he arrived in New York, the important thing to know about his career would be if we had more audios of this early work to compare with later broadcasts, but basically we do not. So, although people knew him and heard him then and still talk about those good early days, almost all we have other than his last two half-hours in Philadelphia and a few other tiny bits, is their remembrances that he had already developed much of his style and content. His first album, “Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music” seems to indicate that, but the most interesting thing would have been if the jazz musician who was still alive until recently had only responded to requests to give his remembrances. He never did. He died. After “Into the Unknown,” he had gone on to write the music to the Broadway smash, “Man of La Mancha.” Imagine what he could have told us about early Shepherd in relation to how he worked and in what ways he thought as a jazz artist with words.
When Shep Was a New New Yorker
Photo by Roy Schatt circa 1956
What we know of interest of Shepherd’s early New York years became much more of an open book than it had been through information regarding his relationship with actress Lois Nettleton and with his producer, Leigh Brown.
(That Shepherd himself had kept his friendship and relationship with
Lois and Leigh hidden from his audiences didn’t help.)
I’ve reported in this blog much of what Lois had commented. She had spoken in an interview with Doug McIntyre in 1960, and she had spoken to me by phone and written a letter to me as well as dozens of notes about my EYF! that I’ve also reported here. This information reveals that she had been more than just “the actress Shep had married.” She was a strong influence on him and had helped him in his efforts in his aborted acting career. She also recorded his shows for him and had discussed them with him on what seemed to be a nightly basis. Considering her genius IQ, she must have been a considerable help and might have given us many more insights than I reported in blog posts about her interactions with him. She might have told us more about the I, Libertine affair, relationship with John Cassavetes and his making of Shadows, the making of the Charles Mingus “The Clown” improvised Shepherd narration (all of which she witnessed). She could have had more to say about her and Jean’s interactions with Shel Silverstein, and maybe more memories about his avocation in the field of painting and pen-and-ink drawings. Her additional thoughts were never revealed, because, though she and I had expected to meet in New York on her next trip, before that could happen, she became ill and died in January, 2008.
Because of the many letters that Leigh Brown wrote to her best friend and that I obtained and reported on, we now know that Leigh was far more than the almost nameless cipher she had appeared to most of us. She was a smart woman who helped Jean’s career in important ways previously discussed here. In fact, she is the one brought his manuscript of The Ferrari in the Bedroom to Dodd Mead publishers after Doubleday had turned the book down. We now know that in many ways, she had been crucial to his life and work.
Hokusai’s “Both Banks of the Sumida River”
I’m a great enthusiast of Japanese wood-block-printed pictures, and my favorite artist is Hokusai, whose series of “36 Views of Mount Fuji” contains what is probably the finest and best known image of the genre, showing an enormous wave overarching a small boat and its occupants. On the far horizon is Fuji.
Individual images are the best known and most-collected Japanese woodblock-printed works—because they can be framed and hung on walls. Especially fine first printings of well-known works sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The traditional Japanese woodblock artists, especially in the 18th and 19th century, also made numerous groupings of smaller images designed and published as books. By their very nature books can only be appreciated by turning the pages one by one. Some of these woodblock books achieve the level of the finest “artists books.”
I’m the fortunate/lucky owner of Hokusai’s masterwork in book form, an original printing (1805/1806) of his “Both Banks of the Sumida River.” No telling how many copies were printed or still exist, but I believe that it is extremely rare. Jack Hillier, an authority on Japanese art, in a major publication, uses pages of Hokusai’s “Both Banks…” in color on both front and back of the dust jacket, and describes it as “…justifiably considered as one of the outstanding Japanese colour-printed books.”
Internet Repro of Cover
Internet Reproduction of a Double-spread.
The book, with 23 double pages, is a continuous panorama of the environs of the river that flows through Tokyo. If one opens two contiguous pages, one sees that the work consists of one unending scene.
Scan From my Original Book
(Left Side of a Double Spread)
In the upper left corner of the scan from my copy, one sees a kite with string–if one turns the page over, as one does a Japanese book– one sees that attached string and the continuation of the scene. The double-spread scenes change from season to season, some depict rainy weather, and another shows snow-covered buildings. The entire 3-volume book is one continuous view of the river, its weather, its landscape, and surrounding human activities!
When I encountered a major auction house’s sale catalog that included “Both Banks…” for the first time I recognized my opportunity, not to just see reproductions, but to see and hold in my hands, for a few minutes, an original copy. (At auction galleries, during the exhibition before an auction, one has the unbelievable opportunity to see and snuggle up to masterpieces!) The item was described as “one volume of the two-volume set,” I’d be able to determine which volume was for sale (Only one volume of the two or three?), and why the set was mis-described as consisting of only two volumes, when my Japanese-published book I’d bring with me, apparently reproduces three volumes complete–in color.
My Japanese Book Reproducing Hokusai Works
Showing the Covers of the Three Separately
Bound Volumes and the First-Page-Spread of “Both Banks…”
At the auction house, with the original and my book illustrating all three volumes alongside, I compared them page by page and discovered that the single volume for sale contained all three volumes bound together as one—it was complete! What a find! I bid, I won. For decades I have daily looked at my original Hokusai book displayed in our living room in its full, open, 10¾” X 13” width. I sometimes take it down, fondle it (I own an original masterwork by one of my favorite artists!), and view all the pages, replacing it on its stand with a different double-page opening to view.
How was I able to possess this?
Most rich collectors want art they can display on a wall, and don’t appreciate the value of a book–an art object one can hold in one’s lap.
I recognized the mis-description and proved to myself that it was complete. Most of those who read the catalog (rich collectors and their dealers) would only want a complete work, not “one volume of the two volume set.” After my purchase, a Japanese print authority I questioned told me that sometimes a wood-block-print publisher, after assembling sheets into separate volumes for sale, would indeed, bind additional sets of sheets into a single volume.
As one can see in my scan, the book is water-damaged on the lower corner of nearly every page, and may or may not be a consciously paler-printed, or somewhat faded-copy. Rich collectors only want pristine stuff to show off. (I believe the pristine appreciates in monetary value faster, too.) Yes, I’d prefer the pristine but could never afford the price, even if one did come on the market.
I pursued my quest.
I encountered fortuitous circumstances.
I especially treasure my wounded masterpiece.
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).
WHO IS THAT GUY?
Continuing bits from EYF!
[page 12] …Shep was at least three people.
First there was a real Jean Parker Shepherd that an ideal biography would uncover in an ideal world—an accurate, historical Jean Shepherd, not found in this book or anywhere, in part because throughout his professional life he hid this truth and confounded the attempts of others to discover it. Therefore, this is not a straight biography of Jean Shepherd. Yet biography is only a grasping at an entertaining and probable hunch—especially unreliable if combined with an attempt to analyze a creator through comparison with the creator’s work. Even more perilous when trying to understand the slippery relationship between truth and fiction, as they interweave in what Shepherd gave as his life story. Some biographical information is included for comparison and contrast. The comparisons are interesting and the contrasts can be devastating.
Along with that first, biographically based Shepherd, the second and third Sheps, crafted by Jean Shepherd, artist and fabulist, are ones you will find and know in Excelsior, You Fathead! The second Shep persona was the storyteller who artfully conflated bits of the true Shepherd into the concocted biography of his life (“I was this kid, see…”). The third was the Shep who spoke on the radio, the perceived here-and-now Shep, whom his listeners knew, giving real ideas and perceptions through his on-air persona.
[page 13] Gerald Nachman’s Seriously Funny, a study of over two dozen “Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s,” describes Shepherd on the air: “The bemused voice, whether chortling slyly or in full maniacal cry, was by turns self-mocking, seductive, manic, querulous, and reflective. There were digressions, footnotes, parenthetical jokes, random observations, and stories within stories, augmented by an occasional sound effect or snatch of music.”
As for what I attempted in my book, and indicating that it is not a biography:
[page 14] It documents and describes what he produced in many media, and it is an appreciation and analysis of what he accomplished. And, importantly, it attempts to impart to the reader some measure of the great pleasure Shepherd’s art gave to his audiences.
Note that, for those wondering about the sequence of chapters, I include at the end of each chapter a segue toward the following chapter. And at the beginning of each Part of the book, I indicate what it’s going to be about.
More parts to come.
(23) INTESTINAL DISTRESS
Some TV commercials are entertaining—so much so, in fact, that I forget all about what the production advertises. Recently I’ve seen a great one a few times. One that receives my imaginary Charlie Award* for best idea, best script, best director, best actress. It’s about curing gas and diarrhea. (http://www.viberzi.com/what.) It’s the kind of gross health subject that I avoid on television as much as I can. I watch this one with no sound, concentrating on the sheer comedic, quirky brilliance of the actress. Stills do not do justice to her goofy movements and expressions. (The white artwork on her midsection is a stylized graphic of an intestine.) While being thoroughly delightful in her body-stocking nakedness, she does a great job being an unseriously distressing intestine.
C H A R L I E A W A R D
R E C I P I E N T
She explains that she is in charge of your body; she does a cute little drumming on head and back with pencils; she has fun on a bicycle built for two; she does a goofy walk down the street; when the medicine works, she happily gazes at the patient and the patent’s date. She’s lots of fun to be with.
*“Charlie Award“= Charles Spencer Chaplin Award
(aka: “I Wish I Could Be As Wacky & Creative As This ‘Charlie Award’ Winner.”)
Little Genie Bergmann sat in a corner/Reading his Shepherd pie./
He stuck in his thumb/And pulled out a plum/
And said, “What a good buoy am I.”
I’d like to think that my work regarding the legacy of J. S. (especially in EYF!) helps buoy his creations–that is, helps steer the sea-faring seeker-after-enlightenment clear of some shallows and through navigable channels.
Thus, noting some uncertainty and forgetfulness among acolytes including myself from time to time, I’m gonna cull my EYF! for what I believe are memorable and significant passages and add some of the info about Shep that emerged after that book was published. For anyone thinking that my self-esteem quests beyond propriety–my bad!
At least in the beginning of this Pulling for Plums, I’m going to follow the sequence of the book. (Remember that the book is not a biography, but a description, documentation, and appreciation.) I don’t guarantee that this ideal will continue–but I’ll try to remember to include page numbers for those interested in finding context for the plumbed material.
This is the iconic image of Shep, so, of course, it had to be the cover photo. It was taken by Fred W. McDarrah during Shepherd’s November 30, 1966 broadcast. McDarrah had taken other photos of Shepherd the same day. (I hope that 11/30/66 broadcast surfaces some day–it would be fun to hear just what Shep was saying the day the photo was taken.) The 8 X 10 glossy sent to us for use on the cover had a strange line that appeared to be one of the headphone wires, but close examination revealed it to be what must have been a scratch on the neg! (Taking a magnifying glass to the 8X10 glossy, one can see that the offending black line begins and ends before a “wire” would have continued around Shep’s back and before it would go down behind the desk. And the line is far sharper than any other part of the entire photo–which is a bit fuzzy.)
There is no such line on the photo as used for the large poster. (Jim Clavin did a good comparison of photos to prove the point.) Compare with the more complete photo–that has no such line (but which contains some other objects such as what appears to be a typewriter on a stand behind Shep’s hand, and, on the desk, a phone on the left and a jews harp directly below the buttons on Shep’s shirt). I had the offending line airbrushed out for our cover. Two books published at about the same time as EYF!, each containing some pages on Shep, reproduce the image with the offending black scratch mark. McDarrah was offended and didn’t believe it when I told him about the line–yet it is incontrovertible.
Full photo below.
Cropped photo with the offending scratch,
as reproduced in the two other books.
Don’t judge a photo by its reproduction–or a book by its cover, or an entertainer by his cover. It’s hard to tell from Shep’s variety of covers who he is. Indeed, it is hard to tell which Jean Shepherd is the “real one.”
More parts to come.
(22) SYMBOLIC DESIGN
One day, when my supervisor at the commercial exhibit company I worked for didn’t have much to assign to me, he asked me to design a series of logos for the various branches of Cyanamid, a large company manufacturing chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc., a client of our company. This seemed just right for me, as I was familiar with symbolism in literature and, through my industrial design background, with its frequently used slogan that “form follows function.” I like to find mental images that express the essence of a subject’s function. Working with an item and manipulating it into an attractive, visually identifying equivalent. A schematic correspondence. I came up with a dozen that fit the criteria.
[After 50+ years, rub-down letters have loosened:
MYCOLOGISTS. POLYMER CHEMISTS. NUTRITIONISTS.]
Does that seem kind of corny? Maybe it’s a very high level of artsy fartsy.
Seeking a more intelligent and humane work environment than the commercial exhibit world, I made sure to include in my portfolio, my dozen science-oriented visual symbols. They must have attracted the Exhibition Chairman at the American Museum of Natural History, because I got the job.
WHAT’S AN INVERTEBRATE?
Never having taken a course in biology, I didn’t know what an invertebrate was and that was the subject of the first exhibit I was to design in the permanent Invertebrate Hall—the entire classification of the world’s 17 groupings of invertebrates. (I was much more interested in anthropology, with its study of artifacts—its artwork.) Fortunately, designers don’t have to know the subject they are designing—experts capable of articulate language for laymen describe the details to them and the designer uses design skills to express the subject.
Invertebrates (animals without backbones) make up the vast majority of animal types. The scientists I worked with described five major categories, and in each there are groups called “phyla,” and within the phyla there are anywhere from one to a half-dozen or more “classes.” The most advanced, final class, the “chordates,” contains all the animals with backbones.
One Configuration of the Tree of Life
A previous designer, working with rectangular shapes for all the text, photos, and diagrams, had failed to solve the visual problem of depicting all the relationships and interconnections. An accurate visual arrangement couldn’t be done with straight-line configurations. (For example, visually, the four-sided rectangle for the phyla, could not easily accommodate more than four related classes.)
Seeing the problem, I began with the more easily configured circles, as their tangents accommodate an infinite number of associated circles. Large diameter hemispheres with clear plexi covers became my phyla. For the varied numbers of classes within the phyla I used smaller opaque disks of the same color. To tie each of the five groups together and string them along, branch-like, innumerable small globes, giving a certain “biological ambiance,” as I put it. A “tree” of the animal kingdom is usually diagrammed as an upright growth. (Various scientists may have different ideas as to groupings.) As I had a series of horizontal cases to work with, I “pushed the tree over and stretched it out.” The scientists liked my colored paper layout with my full-size mockup of a phylum, a class, and the ambient spheres. We went to work.
CONTINUITY IN LIFE
The scientist in charge of the next exhibit in the hall did a very rough but accurate idea of how she envisioned her exhibit, showing the varied ways that animal life proceeds from one generation to the next. I altered the sketch, formalized it, and we built the exhibit. The self-contained yellow disk at the left is for asexual life. The remainder shows sexual life. (The branch to the left describes a dead end.) In the orange area, the two disks on the left represent two aspects of dead-end mutation. The completed exhibit depicts the story from simple forms of life through varieties living in water, air, and on land. The finished exhibit looks somewhat like an organism designed maybe by Juan Miro.
These “permanent” exhibits in the “permanent Invertebrate Hall” lasted only about 25 years, until the museum’s administration tore the entire hall down and replaced it with a more topical subject than the seemingly immortal invertebrates. Permanence doesn’t last very long these days. Even in a museum. When my Exhibit Chairman gave the Museum Director a tour of my just-completed two exhibits above, my Chairman said to me with a smile, “You’re in!” I outlasted several Chairmen and three Museum Directors, for a 34-year total. But, from what I gather, immortal invertebrates called “roaches” will probably outlast us all.
My Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd was published over ten years ago (!) and I’ve been gratified by the vast majority of very positive reviews from the general public and from the media.
SOME POSITIVE COMMENTS
Very laudatory reviews and comments have come from the Associated Press; Talkers Magazine–the publication of the talk radio industry (“This is a very important book because it is one of the few thoughtfully researched volumes written about a radio star–ever….Get the book….”); Lois Nettleton; Dee Snider; Walter Sabo–CEO of a communications consultant firm (“This book captures the spirit and genius of his work….This is a great book.”);
Broadcasters and print contributors who have interviewed me and/or have just read and critiqued the book were also kind; as are most of the http://www.amazon.com Customer Reviewers:
Meticulously researched, this was obviously a labor of love for the Author. Absolutely the most fascinating biography I’ve read in years.
Doug McIntyre, who began and gave up on a Shep biography, and who is a bi-coastal radio broadcaster of his own shows, as well as a video documentary-maker, commented on his Customer Review titled: A FIRST RATE ANALYSIS OF RADIO’S GREAT GENIUS:
“Shep’s life is nearly impossible to capture in a linear biography. He told so many versions of events it really is a work of forensics to piece it all together, however. Bergmann did a wonderful job of presenting Jean’s art in its proper context, including important observations about the influence of Jazz on Shep’s art. (Radio is inherently a Jazz medium) As a writer who tried and failed to write a biography of Jean Shepherd I know exactly how hard this project was and applaud Eugene Bergmann and thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
Doug has also commented that the form of the book, by design or fortunate happenstance, seems inspired by Shepherd’s own, apparently non-linear organization that overall ties together neatly. [ I may have his wording here a bit askew, but I think that’s the jist of it. eb]
SOME NEGATIVE COMMENTS
“Someday Shep will get a biography worthy of his genius, but this one is a godawful mess. The writing is genuinely awful, with all the personality of a washing machine’s instruction booklet.” [Oh well! –eb]
“A lot of good information about the life of Jean Shepherd was left out. Many details of his life were either missed or overlooked. I would hardly call it a biography.” [I commented: Good–I don’t call it a biography either! Despite what my publisher and many others say, see the book itself, page 14, where I say it documents and describes what he produced, and it is an appreciation and analysis of what he accomplished.
I responded to another Customer Review comment: “How was Excelsior, You Fathead! organized and why? Two major ideas govern the form of the book. Most importantly it’s a document and exploration of Shepherd’s radio and other creative work. Secondly it deals with those biographical materials that give some sense of his life in its relation to his creations. The book has a chronological framework, with thematic chapters interspersed where they help our understanding of what he did and how he did it. I would hope that the concluding paragraph of each chapter, and the comment at the beginning of each of the book’s parts, help the reader understand the logic of the book’s format.”
With that in mind, here’s how I organized the book, by section:
ACCOLADES FOR JEAN SHEPHERD
In case you aren’t aware, dear reader, what a major figure Shepherd is in 20th century American consciousness, read this–it’s put right up front where you can’t ignore it! Who was that guy Jean Shepherd, you ask? Never heard of him! Here’s what a lot of important-type people think of him–so there! Sort of surprises you to see all those people there giving tribute, doesn’t it? And that was before the ultimate accolade: Seinfeld delivered it too late to include in EYF!
INTRO TO SHEPHERD
A general intro to Shepherd in a couple of short chapters to give a sense of his quirky nature, initiating the unknowing and reminding all-knowing enthusiasts. As he effectively seemed to speak to each listener individuall , I indicate how I, too (as I am the one who wrote the book), was captivated by him.
His true and fictional life/activities before the great New York years: childhood, army, pre-New York City radio.)
HERITAGE AND ENDOWMENT
[As I introduce this part in the book]: “Shepherd studies the art of humor–its history and its uses. With this knowledge he will be able to exploit his fine talent for observation–expressing what he sees in himself, his countrymen, and the common humanity around him.”
THE GREAT BURGEONING
That “heritage” noted above is the base for all that follows, beginning in New York (his intellectual goal). His life/art from 1955-or-6 to about 1960, involving his many-faceted radio work and involvement in other arts–and in the other fellow- creators and common folk he encountered. I, Libertine, jazz, etc.
With all of the above, one can proceed to delve into what tools he used to perform his magic, and then explore many of the themes that dominated his mind and work.
TOOLS IN HAND
[As I introduce this part in the book]: “Throughout his career, Shepherd was a master of the tools of radio–sound and those special sounds called words. He delighted in the nature of the medium, and we experience the very complex, personal, and entertaining art he created.] The titles of these two chapters spell it out: “Bahn Frei: Sounds,” and “Hurling Invectives: Words.”
Ending the “Word” chapter with the Dictionary of American Slang’s inclusion of Shep’s “night people” phrase, the final paragraph, going into the next Part, with it’s Shep philosophy chapter segue: ” ‘Social commentator,’ Yes, that’s part of what Jean Shepherd was–but he was more than that–he was a commentator on the whole human condition. He observed, described, commented, and evaluated–he responded with joy, wonder, irritation, and despair–sometimes all at the same time. He had many themes and variations–but as we will see, he never let us forget what to do with our knees.”
ENCOUNTERS AND CONTENTIONS
How did those tools come in handy on the air? Expressing himself in his “philosophy,” interacting with others in the control room and and the offices of WOR, and dealing with the need to make dough.
REFINEMENTS AND CONVERSIONS
Was radio all there was? He wanted to be acclaimed as a literary fellow=”My novel.” He realized that radio was dying as a major art form, and he expanded his reach into other fields of entertainment. Writing, acting, video, film. There may have been envy and desperation in that mix. In the later radio section (1960-1977) I describe and illustrate some of his masterpieces from this era, such as his eulogy of JFK and his description of his Morse code contest.
SUMMING UP TO A BOODLE-AM SHAKE
Pulleying in all the loose threads, cords, and chains. The pendulum swings back and forth over the life and career of Jean Parker Shepherd: the good and the bad. He wants it all. He can’t have it all. He gets plenty.
I end the book with a short and rather enigmatic transcript of Shepherd’s metaphor of observing a distant, disappearing ship and how he is trying to figure out how to communicate to you (his audience):
Listen–you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I have been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it.
Did you hear that? Oh yeah.
You know, it’s going to be summer soon.
A WRITE TO ONE’S OPINION?
Sometimes, in order to get a sense of some new book that I’m interested in, in addition to checking professional reviewers, I’ll check out amazon.com’s Customer Reviews and, rarely, the members’ comments on goodreads.com. That is an unfortunate habit on my part and I’ve gotta stop doin’ it. Just like on Wikipedia, anyone (no matter how intelligent and literate–or not) can write what they want and others–such as myself–can maybe believe there’s some truth in the review.
Even such revered sources for reviews as The New York Times are not entirely trustworthy–Somebody at the Times made the egregious error of letting Shepherd review Mort Sahl’s memoir.
I’ve read articles commenting on the fact that the Internet’s attribute that allows anyone/everyone to write what they think/believe gives people the feeling that they know what they are talking about and feeling, and, significantly, want to let the world know it, too. It’s an uncontrolled ego-booster. (Gee, sort of what a blog does and is.)
I sometimes make the even bigger mistake (egotist that I am) of reading some of the more recent Customer Reviews of my own books. From what I understand, many authors do. Most of the reviews of my books are very positive, but when I encounter a negative one and find myself explaining to myself that “the reviewer has gotten it all wrong and if only they’d realized that…,” there is where I understand once again that ya can’t win ’em all. (“That’s what makes horse racing.” What does that mean?)
I recently submitted my JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES book manuscript to a small book publisher. I just hoped he didn’t check out a few of the less than four-star Customer Reviews of my published Shep books and maybe even believe them and think that they represented what the general public might think. If only he’d read all 47 of the Customer Reviews he could get a better overall picture! I commented in my query letter to him that he might appreciate the extensive and highly enthusiastic EYF! Associated Press review that went nation-wide, written by John Skoyles, a professor at a Boston college (an unknown-to-me gentleman-and-a-scholar!) As one might imagine, I recommend it to one and all:
And that’s the truth!–Or is it an opinion?