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JULY 26, 2016, JEAN SHEPHERD WOULD HAVE BEEN 95, AND SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I TURNED 78. I THINK WE’VE BOTH WAITED LONG ENOUGH.
I WAS THIS KID, SEE–
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES–
I WAS THIS KID, SEE
SHEP’S KID STORIES
or something sorta like that.
Happy birthday, Jean Parker Shepherd.
A continuation of my showing the various cover ideas I’ve had for my book manuscripts (mostly unpublished).
(colors way off)
Photo of kids courtesy of
Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
Transcriptions from Shep’s radio broadcasts of some of his kid stories. A grouping of never-before-in-print Shep kid stories from kindergarten through high school and the beginnings of college, similar in organisation to my SHEP’S ARMY book. Dare I say–short stories grouped into a chronology of growing up: could sorta be called Shepherd’s “kid novel.” [Try to ignore color distortion here, folks. Imagine light gray background with red type and photo frame. Also, try to ignore the elephant in the room.]
I believe that all of these works would be worthy additions to the
Shep library of related books.
The two miscellany books and the travel book
are now being cannibalized/folded
into what would become the selected, single SHEPQUEST book–
unless some publisher would like to publish one or
more as stand-alone books.
The kid stories book, and the army stories book are both fiction and I think of each as akin to a novel of maturation–a bildungsroman. The travel book I refer to as consisting of “narratives,” and I’m sure the material is virtually all true. (Except, I don’t really believe that Fatima, the slave girl he claimed to have acquired in an Arab marketplace, he actually had shipped to his New York apartment. Leigh Brown would not have tolerated that.)
It has also occurred to me that the army stories, the kid stories,
and the travel narratives, all consisting of my edited transcripts,
with my introductions, would make a great trilogy
of Shepherd’s broadcasts.
Below is an idea of mine for what they
would look like together as a boxed set.
Designed before the army and the kid books had cover ideas.
[Viewers are welcome to make comments on all of the above.
Publishers are welcome to make offers.
Dream on, little Genie!]
– eb –
(8) “Guernica” Colorization
Way back in the late 1980s, one evening I went to one of my favorite film theaters, the Quad Cinema on West 13th Street, Manhattan. In the lobby sat OBJETS VEND’ART BY VENDONA— an old ice cream vending machine vending artwork for $1.25. WOW! Art for a buck-and-a-quarter—what a fascinating idea. I inserted quarters until I had in my hand, several witty “artworks.”
I contacted the originator/proprietor, Ona Lindquist, and she invited me to her studio. One lunch hour a coworker and I visited and enjoyed meeting her and discussing Vendart. She invited me to submit an idea, which I did. She accepted it and I, with Allison’s help, made it up in the required 100 units:
THE GUERNICA COLORIZATION KIT
My idea combined my fascination with Picasso and his large, shades-of-gray masterpiece, “Guernica,” with what I considered the then-recent art-distorting commercial, money-grubbing technique of “colorizing” black and white films. Can you image a colorized version of Citizen Kane or The Birth of a Nation?
An idea filled with irony. Why not imagine “Guernica” in a colored version? For me, part of the nature of the mural done in monochrome is that, over the centuries, paintings of war/violence in all its horrific guises, have been done in horrific-iterations—so much so that we have, in part, become inured to the riot of colors—the whole horror has become a cliché. Why not eliminate that cliché and make people really pay attention—do it in shades of gray? In addition, textured parts of the painting imitate the all-pervasive popular communication medium of its day, the daily newspaper and its black-and-white photos. So, Picasso made a horrible act of war in black and white.
So then, let’s mock the idea of colorization by trivializing the color–creating my kit? (At that time, I was not aware of any previous thoughts of colorizing “Guernica.”)
My kit consists of a descriptive sheet, two black-line drawings of Guernica (from Picasso’s first full-size drawing on the canvas), a copy of an analysis by Rudolf Arnheim on Picasso’s use of black and white, three quality colored crayons, and, to hold them safely together, a plastic curtain-rod cover cut to 6″ enclosing the lot, all rubber-banded into a protective sandwich baggie.
Every kit contains different Crayola colors. (By the way, don’t ever buy cheap crayons—they do not have enough pigment to deliver acceptable color-to-paper.) I gave the hundred kits to Ona. They all sold.
The Vendona art-selling operation no longer exists except in the informative website about it that Ona Lindquist posted: http://objetsvendart.com
By the way, over the years I’ve come to think that, maybe the only movie ever made that I might be happy to have colorized, as it’s a sweet, kiddy, Christmas story, is Miracle on 34th Street. (Yes, I know it’s been colorized, and indeed—oh, the double horror!–subsequently remade in color.)
THE ONCE AND FUTURE SHEPBOOKS
As my educational and professional background has been in the commercial, visual arts (graphics and museum exhibit design), I enjoy trying my hand at book covers of manuscripts I’ve written.
When I submitted my first Shepherd book, I included, in a fully rendered, in-color layout, my suggestion for the front cover. The published cover is precisely what I created except that the iconic photo of Shep got cropped in the upper left-hand corner more than I’d designed and presented it. (The person in charge cropped a bit off Shepherd’s upraised hand, probably to make the image larger and thus a bit more impressive.) Other than that, colors, type style, layout, use of photo–everything about the cover is as I designed it. But I got no credit for it in the published book–or anywhere else:
(Published cover with cropped hand at upper left)
I’ve tried a variety of designs for other book manuscripts of mine. It’s lots of creative fun. What the heck, one or more may yet, with some improvements of my preliminaries designs made by a publisher’s cover designer, find itself out there on innumerable bookstore shelves from coast to coast!
REMEMBER THAT THESE BELOW ARE OF MANUSCRIPTS
THAT DON’T YET HAVE PUBLISHING CONTRACTS
[As usual, click on images for larger views. Where shown, narrow vertical area to left is spine.]
Mostly, these cover ideas were designed and printed on my now defunct special printer
before my SHEP’S ARMY book arrived on the scene
Compilation of unpublished observations and essays of mine written subsequent to the material in EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! It includes Lois Nettleton notes to me and an interview on Shep she gave soon after he died; Leigh Brown’s letters to her best friend on her scheme to kidnap Jean from Lois; and lots more stuff–on Shel Silverstein, Hugh Hefner, “Cowboy X,” and so on.
Contains additional original essays by me on Shep. Photo by Don Knowlton, drawing of the guy shown with the excelsior banner is from Shel Silverstein’s drawings on Shep’s LP album, “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles.” The above two books, publisherless, I have been cannibalizing for posts on this blog (which also includes much new material I create as I go along).
This loose leaf book I put together, composed of dozens of photos of Shep at all stages of his career. This was inspired by my comments in the final chapter of my EYF!, page 415-416 titled “The Many Faces of Jean Shepherd: A Metaphor?” I comment therein:
Complementing the many-sided and often self-contradictory aspects of Shepherd’s stories, biography, and persona were the many faces he presented to the world over the years. Examining photos may yield some clues to the real Jean Shepherd….
We do not know why he changed his look so frequently and so markedly over the years. He appeared to be at least a dozen different people. Was he responding to the style of the times (for his own pleasure or to better appeal to his audience); was he trying on visual aspects of his artistic persona to discover which outward manifestation might best fit the variety and complexity of the creative forces he felt within himself, was he trying to conceal himself from others–or was he himself seeking a real Jean Shepherd?
This is an idea I have of publishing a selection of my blog posts that would be made up of material from the above two miscellanies and the new material I’m writing these days. [BTW, For technical reasons beyond my understanding and control, some colors, shown on these cover images, got god-awful-changed in the computer-process. The one immediately above is a major example. In it, visualize a solid black background and bright red type,]
A book manuscript of edited broadcast transcripts of Shepherd’s travel narratives, organized and introduced by me, encompassing his love of traveling around the world. Including, among other areas: Maine, the “March on Washington,” travels with The Beatles (“John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Shep”), Australia, Africa, Ireland, Paris, Peru’s headhunter country in the Amazon, and his whirlwind trip around the world in seven days. Followers of this blog can read the entire manuscript in many parts.
Stay tuned for Part 2
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“You could be on New York radio for many years
and be widely unknown.” –Jean Shepherd
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Regarding Shep’s third book of short pieces, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, Shepherd’s main publisher, Doubleday, who had best sellers publishing his first two books of stories, rejected it. Leigh Brown had to go shopping it around until Dodd Mead bought it.
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Where were/are all the Fatheaded Jean Shepherd fans?
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(This is a desert.)
Lemme put it to you another way: the number of listeners Shep had during his live broadcast days has been given at many hundreds of thousands; the lowest figure I’ve ever come across is 60,000.
If there were only 60,000 of us in the 60s and 70s, where are they now—maybe 10,000 are dead; maybe 20,000 don’t pay attention and don’t know there are thousands of free and nearly free audios of Shep shows, three websites, one blog, several trade paperbacks of his stories and articles easily available, two books focused on his work, numerous books with significant references to him, and the Internet with numerous articles about him including Donald Fagan’s on “Slate” and Richard Corliss’s marvelous tribute on the Time Magazine site. And what about the hour Seinfeld talked about him at the Paley Center? Wake up, Shep enthusiasts!
THAT LEAVES AT LEAST
Shep listeners are not like other people–
They are enthusiasts–fanatics,
understanding from their first contact with him
that he is their intellectual soulmate, mentor!
WHERE ARE ALL THOSE FATHEADED JEAN SHEPHERD ENTHUSIASTS NOW?
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The only positive note I can come up with is that In God We Trust, his first book of kid stories, is now, according to its current colophon page, into its 46th trade paperback printing. Encountered recently in a book store. How the
xxxx did that happen?! See below–earlier (only 38th) printing ↓
Why hasn’t the Paley Center released on DVD the Shep-tribute hour as they have all those other programs (that are apparently very popular, but which I’ve never heard of)?
Don’t they care about promoting and disseminating
their fine Seinfeld tribute to Shep
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And why does the Facebook group, with its bold and straightforward name “I’m a Fan of Jean Shepherd,” have less than 700 members instead of tens-of-thousands? And why does only a small handful of those few hundreds ever post on the group? Two of those maybe-a–dozen who post (Max S. and Gene B.) mostly promote their basic Shep-work from elsewhere for anyone who might care.
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Why has the only book about his career (my Excelsior, You Fathead!) in ten years not quite sold 8,000 copies yet? Where are the other 22,000+ Shep enthusiasts? (I recently encountered that on amazon.com, EYF! and S’s A each have about 43 mostly very enthusiastic Customer Reviews.)
Why doesn’t some theatrical producer, or influential Shep-enthusiast, grab my play about Shep? Kevin Spacey, where are you?
Why did my current publisher inform me last year that, after a year on the market, my Shep’s Army book had yet to sell 2,000 copies?
Because of those less-than-2,000 copies, my publisher doesn’t want Shep’s travel-story manuscript, which is why I’m posting the chapters on this blog. And my publisher has even failed to respond to my other manuscript of Shepherd material that’s sure-to-be-a-hit-if-people-pay-attention.
“Get an agent!” Tried that–and no agent is interested even in books with somewhat of a built-in audience. Way back, looking for a publisher for EYF! I chose a dozen agents that seemed likely prospects and sent them query letters with SASEs. I received back 5 no thanks, 4 lots-a-luck but no thanks, and 3 no response. An agent’s commission even on my EYF! would have been under $3,000 so far–is that piddle worth any agent’s time? (And, in recent decades, most publishers won’t even look at a book that isn’t submitted by an agent.) I do not have an agent–not because I haven’t tried.
“Self-publish!” Got any idea how much that costs? Any idea of the non-creative drudgery that involves? What about promotion? Of course I’d broadcast to the email group and the Facebook group and my blog, and I’m sure that flicklives.com would promote it, but, based on previous experience, would that sell enough even to get an agent’s attention? What about distribution? Without having to spend thousands on a small ad somewhere, how would anyone find out about it?
Why don’t I start sending out that sure-hit manuscript to more publishers and more agents? Because I’ve spent over 45-years struggling to get my varied manuscripts accepted and I’m tired of that struggle—it’s a hassle and mostly a time-waster. (“Had we but world enough and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime.”) I’ve experienced many of the aggravating but inevitable snags on the route to publication. The least of which is having to wait–hanging by my thumbs–at least 3 months for a reply for each submission. Should I get an offer out-of-the-blue, yes, I’ll take it. Then I’ll do my very best in the pre-publication process–even though knowing through previous experiences that I’ll have to struggle and spend my precious time going through those grueling pre-publication frustrations and compromises endemic between contract and publication day–yet, it would be worth it all! And I ain’t in it for the nickels and dimes.
• Gene B. and Max Schmid at Old Time Radio convention.
• 70 people at a CT library to attend my discussion of EYF!
• Only TV interview: SHEP’S ARMY.
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And, speaking of my blog, why has it taken several years to even build up what I estimate to be only about 100 readers per post? My site statistics indicate that recently I’ve just achieved 110 “followers,” whatever that means. And why do so few of those 100-or-so people think to comment about Shepherd at the site?
And talking about posting my Shep’s travel manuscript on the blog, I’ll remind you—and myself—that a fair portion of the posts of mine on varied non-travel Shep subjects I’ve cannibalized from my other two unpublished book manuscripts of miscellaneous (and wonderful!) content about Shep.
So—where does that leave me? Am I discouraged?
But I carry on with my Excelsior banner held aloft.
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This current post is the last of this series of “Manifestos.” The following story was scheduled for near the end of the Keep Your Knees Loose book manuscript. Does eveyrbody like green icing?
* * * *
A STORY IN KYKL I’VE BEEN SAVING TILL THE END OF ITS MANUSCRIPT
(The sweet green icing flowing down)
A couple of years before Shep died, a number of us Shepherd cuckoos contacted his childhood friends Flick, Dawn Strickland, and Wanda Hickey, and we all made regular pilgrimages to his home, maintaining contact with him despite our shyness and his justified grumpiness. It helped if we could get songwriters Jimmy Webb and Gene Raskin, and Chicago White Sox first baseman “Banana Nose” Zeke Bonura, to tag along. I’ll never forget those times we spent with Shep in his later years on Sanibel Island, when the temperature on those cool winter evenings had plummeted to 130 degrees above zero (centigrade), and the crappies were jumpin’ out of the swirling steam. Just as when listening to his nightly radio broadcasts, we thought those times would go on forever.
Ol’ Shep sometimes entertained guests by serving us highballs of meatloaf and red cabbage, if he could find the recipe. (I’m telling the truth! I’m not exaggerating!)
He would tell stories that inevitably began, “I was this kid on the north side of Juneau, see….” Then he’d go on to relate how, “With both hands tied behind my back [Laughs.] I’d wrestle alligators.” He referred to these anecdotes as his “Crock Tails.” If one of his old radio engineers was present at the gathering, he’d fix the guy with narrowing eyes, grab a 6SJ7GT mike and, daring him to cut him off, add, “Or I call these my Tales of Crocks of…” and let the unuttered word hang in the air like the stench of an abandoned latrine.
Inevitably he’d take us to his ham radio room [“shack”], where he’d have us listen while he tapped out some Morse code, and then, on what he called his “Victrola,” he’d carefully put on LPs, one by one, and scat along to “Boodle-Am Shake” and “The Bear Missed the Train.” He could often be persuaded to get out his jew’s harp and, with his inimitable way with a tune, but straining it a bit, he would render “Escargot” to the consistency of consommé.
It is said that he retained within a crystal case, on the rump-sprung remnant of a red chenille bathrobe, a fragment of broken table lamp in the shape of a woman’s well-turned leg. This is one of those Shep-myths it’s my duty to expunge from the record—the remaining shard is more likely part of a slender calf, or a hunk of inner thigh.
He would occasionally clear his throat—”HARUMPH!”—and could be heard to mutter, “What a gallimaufry! Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.” Finally, he would haul out an old wooden crate with a label, tattered and torn, that read, MADE WITH PRIDE IN HOHMAN, INDIANA. Within, he had a preserved, well-worn knee-handle, nestled on a bed of purest excelsior (you fathead!).
During those days and nights it seemed as though it was always raining. Maybe that’s why ball-bumbling Banana-Nose Bonura would drop another easy pop fly and Jimmy, nowhere near MacArthur Park, in his stripp-ed pair of pants, would go bounding out into the downpour screaming that he’d “never have that recipe again.” Yes, the recipe died with Shepherd. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d have our Shep forever and a day. But Jimmy (“MacArthur Park”), nostalgic songwriter Gene Raskin (“Those Were the Days”), and steadfast writer Gene Bergmann (“Excelsior, You Fathead!”) were wrong–he’s alive. Fortunately, Shep had baked us thousands of recorded broadcast cookies to savor, whether on our brightest, sunshiny days, or during a deluge.
* * * *
Thank you, cousin Raymond B. Anderson, for content and editorial advice on this entire project, leading to what I believe is a better book. Thank you to my friend Margaret Cooper, for her eagle eye and sharp mind not only for editorial corrections, in what might have appeared to be only gentle nudges and minor suggestions, but which were important comments resulting in a much stronger result.
Of course Jim Clavin’s www.flicklives.com continues to be the best source of Shepherd information. Members of the email shepgroup sometimes post new Shep-related news and respond to my queries, for which I’m grateful. Contacts from people who were aware of EYF! and my own detective work led to much new material, and I must also thank my able research assistant, Serendipity—hugs and kisses, doll.
Several people have provided powerful jolts of important revelations for our knowledge of Jean Shepherd. I thank Lois Nettleton, actress and third wife of Shepherd, for her enthusiasm for my first Shepherd book and her offer to invite me to visit her when she returned to the New York apartment she’d shared with Shepherd. She carefully read the book and wrote extensive notes—notes that provided much fascinating information about her and Jean’s personal and professional life, all of which contributed greatly to Keep Your Knees Loose! Thank you to director and producer John Bowab, Lois’s long-time close friend and her executor, who gave me two hours of his time in her New York apartment, and who rescued her notes from probably inaccessible university archives and generously gave them to me. Thank you, Doug McIntyre, for providing me with a copy of Lois’s year 2000 interview with him. Thank you Barbara Tiedermann Simerlein for the background information regarding Leigh Brown’s early years and for providing many letters from Leigh to her, written during Leigh’s early contacts with Jean. Thank you Tom Lipscomb for providing much important commentary regarding his friendship with Jean and Leigh. Thank you, Shepherd fan Mark Snider for providing contact with his brother, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and thank you, Dee Snider, for the great discussion and interview. Thank you also, Dee, for your cool blurb for my Shep’s Army book.
Thank you, Nadine Metta Bordogna and Charles Bordogna for alerting me to the Jerry Seinfeld comment about Shepherd on Seinfeld, Season 6 DVD set —I use the quote at every opportunity—and thank you, Jerry Seinfeld, for saying it.
Thank you Jeanne Keyes Youngson (“The Vampire Lady”) for telling me about your friendship with Shep and his early New York radio days. Thank you, Joyce Brabner for attempts to locate Jeanne’s misplaced and long-gone box of tapes from Shep’s overnight broadcasts. Many will recognize that Joyce was co-creator of some of Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” graphic novels and that her essay on I, Libertine remains available on the Internet. I discuss in my graphic novel reproduced in my early blog posts, her help on that project.
Thank you, film director Raul daSilva for providing me with a copy of the heretofore undiscovered 1973 half-hour film, No Whistles, Bells or Bedlam, narrated by Shepherd (one gets to see him a bit, too!). Thank you Robert Blaszkiewicz, for permitting me to quote from your column about the JSMIGWTAOPC Tollway (described in an earlier post). Marc Spector, an associate producer at WOR in 1975 contacted me with his observations regarding Shep’s later period at WOR Radio. Thanks to Bill Myers for helping to expand on the meager information regarding Shepherd’s Cincinnati radio days. Thank you, Murray Tinkleman for alerting me to Shepherd’s commentaries in the 1987 PBS program “Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait.” Thank you George Irwin for providing a video portion of the TV panel show “I’ve Got a Secret” showing Shep musically thumping his head.
When’s the last time you saw Shep with a jacket,
white shirt and tie–and a crew cut?
THIS POST OF THIS GROUP OF COMMENTS CONTAINS
A LISTING OF THE PROPOSED CONTENTS OF
KEEP YOUR KNEES LOOSE
WITH A SHORT DESCRIPTION OF PARTS
(WHICH, SOME WILL RECOGNIZE, FOLLOWS THE FORMAT OF MY FIRST BOOK
AND INCLUDES SOME MATERIAL ALREADY USED IN POSTS)
AN ANNOTATED CHRONOLOGY
For all the descriptive material out there discussing the work of Jean Shepherd—for example, the Wikipedia article before I had a chance to correct it— other than a similar chronology found on www.flicklives.com, this is the first attempt that I know of to cobble together a reasonable overview of ol’ Shep that, in a few pages, gives a sense of what he did with his life and career. Ah, cohesive brevity! (THIS WAS PREVIOUSLY POSTED.)
ASPIRATIONS: Quest Toward a Book.
Which treats of the writer’s prototypical, yet singular, struggles to become that wondrous thing—a published author.
FEATS OF DARING-DO: Quest Toward Fame and Fortune.
Which treats of the author’s schemes and adventures in the world of publishing. We meet the dramatis personae of our glorious quest.
We discover further foibles in the life of Jean Parker Shepherd.
Part I: Formative Years
The famed storyteller reveals the true story of his attitude toward his kid stories. An Army story—we track down his secret World War II radar location and discover why it matters. A lesson in art. More tadpole days.
Part II: Heritage and Endowment
We encounter a mere dollop of trivia here.
Part III: The Great Burgeoning Great Happenings!
A. More “night people,” jazz, and hip connections. Shel Silverstein and Jean Shepherd—joined at the hip. And the Vampire Lady Story.
B. Lois Nettleton—Her Shep Story Lois Nettleton, actress, “The Listener,” and wife, tells (almost) all. (Much of this appeared recently in posts.)
C. The Leigh Brown Gossip Story A heart-tugging tale in her own words. The hippie chick from New Jersey arrives on the scene and prepares for a major assault on our not-so-innocent Libertine. (Much of this appeared recently in posts.)
D. Oh, Dusty, Holy Grail! I quest, therefore I am.
Part IV: Tools in Hand
Surrounded by sounds and furies: “Ahhhs;” “Head Thumps;” search for Beatles in a haystack; a crescendo; and an ersatz Latin—“Ip extra-curricular feep;” followed by the kind of puzzle Shepherd engaged in daily. (HERE’S THE CROSSWORD PUZZLE WITH ALL THE SHEP REFERENCES!):
Part V: Encounters and Contentions
Delving into philosophy, this episode concludes with a disastrous fish tale. (Fish-hook in ear!)
Part VI: Refinements and Conversions
In hot pursuit of the written word, Norman Mailer, and Garrison Keillor. An outrageous assertion, involvement with The Syndicate, and at long last revealed—the true meaning of Jean Shepherd’s not-so-silly concoction, “Cowboy X,” done for Sesame Street. (See “Cowboy X” post.)
Part VII: Summing Up to a Boodle-Am Shake
More sad endings and that confounded movie A Christmas Story again! Plus me and Shep forever.
Part VIII: Holy Grails
Oh!, quests, where are thy grails?
PART IX: A Doozy of a Story
Shep, is that really you? (The fake interview.)
APPENDIX : Excelsior!: A Play About Jean Shepherd
Free ticket to an exhilaratingly dramatic encounter with momentous events. (See previous posts for this entire play of mine.)
APPENDAGE: Story as the Tape Runs Out
Unexpected family fun. (This is the tale of my parents recording Shep and their little joke on me.)
This Part includes more front matter from my unpublished
Keep Your Knees Loose, as well as additional stuff.
Because so many describe my Excelsior, You Fathead! as a “biography,” I thought it might serve to include near the front of Keep Your Knees Loose, a notice setting the record straight (as though that might do some good):
There! That gets that off my mind! HA!!
What follows are a version of a Preface and, probably in forthcoming Part 4, short titles/descriptions of the proposed chapters of KYKL! As I’ve mentioned, some of this material has already been cannibalized from the manuscript and used for this blog. “Cannibalized” is such a horrific word–let’s just say I’ve served it in a civilized manner and cooked it up with a bit of extra seasoning after seeking it out in the fertile soil of the manuscript in which it grew, and then tearing the living matter out by its roots.
Gentle reader, I’d like to relate to you my adventures in a Shepherd-world of both reality and illusion (one may observe here rogues and heroes, whores and heroines, beggars, and noble primitives neither better nor worse than you or I in the vast heart and mind of American culture), adventures told by this scribbling picaro. Hark back to that knight-errant Don Quixote, as you think of me, a modern, though less-saintly adventurer. I unsheathe and raise on high my rusty falchion (a quaint word for sword used by none other than our own Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his immortal ditty, “Excelsior”). Seeking glory and the incorporeal embrace of my Muse, the lusty slattern of my dreams whom fatheads might call Dulcinea del Toboso, I, on my wobbly nag, galumph headlong in all directions.
In a certain town on Long Island, New York, which I do not wish to name (but it may slip out), there lives this scribbler—one of those who always has a lance and a ballpoint pen in the rack, a battered shield and serviceable computer on his desk, and an obsession with literature and the creative life. Only a few years past, this muddleheaded gent managed to publish a book whose title exclaimed, with its very first word, “Excelsior,” his own reckless optimism. Despite trying to make that first book as complete as possible, he knew that many details about Jean Shepherd’s life and work were hidden in dusty minds and forgetful attics throughout the land, just waiting to be made manifest, in part after being nudged into consciousness by Don Quixote de la Massapequa.
My original intention for KYKL! was merely to describe the new material that had accrued both through happenstance and by my ferreting it out. The material would be a permanent part of the recorded history of our culture. But my best friend and severest critic complained: “This book could and should be more. Write a book about your fascinating adventures in the world of Shepherd and Shep-kooks! What’s it like to live in a world surrounded by Shepherd mania? Have fun with it or it’s not worth doing.” Yes, I must have fun and create a work of art— nothing-but-the-truth picaresque adventures through the land of Shepherdiana.
(Remember that quests for grail tend to be never-ending and that
“the journey is the destination.”
That’s why unexpected encounters, such as mine in ShepQuests
can be so appropriate and enjoyable.)
EXAMPLE OF THE UNEXPECTED
Unexpected: my unexpected hearing of Shep’s story about the film “Play ‘Misty’ For Me” and claiming that he’d been stalked, leading to six deaths. I kinda believed this despite my general attitude that Shep’s stories were almost all fiction. I posted several essays on Shep and the film. Tom Lipscomb, who’d known Leigh and Jean well and been their editor and publisher, and whose intelligence and perception I admire, comments:
I’ve heard them ALL, and Shep and OTHER authors tell these stories when they are trying to impress someone they are doing business with like ME and he had plenty of opportunities… and he repeated them… He told me about what a s[**]t Herb Gardner was “stealing” 1000 Clowns about 1000 times AND I NEVER HEARD THIS ONE…. Shep acutely felt that he needed to drop names when he was feeling unimportant…. Otherwise he didn’t. He was filled with resentment at times about people he felt were more important than they deserved to be when he hadn’t broken out yet.
I don’t believe the story.
The key is that he NEVER wrote it down. Don’t you think he pushed Leigh to push that story a Zillion times….? And it never appeared… Tells me Leigh didn’t believe it either and was able to keep Shep from pushing it and embarrassing himself. But once he is on the air, there isn’t a damned thing she can do about it.
Oh me, oh my!
They’re slippery, inseparable maneuvers.
Who can pry ’em apart?
Back to KYKL in Part 4
JEAN SHEPHERD—would he praise or damn?
[An all-for-the-fun-of-it photo
I had taken in 2004–at the same time
as my “author photo” for EYF!
I’ve spent a good part of my waking hours for the last 13 years thinking and writing about Jean Shepherd. When my EYF! was published in 2005, I was asked by an interviewer whether I thought Shepherd would have damned or praised me for what I’ve written. My answer is both (I’d hope).
Just as his third wife Lois Nettleton thanked me profusely for having written that first book in praise of Shep and all he’d created, I think Shep would have been happy to see some sort of book published about him—books, you’ll remember, were extremely important to him since he’d been a grammar school kid, even before he’d first gone to a library. So I believe that Shepherd would have been happy to find that so much of his work in all media, objectively described, would have a relatively permanent place in the printed word.
Of course my written and spoken words about him consist of more than objective description—there’s subjective description, interpretation, appreciation. Besides all that, regarding his personal life, there’s a bit of description and a tad of suggested interpretation.
Of course, there’s the times I put words in his mouth: my play, Excelsior! and my fake interview of him in the blog. But I make clear that I’m—in the field of artistic interpretation and playing around—giving my own view of what his thoughts might be.
Despite my focus on his creative works, I do devote a bit of time to his treatment of his kids, his damning of radio, his unpleasant treatment of others: engineers, wives, children, fans, etc. He would intensely dislike much of the plain descriptive nature of putting parts of his life in print for the world to see. But there is a certain logic to this in my mind as his very personal style of radio persona—telling of himself and his ideas—lends one to examine to what degree these represent a truth to his life as he himself suggested.
LET’S ADMIT IT–HE’D HAVE HATED LOTS OF IT!
There’s my questioning and musing on some parts of his enigmatic nature. For example my educated guess/interpretation of what I believe his motto “Excelsior” is all about. Joel Baumwoll and I have had some interesting interchanges about ways his life and art regarding “Excelsior,” as well as about other matters. Sometimes there is not quite an obvious answer.
[Two of my designs for potential covers]
KEEP YOUR KNEES LOOSE!
EUGENE B. BERGMANN
This book is dedicated to my wife, Allison, and our sons, Evan and Drew,
for their boundless forbearance during my work on the book.
And to the memory of two women who were so important to the life and legacy of Jean Shepherd,
Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown.
I’ll give you a word of advice. I’m beginning to produce a small booklet in my mind called, just simply, Keep Your Knees Loose! The Education of a Twentieth-century Man. —Jean Shepherd, humorist
Keep your knees loose. If you lock your knees, you will eventually faint and fall over.—Online advice for proper posture while singing.
I really want him to be recognized for what he was—a brilliant genius. The wonderful, wonderful unique—the wonderful thing that he was. —Lois Nettleton, actress, wife (1960-1967)
Knowing ANYONE is hard enough, but Jean is an unusually complex man, and his needs go much deeper than the average non-aware clown. I do not know if I can give him anything of value.—Leigh Brown, lover, producer, wife (1962-1998)
He really formed my entire comedic sensibility—I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd. —Jerry Seinfeld, comedian
I wonder how many kids are young Jean Shepherds running around out there. [Laughs.] I’m serious. They’ve got a jews harp in one pocket, a kazoo in the other, and a smart remark on their mouth. And a fat eye. —Jean Shepherd (July 27, 1965 broadcast)
You are Shep stuff as are we all. Do not fight your Shepness but rejoice in your Shepittity. —P. T. Bartman, Shep fan
MY BLOOD DANCED IN ME
…and never yet
Had heaven appeared so blue, nor earth so green,
For all my blood danced in me, and I knew
That I should light upon the Holy Grail.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, from Idylls of the King, (1869)
The author beseeches all those potentially munificent fatheads who harbor miscellaneous Jean Shepherd holy grails to come forth with them now before their ignorant heirs toss them in a dumpster.
Some parts of the Keep Your Knees Loose manuscript have already appeared
in this blog. As I don’t expect those two manuscripts to be published in
anything like their current form, it should be understood
that the blogs are an overview plus much
new material of post-Excelsior, You Fathead! subjects
that have kept me busy (and off the streets) in recent years.
I believe that all this material extends our
understanding and appreciation of Jean Shepherd’s life and art.
(on AM and FM on your dial)
Oh, Eugene, as you have so much material on Shep, and so many topics to discuss that you can go on every third day for well over a year, why haven’t you gathered all these loose ends and tight middles accumulated after your EYF! and published them as a book themselves, rather than delivering them here willy-nilly ?
You may well ask. Why not indeed?
Whereas I have gone through decades of hassle trying to bring my book manuscripts to publication—including two Shepherd books eventually published after too much blood, sweat, aggravation, and miscellaneous etceteras;
Whereas I have several additional Jean Shepherd book manuscripts ready to go, which have already been rejected by several publishers, and without the desire to spend much of my remaining years full of frustration in case of non-publication, and stress in the event of more satisfactory possibilities;
Whereas I believe that the material in these manuscripts is of historical value regarding the work of Jean Shepherd;
Whereas, nevertheless, I would agree to publishing contracts should they drop from the sky into my lap;
I could no longer abide that situation and I chose to do the following:
Whereas regarding my two book manuscripts of miscellaneous follow-up material gathered after my EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! went to press and sold better than its publisher had expected, in part I have been cannibalizing them for my blog. I’m happy to say that the majority of the material incorporated into this blog has been newly minted rather than cannibalized, created as I’ve been blogging in the last 15 months. [Isn’t “blog” a ridiculous, awful word?!]
Despite all of the above, yet I still carry that idealistic EXCELSIOR banner upward into the blizzard of the commercial publishing world.
So far I’ve been pleased with what I’ve managed to do in the blog and I’ve been gratified at the responses from others.
→NOTICE: BESIDES THE 2 BEING CANNIBALIZED,
I HAVE 2 ADDITIONAL SHEPHERD MANUSCRIPTS
(not being cannibalized) AT MY PUBLISHER
WAITING FOR THE WORD!←
→Gene Bergmann, you Fathead, onward and upward I say!←