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JEAN SHEPHERD and Frank Sinatra & ARTSY (4) Art of the NYT Book Review

What do Shep and Ol’ Blue Eyes have in common?

jean and lois c.1962

Jean Shepherd and Lois Nettleton

4.lois and sinatra dirty d

Frank Sinatra and Lois Nettleton

Yes, but what else? My wife comments that some of my favorite creative people (Hemingway, Picasso, Mailer, Dylan, Shepherd, and Sinatra) have this in common: they could be not very nice people (to put it mildly). Probably the majority of people familiar with those  names are not familiar with the ways in which each in his own way could be so self-centeredly cruel.

[Regarding creativity, how many know that Picasso wrote and that both Shepherd and Mailer drew?]

Recently, my interest spiked by an HBO two-part special on Sinatra, I encountered a short but succinct book by Pete Hamill, Why Sinatra Matters (1998). The intro concludes thusly:

….Now Sinatra is gone, taking with him all his anger,cruelty, generosity, and personal style. The music remains. In times to come, that music will continue to matter, whatever happens to our evolving popular culture. The world of my grandchildren will not listen to Sinatra in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him. But high art always survives. Long after his death, Charlie Parker still plays his version of the urban blues. Billie Holiday still whispers her anguish. Mozart still erupts with joy. Every day, in cities and towns all over the planet, someone discovers them for the first time and finds in their art that mysterious quality that makes the listener more human. In their work all great artists help transcend the solitude of individuals; they relive the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E. M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter. So will Frank Sinatra.

Read the following, with Shep’s–or Hemingway’s or Picasso’s, or Mailer’s–name substituted for Sinatra’s, understanding that I recognize that there are differences in the correspondences:

Now [Shepherd] is gone, taking with him all his anger,cruelty, generosity, and personal style. The [words] remain[s]. In times to come, that [voice] will continue to matter, whatever happens to our evolving popular culture. The world of my grandchildren will not listen to [Shepherd] in the way four generations of Americans have listened to him. But high art always survives…. In their work all great artists help transcend the solitude of individuals; they relive the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E. M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter. So will [Jean Shepherd].
shep portraitsinatra

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artsyfratsy 10010

A scrawled masterpiece by Marta Monteiro

BorderCover02_489

Seeing the cover of the New York Times Book Review of January 17, 2016, I nearly passed it by as a nothing space-filler. But I began to look at it a bit more carefully. I became fascinated by its graphic sophistication masquerading as a childish scrawl.

Picasso is quoted as saying that it had taken him decades to learn to draw like a child. This childlike drawing contains a plethora of visually and intellectually fascinating details. My interest in fine art, my training as an industrial designer, and my career as an exhibit designer all train me to see and understand. I feel visually and mentally invigorated just thinking about this piece.

WHAT?

The image shows many people, from the back, wending their way past a title and its list to their right, and the section title: BOOK REVIEW. The colors are, roughly, red, white, grayish blue, and black. The color areas are nicely balanced in zigzag arrangement throughout, starting with the most realistic depiction of the red sole of a man’s shoe at the bottom, expressing his and the entire crowd’s movement. Major red items continue a bit higher up on the far left with a woman’s head scarf; move up to half of a man’s red jacket; centered to the right, a woman’s red coat; further right is a red scarf and coat; one continues the zigzag movement to the center. A red-jacketed man whose red-soled shoe repeats the motif from the bottom of the crowd, but, on the other foot, as though the two feet are part of the one entity—the crowd–re-emphasizing the crowd’s forward motion. Above, a girl’s red coat; to the right a round red hat; left a red coat; the zigzag continuing, diminishing in size with a number of small red spots: all, with smaller red strokes moving the eye up into the far distance. One can as easily follow the rough zigzags of blue, black, yellows, and a couple of greenish tans.

Most of the solid color areas follow the shapes of the clothing, but yellow and blue sometimes serve both as parts of objects and as extensions beyond their objects, becoming parts of the abstract zigzag patterns that help move us up into the distance at the top of the page. A good part of the blacks also serve as outlines, helping define objects, such as the many black-textured scribbles that amusingly define a great variety of hair styles, and, on the lower left in the white of a man’s coat, a long jagged line (seeming by itself to be an arbitrary stroke just for composition’s sake), defines a sleeve and its wrinkled connection to the coat’s shoulder. Check out for yourselves other color and shape areas to see how they assist the overall graphic composition.

NYT book cover

Halfway up on the left, a blue-textured smudge seems to be a couple of far-off trees. The man with the checkered jacket holds on his head a red-outlined flat box, graphically, roughly echoed by the black-outlined cooler to his left, and much higher up and further away, a blue-outlined arc-shaped container on a head, and above that, another outlined box on a head. The tiny shapes in the furthest distance are somewhat recognizable as people, then further up, abstracted into pure color blobs beyond our recognition, but we know what they are. They become even more anonymous than the closer members of the human throng.

Near the bottom right, a blue shape with a pattern of vertical black lines denote a coat with sleeve, and the wearer’s large white bag on his/her back serves as background for a very sketchy man’s head and shoulders with scribbled blue sweater, scribbled black hair, and yellow outline of head and ears. He is almost the nearest to the viewer and, being transparent, lets us see beyond him, giving us a psychological sense of being maybe at the back of, but definitely a part of, the moving crowd. (Graphically illustrating this “psychological sense” because, when we are in a crowd moving, we sometimes don’t see some parts of those around us and then sometimes those pieces of the crowd are revealed in the shifting movement—yet, seen or not, we know that they are all there.) It is as though humanity, en masse, including ourselves, travels up the page and far beyond our ken.

I’d never heard of artist Marta Monteiro, so I googled images of her work and found many that I liked. Yet my favorite is the finely designed sketch of migrating humanity gracing the cover of the Book Review.

[Among elements I’d failed to note earlier is that the vertical box, low, left, is diagonally oriented to help the zigzag move up toward the right, where several people, facing diagonally leftward, dramatically form a visual element with the red-outlined box on the head, in all, strongly aiming the direction back toward the center in the zigzag design.]

 I emailed my original comments–above the centered diamond shape–to Ms Monteiro (where she is located in Portugal)  and she graciously responded:

Dear Eugene Bergmann,

thanks so much for your interest on my work and your kind words.

I usually say that I communicate more successfully using images than words. When I try to use words they fail on me all the time but images don’t. So I wish I had the time to do a quick drawing about how happy I felt when I read your e-mail.

Everything you wrote is on that image. The childlike approach to drawing, the zigzag of colors and shapes and the (sometimes) abstract design of figures/people. All descriptions are really accurate and I couldn’t have said it better….

ARTSY ARROWS0010

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JEAN SHEPHERD–and JAMES SALTER

james-salter

“The euphemism ‘writer’s writer’ has been applied so many times

that Salter visibly recoils at hearing it.

(‘That means nobody knows who you are,’ he told me….)

.

He admits that he writes with specific people in mind, but “enhanced a bit; not necessarily made more admirable, just made clearer or more appropriate to their role. You say, ‘Come backstage here just for a minute. I’d like to fasten this part of your coat—it looks a little funny when you turn profile—and then you’ll be ready to go.’ That’s about what it’s like.”

–Above, both  from the Village Voice  interview by Scott Foundas, 3/27/2013

James Salter, a ‘Writer’s Writer’ Short on

Sales but Long on Acclaim, Dies at 90

Salter obit0010

I daily note the subjects of the New York Times obituaries to see if someone I know of has died and to see if the main subject of the article interests me. I learn a lot that way. On June 20, 2015 the heading of the major obit struck me because I have a strong interest in literature, though the name Salter is only vaguely familiar to me and he never wrote anything read by me (my own construction–I’ve waited years to have the opportunity to use it). Besides, the “short on sales but long on acclaim” aspect in the heading struck me as possibly similar to Shepherd.

The obituary, by Helen T. Verongos, grabbed me–from beginning to its last words–for its thoughtful and sensitive elegy of sadness at the desire-to-achieve and its appreciation of what had been achieved. Indeed, I recognized similarities to Jean Shepherd’s life, aspirations, disappointments, and achievements. Quotes from the obit I record in bold type indented, and my comments are in standard type, full-width

James Salter, whose intimately detailed novels and short stories kept a small but devoted audience in its thrall died on Friday….

James Wolcott described him…as America’s most “underrated underrated author.”

“Small but devoted audience in its thrall” and “underrated underrated” seem especially appropriate regarding Jean Shepherd. The following comment rings a bell regarding Leigh Brown, acting as Shep’s agent, having to seek publication elsewhere when Doubleday, publisher of his first two books, turned down his The Ferrari in the Bedroom, and I, erstwhile promoter of Shep for publication, struggle with a certain amount of agony, to get my two more book manuscripts of Shep transcripts published. Salter’s publisher turned down a novel manuscript and only through a fellow-author’s influence did his A Sport and a Pastime achieve publication, subsequently highly regarded:

The print run was small, and the publishers, Mr. Salter said, “were holding it like it was a pair of dirty socks.”

 Bringing to mind Shepherd deserting his family in the blandings of New Jersey for the creative ambiance of Greenwich Village, is Salter’s way of dealing with suburban family life:

Living in the Hudson River Valley, he did his writing in New York in a room in Greenwich Village, where he befriended artists but felt himself to be their inferior. “I was from the suburbs,” he wrote. “I had a wife, children, the entire manifest. Even in the city I found it hard to believe I was working on anything of interest.”

That, indeed, seems to be what Shepherd feared and avoided–with his apparent heartless abandonment of his family.

The obit mentions several important literary prizes that Salter won, reminding one of the many that Shepherd also won–yet which didn’t satisfy their longing for even more and better.

Describing Salter’s 1997 memoir, Burning the Days,  the obit continues:

Though autobiographical in style and substance, it is almost indistinguishable from his stories, in keeping with Mr. Salter’s often-stated refusal to believe in the “arbitrary separation” of fact and fiction.

Not quite as Shepherd might have put it or admitted, but it probably indicates a shared affiliation they both had for the uses that their facts-into-fictions enjoyed. Early on (in a reminder to Shep fans of their hero’s desires), the obituary comments that:

But he never achieved the broad popularity he craved.

The obituary ends on a warmly considered comment on a creator’s legacy (Salter’s, and, Shep-enthusiasts should think, also of Shepherd’s):

…the book [his final novel] did appear on The Times best-seller list for a week, but never achieved the success he had hoped for.

At the end of his life, his legacy mattered. As Mr. Salter once wrote, “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”

Yes, Shep fans remember his comment on our penultimate fate: “Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory?” Yes, Shep, but even worse, what about beyond that by a couple billion years–when the Earth spirals down its orbit by plunging into the sun. But please, don’t let that stop anyone from fighting the good creative fight here and now!

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JEAN SHEPHERD early daze- in 1959. Part III

[Our mentor is talking to an engineer–we presume–and Shep is, in a sense, as we are “listeners,” talking to us also. He is pissed.]

1963-12-xx_022_Satyr_photo

So come on now, you know. Let’s can this. You know what the phrase is. Man, you are like all the rest of us. You are up the same creek. And you know the name of that creek. We all do. And we have all lost the same paddle, man. So don’t give me any of that jazz.

[<A Scottish slang term meaning to be stuck in a bad situation without any way of fixing it. The bad situation being ‘**** creek’ and the ‘paddle’ being the solution.>]

I am not being fooled for one minute. That is, no more than you’re being fooled, Mac. Which is to say, most of the time. But at least I have the good grace to be with–a certain style. So let’s cut it, you know? All of you.

[See, he is also talking to us. Pause. Loud piano chord.] 

Eh! Now I want to do it once–I want to do it. ‘Course I’m not going to do it tonight. So you might as well knock off. It is not going to happen tonight. But sometime, somewhere, someplace, somebody somehow is going to say it–for all of us–not me–I’m chicken!

But then again, who are you to say I’m chicken? You slob! Sitting out there throwing your beer cans into the air shaft, waiting for Gisele McKenzie to do it for you on The Hit Parade. It ain’t going to happen. So I mean, you know–and by the way, don’t–don’t be without next week’s TV Guide. You gotta have some kind of guideposts in this world. So what are you trying to say to me, you know, are you trying to tell me?  Because I’ll tell you one thing, daddy-o, I’m not trying to tell you–I am just trying to tell me all the time. Me. And if you happen to stick your miserable eves-dropping ear into this thing, don’t come around and tell me I’m getting commercial with me. Because if I’m fooling me, that’s me that’s going down the tray [“tray”?], and not you–except the sad part of it is that I’m only joining all the rest of you because–you know–it’s the same problem with the creek. You know the old creek, man. So do I.

It’s–it’s, you know? Let me tell you this–ah–what’s the point, you know? I know–you know. So who’s kidding who? You think that little  old lady there made entirely out of celery and Brillo pads is….The only thing she’s doing is she’s taking a different tack, man. She is trying to make a paddle out of crochet needles and it ain’t gonna work either.

[Is this incoherent–or stream-of-consciousness, or has he begun celebrating New Years Eve a night early? CHAOS? WHAT IS “CHAOS THEORY” ANYWAY?*]

shep with drink

 I mean, you see, each guy makes it his own way. And goes down his own way–that’s the thing. So if you think you’re gonna make a paddle out of –no–it ain’t gonna work. It’s been tried before by better men. By better men! That one’ll strike right down in there like it’s made from a soldering iron. Pow! Better men. Than any of us can ever hope to be. And where did they go? Yeah. So, you know? Don’t give me any of your lip, Mac. None. N–o–n–e–e–e–umlaut. [Piano. Cymbal.]

[That seems to be the end of that evening’s rant–at least as it appears on this particular recording. Because what follows immediately, about Little Orphan Annie and her dog and her propensity to say “gloriosky,” is surely an audio-recording-error by the original listener/recording person, splicing a different program segment here–reminding us of Shep’s engineer’s errors earlier in the program. What an ironic, appropriate way to end this particular, chaotic audio. Little Orphan Annie. Leapin’ lizards! This whole magillah will probably forever remain a mystery–what happened, what was he thinking–what is going on here in The World of Shep–in The Voice in the Night?]

I can’t say that I’d want to hear too many strange and incomprehensible

programs end-to-end. But this one, beyond total understanding,

with all its surrealistic mystery, remains with me

a thrilling jolt of chaotic pleasure.

<Chaos Theory

Chaos theory word cloud glowingPhoto by: Kheng Guan Toh
“Chaos theory” is a scientific principle describing the unpredictability of systems. Most fully explored and recognized during the mid-to-late 1980s, its premise is that systems sometimes reside in chaos, generating energy but without any predictability or direction. These complex systems may be weather patterns, ecosystems, water flows, anatomical functions, or organizations [Such as monologs?]. While these systems’s chaotic behavior may appear random at first, chaotic systems can be defined by a mathematical formula, and they are not without order or finite boundaries.>

End Part III

No more Parts

(in the foreseeable future).

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JEAN SHEPHERD-favored arts and artists Part 2 of 2

“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”

by Shelly Esaak

http://arthistory.about.com/b/2009/01/26/good-artists-borrow-great-artists-steal.htm

“Assuming that Picasso did say this–and seriously, I would love to learn of a verifiable source–I think the words “Good artists borrow, great artists steal” constitute one of the most misunderstood and misused creative phrases of all time. To me, it means the difference between aping and assimilating; between copying and internalizing; between being unoriginal and innovative….

“Every artist of every stripe builds on that which was done by his or her predecessors. It’s only the great artists who manage to take things to new heights, in new directions. That’s what I think; end of rant.”

I quote the above because I’m about to discuss two instances over the years in which Jean Shepherd, whom I consider to have been a fine creator in many fields and a genius in radio, seemed to have copied/borrowed/stolen from two of his favorite people. (Or maybe the examples are instances of what might be called totally innocent, independent creation?)

P. G. Wodehouse

Shepherd said that, as a kid, he’d read all of Wodehouse and considered him one of the best and funniest writers. The printed dedication to Wodehouse’s 1926 book The Heart of a Goof is “To my Daughter Leonora without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.” This is Wodhouse’s self-borrowing dedication from his 1910 book The Intrusion of Jimmy (In England A Gentleman of Leisure

) which reads “To Herbert Westbrook, without whose never-failing advice, help, and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.”

wodehouse dedication 1

 

A copy of Shep’s  In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, which I held in my hand

(and still highly covet) when I visited Lois Nettleton’s apartment

soon after she died, has Jean’s inscription to her:

IGWT shep to lois

 

What I’ll probably never know is whether this inscription is a

thoughtless/unpleasant dig at Lois, or whether Jean meant, somehow,

that he was so in love with her that he had been distracted from his writing.

(Also of perplexing interest is that the book is not a first printing and was published

at about the time +/- when they

were breaking up despite what are said to have been his protests,)

Whichever–of course this copying of Wodehouse was not

a public display, but a private act.

S. J. Perelman

Shep had Perelman on his show once (I recorded the talk), and therefore, I’m fairly sure that he appreciated Perelman’s written wit. I remember hearing Shep say once on a broadcast (anyone know when?), that some woman–his mother?–had on her head “aluminum rheostats.” Having a vague recollection of the phrase in Perelman, I recently searched for and encountered in the November 26, 1960 issue of the New Yorker, the Perelman story, “Monomania, You and Me are Quits,” with the following opening sentence: “My immediate reaction when a head studded with aluminum rheostats confronted me over the garden gate last Tuesday morning was one of perplexity.”•

I hope to never find another such worrisome item.

I’m sure everyone does these things–even Picasso.

Please, someone, comfort me in my distress.

eb

[Well, heck, subsequent to the above I read David Kinney’s The Dylanologists (Simon and Schuster 2014) describing many of the obsessives who study every word and garbage scrap of Bob Dylan’s for “meaning.” Dylan is known for “stealing” material from prior creations, and he has explained that his borrowings are “quotations” and noted  that it is a tradition, especially in folk music and jazz. Kinney refers to an extensive article by Jonathan Lethem in the 2/2007 Harpers, “The Ecstasy of Influence,” which includes:

…it becomes apparent that appropriation, mimicry, quotation, allusion, and sublimated collaboration consist of a kind of sine qua non of the creative act, cutting across all forms and genres in the realm of cultural production….Dylan’s art offers a paradox: while it famously urges us not to look back, it also encodes a knowledge of past sources that might otherwise have little home in contemporary culture,…Dylan’s originality and his appropriations are as one.

The same might be said of all art.

Well, heck again, yes, we all do it–and isn’t it amazing that I’ve only encountered two times (so far) in Shepherd?]

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JEAN SHEPHERD-Whiz-Bang Biography of Jean Parker Shepherd, Esq.

excelsior sign

What’s Shep all about, anyway?

Who knows?

Shep-HowardJ.'s

All about?!?

I wish I knew.

Chapter 1    ??? Chicago South Side??? I’m a kid, see. Hammond, W. G. Harding.

Chapter 2     …Dorothy Anderson, Helen Weathers, Flick, Eileen Ackers, Patty Remaley, Ester Jane Albery, Randy Shepherd, et al…..

Chapter 3    !!! Steel-mill mail boy!!!

Chapter 4    !?!?→↑→↓ Crowder, Murphy. T/5  →↑→↓,!?!?

camp crowder postcard

Chapter 5    Cinci, Philly, married (Barbara Mattoon), divorced, married Joan Warner.

1955-mm-dd_022_Into_Unknown_Front

Chapter 6    NYC, Jazz, WOR, burgeoned, night folk, divorced.

i libertine jpeg i hope

Chapter 7    Libertine,  ↓ fired/rehired=Sweetheart, married Lois Nettleton↑.

jean and lois c.1962

Chapter 8    Playboy, IGWTAOPC, divorced.

Chapter 9   TV

Chapter 10  ACS (aka In God We Trust, etc.)

Chapter  11   Married ↑Leigh Brown. April Fool=1977: bye bye, WOR.

leigh,shep 1977

Chapter 12  Lady Finger Lake Road on Snow Pond Lake: Sanibel Island. 

sanibel_house_006_02

sanibel3

    ↓Leigh died 1998. JPS died: RIP 1999↓.

Chapter 13  ↑Radio Hall of Fame, EYF!

Chapter 14   Seinfeld nails it↑.

Paley_Center_Jerry

Chapter 15  Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize, Oscar, Obie, etc., etc., etc., (Not altogether true.)

1981-_hammond_award 2nd annual

But why doesn’t Shep have far more important tributes–like Harvey Pekar, creator of the American Splendor graphic/autobiographical novels? Recently  a statue  was created in Pekar’s honor, installed in his favorite Cleveland library:

pekar desk at Cleveland library

Pekar stepping out of a “comic book page”

on a real library desk.

Oh, sure, Shep got a Community Center:

3.150003_community_center_sign

But, is Shep immortalized in a booblehead? Pekar is!

pekar bobblehead1

NO!!!

(not yet)

[Bobblehead is ridiculous, right?

But how many of us would like to see (and possess)

a Jean Shepherd bobblehead?

Damn near all of us fatheads, right?]

you fathead sign

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JEAN SHEPHERD and GLENN GOULD Part 2 of 2

gould goldberg cover complete

What do Gould and Shepherd have in common?

Part 2, in which Shep enthusiast

Joel Baumwoll discusses the matter.

In this Part 2  post about Glenn Gould and Shepherd, I present my original inspiration for discussing Gould–a couple of years before I began blogging about Shep, I read an intriguing email (12/27/2010) discussing the similarities between Glenn Gould and Jean Shepherd. I’d printed it out and filed it, and now its author, Shep enthusiast Joel Baumwoll, has given me permission to reproduce it here. Thanks, Joel, for this:

American Masters played a fascinating biography of Glenn Gould tonight. As I listened to the story unfold, I was struck by the parallels between Shepherd and Gould. The enigma that was Gould was purposely created by him to keep his distance from all but those he chose to share his life with. He was a genius who detested audiences after having been a great performing success. He considered them a mob. He retreated to a security of recording where he could control every moment, every utterance and decide what he would put out there.

He decided to create a radio program on CBC where he talked and explored human nature and his own nature. The shows described were very much like many of Shep’s programs. I would love to hear these programs. I am sure they would be as fascinating as Shep’s deepest programs were.

He was obsessive compulsive, dominated every relationship, was a total control freak and eventually became quite paranoid. People said he would talk to them for hours on the phone or in person, and would not stop talking. [I’ve also read that he would call friends in the middle of the night and expect them to listen to his long monologs.] Yet his genius of music put him in a class so far above others that established and recognized pianists and musicians said he was in a class by himself. His technique left them in awe, he refused to trod any path but his own, and refused to retread any path. “Why should I play Beethoven like everyone else has and has been heard before?” he explained when he did a rendition of a sonata that was so different from any ever heard.

His Goldberg Variations were at once a work of wonder and so deviant from what people knew of Bach that they were amazed…. [Most famously, he recorded them proficiently at an incredibly fast speed–in later years he re-recorded them more slowly.]

Unlike Shepherd he loved children. But in many other ways, he was quite similar in his habits and eccentricities. I left the program amazed at how similar in so many ways these two geniuses were in their art and in their lives.

gould ecstatic at piano

Another Shep enthusiast, Dolores Nocturni added her thoughts:

You don’t develop technique like [Gould’s] without incredible discipline, and I’m not sure Shepherd had it. Gould came to hate audiences because they got between him and some ideal of perfection he could only achieve in the studio. Shepherd craved audiences (the Limelight shows, colleges, Carnegie Hall), although I believe he was best in the studio, talking one-on-one to solitary listeners. Maybe that’s a Gould connection, too.

Otto Friedrich, his biographer, commented that as for control, for Gould: “over the years it became a passion, an obsession. It was the need to be in control, really, that drove him from the concert stage to the recording studio.” One might remember that A Christmas Story director Bob Clark commented that Shepherd’s need for control became an impediment to him in work on the film.

Library and Archives Canada:

http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/glenngould/028010-1040.03-e.html

In the 1960s Gould began to take a strong and active interest in radio and TV documentaries, nearly all for the CBC. He was the deviser, compiler, interviewer, writer, narrator and even producer of many of these programs, which ranged in subject matter from contemporary music to Newfoundland, from Stokowski to the Mennonites. He approached the technique of the documentary as a composer might approach the fugue or sonata movement form, or even an opera. Weaving together spoken voices and background sounds in counterpoint to each other, Gould achieved highly inventive and original effects. [As one commentator put it, in the documentary “The Idea of the North,” Gould used human voices to musical effect. I think Shepherd would have applauded this.]

gould diagram

gould notes on radio show

One can grasp clues  suggesting for us Shep-enthusiasts, some similarities (but not exactitude), between Gould and Shepherd. [For the following quote, I use color and underline to indicate my suggested similarities.] In the New Yorker of April 18, 1994, Anthony Lane reviews the documentary “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould,” in which he writes:

…it is Gould’s achievement to engage us not only with the demeanor of his performances but with their suggestion of larger virtues beyond the piano–of a living temperament, a limber philosophical stance, unlocked by its keys….Gould was a solitary, but not an eccentric; rather, he made himself central, and drew people in. He was one of a band of impassioned ascetics thrown up by our century, all of them immune to intellectual half measures; this means that Gould groupies are a scary lot, who tend to read Wittgenstein and Walter Benjamin and Simone Weil, although it’s probably safe to say that Gould was the only one with a taste for tomato ketchup and Petula Clark.*

* [I’d love to know in what ways both Glenn Gould and Andy Warhol found

Petula Clark so fascinating–and in what ways they’d disagree.]

What genius does not have some neurotic personality disorder that somehow goes along with his/her extraordinary ability? One aspect of Gould seems to have been his obsessiveness–yet he obsessed on such a variety of fields of interest–seems like a contradiction. “Incredible discipline” is a less judgmental way of approaching the related issue.

In their intensity and obsessiveness, Gould and Shep were somewhat different. (Gould appears to me to have had a much higher pitch of intensity and obsession.) Each could be a delightful human; but when they were in one of their “moods,” I think I might have felt uncomfortable in Shep’s company and I think that in Gould’s company I’d have been in a state of shock.

I greatly admire them both.

classic shep image

gould formal at piano

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Curmudgeons: Eye Contact, Ear Contact

Shepherd exhibited antagonism toward his engineers, sponsors, radio administrators, but he was not alone in expressing such antagonisms in public. Fred Allen took vigorous jabs at his station executives with unabashed hostility. Radio humorist Henry Morgan, among his many snipes at his sponsors, once ironically criticized Life Savers for cheating the public by putting a hole in its product.  One might remember television showman Arthur Godfrey once commenting about Lipton, his sponsor, that no one could find pieces of chicken in their powdered chicken soup.

fred allen

Fred Allen

“Television  is a medium because

anything well done is rare.”

Henry Morgan cameo 9_thumb[2]

Henry Morgan

“Good evening, anybody.”

“I claimed that if the manufacturer would give me

all those [Life Saver] centers,

I would market them as Morgan’s Mint Middles….”

[Personal eb anecdote–When Morgan was on TV with his own live show

(black and white, probably in the late 50s when I was in my late teens/early 20s),

he frequently complained that before/after his show,

an announcer would make a statement to the effect:

“The comments made on this program are not necessarily

those of this station or any of its sponsors.”

Morgan said that it annoyed him that the station was so timid that it had to

apologize for everything he said or would say.

I sent him a suggested retort, which, within a week or so, he read on the air:

“The comments made on all the other programs on this station

are not necessarily those of myself or any of my friends.”

He laughed, and on came the commercials.]

arthur godfrey

Arthur Godfrey

“Where’s the chicken?”

These were funny lines that could obviously hurt the sponsor.  Here’s a comment Shepherd made a year before he left radio, when commercials were beginning to seriously overwhelm the program—it was said near the end of a broadcast, not so much in a hostile tone as with a sense of relief:

Is that it?!  Am I through with all my commercials?  Oh wow! (April 6, 1976)

It seems as though he’d lost his patience and was just fed up with the whole damn thing.  Considering his resentment over the years, it’s surprising that this comment sounded as though it were made with amused amazement–not disgust.

Yes, many people over the years have expressed hostility toward the hands that fed them or toward those who controlled their shows.  Most of this is mere kidding around, even if, to some extent, it represented true feelings and was done with some frequency.  What made Shepherd’s negative comments different and especially hurtful is that no one else that I know of denigrated others with the persistence and intentional hostility that he communicated on the air for decades.

Regarding sponsors, in public talks he gave in the 1970s, Shepherd claimed that he had contractual rights to accept or reject any commercials and that his estimated listenership was between 800,000 and 1,900,000.  Another figure sometimes given is 60,000. If these high figures were close to the truth, maybe it’s why he felt comfortable lambasting the enemy.  (What the heck was his listenership, anyway? It seems that nobody knows.) Recently heard is an audio with this comment, after he’d asked for a phone call responding to whether anyone was listening to him.  He refers to his boss, Bob Leder, the general manager who had fired and re-hired him during the “less talk, more music” and Sweetheart Soap altercations nearly a decade before.

Mr. Leder’s on the phone, you said?  I’m not talking to Mr. Leder

‘cause he never talks to me by the water cooler.  I’m not interested. (January 1964?)

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Fact vs. Fiction–Brian Williams and others

Barsotti-Truth-2-580.jpg

Two recent articles have appeared in the New York Times regarding the truth/falsity of our memories. I posted an article on it, “Imagination and Memory” on 1/31/2015. I quote part of it:

…the December 2, 2014 New York Times. The article, by two psychology professors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, is titled “Why Our Memory Fails Us.” They begin by describing errors in memory by George W. Bush and Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, and host of the TV series, “Cosmos.” The writers comment:

“Erroneous witness recollections have become so concerning that the National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel to review the state of research on the topic….

“When we recall our own memories, we are not extracting a perfect record of our experiences and playing it back verbatim. Most people believe that memory works this way, but it doesn’t. Instead, we are effectively whispering a message from our past to our present, reconstructing it on the fly each time. We get a lot of details right, but when our memories change, we only ‘hear’ the most recent version of the message….

“It is just as misguided to conclude that someone who misremembers must be lying as it is to defend false memory in the face of contradictory evidence.”

The second article, by Tara Parker-Pope appeared on February 10, 2015, a teaser titled “Fact vs. Fiction”on page 1 of the Science section, the article inside titled”False Memory vs. Bald Faced Lie.” (The name “Parker” I’m sure, pure coincidence) That the two articles appeared within just over two months of each other in the Times leads me to believe that there is some special, recent interest in the subject of memory, what it is, and how it relates to “truth.” Of course, one returns to the question of what is memory and what is fiction in Shep’s stories (and in the rest of his radio monologs). We see that what appears as fact is in reality, some indeterminate mix of fact and fiction. I’m reminded of my EYF! in which I quote his friend Bob Brown: “He had the ability to weave things that really couldn’t possible be true–in conversation He was a difficult guy to know where reality stopped and fiction began.”

what is truth

That second article begins:

How reliable is human memory? Most of us believe that our memory is like a video camera, capturing an accurate record that can be reviewed at a later date.

But the truth is our memories can deceive us–and they often do.

Numerous scientific studies show that memories can fade, shift and distort over time. Not only can our real memories become unwittingly altered and embellished, but entirely new false memories can be incorporated into our memory bank, embedded so deeply that we become convinced they are real and actually happened.

The article mentions the recent case of whether Brian Williams, TV news anchor “lied,” and whether, equally, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mitt Romney “lied,” in the not-too-distant past. The suggestion is that they may have been hornswoggled by their memory-imperfections. The article continues, commenting that our memories are fragments of information to which other related input may recombine: “This process essentially creates a new version of the event that, to the storyteller, feels like the truth.” It’s almost impossible to know where the truth lies in these instances of Williams, Clinton, and Romney. [My emphasis.]

Where does that leave us with Shep? Additional uncertainty. Can we depend on what he said about it? Can we depend on what he wrote about it? Might there be any unambiguous truth? Each of us can tend to believe what part of the enigma seems most likely to be true. I tend to vote for mostly fiction–but. We can believe what we think is reality, but we can’t know. Very annoying, that!

truth...lies

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JEAN SHEPHERD Imagination and Memory

d.quixote reading

Imagination? 

Delusion?

Other?

A constant question in regard to Shepherd’s stories, narratives, commentaries, is–where’s the truth based on reality and where’s the art based on created material? What is “imagination,” anyway? Shepherd spoke on the radio as though his stories were true–and they came out of his extraordinary memory:

I’ll never forget one time, I’m a kid about–oh, I must have been in about the eighth grade….

As I put it in EYF!, “His stories contained stuff we knew was true, or easily verified, that melded seamlessly into each increment toward the unlikely and unbelievable. We did not know were to draw the line. W did not know that there was a place for a line. we did not know that a line had any need to be thought about. Worst of all–no, best of all– there was no identifiable borderland where a theoretical line might accurately have been drawn….Jean Shepherd’s stories of his childhood always signified, but as ‘truth’ they were especially suspect.”

But why I happen to be able to pull it out of my vast Kodachrome file–busted up slides of memory, is because, one, it happens t be my profession. You know, my job, the work that I’ve chosen in life, is mostly, totally introspection–and then transmitting it out. That’s what an artist does, really.

imagination__quoteEinstein

Of special significance here is to another related idea I discuss in my book that begins, “…what was truly extraordinary was his ability to remember so many bits and pieces from the past and present, which made his monologues seem real through their detail. Actual remembering was not a simple act with Jean Shepherd: it was a major tool of his creativity.”:

Do you ever have the feeling that half the stuff you remember just didn’t exist at all? That you sort of made it up? [Here, more than in most cases, he is obviously talking to personnel in the control room.] Or in some nutty way? You mean you don’t have that problem ever, Herb [Squire, his engineer]? You mean you–you really believe that everything you remember actually happened?

“….Maybe Shepherd was not always sure how much he was making up and was suggesting that to some extent we all create our memories. Certainly it seemed for Shepherd that memory is a baffling mix of conscious and unconscious fabrication.”

peeWee playhouse

Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

I realize that I believe that most all of what I remember actually happened! (For many years I’ve told as true an incident regarding what I experienced walking home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan–strange occurrence. Only recently I’ve begun to wonder if it was just a very realistic and convincing dream.) What got me thinking again about this topic was an op-ed article from the December 2, 2014 New York Times. The article, by two psychology professors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, is titled “Why Our Memory Fails Us.” They begin by describing errors in memory by George W. Bush and Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist director of New York’s Hayden Planetarium, and host of the TV series, “Cosmos.” The writers comment:

“Erroneous witness recollections have become so concerning that the National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel to review the state of research on the topic….

“When we recall our own memories, we are not extracting a perfect record of our experiences and playing it back verbatim. Most people believe that memory works this way, but it doesn’t. Instead, we are effectively whispering a message from our past to our present, reconstructing it on the fly each time. We get a lot of details right, but when our memories change, we only ‘hear’ the most recent version of the message….

“It is just as misguided to conclude that someone who misremembers must be lying as it is to defend false memory in the face of contradictory evidence. We should be more understanding of mistakes by others, and credit them when they admit they were wrong. We are all fabulists, and we must all get used to it.”

Continuing what I’d written about this subject: “Maybe Shepherd was not always sure how much he was making up and was suggesting that to some extent we all create our memories. Certainly, it seemed for Shepherd that memory is a baffling mix of conscious and unconscious fabrications. Thus it will never be fully possible to separate Shepherd’s reality from his performance–or indeed, from everyday talk. As Shepherd’s friend Bob Brown puts it, ‘He had the ability to weave things that really couldn’t possibly be true–in conversation. was a difficult guy to know where reality stopped and fiction began. What he saw–or whether he saw it literally or whether he saw it in his mind–became reality for everybody around him.’

brain 101

As for what to think about the extent of Shepherd’s  memory and

imagination–I’m less certain now than I’ve been in years.

einstein imagination pin

[Images in this post, as per many others, pulled

from varied Internet sources.]

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JEAN SHEPHERD Foibles ahoy Part 3 of 3

Shepherd’s Og and Charlie stories we’ve known about focus on our brute-like heritage that hasn’t really changed. This would conform to the joke about the discovery of the missing link between our bestial past and civilized man.  The link, of course, is us, a part of Shepherd’s attitude that shows up consistently in other contexts.

neanderthal drawing

Us!

Thus, I was surprised upon beginning to listen to an “Og and Charlie” from the 1964-1965 Syndicated Shepherd series, because he begins by emphasizing the birth and development of music, with Og starting mankind off on this aesthetically joyous and peaceful path, suggesting a variation on the old saw—about music having charms to soothe those savage brutes.  Well, I figured that Ol’ Shep has bamboozled me here: Og’s creation of music in this story shows that he has evolved and we really are headed onward and upward.

Then Shepherd links our musical world to that other part of our heritage by playing more music—some headhunter chants as they return from a successful raid, commenting that “We’re all in it together,” emphasizing the downer with: “You, Beethoven, the headhunter.”  Yes, Shepherd has been consistent after all—we’re still a bit bestial.  With one Og and Charlie story, that Ol’ Shep has double-bamboozled me.

beethoven

Us?

To end on a corny and platitudinous note (pun?), I’ve always found music to be one of the most glorious, varied, and elegant inventions–whether I understand or enjoy the specific form or not!

download

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister,

singing their marvelous

“We’re Not Gonna Take it”

musical staff

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