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JEAN SHEPHERD & BOB DYLAN

I’ve felt so strongly [without anything but circumstantial evidence], that Bob Dylan must have listened to Shepherd in the early 1960s  that I once made up a list of questions about it.

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, 

play a song for me

In the jingle jangle morning

I’ll come followin’ you.

What questions would I ask?

dylan as woody

Bobby, is That You, Woody?

Q: Mr. Dylan, sir, please, if I may, please. When did you start listening to Shep, please? Were you a Shepherd “night person”? Sir, please.

Q: How, please, did you find out about him, please?

Q: What about him got you interested in him, Mr. Dylan, sir?

Q: What were your thoughts about him then, and what do you think about him now?

Q: When did you stop listening to him and why did you stop?

dylan-i-cant-2

Yes You Can–Love it!

Dylan quoted from a talk he gave in 2015: 

“Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, ‘Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.’ Think about that the next time you are listening to a singer.”

[I intrude to amplify that by saying that Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra, without beautiful voices, convince me.]

Q: Are there any ways that you feel especially attuned to what Shepherd said and how he said it?

Q: Any specific ways you’ve thought/behaved/ created that you might feel have been influenced by his style?

Q: Any specific aspects of what he said that might have influenced your music/lyrics?

dylan-smiling

Nice Ta See Ya Smile, Bobby!

Q: He was very negative toward folk and rock–especially regarding you and Joan Baez–were you aware of that–did you care?

dylan-and-obama

The King and the President,

who says he’s a big Dylan fan.

Q: What about your feelings about Shep–then and now?

Q: What do you feel are Jean Shepherd’s best attributes?

dylan-writings

Keep on Rockin’

dylan-nobel-2

[Because Jean Shepherd in the 1960s demeaned both Bob Dylan and

Joan Baez, among others, I’ve often felt that not only did he dislike the

political protests they were part of, but that he did not objectively

listen to some of the better rock and other music of the time.

I wish I coulda talked to Shep and gotten him to listen carefully

to some good rock and to some fine Dylan,

and then gotten him to admit what he really felt.

I’d a started with “Mr. Tambourine Man,”

and worked up ta “Like a Rollin’ Stone.”]

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Early Shep Forensics

WHEREFORE ART THOU, EARLY SHEP?

Some familiar with my thinking about Jean Shepherd’s early radio work will remember some of my comments regarding his “overnight” New York broadcasts (January to mid-August, 1956). Lois Nettleton, Shep’s early “The Listener,” when she read those dates in my EYF! book,  couldn’t believe it only lasted that short a time! I put it all here together, with my familiar comments.

(Some of this info gotten from http://www.flicklives.com)

shep1952

Cincinnati and Philadelphia 1/30/1947-1/30/1954

Earliest reported broadcasts (no comments about earlier-than-this-Shep on the radio).

All that is available that I know of is a short snippit from the beginning of a Cincinnati show and his last two half-hours from Philadelphia. These two suggest that, as some have reported, his casual, improvised, and stream-of-consciousness style began and continued for some time during this period. That no recordings of the period have yet surfaced might well be because affordable recording equipment was not yet available to the general public.

young shep

New York WOR “overnights” 1/7/1956-8/13/1956

This is the period of listeners most appropriately referred to as “Night People,” and included late-night listeners such as jazz musicians, artists, Lois Nettleton, etc. A few people have reported listening during this period, but have no extensive memories. This period includes the I, Libertine hoax, the Sweetheart Soap commercial, and his reporting that he had been fired. A few people reportedly retain recordings from this important period, but none have come forward with any. Early tape machines readily available (but expensive) were then for sale and probably mostly bought by musicians wishing to record others and themselves. (My mother bought one to record her violin playing, so I began using it to record Shep as early as Sunday nights, September, 1956.)

(A well-known jazz musician/critic has not yet come forward with his recordings.) As I’ve done before, I implore people to come forth so that such early recordings are preserved–before those recordings are tossed in dumpsters by the Shep-enthusiasts’ heirs.

New York WOR Sundays 9:05-1:00 A.M. 9/9/1956-9/11/1960

From the few extant recordings of this period, Shep’s style might be assumed to be similar to his previous overnight style, though my guess is that the overnights (because of the late hours) may well have been even more laid-back, and he seemed to have played, during the Sunday nights, less extensive musical interludes.

1955-mm-dd_022_Into_Unknown_Front

“Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music”

I include this 1955 recording with its cuts of Shep intermixed with jazz music, because it represents early-Shep in a form probably similar to some of his earliest radio work.* It includes some of his references such as the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin.

  • *The musician/composer listed, Mitch Leigh, I believe, is the same one who went on to create the musical “Man of La Mancha.” (Attempts to contact him to discuss what he remembered about working with Shep on this early creation, failed. Now he’s dead.)

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

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

jean and lois c.1962

Jean Shepherd and Lois Nettleton

4.lois and sinatra dirty d

Frank Sinatra and Lois Nettleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A scrawled masterpiece by Marta Monteiro

BorderCover02_489

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

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

WHAT?

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

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

NYT book cover

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Eugene Bergmann,

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

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

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

ARTSY ARROWS0010

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JEAN SHEPHERD AND JOHN CAGE & ARTSY (3) Rose

john cage portrait

“Improvised” is a descriptive term we use for Shep’s radio broadcasts (The vast majority of them). The term may not be quite comprehensive enough to describe the works of John Cage, but there seems to have been an affinity that Cage had toward Shepherd’s work because  apparently he was an early listener to Shepherd when he was on overnight (1:00-5:30 from January to August, 1956).

In a 1971 radio interview for KRAB-FM in Seattle, upon hearing that a Cage program follows the interview, Shepherd comments:

I’ll tell you one thing you may be interested in—John Cage was one of the very first men who called me at WOR when I first came on the air in New York City. John Cage. And he called me up—and we talked a lot. One of my first listeners. And then he got the idea one night when we were talking on the phone–of the thing that he did at Carnegie Hall with all the radios? Well, that came out of him listening to my show. That thing he did with all the conglomerate radios up on the stage.

On one of his broadcasts, Shepherd commented that Cage was going to use a bit of his (Shep’s) live broadcasts in one of his upcoming compositions. This would appear to have been during Shepherd’s 1956 overnight period, as he remembers it in the interview.

According to an Internet source, Cage wrote “Imaginary Landscape No 4” for twelve radios in 1951—four years before Shep came to NYC.

Cage imaginary landscape 4 1951

The source says: “In the mid- to late-1950s Cage would write three more works for radio, namely Speech (1955), Radio Music (1956), and Music Walk (1958),… The source says that “Radio Music” was first performed on May 30, 1956 at the Carl Fisher Hall in New York City “with artists John Cage, Maro Ajemain, David Tudor, Grete Sultan and the four members of the Juillard String Quartet.” Thus, it seems likely that Shepherd refers to “Radio Music” performed (not at Carnegie Hall, but Carl Fisher Hall) on that May 30, 1956—just a few months after he began broadcasting overnight in NYC.

I’ve done some Internet research, but have not encountered an audio done during that performance. Maybe it exists out there?

With Shepherd’s considerable interest in all manner of sounds and the nature of unscripted performance (including his own talks and the nature of jazz), he is likely to have been curious about Cage’s means of working and the resulting audios.

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(3) ROSE, MUSEUM COORDINATOR AND ARTIST

Starting in 1967 when I began as an Exhibit Designer at the Museum of Natural History, and for many years, one of my coworkers was Rose, who coordinated information and general communications between me and curatorial departments for which I was designing exhibits—mostly the Invertebrate Hall and the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians. She was very good and efficient at her job, and at the same time a sweet, caring, and gregarious friend to everyone. We became good friends.

When one opened a communication from her (in pre-Internet and pre email days) one was often delighted to encounter her cartoony and witty illustrations dominating the page, which usually referred pointedly to—and enhanced– the memo’s content. [Be sure to click to enlarge.]
Artsy Rose mixed small

 

Artsy rose yellow Invert.

Some of her artworks were also full-page and larger. I collected all of her illustrated pieces she sent to me, and also those sent to others willing to hand them over. [The above two yellow memos are on yellow paper, but the yellow and other discoloring of backgrounds are due to age.]
Artsy rose.fullpage invertH

Artsy roseInvert list0006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although she was a bit embarrassed when someone such as myself showed off her work to others, one day, after I’d accumulated dozens of her pieces, and she seemed to be slowing down on her cartoon-work, I decided to do an exhibit of them. While she was out during a lunch hour, I pinned dozens of her works on the walls of the empty cubicle by which most of the employees would have to pass to get back to work. (That her anarchic wit filled a heretofore empty, sterile, and fascist cubicle, should be noted.)

Artsy rose exhibit

[Back then, these almost instant-photos were known as “Polaroids.”]

She was shocked (as well as pleased)

and insisted that I take them down.

Artsy rose.remove.low profile

Eventually I did.

I’ve collected her works in a scrapbook,

and larger ones in big envelopes.

ArtsyRose Christmas tree10009 ArtsyRose Christmas tree20009

As designer of the “Herp Hall,” I got invited too.

Rose enjoyed giving parties, and enjoyed decorating for Christmas!

I always encouraged her to do more and more stuff, but she’d tapered off and stopped despite entreaties from me and my exhibit of her work.

I maintained my collection even after I retired. I framed several of her stand-alone larger pieces. Allison and I mounted a couple of them on our stairwell. Here’s one below. It’s about 11″ X 18.” We see it nightly from our living room. [The imperfectly matched halves of the rooster  is caused by the two scans of these halves of a single sheet in the original, imperfectly joined by  technical glitch–either in my ability or in the blog’s obstinacy.]  
ArtsyRose rooster beak A0007 ArtsyRose rooster tail0006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wonder how she is now, and what she might be doing as joyous and creative as what she had done decades ago for the few brief years when she’d brought pleasure to the rest of us by combining her personality and efficient work with her spontaneous creativity.

ArtsyRose in chick mouth0003

Artsy roseWitchDr0009

ARTSY ARROWS0010

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Humor? Comedy? Part 1 of 2 & ARTSY (1) Leglamp

silly walk sequence

H U M O R,     C O M E D Y,     A N D     S           I          L          L          Y

Humor and comedy are often thought of as synonymous, but this is an unhappy confusion misapplied by most Toms, Dicks, Harrys, and even Websters.  My dictionary plays too loosy-goosy with the terms, and, in an act of ignorance or cowardice, describes Dorothy Parker and James Thurber merely as “writers,” but does describe Mark Twain and S. J. Perelman correctly as humorists.  Dotty Parker, well known for her fine and crude distinctions, is quoted as saying, “There’s a hell of a distance between wise-cracking and wit.  Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.”   In her introduction to The Most of S. J. Perelman, she comments, “Humor to me, Heaven help me, takes in many things.  There must be courage; there must be no awe.  There must be criticism, for humor, to my mind, is encapsulated in criticism.  There must be a disciplined eye and a wild mind.”  Laugh at calisthenics: laugh, be bemused, and think, because wit and humor work on your mind.

Jean Shepherd, critic with a disciplined eye, was a humorist (not a comedian).  He insisted on it.  Yet, he was witty enough to sometimes be silly:1960-08-31_022_secret-3

Knock, knock.

           “Who’s there?”

Kopfspielen.

(Shep’s performance, my dialog. Note that, as silly as the image seems,

the performance  is a virtuoso expression of knuckles-on-head.)

The distinction he made was the difference between those who told jokes, producing funny lines with great frequency, and those such as himself, who build up an amusing situation, a take on the human condition and what he called human foibles.  As these observations sometimes blindside us, we become a bit discombobbled, and, in retrospect, I hope, a bit wiser. Comical matter goes in one head and out the other (Thanks for this visual/mental image, Roger Price, a good friend of Shep’s).

[As I proofread this essay before posting it, I saw that I’d typo-ed: “Roger Price, a good friend of Sheep’s.” It should be: “Roger Price, a good friend of sheep.”]

in one head and....

For this book, Price’s price= $.100

(My mother and I laughed out loud lots while reading this book.)

Humor remains and sets us thinking about what we, as a human species, are all about. Humor amuses and leaves a persistent tickle in the mind.  (In his book’s commentary about George Ade, Shepherd wrote that, regarding one of Ade’s ironic  stories, “It is wise to note that the man who told the story obviously loved both of them.”)

Shepherd said that one difference is “the longevity of humor versus the short-time value of comedy.”  Comedy is, one way or another, sort of wise cracks that produce a laugh because of some surface turn; humor tends to suggest some inherent aspect of the human condition. Way back in the October 1960 issue of that subversive/funny/ significant, and therefore underground, periodical, The Realist, he commented that in comedy, the laugh was the end product, while with humor, “the laugh is the byproduct of what you’re doing.”  He seemed especially prone to make these distinctions in the late 1950s and early 1960s, probably because many of his peers were making it big nation-wide on television and with recordings by using their hip and astute cleverness in comedy routines that far outpaced, in popularity, his more contemplative style, which required time to build toward a more solid and long-lasting humorous effect.

seriously funny cover

“Speaking of serious comedy–

take my joke–please!”

Seriously Funny by Gerald Nachman covered much of the clever, modern comic field with chapters on: Mort Sahl; Sid Caesar; Tom Leher; Steve Allen; Stan Freberg; Ernie Kovacs; Lenny Bruce; Godfrey Cambridge; The Smothers Brothers; Mel Brooks; Dick Gregory; David Frye, Vaughn Meader, Will Jordan; Woody Allen; Bill Cosby; Phyllis Diller; Jonathan Winters; Jean Shepherd, Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding [Note that where there are commas separating names, those people share a chapter], Shelly Berman, Mike Nichols and Elaine May; Bob Newhart; Joan Rivers. Each chapter has an amusingly relevant title: the Shep/Elliot/Goulding one, relating to the medium of radio: “Out of Thin Air.”

Although not filled with rapid-fire jokes as were most of the comedians, a Shepherd creation often results not only in bemused nods of recognition, but in outright smiles and full-fledged belly laughs.  Besides which, as I noted in years past, those others and their cohorts decades ago lost their momentary–though highly deserved– stranglehold on our interest, while good ol’ Shep, with what must now be a self-satisfied smirk from the beyond, perseveres in widespread books, tapes, CDs, videos, a blog, and websites, as well as, more to the point, in the disposition and world view of those who take to their hearts and minds his “voice in the night.”

PART WON OF TOO. *

* “won” =”We persevered in the first of these fights,”

   “too”=”We hope to win Part 2 also.”

  [ Shep claimed he hated puns, but he produced a couple of corkers himself.]

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(1) LEGLAMP

“WE STAND SILENT AND IN AWE AT THE SHEER SHIMMERING, UNEXPECTED BEAUTY OF THE ‘MAJOR AWARD.’”

–Shep’s narration in A Christmas Story.

The honored, first Artsy Fartsy subject (See, this first one actually relates directly to Shep), comes from Shepherd’s first book of stories, IGWTAOPC, the story, “The Old Man’s Lascivious Special Award that Heralded the Birth of Pop Art.” The “old man” in Shep’s published tale entered a contest by a soda pop company: “The company trademark, seen everywhere, was a silk-stockinged lady’s leg, realistically flesh-colored, wearing a black spike-heeled slipper. The name of this pop was a play on words, involving the lady’s knee.”

Nehi legs

Many fans of Shepherd, and especially those who love his movie A Christmas Story, have their own full-size leg lamp replica that they put in the living room window every Christmas season.

I bought the smaller, $50 version. To my surprise, my wife–not a Shepherd fan but she loves the movie–suggested that we install it in the living room window all year round.

DSCN0556

She plugged the leg into a timer so that as daylight fades the lamp turns on,

giving our front window every night of the year the glow of electric sex.

*

“Artsy-fartsy individuals tend to be unemployed and enjoy finger-painting.”

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstance–& Road Not Taken (9)

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 .
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 .
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 .
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In EYF! I prominently designate the period from early 1956 to some time in 1960 as Shep’s

GREAT BURGEONING.

What follows is more delving into this thought. (Please be aware that I believe that Shepherd’s 45-minute shows from the early 1960s to his last show on April 1, 1977 contain many masterpieces, and are a major part of Shepherd’s claim to greatness. See my many  EYF! chapters–consisting of the majority of the book–in this regard.) Yet, the change from overnight shows (and the related and intermediate period of long Sunday night shows from 1956-1960) to the 45-minute shows most basically and most well-known of the 1960-1977 period, present interesting questions regarding  the road not taken.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

When he was fired during the summer of 1956

and would be rehired to begin in September, 1956,

what options did Jean Shepherd (and WOR) have?

what where

This in part must be seen without having the “overnight” programs available for study. (When will somebody, please, contribute some recordings of his overnight shows?) We can assume that to some extent, they were similar–but maybe more laid back than the Sunday night programs. Sunday nights, with the earlier hours–having only a small sample to go by–must be seen as an only partly known, transition between all-night and the 45-minute shows that dominate Shep’s best-known, final seventeen years of radio.

Recently I read a great and fascinating book about Robert Frost’s well known poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Yes, the book is titled The Road Not Taken; it is by David Orr; it is 172 pages; it consists entirely of why the poem has been misinterpreted by nearly all who have read it and who describe it erroneously. It’s a wonderful, easily understood book, described on the flyleaf: “Yet in spite of this extraordinary devotion, almost everyone gets ‘The Road Not Taken’ hopelessly wrong.” Why is this related to Jean Shepherd? Because it was in the summer of 1956 that Jean Shepherd faced a path in the woods and had to make a choice that would determine the future of his career, his art, and his life.

motivation.creativity

Is the poem, “a paean to triumphant self-assertion, in which an individual boldly chooses to live outside conformity? Or a biting commentary between self-deception, in which a person chooses between identical roads and yet later romanticizes the decision as life-altering?” The later is the surprising answer  regarding the poem.

For Shepherd, what was his thinking regarding why he chose to change from the late-night route to the earlier, and eventually, the shorter time period? In what ways did he imagine it as life-altering and better? Was he right? What did he gain? What did he lose? Did he then or later understand all the important consequences of his choice? Did he believe, in later years, that he had made the better choice? Did he tell himself, as does the poem’s speaker, that his choice had made all the difference?

work balance life

He certainly could not have told himself that he took the path less traveled by, because the path he chose led to easier and more popular hours, more exposure and bigger audiences, more sponsorship, wider work in more media. In certain ways, he became more popular. Is this what he wanted? Did he realize all the ramifications of this popularity?

There are quite a number of books on decision-making. In an op-ed essay in the August 25, 2015 New York Times, David Brooks’ column is titled “The Big Decisions.” He ends the column with: “It’s probably safer to ask ‘What do I admire?’ than ‘What do I want.'”

What more is there to it than that?

? ¿   OVERNIGHT   PROGRAM   VS.   ? ¿

Was he tired of the hours and preferred the easier lifestyle of more “normal” hours?

Did he think he’d get more listeners broadcasting during earlier hours?

Did he realize what kind of changes in the type of listeners he would get with earlier hours?

Did he realize that the more hip audience he’d had might not follow him into evening hours?

Did he realize how the earlier and shorter hours would force him to change the nature of his style and content?

Did he understand that earlier (and ultimately shorter) hours would change the nature of his laid-back improvisation?

Did he recognize (as Lois Nettleton said she and he both did) that the shorter, tighter format was in some way not quite as “unique” and pure “genius” as Lois felt?

Did he realize that he would not be able to pursue on the air the kind of jazz he preferred?

How much did the potential for more sponsors (more $) affect his decision?

Did his jealousy toward the celebrity/success of some of his contemporaries (Mort Sahl, etc.) contribute much to his decision?

.

WE DON’T KNOW

AND

PROBABLY NEVER WILL

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstance–& Road Not Taken (8)

Thinking about Shepherd’s important moments and decisions in his life.

How did he get to where he became.

Some repetition and a continuation to not really a conclusion

in enigmatic, unsatisfactory endings–that can only continue.

WHAT DOES ALL THAT MEAN!?

Why–was he happy with his choices–what might he otherwise have done?

This is a difficult area and one which I usually avoid, because it is to a large extent speculative, and based–inevitably–on incomplete/inaccurate information. But maybe by doing little more than listing some milestones, one might get some clues about the Jean Shepherd enigma.

shep at 6 closeup

Photo courtesy of

Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

I believe it of value to note and define, what to my mind are important points of Shep’s life and career. Some relate strongly to his creative world. Surely there will be some disagreements in this list. (It should be noted that, although years of publication are given, some of these activities/creations obviously were in progress at least in the previous year as he worked on the project.)

•   •  

1955

Moves to New York City, the center of the artistic/intellectual life he desired. It leads to almost all of his important creative achievements. At some early point in his life in NYC, he becomes involved with many of its artistic activities, including connections to: Greenwich Village and the Village Voice; relationship with Lois Nettleton; his reported introduction by Shel Silverstein to Leigh Brown.

leigh h.s.photo

•   •  

1956-1960

This is the period I describe as “The Great Burgeoning.” It includes what I can think of as crucial and innovative parts of his professional life: Overnight, improvised radio from January to August 1956; Village Voice connections; connections to the modern jazz world including emceeing important jazz concerts,  narrating Charles Mingus’ “The Clown,” and writing periodical columns on jazz; creating his I, Libertine book hoax; promoting John Cassavetes’ Shadows; editing and writing intro to his George Ade book. (From the front page of the Voice, the first image shows left to right: Shep, Lois Nettleton, Anne Bancroft.)

v,voice obie photo

the clown cover

libertine_cover

shadows title credit

•   •   

1966

Convinced (according to Hefner by Shel;  Lois said convinced by herself and other friends) to transcribe and edit his improvised stories and get them published (Playboy and in books).

IGWT cover

•   •  

1971

Creation of first season of the television series

Jean Shepherd’s America.

_JS_America_logo

•   •  

1983

Co-creation and narration of movie A Christmas Story.

ralphie glasses

•   •  

(1977?) 1984-1999

Moving to Florida. Shep had numerous times expressed that New York City was his true home because of its vitality, artistic ambiance–why did he move? Finances? Lessening of his intellectual interests? Other?

sanibel_house_006_02

•   •  

1985

Creation of second/final season of the television series

Jean Shepherd’s America.

usa flag of jsa

•   •  

1998

Leigh Brown, helpmate, supporter, and love of his life, dies.

leigh,shep 1977

•   •  •   •   •  •   •   •  

10/16/1999–into the future

Shep dies. Tributes and remembrances flow from many sources.

zippy.shep

•   •  •   •   •  •   •   •  

(As always, I’d appreciate any and all comments,

including additions, subtractions, corrections,

and further thoughts.)

KYKL bottle cover

Excelsior & seltzer bottle

More to come

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (6)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

“Just a philosophical question. I mean, who does who in–in life?

Or–and this is the worst question of all to ask–

do you do yourself in?

Aaaaa!

“Oh no, it can’t be! No, no, that’s ridiculous!

No, no! Society did it to me!

Rotten, crummy, evil society!” 

(Jean Shepherd, January 22, 1966)

THE TRAGEDY

The scheduled time slot (overnight) for which he was one-of-a-kind got changed to his style’s detriment (so say some of us–it was a different kind of genius).

The medium in which he was fully prepared and the outstanding genius, faded in that aspect in which it–and he–excelled.

The audience for which his original style excelled, changed and expanded into adolescent acolytes who overwhelmed him–positively with their adulation and overwhelmed him negatively by overcrowding him in his personal space (Remember that WOR had to hire a guard to keep them at bay).

The audience, for whom he was an important mentor, included his two children for whom he was an abominable parent.

Apparently, the pursuit of greater respect, renown, dough, and additional outlets for his art produced a broadening of his professional endeavors.

º

The extraordinary fields and activities in which he excelled, diminished in popularity:

º

Radio as a medium.

º

He was a modern jazz aficionado–

evidence of change:

“A few years ago I was deeply involved in jazz—and in fact in my private life I still am.  … I used to work in jazz a great deal.” He names many major performers he worked with and mentions the Loew’s Theater late-night concert featuring Billie Holiday. (November 23, 1971)

 He does not explain why his interest has diminished to just private–but not public manifestations; during this program of jazz-nostalgia he plays not just snippets but complete jazz recordings, naming the performers and commenting on the pieces, just like the knowledgeable disc jockey he used to be;

º

I, Libertine hoax mentality;

º

(Blame the  popularity of TV).

º

Culture-determined, diminished attention span of audience;

º

The varied skills he possessed to a high degree, failed to adequately replace, in other media,

his loss of  radio as  his prime medium.

º

Could/would he have continued to produce his unequaled radio art if increased money and desire for celebrity not been a factor?

º

That his frustration and anger at the world’s unfairness sometimes overwhelmed the better parts of his persona may well have been inevitable.

º

Larry Josephson: “I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive–to be on the air five or six nights a week and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being. You have to get up and concentrate the energy–drive, whatever–to be a performer. It narrows your ability to give warmth and love to kids, women, and friends….I’m sure here and there there’s somebody in the world who was a very great creative artist and also a nice person, but I can’t think of anyone.”

º

We’re all born butterflies. Each one of us. With these beautiful, magnificent wings ready to fly in the sunshine. For those slow barrel rolls and loops. And slowly, oh, ever so slowly we burn those wings off–in flame And we wind up where we are now. Me sitting here. You sitting there….It’s a funny thing. We loose our wings in the sneakiest way possible, and it’s when we least expect it’s about to happen. (Jean Shepherd, November 25, 1958 [?])

I mean, anyone who looks at life with a cold unprejudiced, agate eye of truth must realize that life is basically in extremely bad taste. (Jean Shepherd, date unknown)

We ought to have  a Dream Collection Day….As a kind of public recanting, you see….Everybody would have to do it together–all together, we’ll clean out all these broken, old, sad, poor, wonderful, idiotic, debilitating, defeating dreams. (Jean Shepherd, November 22, 1959)

[Note above how early in his NY career he said these things.]

Shepherd from time to time commented on the discrepancy in life between what we assume is reality to be expected and the actualities of life. Therein lies much irony. Should examples of this be called “humor”? In a reference I recently encountered, a Lois Rubin has been quoted:  “The great American joke” is “the incongruity between promise and reality, things as they should be and as they are.”  I find this discrepancy as commented upon several times by Shep, but I’m not quite sure he was sufficiently aware that it also applied to him. And I’m not so sure he’d describe this as humor. He expected much more, and this is a good part of his tragedy.

Close friends of theirs say that in their final years (In Sanibel, Florida) Leigh drank and both of them lived like recluses. I don’t even like to think of them that way–a way in which they seemed to have given up. Laurie Squires: “After Leigh died, I called, and he sounded like a broken man….”

1997 Shep christmas

A Reality, 1997.

º

classic shep image

For Me, the Reality Always.

º

We are not the “vast hordes” he once described us as being, yet–yet still

Jim-Gene-Lou

–we three here represent part of the small horde

of Shep enthusiasts.

And Jean Shepherd still speaks to all of us:

Hear it? Listen, listen–you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I have been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it. 

Did you hear that?

Oh yeah.

You know, it’s going to be summer soon.

Yes. Yes.*

–Jean Shepherd, 1960?

º    º   º   º   º

Obdurate Acts,

Extenuating Circumstances.

The End.

THE END–BUT WAIT! I RECENTLY ENCOUNTERED

WHAT WAS TO BE THE FINAL SUMMING UP

OF ONE OF MY “MISCELLANEOUS” SHEP BOOK MANUSCRIPTS.

OH YES, AND A RECENT BOOK

ABOUT A ROAD NOT TAKEN.

SO SEE THE NEXT POSTS–

A SUMMING UP OF ALL THESE LAST

TRAGEDY-LIKE COMMENTS.

See EYF! last page of text, p.439-440 for longer quote.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Peru Part 8

Sol and Lee Chamberlain and I were in our hut and we sat around this little lantern and we just didn’t know what to say about it.  These people were so overwhelmingly kind and beautiful to us.  No connection with the “noble savage” concept or you’re idea of hospitality.  You could see they were doing all their little things that they could do for us.

Music

jews harpkazoonose flutes

Modern American jews harp, kazoo, nose  flute.

I want to tell you this little story.  This is one of the truly great experiences of my life and I want you to accept it as that.  I’m just telling you what happened.  After supper I went over to my bag and I took out my jews harp, and they were all looking, smiling.  And two little girls about two or three years old had attached themselves to me and they were holding my arm and sort of petting it.  Just beautiful.  I’d look at them and they’d giggle, and they loved my beard—they’d reach up and pull it.  They loved to feel it, and they were laughing about it.  It turned out that the reason that they loved me was that Indians are beardless—no beards at all but their ancestor had beards.  Tariri said that the children laughed whenever I said anything because they said that “He is the first big monkey who talks.” I was like a big monkey to them.

I said, “Dori, call them all around,” and they stood there.  They didn’t know what was going to happen.  I said, “Tell them I will play for them.  This is an American folk instrument.  This is what the natives of America play.  I’m a native of America.  I’m not going to play a violin or an organ or sing a hymn, I’m going to play what the natives just like you play.  I’m also a native.”

I took the jews harp and I sat up on the table and I began to perform.  And there was a moment—the kids giggled and Tariri looked, and Arushpa looked.  I played You Are My Sunshine, and I finished it and they were astounded!  And I said, “Now I will sing the song for you.”  They were so enraptured by that, their eyes were shining.  And then I took my kazoo.  I said, “Now I will play another native American instrument.”  You couldn’t believe it, they loved it so!  And then I took out my nose flute and that threw them, because they play flutes.  The kids died—they were rolling on the floor and Tariri was yelling.  I played You Are My Sunshine, and Red River Valley.

shep peru tape deck

Shepherd holding jews harp. Luden’s Lee Chamberlain

holding microphone, tape player in front.

Sol Potempkin must have taken the photo.

I played about five songs and then Tariri says, “We want to sing,” and they all sang for me.  Arushpa came creeping out with his long bamboo flute and he played the very intricate music they play, and the other boy brought his out and they both played.  And I said, “Now I will play with you.  Let’s all sit in together on a session.”  Probably for the first time in the history of music there was a headhunter/Madison Avenue, flute-and-jews harp duet and we really swung.  I caught the beat of what he was doing—their music is pentatonic—a five-note scale, a very minor-sounding scale.  Well, they led and I followed with my jews harp and my nose flute and the three of us played and the crowd went out of its mind!

We stayed till three and four o’clock in the morning playing and singing and the translator had faded off into the darkness.  They’d never had anything like this in their lives before.  Many white men come to them and give them medicine, white men come and preach to them, white men come and study them, but no white man ever came to entertain them and be part of them.

More to come.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (5)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

Cultivation and Leveling of

A Great, Communicating Art Form

And then the chick said, “Who listens to radio anymore?”

The guy says, “I sat there for a while and drank some of my wine, and my wine wasn’t piquant anymore.” (Jean Shepherd, April, 1960.)

.

Nobody worth his salt is listening to the radio at this hour of the night, I can tell you that. And I can tell you this–nobody worth his salt is doing radio at this hour of the night.” (Jean Shepherd, August 22, 1964)

radio listening

 Radio–when it was the major communicator

to the great American public.

By the late 1950s, the attention paid to radio by the public and the advertisers declined drastically with the onset of rock and roll and television. That Shepherd’s rise, with his genius for the medium, could not sustain itself through the historical happenstance of TV and rock, was a cultural phenomenon beyond his control. For him, a tragic cultural decline in the media he’d mastered.

It’s sad that a whole art form grew to fruition and suddenly disappeared It would be as if somebody had invented painting and great painters had flourished for–oh, maybe twenty years and then everybody forgot about painting because everyone discovered ceramics…–because radio can do things that television and the movies and the stage can never do. It plays with the imagination and the mind [in a way] that I think no other medium can ever approach. Some great actors rose to become really fine artists in the field of radio back in the 1930s and early 1940s. And the whole–the whole canvas is gone now. (Jean Shepherd, July 9, 1960)

From emceeing important jazz concerts, he enjoyed the lesser artistic thrills of live shows such as the Limelight broadcasts, with the attendant young accolades elbowing for his attention.

His style and content on the radio was to be as open and descriptive of his life and ideas as possible. To be a mentor toward the thousands of youngsters who followed his every word. His overwhelming secret need, it seems, was to keep his private person as safe and as unknown as possible. He kept parts of his private life secret even from his close friends. From anything he might ever have said in person or on the airwaves, one would not have known that, as an adult, he ever had a girlfriend, any wives at all, and any children such as Adrian and Randall Shepherd. He definitely had such girlfriends as “The Vampire Lady,” Lois Nettleton, and Leigh Brown, and four wives: Barbara Mattoon Shepherd, Joan Warner Shepherd, Lois Nettleton Shepherd, and Leigh Brown Shepherd.

505_Shep_Family_1953

Despite the many instances and circumstances in which he was an important mentor to thousands, through his personal weaknesses he could sometimes be dismissive and cruel, and, deny the parenthood he had to Adrian and Randall (It is possible that, with his consistent denial of parenthood, the opening part of his last will was just a sad, inexplicable error.):

Shep will0002

Jean Shepherd was an original–a creator. It’s been said that Shepherd, in his career, copied himself a lot. True, but, in his defense, he created a tremendous amount of original material–and, when he chose, it was his to copy. What is of special concern is the contrast between the burgeoning of the late 1950s and his leveling off from then on, and the great loss of momentum in his last decade.

Some prefer Shepherd’s more honed stories published in print. From the early 1960s, he published 23 of his kid and army stories in Playboy, but these were not original written stories, they were his edited and augmented  stories originally improvised on the radio. I prefer his tellings on the air, with all his spoken abilities such as tone, volume, pauses, sound effects, and the shorter, more focused, spoken words. I commented on a Customer Review on Amazon.com’s page regarding my transcripts of Shep’s Army, in which the Reviewer writes that the printed stories are less readable when you take the content from tape: “Yes, there is definitely a difference between my edited transcriptions of Shep’s radio stories, and his previously published stories. For one thing, readers should be aware that (in my understanding of the matter), all of Shep’s published stories come from his stories broadcast on his shows–but he not only edited them for print, he augmented them with a fair amount of written content–he added to what he improvised on the air. One might then discuss whether Shepherd was a better improvising radio storyteller, or a better augmenting-writer-for-print. I, for one, prefer his creative improvisations–for me, this is his claim to uniqueness and immortality.” (And, truth is, I prefer my transcripts that remain truer to the improvised radio tales than I like the Shep-augmented stories that were printed. Note that my complete transcripts are not of any of his previously printed stories, which are copyrighted.)

As for his many curmugeonly complaints displayed in so many of his later published comical articles, I for one don’t find many of them funny.

Indeed, the fine and highly regarded 1983 movie of his, A Christmas Story, is an amalgam of his previous stories. And a movie is a collaborative effort. Mainly: the script by him, Leigh, and director Bob Clark, yet, the movie indeed, with his narration, is a high point of his later years–every time I watch it I laugh and tremendously enjoy it.

Compare the high level, high-ranging activities of the late 1950s “burgeoning” seen in the chart below (click on each part to enlarge) with the self-copying and more minor work from the 1960s onward. [I created this chart in 2002–to help me better visualize the over-all sweep of Shep’s creative works while working on Excelsior, You Fathead!–and also for the pure pleasure of seeing it in this form.] Remember that the stories, seeming a great burst of creativity in the second and third sections, plus the three long-form TV dramas (all collaborative works) are based on the radio originals. For me, his great accomplishment in his later works is the two-part (1971 and 1985), uneven and incomplete television series (If only he could have created another 100 or 200 episodes!), Jean Shepherd’s America:

JS career chart 1JS career chart 2JS career chart 3JS career chart 5

 

Stay tuned for Part 6

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