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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.
I try to avoid psychoanalyzing Jean Shepherd–or anyone else. (My Excelsior, You Fathead! indicates some bits about Shep’s attitudes, but mostly these are described by those who knew him, rather than through my own interpretations.) But–after perusing a new book about Shakespeare’s evolving attitude toward women as seen in his plays–I thought it of interest to attempt to objectively describe some aspects of Shepherd’s life and works as it relates to what might be interpreted as his changing attitude toward women.
Shepherd, in his talk and writing, infrequently deals with the female of the species, so the following is not suggested to be any kind of encompassing description–much less a conclusive analysis–it’s just some observations that might have some connection to Shepherd’s way of being and his creative works.
His kid stories mainly relate to young boys at play, and a few of his teenage stories do relate to dating. His army stories infrequently relate to encounters with women. One, in my Shep’s Army concerns a sexual encounter (implied). Another story, about when he was stationed in Ft. Monmouth, NJ (a very short stay, I imagine) relates to he and a buddy encountering a sad woman–I don’t remember the details and don’t like the story much. Not much else.
Some of the material and thoughts here are based on comments found in Excelsior, You Fathead! Chapter 13, “Tiny Embattled Minority.”
MOM AND SOME EARLY “LOVES”
Fictional mom in A Christmas Story
Some really young females in Shep’s early life–
Dawn Strickland, Esther Jane Albery, Dorothy Anderson
[Dawn Strickland cropped from photo courtesy Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.]
Mom is traditional, nurturing, hard-working over the kitchen sink and cooking the conventional meat loaf. Conventional both in fiction and as one might gather about her when Shepherd speaks of his “real” mother. Soon after he graduated from high school, his father left the family forever by driving off with a young female co-worker in a convertible.
Shepherd told various stories of his experiences (mostly in fictional form) with grammar-school and high-school girls, sometimes on dates, some of whom he had a crush on. He reportedly wrote love letters to Dorothy Anderson while he was in the army in his early 20s.
Years later (1959), in Shep’s theater piece “Look, Charlie,” it’s said that, in a very old-fashioned image of female-as-underling/slave girl, he scripted actress Lois Nettleton, his girlfriend at the time, to feed him grapes as though he were a Roman emperor and she a servant:
Lois, as subservient hand-maiden,
presumably as seen in the theater piece,
depicted in Shel Silverstein’s
for “Look, Charlie.”
In those early days, Jean Shepherd seemed to have a very traditional image of girls and women. His early marriages seem to show him with a similar attitude.
Only recently has it been confirmed that Shepherd had been married very early on. Nothing much is known of this brief and well-hidden marriage except for this:
Credit: Steve Glazer
Jean Shepherd’s second marriage was to Joan Warner, mother of his two children. (Joan does not want to be interviewed regarding her former husband–I’ve tried several times.) Evidence from some general comments and actions by Shep suggest that she had traditional ideas of what marriage should be. Here they are, the happy couple:
Shepherd had some general comments to say about adult women/wives. One comment related to a husband whose wife arm-twisted him into doing some work on their house– because of his digging around the house foundation, the end of the house sank. In another similar instance, the digging under the house demanded of the wife resulted in unearthing a den of rattlesnakes. He seemed to be suggesting that doing what a wife nagged one to do could result in horrible disasters.
Regarding the entire idea of a permanent commitment such as marriage, Shepherd seemed negative. In what one might be forgiven in interpreting as a comment on clinging women, Shepherd on a broadcast commented that some people were the hulls of ships while other people were the barnacles that clung to their undersides.
In an earlier post I suggested that Shepherd wanted to be free and able to do just exactly what he wanted without being tied down to a little house with a lawn and a picket fence, and that this may well have caused him to leave the family he was married to and seek freedom and further fame in the Big Apple.
Lois Nettleton, in an early interview after Shep’s death responded to a comment by saying that he had strongly disliked family get-togethers: “Oh, hated them!”
WOMEN’S LIB AND EQUALITY
Shepherd sometimes had strong opinions about women’s lib. On July 31, 1960 on his program he said:
“I’ll tell you–most chicks today want to be treated as though they are tender flowers–and they prefer to act like King Kong. You see there’s that neat split–you want me to pick up your handkerchief while you are kicking me in the duff–with a pair of hobnailed boots. Now which do you want? Now I can do either, and can take either.”
Maybe he’d just had a bad day, but there are other Shepherd quotes in a similar vein.
Shepherd’s third wife, Lois Nettleton, was a very intelligent, very independent woman. She wrote that she felt that they were both independently successful in the entertainment field and were a good match for each other. She may have agreed to playing the subservient woman in a scripted part in “Look, Charlie,” but it doesn’t seem her general style. She believed in and assumed that she had total equality with Jean.
Mr. and Mrs. (Lois) Jean Shepherd, early 1960s.
Lois Nettleton a few years later as a Hollywood star.
Lois commented, “To me, our marriage was an ideal pairing of two famous career people who didn’t need to lean on each other, who enjoyed getting to know more about each other each day. Who made no demands, were flexible, and loved getting back together again after long absences. Glamorous, exciting! Very naïve of me—but actually very good for him in many ways—even after divorce, which he tried to avoid, he wanted to keep the relationship.”
When Leigh Brown and Jean first became friends, he was married to Lois. Leigh became obsessed with Jean’s mind–and with his genius on the radio. She would do anything to have him. And eventually she managed to separate Jean from Lois. According to WOR General Manager Herb Saltzman, she began at WOR as a gofer and “She bought into the myth [that he was a genius].” She had seemingly given up all her early ambitions in order to be with Jean. But, little by little, she became Jean’s editor, agent, producer, co-creator (to some extent). By the time his career in radio was about to end, she could hold her own with his dominating personality. At the time that Jean left his radio career, they had been living together for some time, and in 1977, they married.
By the time Leigh Brown died in 1998, she had seemingly become a major force in Jean’s professional as well as in his personal life. Laurie Squire, their coworker and close friend for decades, puts it (quoted in my EYF!): “They were Jean Shepherd. She sublimated, but she had a very--I can’t emphasize enough–she had a very strong personality. And I think he admired that….Quite a temper. She could hold her own! The power behind the throne. He was the creative genius. She knew how to operate in the real world.”
From those who knew them well, it seems as though Jean could not live without her. He died the year after she died.
I’d say that by the end, she and he were equals.
She had made them so.
Why do people exert the considerable energy required to create stuff? Why did Shep?
What follows are my thoughts/interpretations of why Shepherd did what he did, in part contributed by my own attempts at self-interpretation. Any comments and additions are welcomed.
Looks great, doesn’t it!
Relates to left-brain/right brain.
(I made the mistake of checking the googled source:
it’s about ads and marketing. Wooden cha know!)
For me, there is a great enjoyment I have in giving expression to my ideas and feelings. This is irrespective of the possible quality of the result. From following Shepherd, I believe without doubt that he got great joy in self-expression. I believe that most artists in all fields enjoy expressing themselves. Some claim that this amounts to an obsession. Sometimes I feel this–I don’t want to stop for food or sleep.
PURE ESTHETIC PLEASURE
There is pleasure in creating something that one considers to be “a work of art.”
PURE ENJOYMENT OF PROVIDING INFO/EDUCATION/ ENTERTAINMENT
Shepherd, along with most other creators had this joy.
The above categories involve “self-actualization,” the being at one’s
best/highest level that humans are capable of.
See Abraham Maslow–including my post on his work.
This ain’t so bad. All of us need some of this, and artists tend to have it to a very high degree. It may even help them achieve all the other attributes listed here.
YA GOTTA MAKE DOUGH
This ain’t so bad. Most all of us gotta do this–unless born rich or happen to fall into it. One of the issues most artists have in life is how to balance the need to create with the necessity to make money to obtain food and lodging and a few goodies.
I don’t know how Jean Shepherd could have balanced art and money in any other way than he did. He might have continued–until he died–with his great art of improvised radio work at the sacrifice of more money and renown–but this would probably have driven his ego mad. I think that one of my heroes, Norman Mailer, determined and succeeded in promoting himself to the crass, real world in ways that for him, allowed him to write even his lesser writings in ways that, on some level, also produced work that had artistic as well as monetary value.
♥ ♥ ♥
I’m fascinated by raven rattles. These are objects used in ritual ceremonies by Northwest Coast Indians. They are carved with a raven and several lesser figures on or incorporated into it, using the typical, stylized shapes of Northwest Coast art. Ravens are usually depicted with something in their beaks. This is a “box of sunlight,” which the mythological trickster-bird opened and gave to humans (in a similar way to Prometheus giving light–fire/knowledge–to humans in the Greek myth).
The main part of the body is the raven. On its back there is usually a red-colored, naked human with his tongue out, being given (at the tip of the giver’s tongue,) some important attribute. Sometimes the giver is a bird, sometimes a frog, etc. On the bottom side of the rattle, carved in slight relief, is a bird’s head with large eyes and various abstract shapes in typical Northwest style.
Vancouver Museum exhibit.
When I was designing “Chiefly Feasts,” a large temporary exhibit of Northwest Coast art that would travel to several other museums in the U. S. and Canada, I flew and drove to see and consult at other museums, with Allison and our young son. I’ve seen many actual raven rattles in museums such as the American Museum of Natural History, Chicago’s Field Museum, Vancouver University Museum Victoria.
My design sketch for one section of the exhibit.
For several years, every time I walked through the Northwest Coast permanent hall of the American Museum of Natural History where I worked, I’d stop and look at the good one on display. When our museum did a temporary exhibit brought in from another museum, I had the chance to hold a fine example during set-up time.
When I had more brown hair than white.
I’m holding it upside down
as one does during a native ceremony.
A conservator will tell you that the white gloves
are to protect the artifact.
From books, magazines, catalogs, I collect photos of raven rattles by the score.
Clockwise from lower left: At auction, $30,000-50,000;
Three views of a specimen at AMNH; For sale at a gallery.
In my belief, many I’ve seen are not well carved. I imagine that a good one would go for many times what I ever could afford. As much as I try to collect real stuff, a few years ago I encountered a replica for sale on ebay, thought it compared very well with photos of really good ones, and bought it for $125. The seller, owner of a NW-Coast gallery, had commissioned a half-dozen, made by a family of Indonesian carvers!
A major issue for me is: I’d rather have an authentic one carved by and used by the actual people of the Northwest Coast. But considering all the inferior specimens, actually distastefully/poorly carved authentic ones I’ve seen (even those beyond what I might one day be able to afford) would I really want such a poorly done job facing me nightly? Other than its aura of authenticity, it would be one that fails in all the visual attributes that make raven rattles in the ideal such a joy to behold. My Indonesian replica is better made than most authentic ones I’ve seen—it gives me an esthetic pleasure I’d never get from a badly carved authentic one that visually offends me. Faced with the reality, I’ve denied my ideal principle. I’m very pleased to view nightly in front of me in our living room, my Indonesian replica.
MY RAVEN RATTLE
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts
and Extenuating Circumstances
(First of a Tragic Series)
This is The Shepherd’s Life, a very partial bio, selected, condensed, concentrated, focused—one idea and interpretation of a classic tragedy as understood by a particular person based on what he knows and understands and guesses. (Many people, including the media, describe any and every unfortunate occurrence–such as a fatal accident–as a “tragedy.” This may well be very sad, but not a classic tragedy.) For me, a classic tragedy emerges from a combination of a person’s conflict with his/her cultural environment along with some personal attribute and/or flaw within that person’s being. (Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, etc.)
Please remember that quotes from the Shep are not necessarily objectively true, but are probably true in spirit. The opinions are based on current knowledge.
In italics there are basic facts, objective evidence, and subjective interpretations.
In boldface there are direct quotes from The Shepherd, based on edited, transcribed words from his radio broadcasts.
The results are as objective as I can make them–and simultaneously subjective/creative. If this is contradictory and an enigma–make the best of it. And let’s have feedback, gang.
I believe this is an insecure world. I mean, you know, that’s the way life is. Lightning bolts, thunderstorms, hail, Mack trucks, fistfights in the dark. –Jean Shepherd. August 29, 1964.
Jean Parker Shepherd, born July 26, 1921 on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois to Anna and Jean Shepherd–
Jean Shepherd with football,
and other kids.
On the South Side of Chicago.
[Photo: Steve Glazer, Bill Ek]
where he spends the first years of his life, until he and his parents and his younger brother, Randy (whining under the daybed), move across the state and city lines, eventually to Cleveland Street in Hammond, Indiana. He remembers his first days in kindergarten:
I had seen pictures of classrooms—with desks. The desk itself was very very attractive to me. The idea of having a desk—little kids love desks. They love to sit at their own little thing. Pile stuff on it. And have their desk….And I always pictured school too, to have something to do with reading. I was an early reader. And I was a fanatical reader. I could read well by the time I was about four so my whole idea of school was that I would go to school and we would read and I’d have this desk, see.
….This lady took us right into that room. That was actually the beginning of life itself. The official world, those buildings, and those buildings will pursue us all the way to the end of our life. Those official places. This is the very first one.
It was our first day of kindergarten. I will always remember. And, in fact, vividly remember—the intense shock and great wave of disappointment. There were no desks! There wasn’t a desk in the entire room! And there were sandboxes. Sandboxes! There were little girls sitting around cutting stuff out! There were thousands of kids all sitting around playing in sandboxes! I didn’t know what to do sitting in the sandbox.
I didn’t know what to do sitting in the sandbox. I didn’t want to come to school to play in the sand.
Already little Jeanie can see that he is in a world filled with disappointments. The teacher wants the kids to introduce themselves by telling the others their names:
And this is the first of a long series of traumas that begin. She says, “What is your name?”
“Yes, but you see, Gene is short for Eugene. And you can all call him Gene if he wants to be called Gene. But that’s a very pretty name. Is your father’s name Eugene?”
I never heard the name Eugene in my life! My name is not Eugene. Jean. J E A N, Jean. I’m falling behind in school—over my own name! I’m lousing up over my own name!
Jean Shepherd has many experiences typical of grammar school kids, and some that are special. He is particularly fond of reading, including, when he was about fourteen, P. G. Wodehouse:
I started laughing in the study hall and I couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing like I was out of my mind. The author, of course, was P. G. Wodehouse and I read everything this guy wrote. From that time on, to me, writing—as a writer—writing and performing has always been directed toward being funny.
And, at about fourteen or fifteen he took his class’s supplemental reading list to the library and took out a book.
And everything changed. Trumpets blew. From that day onward I have not been the same as I was the minute I opened up that first page. I never read anything in my life that was like this. It was some vast organ playing somewhere and the words rolled on and on and on and on. It wasn’t that they made sense or not sense. They were beautiful. Great crashing waves of words rolling over the rocks. And I remembered the name of the book. Always, forever. Look Homeward, Angel.And from that minute on I realized that there was nothing ever in this world as more—as even remotely as powerful–as words. Words are what it’s about.
Reading. And words. Words are what it’s all about. Jean Shepherd found his love of words at about the same time that the great invention of electronic sound and words—radio– was becoming widespread in the United States. As he was growing up radio became the great communicator of music and words—ideas. Broadcast radio, ham radio, the medium for talking and creating sounds of all kinds. Classical music, jazz, stories, sports, news, ideas, all coming to you from Chicago and around the country. And Jean Shepherd was there at the time and place for him to embrace it and eventually realize it as a love and as a career for his talent.
Interest in ham radio begins for Shepherd in grammar school and extends throughout Shepherd’s life. Shepherd several times speaks on the air about his love of ham radio. He says that in high school, it led to his being chosen to announce a sports program—his first experience with broadcast radio.
I became, at the age of ten, totally, maniacally, and for life I might point out, completely skulled out by amateur radio. Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy, it gets ahold of your soul and gnaws at it and never lets go. I would sit in class in eighth grade and I would send code to myself by the hour, as I’m reading something—say, a geography book—I wouldn’t read it, I would send it to myself. I’d actually hear it in my head. The dots and dashes of the words. As a CW man, it got to the point when all of my world was bound by the sound of this language.
Shep in 1975 talking
about amateur radio
Sound as Art
In high school Shepherd plays bass violin, tuba, and sousaphone–instruments requiring both physical strength and intestinal fortitude. He describes the crucial role music plays in his life. From the beginning he is obsessed: “I was a dedicated tuba man.”
How does a guy get to be a tuba player? There’s a certain look of sadness in the eye of all tuba players. A tuba player is a man who has lived through a peculiar kind of hell.
He comments on a broadcast that his playing tuba in the school orchestra is the first time he ever created beauty. Using music as metaphor, he illustrates his joy in making art.
As a kid in high school I was absolutely the ace of the bass section of our band. The first chair bass man. And that is a great feeling. For years I had worked my way up. I started in eighth grade playing E-flat tuba. The tuba itself is a kind of challenge. It’s a heavy instrument. You get so that you love the tuba. You get so that you actually have a physical love for your instrument—for your tuba. Yeah, you sit there and you pat it, you talk to it. Many’s the time I’d come into the band room and seen Reg Rose, who was in the bass section. I saw him one time weeping, sitting there talking to his B-flat sousaphone, weeping and crying, and the sousaphone was crying back. [He entered a tuba-playing contest and lost out to a phenomenal player.] Ever since that time I have known that for every good thing you do there are fifty-thousand better things that somebody else can do with his eyes shut.
In contrast to making art, as a youngster he spends time working in the steel mill as a mail boy (delivering words), and he describes his first disorienting and anxiety-filled day there. He finds Mr. Galambus, his protector, there and he feels better. And that was only the beginning. That day I learned something very important. I haven’t discovered yet what it is. Even after high school it’s sometimes hard to understand the nature of what one is learning. Shepherd says very little about higher education. But he learns two very important lessons outside of his college classroom. They are an essential part of his education. The lessons remain with him—because there is an aftertaste. They are epiphanies.
Escargot and Bugatti
Part 1–Escargot. He’s invited to dinner where the house and the customs and the food are much more expansive and finer than were his custom.
And the next thing I know, in front of me is this plate of something which had always been rumored in our house that people somewhere, someplace, ate. And we never really believed it! And whenever it was mentioned they ate these things—“Oh, ugh!” Nancy takes one of the snails and says, “Oh, these are so wonderful.” She takes one out of its shell and I see how she does it. She takes this little fork and she fishes one of these things out, and it looks strange, you know—like a little black snake or something. She pulls it out and puts it in her mouth—“Oh!”
I can’t chicken out. I’m feeling sick inside. With the little fork I fish the little thing out. I put it in my mouth. I go, “uuushup!” I taste it. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! [Pause.] It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is so good I can’t believe it!
And then the lesson hit me. I looked around. I saw all these other people—they’ve been doing this all of their lives! They weren’t surprised at snails. And it began to sneak up on me—what other terrible stuff did I learn at home? What other things do I think are awful? Just because it was back in the kitchen that way, you know? I ate the snails.
Late that night, lying in the dormitory room, I felt those snails—you could taste them. There’s an aftertaste. And I began to suspect that night that there was a fantastic, unbelievable world out there. And I was just be-gin-ning to taste it! Just beginning! God knows where it would lead!
Part 2–Bugatti. A Cincinnati college professor invites Shepherd and a couple of other students to go see something special on a Saturday morning. (An authority on the subject confirms to me that such a sight as Jean was about to see really was in Cincinnati at the time. Although Shepherd sees a variation on the actual car he later remembers as the one that appeared as one of the great masterworks, the epiphany remains valid.)
I’ll never forget the day that I had the great awakening regarding an art form. Even today, in this country, there are very few people who recognize this as an art form.
Up to the point when I’d discovered this form, I’d been a walking-around-ignorant. I was just beginning to see that there was more to the world than “Flash Gordon” and more to drawing than “Prince Valiant.” I was beginning to suspect things. We go through this period when we begin to see things that we never really realized. That the world is a giant iceberg and in these first years of our life we only see a little bit of it sticking up on the top. We begin to see how fantastically varied and infinitely complex it is.
It turned out to be a garage. A plain, ordinary, crummy-looking garage. He took his key and opened the lock on these big garage doors and he swung them open and the four of us walked into the gloom of this garage on a gray Saturday morning in Cincinnati.
And I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was that unreal. He had reached up and flicked on a neon light and that light made it look even more spectacular. This thing began to gleam with that light. And there it was.
We were looking at one of the great automobiles. I mean one of the great automobiles. By “great”—this car had appeared in probably two or three hundred catalogs of great masterworks—that specific car. Even today that car is almost priceless. It was one of the finest works of one of the great artists of the twentieth century–considered possibly his prime work. Ettore Bugatti. A man who created automobiles the way Michelangelo created altar cloths. He created them as works of art.
I didn’t realize that there was one man to whom a car was not a car, and he spoke in a universal language. It was an art—pure and simple.
“The world is a giant iceberg and in these first years of our life we only see a little bit of it sticking up on the top.” To paraphrase Shepherd here, he found that there was one man to whom words were not just words….. It was an art—pure and simple.
Two Epiphanies: “And I began to suspect
that night that there was a fantastic,
unbelievable world out there.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
Shepherd believed in the importance of books. Various times on his programs he discussed the high regard in which he valued them. He talked about some books that had influenced him and he read from some on the air.
Thus it is no surprise that Shep wrote books; Shep wrote short and long comments in books by himself and others; Shep has been mentioned in passing and in more or less extensive ways in many books, and (even with the passing years) the number of which keeps growing.
There is an extensive list and images and text from dozens of these books in http://www.flicklives.com. under the main category of ACHIEVEMENTS/ BOOKS MENTIONING SHEP. The following list is from those flicklives pages:
Dictionary of American Slang; Explorations in Communication; Impolite Interviews;
Understanding Media; The Sense of the 60’s; The aesthetics of Rock; The Deejays;
Long John Nebel; The Great American Newspaper [V. Voice]; Land of the Millrats;
The Stars of Stand Up Comedy; The Writer As Celebrity;
Encyclopedia of American Humorists; Essays on American Humor; Indiana History;
Jeffrey Lyons’ 101 Great Movies for Kids; The Airwaves of New York,
Sounds in the Dark: All-Night Radio in American Life, Losing My Mind;
New York, Year by Year: A Chronology of the Great Metropolis;
How I Became A Human Being; A Native’s Guide to Northwest Indiana;
Secret Frequencies; The Motion Of Light In Water: Sex And Science Fiction Writing
In The East Village; Seriously Funny; iPod & iTunes Garage;
Revel with a Cause: Liberal Satire in Postwar America; Something in the Air;
Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors; Manhattan Memories;
Backing Into Forward: A Memoir; The Biographical Encyclopedia of American Radio;
Becoming Elektra; Endgame; Radio My Way; Cincinnati Radio; Fallen Idols;
Cocktails with Molotov; Whiting and Robertsdale;
Memoir of an Independent Woman: An Unconventional Life Well Lived;
Dig; 6 Degrees of Film; Eminent Hipsters.
As I’ve encountered them, I’ve added a few titles to the above list, as have Steve Glazer and others. For considerably more info about each of the above books, including specific references to Shep for most of them, see http://www.flicklives.com. As for my two book devoted to Shepherd (EYF! and S’s A. flicklives devotes prominent references to both.)
A couple of books not yet incorporated into that list are first, John Strausbaugh’s The Village, with good pages on Shep-in-the-Village. Another book is R. L. Stine’s [“Goosebumps” series author] autobiography for youngsters, It Came From Ohio!: My Life As a Writer. One might wonder if his comments about Shep will positively affect those young readers into checking him out.
Maralyn Lois Polak’s The Writer as Celebrity seems the longest of the riffs on Shep and has some interesting comments, such as her remembrance: “…a voice that elliptically removed us from Innocence to Experience, a voice that ruminated on the mysteries of Existence, and shrugged.” Also, a quote from Shep that represents, in general, a good reason for him to complain about the world’s injustice–along with an oft-heard but questionable reference:
“I’m one of the great underground performers. In spite of the fact I have millions of fans,” he proclaims, “I can’t imagine why [someone] wouldn’t know about me . . . I’ve had three best-sellers, I’ve published forty-eight stories in Playboy. [By my count, 23 stories, one humorous article, and The Beatles interview.] Critics have done papers on me. I’ve influenced more kids. I’ve done thousands of shows at colleges. I’ve been on the Carson show many times and on the Merv Griffin show. I’ve had my own television series for years on PBS. And yet [some people] never heard of me. Now you’re understanding the nature of twentieth-century fame. It’s one of those things you accept as a fact of life, like the rain. Is the rain frustrating? No, it’s just there . . . . See, I was part of the whole beat, hip movement. And it’s very difficult to explain, I was part of that whole crowd. I came up–friends of mine at the time were people like Mailer and, ah, Jules Feiffer, this is, the whole Village crowd. I was really kind of one of the centers of it. In fact, I was a character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I’m the Angel-Headed Hippie, the guy they’re always listening to on the radio….”[I haven’t been able to find any reference to this in On The Road. My guess is that if indeed, as he said, Shep got a copy of the manuscript from Kerouac, it may have been in there, but was cut before publication -eb]
He seems to have total recall. “No, not at all. I’m a storyteller. My stuff seems like memory. It isn’t. I will see something happen the afternoon of a show and create a story about it, but I will put it in the past. Are you listening to me,” he says, laughing. So he was spinning short stories on the air? “Well, I was, yes!” he exclaims.
“Now, I don’t know what would have happened to me had I been, let’s say nine or ten, and read War and Peace. I think that’s why lots of kids grow up and their literature is so full of the kvetch, you know, life is hard, life is tragic, because so many novels are written like that. So if you’re ten and read Vonnegut, you’ll grow up thinking life is bad news. But if you grow up reading Shepherd, you’ll come away thinking life is basically a giant joke, life is an endless shaggy dog story. It always seems like any minute now we’re gonna solve it” – Jean Shepherd grins – “any minute now.”
Note: Don’t completely trust any references to Shepherd in any book or article, especially if the reference comes from Shep himself. Much of the misinformation comes from writers accepting what Shep told them without checking up on it, and some misinformation comes from the writers’ misunderstanding of info–Add to that, many writers simply copy previously published misinformation from other sources. (Unless I wrote it. Although a few times I’ve been mistaken–I’ve said for years (based on what I’d assumed was accurate info) that there have been about 5,000 Shep broadcasts–but it’s probably more like 4,000. I try to be fastidious regarding facts, through checking first with unimpeachable sources–Shep himself is an extremely impeachable source.)
“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”
by Shelly Esaak
“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.”
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:
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.
[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?]
The Beatles had been an enormous phenomenon in Great Britain since 1963, traveling mostly on one-night stands and selling records. They are already selling well in the United States and are the nation’s number-one group by the time they first arrive at New York City’s Kennedy Airport on February 7, 1964. The airport, the Plaza Hotel where they stay, and nearby streets, are mob scenes with hysterical fans. Sunday they perform on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time live in the United States, with an estimated television audience of seventy-three million. The following Sunday they’re again on Sullivan’s show.
In July their film, A Hard Day’s Night opens in Great Britain, and in August in New York City. They have arrived, and they are not going away. It’s Beatlemania.
Jean Shepherd, a long-time enthusiast of classical music and opera:
does not like contemporary folk-singing, and has a particular aversion to rock and roll, sometimes making disparaging remarks regarding the motivations of such luminaries as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. And also, regarding the music, Shepherd directs negative comments toward The Beatles because they are such a spectacularly unavoidable target.
With The Beatles’ triumphant appearance in the United States in early 1964, Playboy offers Shepherd the opportunity to go to the British Isles for two weeks and travel with them, in order to do the Playboy Interview. I asked Hugh Hefner why Playboy would choose a rock-and-roll-hater such as Jean Shepherd, replied that sometimes the magazine would send what seemed to be an antipathetic person on assignment because the editors felt it would produce an “interesting” result. Hefner said, “Using a very American guy like Jean, with his sensibilities,” to interview The Beatles, is just such an inspired decision.
And why does Jean agree to go? As an intrepid traveler, he probably can’t pass up a free trip to observe the primitive natives—aka, the British— with their attitudes and pop-fashions, their strange, trendy, tribal customs now enveloping his own world back home, especially on an excursion in which he will have the opportunity to trash the already mythic heroes of what he calls “pop music.”
On a postcard to his then-wife, actress Lois Nettleton, sent at the very beginning of his Beatles adventure, he writes from Edinburgh, “What a truly lovely city!! The Beatles are a first class pain in the ass! I’m really sorry I have to do a story on them. They are the epitome of aggressive cocky slobs who lead other slobs— Love! J.”
While in Edinburgh, Shepherd, the incorrigible traveler and observer, takes advantage of free time to record some comments about his experience, which he tapes in a series of programs to be used in syndication rather than for his regular broadcasts. Only about forty years later are these recovered, and then released little-by-little in boxed CD sets by http://www.RadioSpirits.com. The present author, based on his program guides for the series, appropriates a few of those comments here.
In his Edinburgh hotel room, Shepherd describes Scotland, especially the view from his window. He notes the many steam engines that pass by his hotel and Edinburgh Castle, and he describes: “It’s a green city, a city of trees, a city of statues and high, thin, ancient, medieval black-looking spires reaching up into the sky, way up there, and all topped with tiny crosses.” Shepherd describes the look of Scotland:”The color is a kind of dark, tarnished, burnished bronze. It’s a magnificent dark green, reddish brown color. The kind of color that painters are always trying to get but never quite making.” In another comment, Shepherd, who’s attached to the human voice as spoken and written above all other things, admires Scotland because: “If you love conversation, if you like to talk to people and love to read and love to be where people enjoy humor and ideas, this is the country for you.”
Disparaging The Beatles in various broadcasts; in recorded programs for syndication, and in his post card home; he sees them as a prime example of Britain’s degeneration of taste also exemplified by the then-popular English fashions and art. He’s also dismayed by recent British taste for a certain “role-reversal” that he has disliked in America. Yet, he will come to like the four mop-topped Liverpudlians as rough-and-ready fellows. Rubbing shoulders with them in smoke-filled hotel rooms and bumpy car rides through the night, escaping wide-eyed fanatics down fire escapes and dark alleys as though he were a fifth Beatle in their A Hard Day’s Night, brings him to a modified view of them as fellow human beings.
As he says, “I wasn’t really traveling as an observer—they began to accept me as part of the gang.”
When he returns to the States, reporting on all the outlandish activities he has observed and, indeed, participated in, he talks about his travels during his live broadcast from The Limelight Café in early November, 1964. We get a fascinating, inside look at daily life on the road of four guys who have become celebrities beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. And we see how a world traveler, used to encountering unexpected experiences and all different types of people, comes to accept these cocky, witty guys as companions. In an extraordinary admission he can hardly believe himself, he says, “I found myself becoming not only a Beatle fan but a Beatle!”
For the past two weeks I have been living with The Beatles. I have been in Dundee, Scotland, I’ve been in Edinburgh, I’ve been in London where they worked, Leeds, Liverpool, I’ve been in all these various cities on a whole series of one-night stands with The Beatles. Living with them, living in their room with them, in their dressing room, riding in the dark countryside trying to escape the fanatics, and observing England from the other side of the glass.
Now we’re all Americans here and the one thing that Americans are used to—they’re used to being constantly under the scrutiny of other people. For example, “Beyond the Fringe” comes to New York and it’s a satire by Britishers, mostly about Americans. We sit out there and applaud. But it never works the other way! You’re aware that if I were to appear in Britain they would not immediately nominate me to play Richard the Lionhearted. And yet, are you aware that they are casting a movie here in America and they’ve just recently cast a man to play Abraham Lincoln! Guess what nationality he is. We’re going to have a British Abraham Lincoln. Somehow that makes it more official. The idea that Laurence Olivier or somebody like that is playing Lincoln seems a lot more real than if say, an American were to play Lincoln.
Because, you know, I, being a good American have been completely awash in Britain ever since I was a kid. We take English literature in school, we study English poets, English history. In fact, most of us know more about English history than we do American history. So now I find myself in England in the real thing. Sitting in a tiny, super-heated, stinking, smelling, dressing room knee-deep in fish and chips and beer with the Beatles. England’s final answer to Richard the Lionhearted.
It’s a weird thing. Out in the darkness I can hear the sound of millions of girls screaming. It’s a children-girl thing in England. It sounds like a thousand sirens going off in the distance. It’s just a high-pitched wail—WEEEEEEE! Goes in waves—WEEEEEEE! And then one of the Beatles says to another Beatle—I think it was George saying to Paul, “Paul, you’re a Beatle!”
And Paul says, “Aye.”
George says, “Paul, you’re a Beatle. Pass a miracle—walk on water. Walk on water!”
Paul says, “Okay,” and he goes to the window, sticks his head out and—WAAAAAAA! the whole world explodes. He turns back to me and he says, “Are you Beatle-people?”
I say, “No.”
He says, “Well, sit down and have a beer.”
End of part 1 of The Beatles
And, I mean, there wasn’t an available inch in those busses that wasn’t used. Lunches and all kinds of stuff—stuff to sit on and fans for the sweat off your brow—hot!—oh boy!
Well, we started out—all I can say is that it was a fantasy in so many ways. There are a few occasions in your lifetime when you are reminded of the fact of how diverse humanity really is. On the one hand they are capable of the most incredible humanity. I hate to use such as word as “humanity” applied to human beings—but I say that probably a squirrel is capable of humanity towards people. But they are capable of things which you could not believe, after having lived in an urban world in the twentieth-century. And, of course, they’re capable of the other. You keep seeing the other superimposed in your own mind. The “other.” You know what I mean by the other.
To begin with, thinking about this thing for weeks in advance, I had talked with guys who were planning to go and arranging this thing. I had all kinds of ideas about the way it would be. Just like all of us have ideas in our head about how history is. I’m sure you have ideas about how it must have been to be in Germany in the 20s. Well, it wasn’t. Not the way you think it was. I’m sure you have ideas of how it must have been when Washington was crossing the Delaware. Forget it. It wasn’t. I was not there but I know one thing—it wasn’t the way you think it was. I’ve found that very few things are the way you think they are.
One of the great moments was to be riding along in this bus in the semi-darkness, everybody’s feeling tired, and there was a peculiar excitement of the unknown. No one knew quite what to expect. And what was, I thought, quite significant, no one even talked about the event to which we were going. Now that, I think, is interesting. I waited, I listened carefully. Nobody said a word about it. They talked about the bus, they talked about the lunch they were carrying, they talked about their shoes hurting, they talked about everything. It was as though nobody wanted to talk about where we were going and why. And particularly the people who were deeply involved in it, the negroes we had with us—I’m going to say right away, some of the greatest people I’ve ever known in my life. Well, that’s another story. It goes back to Nigeria and other areas of life and existence. We can’t go into that right now.
But driving along through the darkness, we were whistling along the Jersey Turnpike, and the bus had a governor on it as cross-town busses do. (The cross-town bus driver was hollering for transfers and he was ducking imaginary cabs all the way.) We weren’t out on the Turnpike more than five minutes when other busses started to pass us in the darkness. The particular rapport between the busses was insane. It’s obvious that you’re not going to see a cross-town bus out on the Jersey Turnpike heading south unless there’s something going on—this bus was just not a bus headed for Paramus. Well, we’re going along in the darkness, a bus would go past and instantly you’d see all these hands out the window waving at our bus. Our bus is waving at them. Great moment. And after awhile you got so it was just normal. When we got off the Turnpike past Philadelphia and on through Delaware, we were skirting a railroad track and a train went past us with about nine passenger cars loaded to the gunnels with people. And the whole train was waving at our bus! And we’re waving at the train and the crew was waving out of the front of the locomotive! I’m just describing to you what exactly happened.
We arrived on the outskirts of Washington. Now people began to talk about— “Wow, I bet we’re going to be late, boy what a traffic jam.” They never once talked about the event, even when we got there.
(More of Shep’s description to come.)
Sorry for the delay in posting–we’ve now moved and are surrounded by scores of packed boxes we’re having trouble locating stuff in. The local library has come to our temporary rescue with internet access. eb
MARCH ON WASHINGTON
August 28, 1963 was the day of the historic March on Washington, in which over two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand people gathered in and around the D. C. Mall, focused on the Lincoln Memorial, to demonstrate for civil rights and economic betterment. Among those who performed on stage were Marian Anderson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Mahalia Jackson. Many other well-known people were also present. The best-known part of the day is that often referred to as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, which concluded with “…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”
Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream….”
The event was extensively covered by the press and television. Jean Shepherd, consistent with his usual disposition, immersed himself in the activity not as a reporter, but as a participant—who could really experience it. The result of his manner of participating is captured in his broadcast the evening after. It is not like other descriptions of the event. Although Shepherd always tells his improvised tales enthusiastically, immersing himself as well as listeners and readers, one might note a certain out-of-breath quality as he describes facts and little incidents while very much caught up in his reliving of the moment. In mid-thought he frequently remembers some tangential idea which must be inserted right then, and he tends to repeat himself a bit—an emotional reaction, I believe. Some editorial adjustment brings these together as he would have meant them to be. He sometimes gets especially excited when describing true events such as this March in which he participated. NPR, during its fortieth anniversary celebration of the March, played a ten-minute segment of his broadcast. This is Jean Shepherd’s unique historical document about what over two-hundred thousand participants experienced, and as such, it contains much objective truth. As for Shepherd, he was overwhelmed.
I was one of the marchers in the big demonstration yesterday, and this experience was probably one of the two or three—words such as “interesting” don’t really mean much in this case. And to use the word “significant” doesn’t mean much either, because “significant” of what? Let’s just say it was one of the two or three most difficult to assay/weigh/put-into-perspective days that I have ever experienced in my life. One of the two or three days. The closest day that I can think of in my experience was VE Day, or maybe even VJ Day. To the tenor, the tone, the quality of what went on and the way the people were.
I went down on this thing very specifically as just a marcher. Just one of the people in a delegation, because I have learned through long experience—and hard experience—that the only real way that you ever get to have even a vague understanding about events is, if you can, possibly, be part of or in the group, or be in with people to whom the event is occurring.
I wonder just how much a newsman ever learns about anything—standing up on the platform. I’m curious. I listened to a lot of jazz yesterday from the newsmen and almost all of them were up on the platform, they were in the news section, which was very, very, very much roped off from the great herd of people who walked along the streets. The great multitude who gathered under the trees, who pushed up through past the Coke stands and finally stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I didn’t see many newsmen in that crowd. In fact, I don’t recall seeing one newsman in that crowd.
Another thing that I found very interesting was going down on the bus—we left 47th Street and I rode on a bus with maybe two-hundred-thousand other people, all riding on busses toward Washington. We had a very old, terrible bus. I’ll tell you, have you ever ridden on a bus—a New York cross-town bus—all the way to Washington? I’m serious—a lot of people did. They just took the cross-town sign out and everybody sat on those plastic seats and went all the way to Washington and back.
Stay tuned for Part (2)
I must say, parenthetically, I have never in my life—including several big operations in the army, including a lot of organizations I’ve seen in various other armed services and great events that happened in other cities—I’ve never seen anything like the way the city of Washington handled this thing. Absolutely—I imagine in the end this is going to be a picture-book classic among control and preparation for a vast event. Fantastic! And every last man that I saw involved in this situation—the police, the MPs, the Red Cross people—was in the most wildly great, holiday mood. You just don’t expect it from officials. Everybody cheering when you came in. I don’t know how much of this has been reported! I haven’t seen much of it reported in the press. I think because few reporters came in as a marcher. That’s right. They went in days before and stayed at the hotel and that morning they took the big cab down to the Lincoln Memorial and sat behind the ropes. And started a report. No wonder that in history, the point is always missed about what happened.
We came into the city. One of the moments I will never in my life forget—I just won’t, I know it. Coming into the outskirts of Washington in this bus.
Tired, boy, have you ever ridden six hours on a cross-town bus! Wow! And that seat was like a rock. And we were sweating and the sun was beating down and we arrived and there was a cop waiting for us in a white helmet. The police were to take groups of six busses, with a police escort, to the proper place where they were to go—each group of six was assigned a place. It was fantastic. All the busses were lined up for blocks. And what was intriguing was to find, slowly, everybody in the bus was beginning to thaw. Up to that point they expected officialdom and all that—and they found that officialdom was as much on their side as anybody.
We took off and rode along one of the main streets through the slums and there were hundreds of people on the steps. Little old ladies, grandmas, skinny kids, tough-looking guys, nuns, everywhere we went they were sitting on the porches waving. Not the kind of waving that says, “Go give ‘em hell,” just with a strange, happy, “We’re glad you’re here, how are you.” Just unbelievable feeling all the way through, all out there on the steps and streets waving and everybody in the bus was waving.
We finally arrived at the place where we parked on a side street, and this was a strange moment. We’d stopped a couple of times at gas stations on the way down but when we got out, everybody was bent over stiff-legged and bent over sideways. The back of your neck was hurting and immediately about forty-five people had to go to the john. We walked around and somebody said, “Let’s go to that building over there.” It was a big, gray, official-looking building, and people started to go down the driveway that had big trucks and guys working there who were not connected with the demonstration.
The instant the people started to go down the drive the workers there escorted everybody in where they could get water: “You want any coffee?” They’re cheering you on. “Yeah, come on!” We went in and everybody got water. It was a very odd experience to have people really concerned about you! They really were worried: “Gee, do you want to sit down? How about some coffee.” They were just guys working at that building. “Hey, have some coffee.”
We walked out onto the street and went toward the area where we were going to assemble and march. But it was not at all the way I would have imagined a demonstration or any other kind of event would be run. You’re walking on the street and it was like you were suddenly with a million old friends. It was like a family reunion! A strange feeling, and there wasn’t one moment that was phony about it. I had people step on my foot and say, “Oh, for heaven’s sake, excuse me.” A man standing in front of me when there was a big thing going on said, “Can you see now?”
And one of the great moments was when we walked through a grove of trees and started walking along the street where I met a lot of old friends. And what really intrigued me was the number of people who didn’t come. I will not mention names. But I sure was amazed by the absence of many people who I’d heard do a lot of talking prior to this moment. They just weren’t there. And a lot of people who never said a word were there. You never can tell who the people are in any world—I don’t care what world it is—a football game, whether you are playing cards, or you need money—you sure can’t tell who it’s going to be who’s going to come across. Let me tell you that. Any old GI will tell you that story. That there are a lot of awfully tough commandos in basic training, there are a lot of guys who can go up those fences like mad, and there are a lot of men who can shout commands. It’s an interesting thing as to who comes across when the real stuff is flying in the air. Don’t think for a minute you know who it would be. You do not know. You don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know who your enemies are.
One more thing has to be pointed out. A man told me when we were walking, and he was a negro, by the way, and an old friend of mine. He said, “You know, I wish my cousin who lives in Paris could see this, could be part of this. He would never understand it though.” He said, “This is a purely American thing.” He said, “The headlines—you read a headline about another country—you don’t understand it, because you are not Vietnamese, you know. You just don’t know! You just don’t know what is happening in Belgium because you’re not Belgian. It’s very difficult to know and it is very difficult for a European to understand this. I’m sure it is.”
So we were walking along and thousands and thousands of white people and colored people are standing on the sidelines waving. Guys in offices are cheering and waving. Nobody reported on this! And I want to go on record saying that during the entire day, I did not hear one word that I could construe as being the kind of word that you would hear in demonstrations, I did not hear one moment that I could call a moment that gave me even one instant a feeling of imminent rabble-rousing or any of that stuff. There was just an amazing attitude towards everything. You know, I hate to use such words as “love.” These are ridiculous, meaningless words, but there was a feeling of humanity in the air, like we were all in something together. I’m sure there must have been some guys in the offices who felt the opposite way, and suddenly realized how idiotic they were.
We walked along through this crowd and everybody was standing there waving and so on. It wasn’t a parade—I’m sure it’s going to sound like a parade. Nobody was yelling “WORKERS, UNITE!” They were just sort of walking, the sun coming down, everyone cheering and waving. Also, there was a vague feeling of embarrassment in the air. Just a vague feeling like somebody has laid in a stock of all kinds of stuff he’s going to yell at his friend, he’s going to yell, he’s going to holler, and he gets there and it all goes out the window.
“The first wave of marchers arrives at the Lincoln Memorial.”
We got to the park where the Lincoln Memorial is. Incidentally, this trip once again affirms in my mind that one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in is Washington. It’s even prettier than it used to be when I went to school for a while there and used to spend weekends in Washington. It’s changed a great deal.
We were coming in and millions of people were gathering, and I don’t know how they can estimate the number of people who were there. There would be no way to estimate it. I have no idea how they came across estimates because busses were coming in from all directions, everywhere, and it was just like a great big cloud—it was about as difficult to tell how big a cloud is or how many drops are in this cloud. Just sort of a big thing, and as we walked through the push started to get rough. And up there on the Lincoln Memorial the crowd was gathered and we pushed down into the crowd. Each delegation, if you could call it that, had a little place where it was supposed to be. Of course it wasn’t there—that went out the window with the cloud.
Everybody trying to get in, walking with their little signs, and suddenly through the crowd was this tiny band of people coming with a little sign that said “MISSISSIPPI.” That was really a moment, I’ll tell you! That was a moment. They came all the way up on some crummy old bus. And everybody was hollering at them and talking and they were laughing and hollering. Incidentally, in that Mississippi group there were more than just a few white people. That should be pointed out. People were slapping them on the back as they walked through.
So they were there. Standing around there. In the middle of it all. This was the greatest crowd I’ve ever been in in my life. A much greater crowd than you’d ever see at a ballgame, which is supposed to be a fun thing. Much greater. Much different thing. You think you know about crowds, but you don’t know about them unless you’ve been in this one.
(More to come)