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My Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd was published over ten years ago (!) and I’ve been gratified by the vast majority of very positive reviews from the general public and from the media.
SOME POSITIVE COMMENTS
Very laudatory reviews and comments have come from the Associated Press; Talkers Magazine–the publication of the talk radio industry (“This is a very important book because it is one of the few thoughtfully researched volumes written about a radio star–ever….Get the book….”); Lois Nettleton; Dee Snider; Walter Sabo–CEO of a communications consultant firm (“This book captures the spirit and genius of his work….This is a great book.”);
Broadcasters and print contributors who have interviewed me and/or have just read and critiqued the book were also kind; as are most of the http://www.amazon.com Customer Reviewers:
Meticulously researched, this was obviously a labor of love for the Author. Absolutely the most fascinating biography I’ve read in years.
Doug McIntyre, who began and gave up on a Shep biography, and who is a bi-coastal radio broadcaster of his own shows, as well as a video documentary-maker, commented on his Customer Review titled: A FIRST RATE ANALYSIS OF RADIO’S GREAT GENIUS:
“Shep’s life is nearly impossible to capture in a linear biography. He told so many versions of events it really is a work of forensics to piece it all together, however. Bergmann did a wonderful job of presenting Jean’s art in its proper context, including important observations about the influence of Jazz on Shep’s art. (Radio is inherently a Jazz medium) As a writer who tried and failed to write a biography of Jean Shepherd I know exactly how hard this project was and applaud Eugene Bergmann and thank him from the bottom of my heart.”
Doug has also commented that the form of the book, by design or fortunate happenstance, seems inspired by Shepherd’s own, apparently non-linear organization that overall ties together neatly. [ I may have his wording here a bit askew, but I think that’s the jist of it. eb]
SOME NEGATIVE COMMENTS
“Someday Shep will get a biography worthy of his genius, but this one is a godawful mess. The writing is genuinely awful, with all the personality of a washing machine’s instruction booklet.” [Oh well! –eb]
“A lot of good information about the life of Jean Shepherd was left out. Many details of his life were either missed or overlooked. I would hardly call it a biography.” [I commented: Good–I don’t call it a biography either! Despite what my publisher and many others say, see the book itself, page 14, where I say it documents and describes what he produced, and it is an appreciation and analysis of what he accomplished.
I responded to another Customer Review comment: “How was Excelsior, You Fathead! organized and why? Two major ideas govern the form of the book. Most importantly it’s a document and exploration of Shepherd’s radio and other creative work. Secondly it deals with those biographical materials that give some sense of his life in its relation to his creations. The book has a chronological framework, with thematic chapters interspersed where they help our understanding of what he did and how he did it. I would hope that the concluding paragraph of each chapter, and the comment at the beginning of each of the book’s parts, help the reader understand the logic of the book’s format.”
With that in mind, here’s how I organized the book, by section:
ACCOLADES FOR JEAN SHEPHERD
In case you aren’t aware, dear reader, what a major figure Shepherd is in 20th century American consciousness, read this–it’s put right up front where you can’t ignore it! Who was that guy Jean Shepherd, you ask? Never heard of him! Here’s what a lot of important-type people think of him–so there! Sort of surprises you to see all those people there giving tribute, doesn’t it? And that was before the ultimate accolade: Seinfeld delivered it too late to include in EYF!
INTRO TO SHEPHERD
A general intro to Shepherd in a couple of short chapters to give a sense of his quirky nature, initiating the unknowing and reminding all-knowing enthusiasts. As he effectively seemed to speak to each listener individuall , I indicate how I, too (as I am the one who wrote the book), was captivated by him.
His true and fictional life/activities before the great New York years: childhood, army, pre-New York City radio.)
HERITAGE AND ENDOWMENT
[As I introduce this part in the book]: “Shepherd studies the art of humor–its history and its uses. With this knowledge he will be able to exploit his fine talent for observation–expressing what he sees in himself, his countrymen, and the common humanity around him.”
THE GREAT BURGEONING
That “heritage” noted above is the base for all that follows, beginning in New York (his intellectual goal). His life/art from 1955-or-6 to about 1960, involving his many-faceted radio work and involvement in other arts–and in the other fellow- creators and common folk he encountered. I, Libertine, jazz, etc.
With all of the above, one can proceed to delve into what tools he used to perform his magic, and then explore many of the themes that dominated his mind and work.
TOOLS IN HAND
[As I introduce this part in the book]: “Throughout his career, Shepherd was a master of the tools of radio–sound and those special sounds called words. He delighted in the nature of the medium, and we experience the very complex, personal, and entertaining art he created.] The titles of these two chapters spell it out: “Bahn Frei: Sounds,” and “Hurling Invectives: Words.”
Ending the “Word” chapter with the Dictionary of American Slang’s inclusion of Shep’s “night people” phrase, the final paragraph, going into the next Part, with it’s Shep philosophy chapter segue: ” ‘Social commentator,’ Yes, that’s part of what Jean Shepherd was–but he was more than that–he was a commentator on the whole human condition. He observed, described, commented, and evaluated–he responded with joy, wonder, irritation, and despair–sometimes all at the same time. He had many themes and variations–but as we will see, he never let us forget what to do with our knees.”
ENCOUNTERS AND CONTENTIONS
How did those tools come in handy on the air? Expressing himself in his “philosophy,” interacting with others in the control room and and the offices of WOR, and dealing with the need to make dough.
REFINEMENTS AND CONVERSIONS
Was radio all there was? He wanted to be acclaimed as a literary fellow=”My novel.” He realized that radio was dying as a major art form, and he expanded his reach into other fields of entertainment. Writing, acting, video, film. There may have been envy and desperation in that mix. In the later radio section (1960-1977) I describe and illustrate some of his masterpieces from this era, such as his eulogy of JFK and his description of his Morse code contest.
SUMMING UP TO A BOODLE-AM SHAKE
Pulleying in all the loose threads, cords, and chains. The pendulum swings back and forth over the life and career of Jean Parker Shepherd: the good and the bad. He wants it all. He can’t have it all. He gets plenty.
I end the book with a short and rather enigmatic transcript of Shepherd’s metaphor of observing a distant, disappearing ship and how he is trying to figure out how to communicate to you (his audience):
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.
I’m happy that I persisted in this quest regarding the perfect system for organizing Shep programs. For Shep’s Army I renamed the tale “Boredom Erupts,” as that is its relationship to life in the army. What I regret is that the focus of my book of compilation and transcription of army stories is not an appropriate setting to include Shepherd’s varied and amusing build-up to this story. The prolog described in previous Parts discusses arcane physics and movie fistfights among other minor detours before engaging us in the approximately twelve-minute main event that ends the broadcast—the boredom among enlisted men in the military. Grindingly uncomfortable and tiring tasks sometimes result in a mind-deadening nothingness. And one result is a sometimes growing hostility that leads to conflict—in this instance, in Shepherd’s witty take on obscure physics, metaphysics, and the meaning of time—to an army fistfight that is simultaneously cosmic and absurd.
The Eternal Shepherd Reference System!
The foregoing material about that broadcast is a rough example of what every Jean Shepherd show should have in a master database. The many hundreds of shows would encompass hundreds of subjects, each a part of the electronically cross-referenced spreadsheet, each living Word quivering with the excitement of knowing it is a part of The Eternal Shepherd Reference System!
I can envision the opus, which will forever expand as more newly discovered shows are added to the stockpile!
All known Shepherd programs captured thusly for easy reference!
All available for the casual Shepherd fan looking for his daily Shep-fix, and for the industrious researcher/author seeking the audio snippet of his desires!
Oh—the potential—unrealizable—glory of it!
SOME SUBJECTS OF THIS ONE SHEPHERD SHOW
CONTROL ROOM COMMENT
WEEKENDS IN OUR MODERN CULTURE
“SPEAKING OF MISTAKES”
ENGINEER IS NAMED (Keith)
ENGINEER (Commentary on)
METS—PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT: BASEBALL, SPORTS.
NEW YORK TIMES—he’s reading it
NEWS NOTES (refers to Times article
REFERENCE [QUARK] TO WHICH HE WILL RETURN LATER IN PROGRAM
JEWS HARP PLAYING (with accompanying recorded music)
LINDSEY (running for re-election)
NEW YORK (“Fun city.”)
PREDICTION (of Shepherd’s)
“PUBLIC SERVICE” provided by WOR
FISTFIGHTS (First mention of fist fights—it’s his prelude to the subject)
MOVIE STARS: KIRK DOUGLAS JOHN WAYNE
ORDINARY EVENTS—(one never sees in movies)
W. C. FIELDS
HUMOR (the nature of)
CRITICIZES THOSE IN CONTROL ROOM (Leigh Brown, his producer/lover?)
MUSIC (as scene-setting, under his talk)
MAN—HIS NATURE (Philosophical; musings)
SEGUE TO A STORY (of the army fistfight caused by boredom-induced hostility.)
How “Boredom Erupts” Starts and Ends
in Shep’s Army
START: The only fistfight that I ever saw–I’m talking about a real fistfight–not just guys pushing each other around or guys belting each other–happened in a tent….
END: ….Is it Zinsmeister’s contemplation of the eternal hourglass, or is it part of the quark theory of the quantum, dipole-estrogen theory of multiple, fourth-dimensional, time-curve-space factors? Who is to know?
DESCRIBING A SHEP BROADCAST
(See my post “Missing in Action Part 1”)
What follows, in this and the following post, is a rough idea of the contents of a program–it would need to be put in a spread-sheet format and tweaked.
The description would begin with certain basics:
Jean Shepherd WOR broadcast, SEPTEMBER 16, 1969;
Length of iTunes recording: 0:39:16 (about 5 minutes missing);
ORIGINAL TITLE OF AUDIO=ARMY FIST FIGHT;
Theme music=BAHN FREI.
The program description would begin with 0:00-0:52, opening theme music; Shepherd begins speaking over theme about “sneaky people;” he warns that the show will be “real bad;” he indicates that it is a Friday night and he feels like indulging himself. Card catalog titles and subtitles for this first segment would include:
WOR; DATE OF BROADCAST 9/16/69; BAHN FREI (Theme music—use of); SPEAKING OVER OPENING THEME; WARNING THAT SHOW WILL BE “BAD;” FRIDAY NIGHT SHOW—HE CAN INDULGE HIMSELF.
0:2:04 Theme ends. Somebody in the control room apparently indicates that it’s not Friday, but Thursday, and Shepherd kiddingly calls them “old fashioned.” He says that any modern person insists that his weekend starts no later than noon on Thursday. Says today he saw a WOR executive going off with tennis rackets under his arms and another executive with a secretary under his arm. He says that the weekend doesn’t end anymore until roughly eight P. M. on Tuesday. Says that the engineer wants to hear him play his jews harp.
0:05:24-0:07:33 Rinky-tink piano begins and Shepherd plays along on jews harp, joined by other Dixieland instruments doing “In the Good Old Summertime.” Says that playing/listening to the jews harp helps clear the sinuses.
0:08:15 Comments on walking around town listening to people talking about the Mets. “Maybe sports is far more subtle than we think.” “Everything in New York wins.” Talks about being in a waiting room for an appointment. Do people subscribe to National Geographic, or is it only sent to doctors’ offices?—he says it’s a philosophical question. Now he’s reading the Times. Encounters article about smallest particle in universe: the “quark.” Says it’s a cute word, its sound suggesting a duck running around in a kiddy cartoon. A major category here would be SPORTS, with a subcategory of BASEBALL, and a sub-sub-category of METS. Of course QUARKS needs to be noted, as it will become an element in the fistfight story. Etc., etc.
0:12:20 Reads about elections and mud-throwing (we all start in life making mud pies, etc.) Sees a sign for John V. Lindsey’s mayoral campaign for reelection. Shepherd refers to one of his own recent predictions. Says that when we refer to sin, it’s always about sex and comments that “This is a limited view of sin.” Discusses Fellini’s film, Satyricon, saying it’s about all seven sins and WOR will send a brochure as a public service: “How to Get More Out of the Other Seven Sins.” He discusses the advantages of other sins. “Why don’t you get up tomorrow morning and just do it. Stand by your bed and swear about the other ones. Just get mad. Break the windows. Now this is all philosophical. Understand…” Again mentions his reading about the quark.
0:18:50 Says he watches TV and what’s always happening on TV is fistfights. Says that Kirk Douglas in a movie says, “You said what?!” and a fistfight breaks out. “How many have you ever seen in your life?” More fistfights in movies than love scenes. One never sees ordinary events in a movie such as a guy waiting for his cleaning. Shepherd segues from fistfights to ordinary events. In retrospect one can see that he is beginning to telegraph his punches regarding the forthcoming fistfight story.
0:20:10 He’s in the waiting room waiting for appointment where he’s going to be charged a lot by the dentist. He asks if you have ever seen the W. C. Fields short titled “The Dentist”? Shepherd describes it. “That is the essence of humor—to play it the way it is.”
0:22:58 Again mentions sitting in waiting room reading about the quark. “The smallest particle known to man!” Asks the engineer for Japanese koto music. (“Contemplating-the-navel-music.” He nastily criticizes either Leigh Brown or engineer for having trouble finding the music in the control room.)
“The most violent side of man” he says, “is not the violent side, it’s the contemplative side. It’s the side of man that sits there and contemplates the infinite. And makes fantastic generalities out of it. And I thought to myself, where did I hear ‘the smallest particle known to man.’? Where did I hear that before? Yes, yes indeed. And then the doctor’s office faded out and I see the whole scene before me. The only time I ever saw a full-blown fistfight. Just like the kind they have in the John Wayne movies. It did not come about in a bar, which is where everybody likes to think is where the fights happen. Like arguing over some chick, which is the way they always are in the movies. It came about over the totally nutty, irrational side of man.
“I wish you now, friend, to look into the incense of your mind, yes, you see that little old Buddha sitting there with the smoke coming out of his nose? You can hear the sound of the temple chimes, can’t you? As man counts those bits of straw and rice, those fish bones and those dry tea leaves of philosophy. And contemplates what it’s about. The smallest particle known to man. Now if you take an atom and you divided it up it has to be smaller, there has to be smaller. You can bust anything. And you get molecules, and then you break the molecules down and the thingies down and the radons down and the quasars down and the protons down and you’re left with what? A quark? Indeed a quark.
Study this. It will appear
in the next bluebook quiz.
“Reminds me of the poem ‘The Hunting of the Quark.’ No, they picked that name seriously. You think that’s a bad joke. It’s not a bad joke. It is a bad joke only to those without humor in their soul. [He laughs ironically.] You may now remove your seared ashes from the premises. Heh, heh. The quark, the smallest particle known to man. That’s it, drift it out now, Keith [his engineer should fade out the koto music] and I will describe the scene.
“Now the only fistfight that I ever saw, really a genuine one. Now I have seen guys push each other around, I have seen guys belt each other once in a while, but I’m talking about…”
0:27:12 Now he segues into his main story!
I telegraph my punch here by indicating that
the story is only superficially about a fistfight–
it’s not only about boredom
but about how we perceive time!
Clock from Dover Castle, 1348.
Flash! Top 4 songs in the USA on 9/16/1969 (date of “Army Fistfight” broadcast.)
END OF PART 2 OF 3
NEEDLES IN HAYSTACKS
Let’s examine how, in the original context of his broadcast, one of Jean Shepherd’s army stories began as preliminary odds, ends, and diversions. And how might that broadcast, in a comprehensive examination, be the prime mover for a vast and supremely important project just waiting for an audacious, cataloging virtuoso who would achieve immortality in the glorious creative world of Jean Parker Shepherd?
Despite the many army stories Jean Shepherd told, many of which are easily found in audios of his radio programs, more than half of his thousands of broadcasts have not even been located in any form, so we don’t know how many army stories remain among the missing. (And, of course, so much more material of all sorts.) Many broadcasts may never be found because they were never recorded by his listeners, or those that were recorded have been lost. Note that this implies what seems to be the case: that despite statements that, at least in his early New York years, Shepherd recorded all his shows, and his station, WOR Radio, probably recorded some, only those “airchecks” made by dedicated listeners seem to have survived in any numbers.
Photo of Shep
Courtesy of Dorothy Anderson
Among the available broadcasts, some of his army tales are clearly named, but others are hidden because the titles of the broadcast audios, given by the original recorder or a subsequent supplier, don’t include the army material in their names because some other Shep-subject was chosen to highlight. As the author of various works about Shepherd, much of my writing involves finding within the broadcasts, commentaries he made regarding various subjects. Trying to locate Jean Shepherd riffs—army or otherwise— can be very difficult.
The problem—and the glory!—of his works is that each broadcast of 45-minutes, or even longer, incorporates numerous Shepherd-subject per program. This is especially frustrating for at least two reasons. For one, those who save and distribute his radio programs are faced with a limitation of only about twenty-five characters in which to identify a radio program’s audio on internet’s sources such as the Brass Figlagee’s podcasts on iTunes, Insomnia Theater’s site, and the various distributors’ descriptions of Shepherd audios. (By the way, probably all distributors of these audios seem to have exactly copied or made copies of copies of the original sources’ audios and titles, and since some broadcasts were given different names by different fans who taped and distributed them, some programs are repeats with different names.)
Second, the original recorder of the audio, using those few letters and spaces, had to choose a short title based on the many subjects within the broadcast. Sometimes, whoever he/she was, chose a subject (appropriately for the audio or not) other than the one I seek. Seeking audios to include in my book of Shepherd’s army stories, I was faced with the realization that sometimes the title didn’t do a sufficient job of identifying the essence of the matter and some good stories are not even noted in the existing titles. All this seems beyond a practical solution.
As an example, let’s examine the program with a complete designation of “1969 09 16 Army Fist Fight.mp3.”
Some Highlighted Shep shows
from Brassfiglagee, including “Fistfight”
It consists of several subjects that Shepherd talked about, some for no more than for a few moments, and some for several minutes. More than twenty-seven minutes into the show, he segued into a story about a fistfight in the army. I nearly passed this by as I imagined that it would not suit my purposes for Shep’s Army, a book of circumscribed length. But, determined not to miss any important matters in my research, I gave it a try. I found that the story’s essence is not the fistfight itself, but something very different and very relevant to the subject of life in the home-front army. It has to do with the practical, the psychological, and even the philosophical nature of time passing for all of us, and, as Shepherd saw it, especially for those in the military. Sometimes this drag on the psyche leads to boredom ending in frustration and maybe even fistfights. I transcribed it and used it, titling it “Boredom Erupts.”
The only solution for the basic difficulty caused by the multiplicity of Shepherd’s subjects in most of his programs, would be to listen to every one of the many hundreds, most of them forty-five minutes long, along the way making notes of every subject encountered. (Realize that the present Shep-fanatic, before this extensive research project occurred to him, has already heard almost all of these once, twice, and more over the years. Some hypothetical researcher would need to have sufficient fortitude in addition to world enough and time.) That hypo-researcher would electronically file a description and a list of subjects for each show and cross-reference all of them by those subjects. Some sort of vast spreadsheet version of a library’s card catalog. What a marvelous resource for one and all and especially for a serious Shepherd buff! A nice ideal, but I’d guess it ain’t gonna happen.
But, to see how it might go, let’s separate that fist fight program into its elements. Then we can see how the army portion has been plucked out of its surrounding diversions and foreshadowings, and one can also get some idea of how Shepherd programs, with their embedded stories, exist as multifaceted creations. What follows is a description of the program’s subjects with time indicators. Note how many subjects are meant for cross-referencing in the catalog.
End of Part 1 of 3
The ever-so-exciting saga of how to find
a Shep in a haystack
Many well-known people in the media have commented that they are fans of Jean Shepherd and many have been influenced by him. Among them, as we know, are Seinfeld, Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead comic strip), Penn Jillette, Andy Kaufman, etc. Most of us feel that Garrison Keillor has also been influenced by him, although it’s said that he has denied it. However we have some ambiguous pieces of evidence regarding this:
Good to see that Keillor, in public, recognized Shep’s existence on his radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac,” and on its accompanying website–nice to see that Keillor recognized Shep on his birthday.
But in his “Tanglewood’s 2008 Season” appearance, his little ditty printed here contains an ambiguity–or rather, an ironic denial. The ditty suggests that people who remember Allen, Bob and Ray, Benny–and Shepherd, claim he, Keillor, imitates them. And it’s only when those (misguided) old fans are dead will his true value (reputation) be secured. Really?! Not nice–especially in suggesting that fans of those older comics claim an influence (I never heard these claims), thus undercutting Keillor’s much closer resemblance to what Shepherd did.
To repeat from an earlier blog, here’s Shep’s blurb for Keillor on the back of Keillor’s 1981 book, blurbed before Keillor became too big for Shepherd’s itches:
“I welcome Garrison Keillor to the ranks of a very endangered species.
Keillor makes you laugh, and that ain’t easy these days.”
I’d like input as to what ways Keillor may be similar in style to Allen, Bob and Ray, and Benny. And what about to Shep? (Enough to be considered “influenced by.”) Is it just because they both talked, sometimes with a touch of humorous irony, about the old days when life was seemingly simpler–maybe with a sometimes subtle and unacknowledged nostalgia?
“Something supposedly highly cultural, but to the
regular sane person merely pretentious.”
–Artsy Fartsy definition found on the Internet–
Long ago (do some still do it?) on the comics pages some Sunday funnies had a less-important, supplementary strip below (or above). I believe that “Smokey Stover,” that cuckoo strip about firefighters, sometimes had one. Shep’s delight in describing “slob art” (such as his old man’s leg lamp) inspires me to add to the bottom of some of my future Shepherd posts, a few of my quirky commentaries about some art that we have hanging around our house (or, like the “Venus de Milo,” just hanging around my mind)—most of the stuff that, in the main, is in no way slob art, but that for me has some unexpected backstory wandering through my consciousness that may be of some wider amusement–(aren’t life and art strange and wonderful?). I believe that my decades of work at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and the widespread nature of my interests in the arts has led to some interesting contacts with such matters.
My Artsy Fartsy comments are not intended just to describe the art I like. My intent is to explore the quirky nature of why someone (yours truly, for example) becomes involved with particular creations and in what way they might have an interesting/unusual context that might surprise and delight regarding an encounter with the arts. Sort of like why the unexpected nature of Shepherd’s art of radio sound continues to fascinate me. Ah, yes—I also hope my comments are enlightening and entertaining.
“Artsy-fartsy individuals tend to be unemployed
and enjoy finger-painting.”
SHEP AND MY OBSESSION WITH HIM
AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE.
× × × × × × × × × × × × × × ×
Jean Shepherd was an icon in his time. Now he’s not. What happened?”
× × × × × × × × × × × × × × ×
Photo by Dan Beach
What!– ME largely forgotten?!
The author of The Atlantic article, shown above, is wrong–as I trust we all know. Jean Shepherd is not largely forgotten. Let us begin by admitting that even at his most popular, it was, relative to big celebrity fame, a “cult” enthusiasm. So there were never many millions who knew his name and appreciated what he did. Many aspects of his life and work that are a part of American culture remain, by the majority of Americans, unnamed–unrecognized. For example, we can imagine that the vast majority of those who love A Christmas Story have no idea of the name of the creator and narrator. But, besides all the popularity of A Christmas Story, the movie, there’s the straight play based on it shown in innumerable tiny town throughout the land, and the musical based on the movie.
There’s Jerry Seinfeld (“He formed my entire comedic sensibility. I learned how to do comedy from Jean Shepherd,” See Seinfeld’s Paley Center tribute to Shepherd in January 2012) Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate) Donald Fagen, Dee Snider, Don Imus, Harry Shearer and most of those in the arts and media today who consider him their master and still discuss him. New essays and comments about Shep continually appear on the Internet.
Among us regular folks, over a thousand audios of his 45-minute radio shows are easily and cheaply available by the hundreds per CD–captured and preserved by dedicated enthusiasts over the decades. There are three websites (check out www.flicklives.com), two email groups, a blog with extensive illustrated essays about him. There are two major books about him–my 500-page appreciation and overview of his career, and the 2013 book of my transcriptions of almost 3 dozen of his army stories told on the radio, for which I’ve been interviewed numerous times–twice by NPR, once by CBS TV, etc. Shep’s own books continue to sell, as can be noted by checking the colophon page of the top 2 trade paperbacks, where one sees that the re-printings have gone into well over two-dozen each. (From time to time I check this out at my local B & N, where I inevitably find one or more of Shep’s books for sale. IGWT has now reached 46 re-printings). A documentary about his work is being worked on these days by Nick Mantis. I could go on for hours–and frequently do.
See the list of dozens of 1960s then-renowned comic figures in the book Seriously Funny and ask how much celebrity and fan-enthusiasm they have today. Some of the very greats from the golden age of radio–Fred Allen, Jack Benny–how much interest in them, listening to them, reading them, watching them– is there today compared to Shepherd? In terms of current enthusiasm, aren’t all of them more “largely forgotten” than Shepherd is?
How many comics/humorists have so many
enthusiasts dedicated to them decades
after they left the spotlight?
Excelsior, you fathead!
How do you write the name of the humorist, master of many media?
JEAN PARKER SHEPHERD
JEAN P. SHEPHERD
On occasion Jean Shepherd would express annoyance on his show that some people, who saw his name in print would think he was female. Sometimes he would get mail addressed to Ms, Miss, or Mrs. It’s said (and, based on numerous bits of circumstantial evidence I’ve discussed before, I believe it), that Shel Silverstein wrote the Johnny Cash song “A Boy Named Sue” kidding his best friend Jean.
People of all kinds have misspelled his name, including people writing for newspapers and magazines and on the internet. A recent internet search displayed on the “dashboard” of my blog site reveals this double-doozie: “gene shepards army stories,” Sometimes, in the same correspondence, they will give both a correct and incorrect spelling. Most recently a major television station misspelled it. His high school yearbook misspelled it. People trying to sell Shep stuff on ebay misspell it–even when they have the correct spelling literally in-hand:
One can frequently find a Playboy issues with a Shep story in it for sale on the listings of the country/western singer because of the mis-spelling. Her fans must find this somewhat of a shock. I’m such a poor speller myself that I used to feel sorry for these mis-spellers and contact them with a correction. I don’t do that any more. They can’t help it. I can’t help it. Maybe it’s in our
jeans Genes genes.
Oh, yes, and on a few rare occasions, when seeking Shep on the country/western singer’s page on ebay, I’ve encountered some good Shepherd stuff–for example, the loud speaker brochure I bought:
Written–and, I’d guess, illustrated
with line drawings by Shep.
A few years back, in regard to the world of Jean Shepherd,
someone asked, “Who’s got the juice?”
Regarding Jean Shepherd,
what are some major sources of knowledge and material?
[Above, my Shep poster and the banner
Jackie Lannin made for me]
I’d say that there are three major sources, each somewhat different from the others. In addition, with Nick Mantis making his Shep documentary, he is gathering additional material, which is making him another important player in the game. College professor Quentin Schultze, who, years ago, began teaching courses about Shepherd’s work, has only recently become more widely known as a Shep authority. Several other sources should also be noted. Internet sources of audios, etc. should include the brass figlagee: http://shepcast.blogspot.com and several others, and some YouTube videos. Major collectors such as Pete Delaney continue to supply important material. What follows is just what I consider the big three, noting the major areas of their contributions.
JIM CLAVIN: HISTORICAL REPOSITORY
Jim’s essential website for all things Shep is www.flicklives.com . Jim has been collecting and archiving Shepherd material for years, and those with Shepherd material often contact him to send him previously unknown material. He has amassed an incredible archive regarding all aspects of Shepherd’s life and work, plus listing other various sources. I could not have done much of my work regarding Shepherd without being able to make reference to Jim’s site.
Jim Clavin, eb, and Lou Miano– 3 Shep fans
MAX SCHMID: PROMOTION AND DISTRIBUTION
Max, as a WBAI FM broadcaster for many years, has promoted Shepherd however and whenever he can, including years of early Tuesday morning rebroadcasts of Shepherd programs. People with Shep audios and other material often contact him and deliver the goods to him. He organized and presented a session with him and me on Shep for an Old Time Radio convention–see photo below. He continues to rebroadcast Shep when he can, and he is a fine source of available audios and videos of much Shepherd material: www.sheptapes.com
EUGENE B. BERGMANN: INTERPRETATION AND ESSAYS
I’m the source of some of the earliest audios of Shepherd’s New York broadcasts (I recorded him from 1956 to about 1963). My Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, containing an overview of his work and creativity was published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books in March, 2005. My transcriptions and introductions to dozens of Shep army stories, Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles, was published by Opus Books in August, 2013. I’ve been interviewed numerous times for print articles, radio broadcasts, and once on CBS Television regarding these books and other Shepherd matters. I’ve also written and published a number of articles in various periodicals about Shep, including a foreword for Caseen Gaines’ A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. I’ve published over 200 posts on my blog regarding many aspects of Shepherd’s life and works.
Other Shepherd enthusiasts continue to comment and help sustain his memory, and all of them are appreciated. To my delight, various well-known (and some lesser celebrated) people have also commented on the importance of Shepherd in their lives. Some I interviewed for my first book, and some, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Keith Olbermann, and Dee Snider, I’ve only subsequently become aware of as Shepherd fans. Even more recently, I found out that R. L. Stine (Goosebumps book-series author) and contemporary novelist Tom Wolfe, are also Shep fans.
eb and a well-known Shep fan
eb and a well-known Shep fan
[In foreground, four different editions of I, Libertine,
and on wall, an original Shep still life in ink on a paper towel.
July 26, 1921-October 16, 1999
The strip above, a tribute to Jean Shepherd done soon after he died, is from “Zippy the Pinhead” by Bill Griffith. The original published strip, of January 9, 2000, is without color. (Click this colored one to enlarge.) This reproduction is from the Zippy website, showing the hand-colored version that can be bought (www.zippythepinhead.com). Griffith is a big fan of Shepherd’s and he gave free permission for me to reproduce its original black and white form in my Excelsior, You Fathead! It is a perfect ending for the series of illustrations in the book. My caption for it is: “….This strip testifies to the importance of Shepherd’s work for many creative people as well as for his legions of devoted fans, many of whom stayed awake listening, long after bedtime, captivated by Shepherd’s voice in the night.”
In the Internet site: http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=18342, interviewed by Alex Dueben, Griffith says, “My comedy influences came from people like Lenny Bruce and Jean Shepherd. Also, I like to think of Harvey Kurzman [of Mad Magazine] as a humorist as much as a cartoonist. His ‘voice,’ his cadence, are still a big influence. And then there are my favorites from fifties TV: Phil Silvers (“Sgt. Bilko), Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Jonathan Winters, and especially Ernie Kovaks. Woody Allen, too. And that one-of-a-kind hipster, Lord Buckley.”
“Zippy the Pinhead” is a surrealistic, unpredictable, wild commentary on human nature, commercialism, and society in general. It illustrates how, out of the mouths of innocents (such as Zippy), often comes a kind of wacky sense. I highly recommend it–in the newspaper strips and in compilations gathered into books.
In another interview, by Gary Panter, Griffith says, “My eccentricities and non-sequitors just seem to come naturally.”
The above comments indeed suggest a sometimes close similarity to Jean Shepherd’s form and mindset, as do the descriptions below. These two descriptions are from Griffith’s Zippy website. Both, though they seem contradictory, mostly describe Shepherd himself.
ZIPPY THE PINHEAD =Zippy. GRIFFY=Bill Griffith.
The well-known and often-used comment shown below,
is, unbeknownst to most people,
an original Zippy-ism!
Shepherd, though he
might have seemed to be
frequently engaged in irony and negativity,
at the same time insisted that, in our lives, we have fun.
Jean Parker Shepherd, you commented in 1975 that, “Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory? Think about it, friends. It’s not just a possibility. It is a certainty.” Nearly 40 years later, more immortal than most people (including your comic contemporaries), your memory in people’s minds and in the media is still alive and well. Not just the memory of what you did, but the influence you had on the lives and works of so many of us.
HERE IT IS!
THE JEAN SHEPHERD SHOW!
Jean Shepherd ended his WOR radio career in 1977 and he died in 1999. Yet his creations continue to be perpetuated through new and older enthusiasts who enjoy his works. Here are some of the major factors helping keep Shep’s vision alive.
Shepherd‘s own books continue to sell. In addition,
Eugene B. Bergmann‘s books, Excelsior, You Fathead! ( 2005), an overview and appreciation
of Shep’s career, and his Shep’s Army (2013), annotated transcriptions of
Shepherd army stories, continue to sell.
Caseen Gaines‘ book, A Christmas Story-–Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic
appeared in 2013 with considerable material on Shepherd.
Several books on radio and on humor appearing in the last decade or so contain
descriptions and appreciations of Shepherd’s radio work.
A number of schoolbooks for teaching literature each feature a story by Shepherd,
with study comments and hints.
Professor Quentin Schultze of Calvin College has taught courses in the art
of Jean Shepherd and had him as a guest in class.
DISTRIBUTION (audio, video, radio)
Max Schmid of WBAI broadcasts Shepherd audios and interviews as often as he can
in addition to selling CDs and DVDs of Shepherd’s works.
Jeff Beauchamp”s Jean Shepherd Project (no longer extant)
distributed CDs of hundreds of Shepherd broadcast audios.
Sellers on http://www.ebay.com continue to offer Shepherd books, audios, videos, etc.
DOCUMENTARY (in the works)
Nick Mantis is creating a major documentary on Shep’s world,
interviewing many important sources.
Jean Shepherd acolites gather from time to time to chat, eat, and
exchange enthusiastic comments about him. The most recent “Shepfest” was
at Katz’s Delicatessen on June 24, 20014.
Documentary video-maker at Katz’s.
From time to time–here, there, everywhere inaccuracies–grubbage–
about our mythic hero continue to pop up, scatter like a dandelion’s plumed seeds,
giving birth to equally erroneous progeny.
Of great importance is Jim Clavin‘s http://www.flicklives.com, which is the major source
of information on everything related to Jean Shepherd.
Two other websites (which do not remain current or active) have good material:
Jim Sadur’s “Jean Shepherd Fan Page” http://www.keyflux.com/shep
and Bob Kaye’s “The Shepherd Page” http://www.bobkaye.com/Shep.html
Various internet sites, including the brass figklagee at
http://jeanshepherdpodcast.blogspot.com, continue to feature Shepherd audios.
Fans communicate regularly through the email site: firstname.lastname@example.org
and on Facebook through the group: “I’m a fan of Jean Shepherd.”
An internet site features a “comic book” bio by Ethan Persoff & Scott Marshall
of early V. Voice contributor John Wilcock, , including:
My blog, http://www.shepquest.wordpress.com
every third day posts articles and thoughts on everything related to Shepherd:
A variety of writings, interviews, and commentaries continue to appear,
created in print and internet publications (Gene Bergmann,
Donald Fagen, Keith Olbermann, etc.).
Irwin Zwilling, who controls Shepherd’s creative rights,
continues to be engaged on his behalf.
Turner Television continues to yearly broadcast A Christmas Story
to millions of viewers, especially for 24 hours straight on Christmas Eve.
A few years ago, Gene Bergmann‘s one man play “Excelsior!” enjoyed
a very limited run off-off-off-Broadway.
In recent years, around the holiday season, a live theater version of
A Christmas Story, travels widely in towns and burbs.
Starting in 2013, A Christmas Story, The Musical appeared on Broadway.
Both theatrical versions of the film portray Shepherd as narrator/commentator
in on-stage performance.
TRIBUTES FAR AND WIDE
From time to time Shep receives some well-earned tribute
such as induction into the Radio Hall of Fame (posthumously),
The Paley Center for Media–Jerry Seinfeld tribute (posthumously),
and even while he was alive → 🙂 ← such as being given an honorary doctorate,
as seen below (pay no attention to his pants and sneakers).
HURRAH FOR SHEP!