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There was one specific doorway that I always remember. I used to look forward to this point on my route. There was a long stairway lit by light bulbs that went right up to the second floor on the inside of the building and the downstairs door was always open. You could see the landing up there and there was a scrub pail set right in the corner. The first couple of weeks I just threw the paper up on the landing. One day, just by accident, when I threw the paper up, it hit the wall behind, and it went katunk! It bounced right off that wall like it was a backboard on a basketball court, and landed in the pail. Shepherd had canned another three pointer.
The next day I tried to do it and I just missed, but every day that was my big moment, and I got so I was really great at it. Remember, I was riding on a bike—this was not a stationary shot. I’d go swooping past this door—and zap! Oddly enough, I never saw it go into the pail because I was already past the door, but I’d hear it go bump-bump and bang. Oh! That meant it was going to be a good day!
These little things are very important to a newsboy. Another little satisfaction is to learn how to really fold papers. You can tell how good a newsboy is by how small he can fold the paper. The smaller the paper is folded the more you can get in the sack, the less bulk the sack takes up, and the better the paper throws! At first I really envied the other guys. Flick had started before I did and he was fantastic! He could fold fifty papers in about five minutes flat. Hard as a rock. I had no more papers than he did, but my sack was gigantic, like Santa’s bag, and Flick would just have this little sack hanging on him. He would take a ten-pound, end-of-the-week-and-full-of-ads Chicago Tribune and fold it to the size of an Eversharp pencil. Unbelievable! I began to work on my paper-folding technique and after about a month-and-a-half, I was one of the great paper-folders of our time. Even Flick came over to me one day and said, “By God, you can do it!” Like being told by Roger Maris, “You got a good swing, kid.”
You can handle this newspaper—it’s just a poor little piece of paper and you can learn to control it. You can ultimately learn to be a pretty good shot riding a bike and throwing a side-arm shot to the upper deck.
More to come of “Paperboy.”
Featherwork has become an important part of
our household decor because of
an Inca belt and elegant feather hats.
This piece (a belt or what?), also bought in the Cuzco fabric store, is 38” X 2.5”, with the repeated feather-motif of llamas in orange, black, and white. I showed it to the world-renowned anthropologist who specialized in pre-Columbian textiles at the museum where I worked. He turned the feather work over to view the backing cloth and immediately told me that it was authentic Inca (pre-1520).
(He was amazed that it had cost me only $15. He seemed unperturbed that I’d bought pre-Columbian material. The younger anthropologist I worked with on our permanent South American Hall much disparaged buying this material, because those who found it were in the business of digging up pre-Columbian sites, thus removing the material that belonged to that country’s heritage and destroying accurate, scientific investigation of it–I understand that view in theory, but in practice, I’ve bought minor pieces. When I discovered, in an auction catalog, a large casting of a famous pre-Columbian piece for sale (the Raimondi Stela), he wanted it for our Hall, but would not set foot in the pre-Columbian sale gallery for fear of being seen there, so I went to the auction with Museum money and won the piece for our use.)
A few years ago my wife, Allison, became interested in feather hats and has acquired over a dozen. (They were very popular from the nineteenth century until recent years when new ones were prohibited because of endangering various species of birds. One can still buy older ones in some vintage clothing stores.) They are truly beautiful and varied in their colors. We have some on the walls in our living room, dining room, and bedroom.
(Photos for “Cloth, Bone, and Feathers”
by Allison Morgan Bergmann)
Was he being sarcastic? What was he being? I’ll never tell. All I can say is I learned a lesson. I can’t figure out what the lesson is—yet. I’m running it through the lab. I’m trying a little titration on it, maybe a little litmus paper.
All I’ve got to say is, when you see that band and those half-time ceremonies marching out and striking into the wind, you are seeing a machine that few people understand. Only those who have been in the middle of one know what it’s like.
I can still feel that little tingling around my lips once in a while when I hear a band playing “Semper Fidelis.” That little chapped feeling of a guy who’s rehearsed long and hard on the second coda chorus of every known march that was ever printed.
Pumpapapumpapapum! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Oh yeah! Come on, Pick up them knees, you guys! Come on, move out, move out!
Drump! Pump! Pump! Pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pum! Drump-pum-pump pump pump!
Pumpapapumpapapum! Here we go now! All together now! The torches light up, the crowd is going ape! Bababapooombapoooom!
[End of “Halftime Sousaphone” and Part 6]
CLOTH, BONE, FEATHERS
My interest in cloth as esthetic subject began when I started doing a bit of research for my trip to Peru in 1980. I’d be spending time mostly in Lima, and the Inca highland capital of Cuzco which is a center for traditional Peruvian weaving.
We got the name of a good retail shop in Cuzco where we could get quality woven cloth from highland Peru and Bolivia. These objects are traditional ponchos and other pieces made for local consumption in the early-to mid-twentieth century that had been used and then sold, so that Americano tourists could buy and transport them back to adorn walls and furniture. Eventually I’d also buy some minor pre-Columbian objects from there and from other sources. (The photo shows the kind of serious fabric store one can find in Cuzco.)
Beautiful craftsmanship again expands my idea of “art,” though weaving still doesn’t make it to the highest levels for me. Mostly I’d say, it’s “quality, attractive craft.” Yet I enjoy looking at my few pieces and contemplating them.
My wife and I have two major walls in our living room, one with
musical instruments, the other with cloth and artifacts.
A variety of pieces including a poncho, a very long piece
that might be a scarf, a highland campesino’s hat,
a cloth baby carrier from the Amazon,
an Inca feather-work piece, a small, pre-Columbian cloth doll,
End Part 1 of 3
Well, our band rehearsals were something else. We had this teacher who was the top marching band director in that area. He had been an ace band director at three universities and a top trumpet player. His name was Wilson and he would say, “I want you to work on number four in the book, ‘On the Mall,’ and I want to hear crisp section work. I don’t want to hear anyone faking it. If you come to a section you don’t know, don’t fake it, ‘cause I can hear it.” All of us knew that if you don’t know the notes you fake it—if you’re a good musician you can get by with it, but not with Wilson. He knew every note of every march that was ever published—and he could hear them all.
Old Shep, you know—I knew everything we did by heart. I knew every move, I knew every note, every fingering, and one day we were out at rehearsal—that terrible day. We’d finished musical rehearsal, which was great. I always enjoyed the musical side of it. But then Stinky Davis took over and he would line us all up way down at the south end of the field and he would start lecturing us. “I want to see a lot of knee movement. Pull in your guts, Schwartz. I don’t want to see any guts hang out!”
He was one of the few drum majors I ever heard of, who had the power to drop people from the band—if they weren’t doin’ it. He really was an officer, and that’s why we hated him. We got high school credit for being in the band and he could flunk you. I remember the time he dropped Billy Singleton and they had a fantastic fistfight right out on the field. Billy was a trumpet player and one day he came out to the field about fifteen minutes late. Stinky stopped the band and here comes Singleton walking over with his trumpet. Stinky just stood and waited. Singleton moved into his position on the line. Stinky didn’t say a word, he just moved his thumb like an umpire—out! Singleton lowered his trumpet. Stinky went—out! Billy walked up to the front and said, “Make me!” Stinky did. After Stinky got through with him, I don’t think Singleton could even play the trumpet for a couple of months. That was the end of Singleton in the band.
So there was a tension all the time when Stinky was out in front. He had an ego that started at about twenty feet above the ground and worked up. Unbelievable ego. And that’s what it took! And he was fantastically self-disciplined. Outside of school he used to rehearse twirling maybe ten hours a day. That’s all he did. Had no friends. He would just sort of materialize, like one time he showed up wearing a monocle. Can you imagine the kind of guts it took for a guy in an Indiana school to wear a monocle! That’s what Stinky did. Fantastic!
And then comes that terrible day. It is a Thursday like any other Thursday. Except that it is hotter than blazes.
ARTSY ETCETERAS INTRO
Many collectors have, hung on walls, tiny stuff displayed in an authentic type case–the kind in which typesetters stored individual lead letters made for plucking and arranging into words and paragraphs to be printed. Mine has varied nick nacks and other artsys, including spiral encounters (especially, see the unusually small chambered nautilus shell, upper left corner). Guitar rosette element with “eb” initials. Tiny caliper and level for who-knows-what. Pre-Columbian heads and a whole little standing figure.
And, nearly centered, a beautiful, pre-Columbian Mexican, reddish-brown, elegantly stylized, bird-shaped whistle with four sound holes, its well-rounded stomach with its tail feathers sticking up. It features a multi-note twitter. Only 1-3/8″ from mouth hole to tail, it has two holes (underneath, not shown) for threading a string that can be put around the neck for carrying as a necklace–which I do on occasion, making me feel a bit as though I’m at-one with the original pre-Columbian owner.
Let them stand as a simile for all of the foregoing artsys
and for the following end-of-the-line miscellany descriptions.
The double B flat sousaphone is one of the most difficult instruments to master. Many, many are called, but few, friends, are chosen. It’s one of the most difficult instruments to master for a number of reasons. First of all, you have to learn cross-wind landings at an early age. Try to play “Semper Fidelis” in a spanking, forty-five degree cross-wind that’s making maybe fifteen or twenty or twenty-five knots, gusting to forty knots.
I remember Schwartz was also a tuba player and he made the switch to sousaphone. He was a bit too little. The point is, to play a good sousaphone, ya gotta be big, because, when you’re wrestling with a sousaphone, man, when that wind is blowing hard out of the north and you’re trying to play “Semper Fidelis” and the wind is blowing at you—you know, the sousaphone is the only instrument that plays back. It’ll actually play you. If you’re not careful, that horn will start blowing you, and the next thing you know, high, thin notes are coming out of your ears.
And with all that, try to go into the coda and keep up that steady hundred-and-sixty-beat march! We used to have about three different tempos, and our band would switch from one tempo to the other to gas ‘em all in the stands! We’d come out, we’d do our slow step, Drump! Pump! Pump! Pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pum! Drump-pum-pump pump pump!
You see, all bands go for the fast step. You ought to try the slow one. That’s the tough one. Drump-pum-pump! Drump-pum-pump! We’d come on and all of a sudden Stinky Davis, our ace, fanatical, maniacal, Nazi-like, top drum major, would go Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Waa waa with his whistle. We’d go Rump-pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump,pump—we’d shift tempo in mid-step. The crowd would roar! And then he would give two short blasts on the whistles Weeeee! Waa! We’d crack into that “Semper Fidelis”!
And there’s Shepherd. On the end. Eight marching double B-flat sousaphones! Hitting into a spanking wind! And these were not plastic sousaphones. These were magnificent—gold-plated—deluxe Khan—B-flat sousaphones catching the light, moving against that sharp, spanking wind and cracking “Semper Fidelis”! Pumpapapumpapapum! Here we go now! All together now! The torches light up, the crowd is going ape! Bababapooombapoooom!
More Table of Contents
INTRO—THE MUSIC WALL I’ve a tin ear, but I love music all the same.
GUITAR What is the form that produces the function? Student luthier takes on the challenge.
FLUTES—Flutes galore! Breath of life on the fingertips.Shakuhachi and a hose clamp.
SUZANNE FARRELL Farrell, Balanchine, and signed ballet slippers.
SUBWAY VIOLIN BUSKER Classical violin amid the subway roar.
EMOTION OUTRANKS TECHNIQUE—DYLAN & DIEGO Why would anyone prefer Bob Dylan to Andy Williams and Josh Grogan? I’ll tell you why! How could a self-effacing, solemn, gypsy guitarist supplant Sabicas, Paco de Lucio, and Manitas de Plata?
JEAN SHEPHERD AND BOB DYLAN Not music to his ears, even if the guy’s now a Nobel Prize winner.
PRINCE Honey, I think you and I were wrong! What was it about Prince that, for all these years, we missed?
PLASTIC HARMONICAS Variations on a theme. Surely the world’s greatest museum-worthy collection. And one of the artifacts is a real mouth organ.
SPAIN & PERU
GRANADA I’m falling under you spell. “Pomegranate,” “hand grenade,” and the city of Federico Garcia Lorca–all important parts of an obsession “…no hay en la vida nada…”
BULLS I’ve gone to the bulls on three continents. How deal with the line between barbaric and civilized? How can a gentle, passive soul be such a passionate aficionado de los toros? Ole!
PERU The intihuatana, flight over the Nazca Lines with no altimeter, no gas gauge. And especially, the truth/fiction of Rio Amazonas.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SPECIAL DELIVERY!—Whitman, Bosch, Louis Kahn—three of my favorite creative people all have articles devoted to them in the same issue of the NYT. Oh, the ecstasy!
MEMORABILIA— Dickinson & Hemingway—tidbits from creative forces!
FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS Has anyone else ever noted—and collected—artistic depictions of human disasters?
COMPOSED HERMAPHRODITE –Sometimes the NYT likes to tease us before eventually satisfying our curiosity.
BOOK ILLUSTRATION and ELEPHANT ART —It’s so easy to glance at and dismiss illustrations in a newspaper, though I try not to do so. A masterpiece of a kid scrawl and a herd of elephants.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Astro Turf & “Muriel”—what momentous artsy matters! Yet, both are matters of great concern—at least to some of us.
I would turn to page fifty-seven and there it would be at the top: pizzicato. Pizzicato means a string that is plucked. “Should I start at the top, Miss McCullough?”
So I would grab that bass and I would start dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun, dun. Now my left hand is aching all the way up to my shoulder and I feel seven gigantic blisters forming on my right-hand fingers—which never did when I normally played. I used to dread Thursdays. She never told me anything. Just used to sit and listen.
So, wherever you are, kid, taking those music lessons, we bow our heads for ten seconds in silence. I know exactly what you’re going through. God only knows the torture that man can wreak upon his fellow man.
End of Music Lessons
Stay tuned for even more of Shep’s music
MOM’S VIOLIN, PARAKEET, AND EGGS
As a young woman, Marjorie Crosby, my mother, left home to play the violin in vaudeville. She joined a woman’s dance troop. The dancers would come on stage and do a few numbers and then leave to change costumes, which is when my mother would come out from behind the curtain and play classical music for the audience.
The dance ensemble moved from city to city, and in New York, finally broke up, where my mother remained, eventually meeting my father, Benno Bergmann. After a long courtship, extended by the financial strain of the Great Depression, they married and had me, their only child. Eventually she taught me to play the violin well enough to be in the high school orchestra.
From time to time, when we had guests, mom would play the violin for them. As she was very shy, with our adult friends in the living room, she entered the next room, closed the French doors, and then play.
My mother taught our parakeet to recite poetry. She set up an audio tape loop, playing a word or two over and over by his cage until Pretty Boy could repeat it, then go on to the next word.
Eventually Pretty Boy could recite, all together, the first lines of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyám:
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
Friends kept erroneously saying that Marjorie’s bird could recite Shakespeare. So she taught Pretty Boy to recite a few lines:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.
A bird food company wanted to pay Pretty Boy to recite during a live TV commercial, but Pretty Boy would only perform when he wanted to.
Then my mother, inspired by Faberge Eggs, began designing her own original creations with chicken eggs. She discovered a way to be able to twist the egg shells into varied shapes. (She would never reveal her secret.) Sometimes she would also design cutout shapes for the basic shells and my father, with his Dremel tool, would cut them to her specifications.
She promoted her work to a mid-town Manhattan bank, which displayed her eggs one Easter season in their show windows. I designed an exhibit of them for the Museum where I worked. One year, New York’s Daily News sent a photographer and a reporter to our house, and her work was displayed in the Easter Sunday double-spread of its magazine section.
She designed and made elegant royal crowns,
complete with real diamond, ruby, and emerald chips.
Marjorie Crosby Bergmann
was our family’s original
artsy fartsy artist supreme.
And then I would start to play eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh. Eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh eughhhh. Augh-augh-augh-augh-augh- auuuugh. My hand would start to ache. It never ached whenever I played it by myself or when I was playing in the orchestra. I was hanging around with Schwartz and we used to jam a lot and it never ached! I’d play for two hours straight! All I had to do was play maybe three or four measures for Miss McCullough. My hand was aching all the way up through my elbow. It’s your left hand that aches when you play the bass. Then I would finish the section eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eugh-eughhhh eughhhh. Augh-augh-augh-augh-augh- auuuugh.
“Thank you. Now would you turn to page fifty-seven. I’d like you to try page fifty-seven and begin at the top.”
I don’t know what got me thinking this way (probably images by Picasso), but whenever I see three dots or little circles in some arrangement, I see two eyes and a mouth—a face. I see faces everywhere. So, for me, it’s only natural that when I come across a cardboard easel used to support upright a flat ad on a counter, I see the opening as a mouth.
I began making animal faces and abstract faces by drawing on easels with felt-tip markers. Some of them are rather tall and work well for large animals such as bulls, elephants, giraffes. Then I thought they might be a good adjunct to commercial displays of perfume or other objects for sale, so I arranged some in our backyard and photographed them for my design portfolio.
I made an appointment with Tiffany’s renowned window display designer, Gene Moore. He liked my easels a lot but said they were too dramatic and would overwhelm the jewelry. He recommended that I show them to his friend across Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, who designed the windows for Bergdorf Goodman’s Delman Shoe Department. This designer liked them and bought them from me. (I made copies of them for me to retain.) He used them for all of their 5th Avenue windows–not for the usual month, but for two. He gave me black and white photos of the displays.
I’ve got my easel faces scattered on perches around my study,
from which they peer down at me.
Miss McCullough taught the strings in the orchestra. And every Thursday at three-thirty was my time. And for fifteen minutes I would stand before this music stand with a big, double, B-flat bass. Big bass fiddle. She would just say nothing. She’d just take the exercise book that we used and she would open it to a page and say, “I want you to start at figure C.”
I would take up my bow, nervous, sweating, and I’d put rosin on it. I always used to try to stall for time. I’d put a lot of rosin on it. I’d put my hand up to the pegs and listen dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn. I was pretending to tune it. Dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-duuuunn. Miss McCullough would look at her watch, meaning, let’s get on the stick! She says nothing, she’s sitting there in her metal chair, just waiting.
Going to work at the Museum by subway, I used to take a longer route than necessary so that I could have a comfortable seat and be able to easily read my book. From Forest Hills, Queens, I’d take the F Train to 6th Avenue and 34th Street, then climb stairs, go through a mezzanine, then downstairs to the Uptown B Local and get off at the Museum’s 81th Street stop. That was until I met a violin busker, James Graseck.
One morning, about to go upstairs, amid the noise, hustle, and bustle, I heard a classical violin despite the roaring trains, on the far side of the tracks—yes, in the subway. I went up, across the mezzanine, and down, finding the musician playing. I listened until he stopped, and put a dollar in his violin case.
Every morning I sought him out and went over to listen. I bought one of his CDs, I introduced myself and we would talk. Each day I put a dollar in his case. I told him that my mother used to be a classical violinist, a professional, playing in vaudeville in her youth, and that she had taught me to play.
* * * * * *
I became obsessed with his indomitable spirit to play against the roar of trains.
I wrote a poem about him and gave him a copy.
He seemed quite pleased with my unusual gratuity.
He may still have it in his case.
That was twenty years go.
He’s been interviewed and shown
performing on radio, TV, periodicals.
I believe he still performs
his audacious artsy.
* * * * * *
* * * * * *
Have you ever read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi? Well, one thing that Twain talks a great deal about is learning how to be a pilot on the Mississippi. About these great pilots that he sailed with. And about how the old pilots could sit in the pilot house, and they could hear the sound of the paddle wheels—dabadabadabadaba—have you ever been on a riverboat?
You know it’s been a long time since I’ve given a lesson to the kids. Kids, are you listening? There is a limit, kid, to what you can do. Now you don’t know it—and maybe you’ll never find it out—but there is a limit, kid, in almost every direction you care to choose. Now, this is a very unpopular thing I’m saying here—but I’m going to describe to you how it came to me one day.
I’m this kid, see. Now how these things happen, one doesn’t know. How you drift, you know, along in life. How you meet the chick that you’re going with. How you happen to—the random quality of life is inexplicable.
I was a lightning-fast operator. Then one night on forty meters, I met my match. One night on forty meters at three o’clock in the morning, I hooked up with a guy from Pittsburgh, and we got into a speed match. By 4:15 that morning, I was reduced to rubble. I met a guy who could send and receive well in excess of sixty words a minute—on forty meters.
Book Manuscript Intro Continued
Almost all entries are about the arts and related matters in some form or another. Some aren’t about what one might usually consider “art.” Yet, my Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guys could, indeed, be seen as having some connection to an avant garde dance routine, and Intestinal Distress could be construed as a well-put-together Surrealist video.
Subject matter changes—all the hell over the place every couple of pages. Only sometimes is there a continuity between individual pieces—the idea is in the variety of little snippets, the continuity is rather in the diverse interests that catch one person’s open-minded attention, and in that manner, add up to some sort of coherent, artsy landscape of unexpected encounters. For help in making for a coherent reading experience, I divide them into “Parts” of related topics. For example, there are pieces about a standard idea of “Art,” a few related to my interest in Japanese art, and some deal with my insider’s experiences at a major natural history museum.
As the title contains the word “ART,” the “Art Part” comes first. Others follow in a kind of order as I see it and feel it. And their relative compatibilities interact and follow each other as best they can–I’m rather content, but not hidebound, regarding how they rub shoulders. As at a bubbly cocktail party chock full of scintillating guests, inquisitive readers may choose to comingle with my “Guernica Colorization Kit” before chatting with Hieronymus Bosch’s klatch, or sooner read my tale of fondling the Venus of Lespugue.
STRUCK BY LIGHTNING
I’m going to tell you about the time I was knocked down by a bolt of lightning. On this July day, it was a Saturday, and my old man was working a half a day. The house was quiet. We lived in this five-room house.
The front bedroom, which was on the front of the house, was my bedroom, my own thing. It was right on the corner, so there was a window on my left and on my right. I had put posters all over the walls and I had my amateur radio rig there. In the corner of the room was my desk, which was my great pride and joy. I’d built my amateur radio rig on the top of this desk, on a rack I had built out of angle iron. My whole life revolved around that amateur radio transmitter. Up on the roof of the house I had an antenna, a twenty-meter dipole, just stuck up there.
On this beautiful Saturday morning, it’s the beginning of July and our school vacation has just begun. I am sitting at my desk and I’m on twenty-meter CW at the time. The band is very lively with a lot of stations on.
Now, around my house, as in the case of all kids versus their parents, there is a great gap between my mother and me and my old man and me. It is always thus. In the front bedroom I am doing what they call, “Making all those noises.” Anybody who’s ever played with amateur radio as a kid, always hears, “Would you cut out all that noise up there, we’re trying to sleep!” And, “You’re making that sound on the radio again! Will you stop it!” It’s always called, “Making that noise.” Well, of course, what you were doing was involve yourself in worldwide electronic communication. You weren’t “Making that noise,” which was way above and beyond the ken of anybody else in my family. My old man’s technical knowledge stopped short of how to use Simonize. My mother’s technical knowledge consisted of how to get the most mileage out of a Brillo pad.
And so I was sitting in there doing this mysterious thing. And I was always on the defensive about it. They couldn’t understand what all those beeps were. My mother would see all this stuff—I had rectifier tubes that would glow blue when I put my key down. They looked spooky to both my father and my mother. It not only looked very spooky but it looked unbelievably dangerous. Which, incidentally, to tell the truth, it was.
Let’s face it, I had a power supply that delivered fifteen-hundred volts at two-hundred mil. That’s quite enough to knock the front end off of your house any time it wants to do it.
So I’m sitting in there working away with my rig on this day and my mother’s out in the kitchen. Every time I got on she would look in my door and say, “Now, be careful. You’re going to get a shock. Be careful with that. And stop making those beeps so loud. Can you turn it down?” And she would go back into the kitchen. She always thought I was going to get a shock—playing around with electricity.
Well, I had gotten my share of shocks and, I might add, RF burns —Radio Frequency—which is another story. When you’re tuning up a section network and you start getting an arc off of the knob—I got an RF burn one time that caught me in the thumb and burnt me all the way down to my ankle. It bore a hole in me. So I had my share of it, but I never told my parents about it.
(More lightning to come.)
In the early 1960s, with graffiti and all other kinds of mayhem burgeoning, I noticed some billboards that were torn in—shall I say—“interesting and artistic” fashion. Either by wind and rain or by human intent. I began photographing them. The one that first attracted my attention and led to my fascination, was the “I got my job through The New york Times” poster in the subway. Note his job. I returned with my camera, and so began my extended interest. To point out the obvious–for me, finding stuff to photograph involves two aspects: one is having an eye for good possibilities, and the second half is closing in on and, from the entire scatter, shutting out the excess and forming a strong composition. All billboard photos shown I took circa 1963-6. I did not tear or in any other way alter what you see here.
Under highway overpasses, on subway platforms, elevated platforms. I began using a tripod. A subway cop stopped me, saying I needed a permit to photograph in the subway. I got one, and though it lasted only a few days, that didn’t curtail my artsy activity.
At the time, I didn’t realize that a couple of known photographers had done torn-subject photos before I got the idea. But they were somewhat different—many of mine tended to have a rather bold, abstract expressionist look. I had some of my 35mm slides converted to color prints. Surprisingly, the color translated well to prints. I sold a couple at the Greenwich Village Art Show in 1963. I showed a selection to Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski. He liked my photos and wanted to show some of them in a slide show he was putting together—that show never happened.
John Szarkowski as quoted on the Internet
“Photography is a contest between a photographer and the presumptions of approximate and habitual seeing. The contest can be held anywhere… “- John Szarkowski
“The study of photography touches the broader issues of modern art and modern sensibility.” – John Szarkowski – In B&W Magazine.
I framed some photos and keep others in a portfolio,
which I glance at maybe once or twice a decade.
Here are more.
“A photographer’s best work is, alas, generally done for himself” –John Szarkowski
[Might we equally say the above about one’s thoughts and writings?]
My good friend, Riff, suggested I photograph his eyes with the “HE PEOP” torn poster.
He didn’t like being photographed, but, surprised that I included his whole upper body, he accepted that my image of him included his hands and arms.
Do you know that not more than a year ago, I was visiting Hammond, I was walking down the street, and who came out of the A and P, looking even more high-octane than ever before—Patty Remaley. My first thought was, don’t even notice her. But she looked at me and said, “Why, Jean, how are you?” She remembered me! My god, there’s still hope!
I said, “Hi. Gee, Patty Remaley, how are you?”
She said, “How are you?” She said, “Why, you’ve grown.”
I said, “Heh, you know, heh, those things happen. The sun hits you and you grow.”
We stood there for a minute. I thought—should I pour it all out? Then I said, no, no, I’m a grownup man. I said, “Good seeing you, Patty.”
She said, “Do you still have that red corduroy hat?”
I said, “Yeah.”
And we walked our separate ways. April Fool’s Day.
So “April Fooled” (as I’ve titled it) is the story Shepherd used,
in a recorded audio from a decade past,
to end his WOR broadcast career after 21 years.
Yes, he was unhappy.
One can only wonder exactly what he felt
as that story played:
“Why have they done this to me?”
[END OF “APRIL FOOLED”
NEW STORY COMING.]
TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU MAD
Around the time when Congress was beginning to complain about “sex-and-violence in comics,” and a book appeared, Seduction of the Innocent, decrying the influence of comics, I believe that EC Comics got worried, and, with the staff of witty writer/artists, came up with Mad, which would appeal to the same more advanced adolescent minds. (A few years into it as a comic, Mad changed format and, for me, lost some of its wit and much of its visual art. It became Mad Magazine, so it could no longer be persecuted as a “comic.” It was still funny, but less witty as it continued its burlesque of modern American culture. I kept up my subscription to beyond issue 100.)
Ad for the first issue of MAD Comic,
on the back of the front cover
of a late 1952 Two-Fisted Tales.
Covers of Mad‘s first issue and its “art” issue of 4/1955
Mad captivated a certain strata of youngsters who had a higher-than-average interest in words and ideas (including myself, I blushingly note.) As I put it in the intro to my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD!:
As a kid in the higher reaches of grammar school and early high school, I had the good fortune, along with countless others, to encounter Mad comics, which opened a kid’s eyes by making fun of our culture’s assumptions, clichés, fads, fancies, and popular arts—just at an age when a kid first begins to realize (but has not yet fully articulated) that the world constructed by parents and other adults has inconsistencies. In college I found Jean Shepherd.
Mad stories were quirky, funny, ironic, and usually made fun of the usual kid “comics” and other cultural items seldom criticized by mainstream adults–or even most kids.
For example, in “Blobs!” by Mad artist Wally Wood, one sees the future, in which everything is done for people to the extent that they can no longer even move around by themselves. One character worries that they will be in big trouble if the main machine that does everything breaks. His friend says it will never happen. At the end, the main machine breaks and the two are flung out of their motor-driven seats and are seen, upside down on the floor, conscious, but not mobile. A spider casually spins a web from one of their noses.
MORE MAD-NESS TO COME