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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.
AM radio uses amplitude modulation,…Transmissions are affected by static and interference because lightning and other sources of radio emissions on the same frequency add their amplitudes to the original transmitted amplitude.
….Currently, the maximum broadcast power for a civilian AM radio station in the United States and Canada is 50 kW….These 50 kW stations are generally called “clear channel“ stations because within North America each of these stations has exclusive use of its broadcast frequency throughout part or all of the broadcast day.
FM broadcast radio sends music and voice with less noise than AM radio. It is often mistakenly thought that FM is higher fidelity than AM, but that is not true…. Because the audio signal modulates the frequency and not the amplitude, an FM signal is not subject to static and interference in the same way as AM signals.
The foregoing originates from wikipedia.org. Take that as you will.
Most descriptions of Jean Shepherd’s radio work describes his major New York City station as “WOR AM.” This jangles the daylights out of me every time I come across it. Because from his earliest NY broadcasts he was on WOR AM & FM. In fact, from September 1956 and into 1965, I mainly (if not entirely) listened to him on WOR FM. My parents had bought an early AM/FM radio so that my mother could listen to the once-a-week social studies class in which I was one of four or five students, broadcasting from the WNYE FM studios atop Brooklyn Technical High School I attended.
BTHS showing radio broadcast antenna.
This Zenith is like my old maroon AM/FM radio with the big gold dial.
Most people who now comment on their live-listening-days, listened on little AM transistor radios (as kids, the radios hidden under their pillows). Another reason so many leave out FM, I’d guess, is that once people encounter the inaccurate exclusion of FM in a reference, they repeat it without realizing that it isn’t quite correct. This way of thinking (accepting as true while failing to check original sources) causes many errors in descriptions of many aspects of Shepherd’s work.
Shepherd was not happy when the Federal Communications Commission decreed that the world would be a better place if stations with both AM and FM outputs broadcast different programming on each rather than the same programs:
Oh—this is WOR AM and FM in New York. This is the last time we’ll be on FM, right? Ohhh, it’s a poor, sad note. This is the last night we’ll be on FM. [said with irony.] Of course radio’s moving forward. Now I understand we have some magnificent programming for you—on FM. I’m sure of that—[Laughs.]
[Sings.] I’m forever blowing bubbles. [Laughs.] Ah well. Ah well. Progress is a slow descent into quicksand.–transcriptions snatched from my EYF!
It’s my understanding that the quicksand of later-day WOR included programs featuring Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and rock-and-roll. Yes, Ol’ Shep would have been delighted (“#@^%*#”).
Listen to the station identifications on Shep’s broadcasts
prior to mid-1966 for the old, familiar announcement.
On some of the Limelight broadcasts Shep
has the live audience yell:
“This is WOR AM and FM, New York!”
On the stairway in the old Hayden Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural History where I worked for 34 years, there was a sign that said, TO SOLAR SYSTEM AND RESTROOM. I wonder who has that sign now, because the old planetarium, an official New York City landmark, is no more. For decades I looked through the window by my desk, across the museum’s public parking lot, to the green-domed planetarium, until the day it was scheduled to be demolished and they put up a shroud around it.
Many wondered why the old landmark building had to be destroyed instead of redesigned inside. Many mourned the old building while invisible crews behind the white sheets killed it and carted it away.(I scavenged two bricks, which I still have.) One of us mourners, who happened to be writing poems in those days, wrote an elegy and designed it into a book.
Just the first and last 2-page spreads in the book.
How many millions would be spent and how many millions to maintain the new technology to be installed in the new, modern, glass cube? Indeed, that the newcomer was stunning, was somewhat undercut in some employees’ minds when someone circulated a magazine ad that showed an unheralded office building somewhere, that had been previously architected in that same sphere-in-glass-cube-format. Well, still, the newcomer on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was and is spectacular.
Somehow, I dwell on the past, maybe because, before that old Planetarium’s demise, I got to design into it our museum’s installation of a temporary exhibit of original Star Trek costumes and other memorabilia loaned to the Smithsonian. That original had been installed in traditional rectangular cases set blandly one after another with no sense of ambiance. I had other ideas in mind, as shown by the entrance and by the central exhibit case full of costumes in a setting evocative of the Enterprise’s bridge.
We had very little time to build and install. I ordered the Star Trek type font and designed a blank form so my memos would grab priority-attention of the Construction Department. I also used it for a personal memento with our kids. (Junior Officers’ uniforms designed and made by Allison M. Bergmann.)
Stirring my memories of the Planetarium-past,
while designing and installing this exhibit eons ago and light years away,
yet garnering what must be the envy of trekkies across the universe,
I got to mock-fire a painted, wooden phaser set to stun,
hold in my hand Mr. Spock’s wax ear,
sit in Captain Kirk’s chair,
and touch a tribble.
When Shep Was a Tadpole
For the years in radio before he arrived in New York, the important thing to know about his career would be if we had more audios of this early work to compare with later broadcasts, but basically we do not. So, although people knew him and heard him then and still talk about those good early days, almost all we have other than his last two half-hours in Philadelphia and a few other tiny bits, is their remembrances that he had already developed much of his style and content. His first album, “Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music” seems to indicate that, but the most interesting thing would have been if the jazz musician who was still alive until recently had only responded to requests to give his remembrances. He never did. He died. After “Into the Unknown,” he had gone on to write the music to the Broadway smash, “Man of La Mancha.” Imagine what he could have told us about early Shepherd in relation to how he worked and in what ways he thought as a jazz artist with words.
When Shep Was a New New Yorker
Photo by Roy Schatt circa 1956
What we know of interest of Shepherd’s early New York years became much more of an open book than it had been through information regarding his relationship with actress Lois Nettleton and with his producer, Leigh Brown.
(That Shepherd himself had kept his friendship and relationship with
Lois and Leigh hidden from his audiences didn’t help.)
I’ve reported in this blog much of what Lois had commented. She had spoken in an interview with Doug McIntyre in 1960, and she had spoken to me by phone and written a letter to me as well as dozens of notes about my EYF! that I’ve also reported here. This information reveals that she had been more than just “the actress Shep had married.” She was a strong influence on him and had helped him in his efforts in his aborted acting career. She also recorded his shows for him and had discussed them with him on what seemed to be a nightly basis. Considering her genius IQ, she must have been a considerable help and might have given us many more insights than I reported in blog posts about her interactions with him. She might have told us more about the I, Libertine affair, relationship with John Cassavetes and his making of Shadows, the making of the Charles Mingus “The Clown” improvised Shepherd narration (all of which she witnessed). She could have had more to say about her and Jean’s interactions with Shel Silverstein, and maybe more memories about his avocation in the field of painting and pen-and-ink drawings. Her additional thoughts were never revealed, because, though she and I had expected to meet in New York on her next trip, before that could happen, she became ill and died in January, 2008.
Because of the many letters that Leigh Brown wrote to her best friend and that I obtained and reported on, we now know that Leigh was far more than the almost nameless cipher she had appeared to most of us. She was a smart woman who helped Jean’s career in important ways previously discussed here. In fact, she is the one brought his manuscript of The Ferrari in the Bedroom to Dodd Mead publishers after Doubleday had turned the book down. We now know that in many ways, she had been crucial to his life and work.
Hokusai’s “Both Banks of the Sumida River”
I’m a great enthusiast of Japanese wood-block-printed pictures, and my favorite artist is Hokusai, whose series of “36 Views of Mount Fuji” contains what is probably the finest and best known image of the genre, showing an enormous wave overarching a small boat and its occupants. On the far horizon is Fuji.
Individual images are the best known and most-collected Japanese woodblock-printed works—because they can be framed and hung on walls. Especially fine first printings of well-known works sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The traditional Japanese woodblock artists, especially in the 18th and 19th century, also made numerous groupings of smaller images designed and published as books. By their very nature books can only be appreciated by turning the pages one by one. Some of these woodblock books achieve the level of the finest “artists books.”
I’m the fortunate/lucky owner of Hokusai’s masterwork in book form, an original printing (1805/1806) of his “Both Banks of the Sumida River.” No telling how many copies were printed or still exist, but I believe that it is extremely rare. Jack Hillier, an authority on Japanese art, in a major publication, uses pages of Hokusai’s “Both Banks…” in color on both front and back of the dust jacket, and describes it as “…justifiably considered as one of the outstanding Japanese colour-printed books.”
Internet Repro of Cover
Internet Reproduction of a Double-spread.
The book, with 23 double pages, is a continuous panorama of the environs of the river that flows through Tokyo. If one opens two contiguous pages, one sees that the work consists of one unending scene.
Scan From my Original Book
(Left Side of a Double Spread)
In the upper left corner of the scan from my copy, one sees a kite with string–if one turns the page over, as one does a Japanese book– one sees that attached string and the continuation of the scene. The double-spread scenes change from season to season, some depict rainy weather, and another shows snow-covered buildings. The entire 3-volume book is one continuous view of the river, its weather, its landscape, and surrounding human activities!
When I encountered a major auction house’s sale catalog that included “Both Banks…” for the first time I recognized my opportunity, not to just see reproductions, but to see and hold in my hands, for a few minutes, an original copy. (At auction galleries, during the exhibition before an auction, one has the unbelievable opportunity to see and snuggle up to masterpieces!) The item was described as “one volume of the two-volume set,” I’d be able to determine which volume was for sale (Only one volume of the two or three?), and why the set was mis-described as consisting of only two volumes, when my Japanese-published book I’d bring with me, apparently reproduces three volumes complete–in color.
My Japanese Book Reproducing Hokusai Works
Showing the Covers of the Three Separately
Bound Volumes and the First-Page-Spread of “Both Banks…”
At the auction house, with the original and my book illustrating all three volumes alongside, I compared them page by page and discovered that the single volume for sale contained all three volumes bound together as one—it was complete! What a find! I bid, I won. For decades I have daily looked at my original Hokusai book displayed in our living room in its full, open, 10¾” X 13” width. I sometimes take it down, fondle it (I own an original masterwork by one of my favorite artists!), and view all the pages, replacing it on its stand with a different double-page opening to view.
How was I able to possess this?
Most rich collectors want art they can display on a wall, and don’t appreciate the value of a book–an art object one can hold in one’s lap.
I recognized the mis-description and proved to myself that it was complete. Most of those who read the catalog (rich collectors and their dealers) would only want a complete work, not “one volume of the two volume set.” After my purchase, a Japanese print authority I questioned told me that sometimes a wood-block-print publisher, after assembling sheets into separate volumes for sale, would indeed, bind additional sets of sheets into a single volume.
As one can see in my scan, the book is water-damaged on the lower corner of nearly every page, and may or may not be a consciously paler-printed, or somewhat faded-copy. Rich collectors only want pristine stuff to show off. (I believe the pristine appreciates in monetary value faster, too.) Yes, I’d prefer the pristine but could never afford the price, even if one did come on the market.
I pursued my quest.
I encountered fortuitous circumstances.
I especially treasure my wounded masterpiece.
THE POSSIBLE DREAM
Of course the “quest” never ends. By persistence, luck, and bumbling happenstance, little grail-ettes have appeared during my searches. Yet he who quests, sometime must recognize that, as for his personal dream of the grail and his being able to listen and contemplate those overnight Jean Shepherd programs of early 1956, the search, for him at least, must end, and the grail, in his imagined future, will surely emerge from somewhere, sometime.
Proposed covers for a boxed set.
Someday this may be more than an impossible dream.
Surely, somewhere, tapes must still exist, the ultimate missing link between Shepherd’s tadpole days in radio and his glorious years on WOR Radio from 1960 onward. Maybe the “Jazzman,” as I call him, who claimed to have tapes of those one-to five-thirty nightly jazz-like performances in words and other sounds, will deliver the goods he’s been neglecting all these years. Maybe the tape hasn’t yet gone to dust—damn you, jazzman! Or maybe some other recording angels will remember their stash of grails and come forth, giving gold to the world of audio art.
With each word I write and publish about Shepherd’s career, I’ve hoped that the grail would appear as in a dream, in time to be written about and published in a book and audios. It has not happened. And I doubt that significantly more new material about Shepherd’s career will emerge that could be formed into another book that would include such a grail. So the permanent and easily accessible format for disseminating information and interpretation about it will probably never happen.
Yet I can imagine that loads of tapes will someday appear, enough to provide reams of transcripts and analysis sufficient for some sort of publication. But who would publish it and who would read it? Maybe a combo—CDs of broadcast excerpts with some written discussion of their content? Only some few supremely dedicated fanatics (Shep-cuckoos such as myself) might buy such a treasure, although the content would surely be such that would entertain, enthrall, and enlighten hordes of listeners.
Should audios appear, and recognizing that they were spoken by Shepherd in a manner to be heard in the late, night-people hours when life is mostly tuned down to an attitude meant for gentle and improvised allurement, I suggest they be listened to, most appropriately, as late at night as the listener can stay awake.
Maybe someone will self-publish and store in dusty closets, boxes of these CDs with text, waiting for sales. That may be my only reasonable hope, but how reasonable is that? Beyond that, maybe Shepherd has the last word regarding what we insignificant humans get so excited about:
“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.”
–Jean Shepherd, 1975
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)
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.
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.
“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.)
Is my book SHEP’S ARMY—BUMMERS, BLISTERS, AND BOONDOGGLES mostly funny or something else? Some people have commented that there are many negatively-focused stories. To me, despite some downers, they’ve seemed funny. I decided to do a self-survey of the stories and grade them myself, in order of their sequence in the book, giving each a very short description. Remember that no matter how negative a story is, Shep’s approach, in telling, usually has a feeling one might call witty or funny or humorous–maybe entertaining in a humorous way.
PART 1: YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW
“Induction” Disappointment—he expects a patriotic ceremony NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Shorn” Outrage at being shorn of his “ducktail”– ego NEGATIVELY FOCUSED YET IRONICALLY FUNNY
“D is for Druid” He fakes-out the authorities regarding his religion FUNNY
“Being Orientated” Disparaging, with Broken Illusions NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Army Phraseology” He encounters soldiers’ wild vocabulary FUNNY
PART 2 ARMY HOSPITALITY
“Shermy the Wormy” He and his fellows are very cruel NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“GI Glasses” He can’t see out of army glasses. Authorities are incompetent NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Lieutenant George L. Cherry Takes Charge” Disparaging authority NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Pole Climbing” Sad/frightening description of pole-climbing danger NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Service Club Virtuoso” A “folk” piano player NEGATIVELY FOCUSED & FUNNY
“Fourth of July in the Army” He describes an army parade PATRIOTIC FUNNY
“USO and a Family Invitation” He’s given a sexual treat FUNNY
“Shipping Out” He leaves “Camp Swampy” for a tropical hell NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
PART 3 WARTIME IN FLORIDA IS HELL
“MOS: Radar Technician” He realizes that pole climbing is death-defying NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Radar at 15,000 Volts” Shep and fellow soldiers are afraid of radar equipment until someone plays a practical joke. FUNNY
“Swamp Radar” Military incompetence results in enormous loss of lives. NEGATIVELY FOCUSED
“Night Maneuvers” Goofing off during night training DISPARAGING & FUNNY
“Lister Bag Attack” Soldier in need of anger management stabs water bag. SAD & FUNNY
“Boredom Erupts” A fight over the meaning of “time” FUNNY
“Code School” Military incompetence results in code school students playing joke. DISPARAGING & FUNNY
“T/5” DESCRIPTIVE of his rank FUNNY
Stay tuned for part 2
I am a fanatical enthusiast of Picasso’s work (No, I don’t like it all, and, give me a particular example to defend, I may fail miserably).
After the first 8 of my ARTSY FARTSY essays, I got my first comment about them. Joe Fodor, in the facebook group, “I am a fan of Jean Shepherd,” said he appreciated my invention of the Guernica Coloring Kit. This stimulated me to add additional comments regarding a coupla Artsy encounters with “Picasso.” (Everybody must have encountered Picasso in one manner or another, but a couple of my connections are surely rare.)
Years ago, attending an exhibit of ceramics in a Spanish museum (I think it was in Madrid or Barcelona), I encountered a small plate propped upright in a glass case with a caption indicating that the drawing on it was by Picasso, titled “Abstraction.” As he virtually never did anything totally “abstract,” I studied it a bit–and realized that it must have seemed abstract to whoever described and installed the piece, because it was mounted upside down.
Visualizing it the other way around, I saw that it was a sketchy image of a man on a horse (Don Quixote?). I wrote a short note to that effect and slid it between the front panes of glass, in front of the piece, and went on my way. I trust that some museum person would eventually see my note and correct the error.
Some years later, attending the large, 1980 Picasso retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I encountered an etching of his with the wall label titled “image of the artist holding mask in center.” A quick glance told me that it was not a mask he held but a bellows camera. That night I wrote a note to the Museum and posted it regarding their error. The next time I visited the exhibit (I went five times), they’d corrected the wall label. (The catalog, published before the exhibition opened, retains the error.) I felt delighted that I had improved the content of this major Picasso exposition–if not the immemorial catalog.
Illustration in my copy of the catalog
(Part of my Picasso collection.)
[Music stops.] Now look. Now look–we’re gonna level, we’re gonna level here. Just for one minute. And don’t you think that I’m here just–night after night just to entertain you, do you?
The more I read and type this Shep-rant the more I see that this form that he’s using is so very different than that of his more familiar 1960-1977, 45-minute programs! I’ve said this before? I’m saying it even more vociferously now!
As much as I like this free-er form Shep, I wonder. Is this earlier Shep actually the more unforced, just talking, just musing, “letting it all hang out,” unstudied Jean Shepherd persona that Lois Nettleton and he preferred–sustainable? When he switched to the 45-minute format, did he realize that not only did a 45 minutes format work against this unguarded Shep, but, if one was going to continue this radio gig for untold years, one could probably not keep this mock-hostile (?) attitude up.
You can’t improvise one’s (rather nasty) curmudgeonly self five nights a week for years. Is it too much all of a sameness after a while? One has to have a format that allows one to bring forth and attach ideas to (improvising in a more controlled format environment). In that one can expand one’s attitudes–downer, funny, informative, mix-em up more.
Is this what I’ve been grasping for in each attempt to analyze and distinguish Shep’s performance variations over the years?
And furthermore I’m going to tell you another thing. We’re gonna have to–this is a moment now, since its almost time to quit. Almost time to quit. We might as well shell it out. I’m not here to play for laughs. I’m not here to entertain you really, you know? I’m here for a much more devious purpose than that.
To begin with, many people here at this very radio station do not even know I am here. They just see it on the log–“The Jean Shepherd Show.” They’re all home there watching television. Doesn’t make any difference. They don’t know.
But I’ll tell you what I’m here for. I am here, and am an extension of–your conscience itself. I am here because I know where you went wrong. I know where you went wrong. The reason I know where you went wrong is because I know where I went wrong. And since I know where I went wrong, I know darn well where you went wrong!
[All this is spoken in mock-argumentative terms.]
So don’t give me any of that jazz! Do you hear me? Any of you! You have fouled up too! You are caught in the same thing. All of you. So don’t–give–me–any–of–your–lip.
STUDY THIS REMINDER!!!
That’s what I’m here for. [Music starts.] So play it cool and easy. I know. You know. We should be honest for the first time. You are not fooling me and I am not fooling you. The thing to remember most of all is that you’re not fooling me. Just because I come out of that crummy little plastic box on the top of your refrigerator does not mean you can push me around….The wrong spot! Yes, by the short ones. So–you know– in the end you’re just gonna have to rely on style. Because you got no content! So don’t try to get by with a message–you ain’t got it….
I am not here to play those old familiar melodies that all of you whistle in your sleep. Not a bit of it. Not a bit of it. I am not here to mouth those old familiar platitudes that fall like autumn leaves from the bottom of bank calendars. Oh no.
Enough? He goes on and I’ve got a bit more transcribed, but enough. I know he had to quite this earlier style, or maybe even I could not have followed him, with all his incorporated funny bits, into the future.
Even so, he could not last forever.
He let go in early 1977.
Have you stayed tuned?
Are you in tune?
How about twanging your tuning fork!
Before we get back to Shep–By sheer coincidence, I recently decided to get two big used books of cartoons by Matt Groening. They are repros of the Life In Hell cartoon he did before starting the TV Simpsons. The opening one seems to me similar to some of Shepherd’s humorously hostile style I’m transcribing, which is more gently, mock-confrontational–Groening’s is more in-your-face nasty/funny. I wonder if Groening is a Shep fan. (Groening seems to have started the series in 1977, and this opening one in the book is copyright 1980, while Shep’s broadcasts ended in April, 1977).
Top 2/3 of the opening cartoon in the book.
And look at him there–with his compassionate gaze. You know, one of the Eastern colleges is not teaching a course in compassion 1 and 2? [Shep’s voice is rising mock-dramatically.] You have to have a course–two or three preliminary courses. One of them is creative friendliness, 1 and 2. And, of course, after that two courses in adjustment. And you’re ready! So burn that incense, and burn it clean and hard.
Just keep–what’s the matter, Eddy?! [Shep is talking to his engineer.] Just bring it up! What’s the matter? Is it running out?! Oh, there we go. So keep it going, keep it going. Never stop, for crying out loud. [That, he says, as though not only talking to his engineer, but in tone as though it’s a wider–a universal–comment.] It’s like the time–but then again I suppose the time always shall be the time, the time, the time, the time. Pick it up, Stan. Up over there on top again. There’s always one above and one above that, and one above that. Now look–I’ll tell you how to straighten it out, mac! You’ll have slipped again. Again and again and again. Can’t you see Pandit Nehru, coming home after a hard day as a statesman–there must be somebody, there must be somebody who says, “You’re getting commercial, Pandit. You’re fooling again. Now get back on that–.”
And there always has been and there always will be. You’re doing it wrong! Ah. A. A, you have made another mistake.
Did I ever tell you the time that I saw a guy caught–held in security–in fact pinned to the wall–by a ditto machine. It was operated by an eighth power modem and it used gelatin rolls. Ever seen a guy with a gelatin roll wrapped around him from a ditto? Ever see it? Do you know what a gelatin roll ditto machine is? You haven’t even seen one. [I have no idea what he’s talking about.] I know a guy who tried to eat one once. The gelatin just looked good. You know–I mean, you know–an old paste eater–returning to the scenes of his old triumphs.
Oh, but there were two types of paste eaters in my youth. There was the kind of guy who ate it raw–as it came out of the can–right out of the jar, right out of the tube. these were the hard drinkers. And then there was the aficionado, the gourmet who liked it when it had a thin crust over it. He liked the crunchiness of it, the aged-ness of it. The cheddar-cheeseness of it. So, you know, we shall split off into two ranks every time, every place, no matter what we do. So don’t–don’t worry.
Shep on the back of Wanda Hickey.
Not worrying a bit.
Just–just cling as hard as you can to that water wing. That water wing. The one that’s taking in water–fast. That hasn’t done much flying. But nevertheless–is there waiting. So come on, daddy-o, let’s do it, you know? I know how you’ve gone wrong! I know how you’ve gone wrong!
Third third of first Life in Hell.
You have come to the right man–for the first time in your life. I–know–where–you– Yes. I know, you have done it again. You are wrong again. STOP!
The music stops.
The engineer has been un-tuned
and stopped in his tracks.
STAY TUNED FOLKS!
So I’m this 63-year-old guy and I’m in a booth at the Museum of Television and Radio on 2/15/2002, listening to a Shep program broadcast 12/20/1959, and I’m doing my best to transcribe it. No, actually–I’ve caught myself–I’ve got a small cassette recorder hidden there in the dark and I’m recording it to transcribe later. Not many of this sort have surfaced yet. It’s one of Shepherd’s really laid-back, ironically amusing “philosophical” broadcasts that I like so much.
Now, about fourteen years after I’d recorded and transcribed in longhand (it’s now early 2016), I look over the eleven pages of script on ruled yellow paper. That’s only about 12 and-a-quarter minutes out of one of his extended programs. I know about how long because I just read it aloud–trying to give it the pacing Shepherd had–timing it with a stopwatch. (I do what I gotta do to get these blogs down right.)
This program of his really is a downer, but, remembering how ol’ Shep can tell it, I know just the kind of amusingly ironic tone he’s giving it, so I know I laughed while listening then just as I’m laughing now. (I hope this hint has readers also listening to Shepherd in their minds as they read.)
Now I’m wondering how much of it I can put down here without losing the audience. I’ve got to give it a try, and maybe break it into a number of separate posts. I hope that will keep the readers/listeners glued to Shep’s philosophical rant–(with the help of a meaningful simile-cum-pun) like bubblegum tossed on the sidewalk now stuck to the souls of their psyches.
…each one of us. Someone who stands off to one side and tells us how we can get it all straightened out. How we are going wrong. How we faulteringly missed the step, the eternal roadway of damnation. Always. I think there is a giant monkey on the back of everyone. It is truly. It is the individual corrective agent. The giant monkey of “Now look, you’re going wrong, and I know how to fix it up. I know how to cure it.” It might be a man, it might be a woman, it might be an incense burner for all I know. But there is that monkey on the back of everyone.
And nothing seems to deter them. They’re always there. They’re always waiting for their moment. And it’s no wonder–it’s no wonder that a good portion of mankind continues to believe in black magic of one kind or another. That the woman who looks out of the television screen, out of that commercial with the great flashing teeth, and she says, “I have just discovered the new wash-day miracle.” It’s going to straighten it all out! All of it! Happiness will flow through your family like a great river of Karo Syrup. A new miracle. And somehow it seems to be true–there is a new miracle. Until the next miracle. Until the next miracle. Until the next miracle. The next miracle, and the one after that.
Yes, be the first one in your neighborhood, friends, to burn Lucky Me-Joe Incense three times a week. according to the directions on the box. The sweetness will last for days. Your friends will love to visit you–and remark on the delightful perfumed fragrance that fills your home.
The burning of incense for luck was a secret belief known to the ancients and people of many different ancient, ancient, ancient, long-forgotten cults. It drives away your enemies and brings out those who will, in the end, be your true loves. Now–there is no guarantee that this will happen. We only say that it has happened in the past. So burn it, burn it, burn it.
To be continued.
Yes, Shep knows how we have gone wrong.
Will he reveal his secret verbal ingredient?
KID STORIES—FOR GOSH SAKE!’
I believe that among many Shepherd fans, his kid stories are the most popular. Among the hundreds that he told on the air, only about two dozen ever appeared in print—mostly in In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. We’re familiar with Ralphie wanting—and getting—a BB gun, and we thrill just to hear reference to various other stories. What about so many others that he told—we can access the audios to many of these, and listening to his compelling voice, for me, is the best, most authentic way of enjoying them.
But, as the astronomical sales of those first two books attest (well over two-dozen printings each of the two), there is something special (and undoubtedly more convenient) in holding a fistful of them in a book and reading, pausing, going back, re-reading them at one’s eyes and mind’s ease and speed.
As comparison shows, Shepherd added considerable text to the audios when he presented his stories for print. In Playboy, for example he added what he obviously felt necessary for that audience—expletives in army stories. In addition, he just beefed out the stories in ways that, for the most part, I feel are unnecessary. (Which is to say, in terms of conciseness and effect, I’d prefer that he hadn’t done it.)
For me (ego-centric that I am), that is one of the reasons I enjoy reading my transcriptions from his radio audios—which I very gently edited to retain his “voice,” not adding any words to his immortal voice-on-paper. I do very keenly feel his spoken voice in these transcriptions–see his travel narratives on this blog. Also see my Shep’s Army. I’m most proud of the Publishers Weekly review of it, which includes: “…a presentation that, against the odds, captures the energy of an oral telling.”
For the feel of his voice and existence in print—a medium that Shepherd felt was supreme in his life from childhood on—I’d like to see as much as possible of Shep’s really good stories immortalized in book form for the historical record. So one can see why I want my manuscript of Shep’s kid stories published in printer’s ink on good old book-paper. And hey, publishers and agents, I believe the book would make:
Photo courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
It’s a book full of minor despair and revelatory joy: left-handed disability and decayed teeth, crashing waves of words and Tinker Toys, April fool, dots and dashes, Mark Twain, Roman candles, pharmaceuticals and worms, steel mill with a tornado and catching rats, a date with flies and scragging, digesting snails and a Bugatti—putting hair on the chest and mind-broadening whacks on the ol’ noggin—encountering “an alive, magnificent, evil, sensual machine that lay low.…” All told*, making the kid a man.
What will happen to all the kid-story transcriptions
beyond their appearance here?
(Yes, this also is part of the “Rant.”)
Recently it looked as though the kid-story mnuscript might get published, as an associate at a publishing house read the manuscript and told me it was so funny and enjoyable that it led to laughing out loud and that publishing it was a no-brainer. But at an editorial meeting, it was turned down, surprisingly, by those who’d never heard of Shep and who doubted its sales possibilities despite the connection to the movie A Christmas Story and sales of In God We Trust. They also feared regarding rights to publish even though the Shep estate had researched the issue and had said to me in an email that it was their understanding that Shepherd’s radio broadcasts were in the public domain.