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JEAN SHEPHERD TRAVELER 2 of 4 & (71) A.F

 ASSASSINATION OF JOHN F. KENNEDY

November, 1963

jfk-nyt-dead

In my memory, Shepherd never made a political comment in his decades on the air, although some of whom I interviewed for Excelsior, You Fathead! said that, privately, he often spoke vociferously about political and social matters. A few months after the March on Washington, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Shepherd’s wife at the time, actress Lois Nettleton, said in a recorded interview that she, her mother, and Shepherd, were intensely disturbed by the news, watching on TV, “We even went down, walked around, went over to St. Patrick’s and saw all the people sitting on the steps and everything.  And he was—he had a very emotional side—very strong feelings, but I think you have to know that if you know his work.”  Nettleton commented that she and Jean had been strongly pro-Kennedy.

In regard to the assassination, Shepherd did not travel to another geographical location as he did in the other experiences gathered here, but he used the occasion not only to express his strong feelings about Kennedy, but his strong feelings about the state of the American psyche in those early days of the 1960s. He took a heart-felt journey–a 45-minute odyssey–into the psychic innards of the deep mental and emotional problems he saw in the American culture of that time.

The power of his words about the president and about the feelings he had might be compared to Walt Whitman’s elegy upon the assassination of Lincoln in 1865: Whitman’s ruminations on death, and his homage to the president he loved, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”

*

Shepherd’s style the week after the assassination was not typical in that, instead of his usually engaging in an apparent, informal dialog with listeners, he spoke as though delivering heartfelt lectures regarding Kennedy and American culture and personal psychology. He suggested that the recent ferment of student unrest, the civil disobedience, demonstrations and riots in the streets, with the America-bashing of those days, probably contributed to the atmosphere that led to Kennedy’s killing. He commented that there was a trend of righteousness in the country, “a super, hyper-thyroid Holden Caulfield.” Shepherd admitted that America had  problems, but said that other countries had more problems. He recognized that America was not living up to its ideals. His somber tone that week was underscored by his comment that he was not playing his usual, ironic, pompous, musical theme music at the programs’ beginnings and endings. Shepherd talked about Kennedy’s intelligence, humor, zest–all of which make people nervous. He talked about the problems of being a president in a democratic system.

I remember the first time I heard about Kennedy, and I suppose many of you remember… I’ve always been a Kennedy man. And–for probably different reasons than you can always state–how you like a certain person–very hard to know all the personal things that make you lean towards a man–make you believe in a man, and so on. The one thing that I have always noticed about Kennedy, that appealed to me specifically, was that Kennedy was a realist. And being a realist in today’s world is very dangerous. Because realism is not a thing that is easily accepted by Americans in the 1960s. And I always felt sorry for Kennedy because I recognized the fact that Kennedy did not give people a soft pap that most of them somehow wanted–on both sides of the political fence….

*

Noted by Shepherd–and probably by no others–at the end of the

Arlington Cemetery’s TV coverage:

Here was just this little, simple grave–and–it was just a hole in the ground–there was this little, simple bronze coffin. And there was a quick shot, which they cut away from, I don’t know whether you saw this or not–but it was one of the most poignant shots of all. It was a little moment after the funeral party had left Arlington and–the cars were winding back up the drive over the bridge, back over the river to Washington. And the four soldiers were still standing guard over the grave. You saw coming down from the lower left hand corner, two workmen. Did you see them? Dressed in overalls? Just two workmen with baseball caps, and they were coming to do the inevitable.

 And I have a–tonight I have a feeling inside of me–there is a great sense of–apprehension–I suppose you might say–a kind of feeling of–I hate to say fear, because it’s not that clearly defined. It’s a kind of free-floating thing–a strange unreasonableness–a fanaticism that brought about this unbelievable weekend–is not only still around but is slowly beginning to grow in this land.

For the days right after the assassination, regular broadcasting on Shepherd’s station and most others was suspended for coverage of the event. Shepherd was quoted as saying, “For crying out loud, finally have something to talk about–they took us off the air!“ But it gave Shepherd some time to think carefully, not be forced to immediately improvise as he usually did on his broadcasts. It gave him time to compose his elegantly crafted eulogy for his first night back on the air, in which he suggested how the mood of the country had been changing to an unsettling dissatisfaction with the world, and that this mood-change probably contributed to the tragic events. He ended by saying, “It was a terrible weekend. And I’m not so sure that we’re not in for a few more in the next hundred years.” He concluded the broadcast in a way very unusual for him, that suggested to me that he knew he had expressed something very special in this night’s program–he did the equivalent of signing his name to the eulogy, ending it with: “This is Jean Shepherd.”

jfk-portrait

*

A close friend and I had taken a train from New York to Washington

and we stood in line overnight to walk past Kennedy’s coffin in the Capital Rotunda.

Then we stood outside on the curb, watching with thousands of others

as the Kennedy family and foreign dignitaries slowly walked by in tribute.

Afterward, the public then dispersing, I removed one of the no-parking signs

from a street-pole along the route. I saw it almost daily

hanging in my workroom

for over 50 years.

no-parking-sign

Yes, it has been over fifty years.

I still can’t think about the events or see documentary footage of them,

without welling up with tears.

I can’t watch those images–I have to avert my eyes.

*

[Now, over 50 years later, Shepherd would advise us

to keep our knees loose and not avert our eyes.]

*    *    *    *    *   *    *    *    *    *    *    *   *    *

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JEAN SHEPHERD–A CHRISTMAS STORY for Christmas

 xmasstorytitle

The film, annotated, in part.

Years ago I wrote and submitted to a movie magazine, my overall description and commentary on that great American Christmas movie. But it was rejected, the editor said, because the mag had published a general article about the movie a few years before. Here’s a slightly-edited part of the introductory matter I wrote, plus a paragraph from the 2016 holiday issue of the magazine Vanity Fair.

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

“Was there no end to this conspiracy of irrational prejudice against Red Ryder and his peacemaker?”

In case the reader doesn’t know, A Christmas Story (1983) is the movie about a kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas.  His mother, teacher, and even Santa Claus, tell him that he’ll shoot his eye out.  He (a cute kid with glasses), his kid brother (very whiny), his parents and friends, live in the steel mill town of Hohman (actually Hammond), Indiana.  Their world is just as we remember life used to be or feel it should have been.  Yet almost every incident in this sort of picturesque, just-like-it-should-be world, ends in disaster.  But then the kid gets the gun and the parents show mutual affection, so all imperfections convert to life as we dream of it. The End.

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

NOSTALGIA (Jean Shepherd: “Get it out of your skull!”)

Although director Bob Clark once said that they worked hard to give A Christmas Story a recognizable sense of what many people would remember from their past, he did not suggest that the film was seriously meant to be an exercise in nostalgia.  Clark called it “an odd combination of reality and spoof and satire.”  That is not nostalgia.

Jean Shepherd, for all the humor and joy he expressed in his decades of nightly radio programs, had a negative view of life’s ultimate meaning, and often expressed an intense dislike of nostalgia.  From his earliest radio days he insisted that, despite evoking the past, his stories showed that the past was no better than the present.  On one radio program he put it this way: “My work, I think, is anti-sentimental, as a matter of fact.  If you really read it, you realize it’s a putdown of what most people think it stands for—it’s anti-nostalgic writing.”

A QUOTE FROM THE VANITY FAIR HOLIDAY ISSUE, 2016

Shepherd’s biographer [sic*] Eugene Bergmann points out that the line in the film that best describes Shepherd’s attitude toward life is when they’re getting ready for Christmas dinner and the Old Man is sitting in the living room reading the funny papers. “The viewer can see the Bumpuses’ hounds starting to trot past him, but he doesn’t see them, because the paper is blocking his view. And, of course, we know what’s going to happen—the hounds are going to get hold of that Christmas turkey.” So Shepherd says, in his voice-over narration, ‘Ah, life is like that. Sometimes at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.’”

*As I continually explain, my book is not and never was intended to be a “biography.” It’s a description and appreciation of his art.

With all of this, A Christmas Story is the funniest, most enjoyable, wittiest, clever and most satisfying film you’re ever likely to see yearly for twenty-four hours straight starting Christmas Eve.

Over fifty million people watch at least parts of it every year as it’s shown on Turner Cable television.  Some families, in their Christmas passion, have memorized the dialog and the narration, repeating them along with the film.  (Despite watching it yearly and remembering most details, my wife and I laugh unfailingly at the same places.) Most watch it yearly, filled with the teary-eyed nostalgia they bring to it, though most of them undoubtedly do not know what the film is meant to be about and that there is only the tiniest bit of authentic happy-days that I think was probably (through a producers’ arm-twisting of the script-writers) tagged onto the end.  The viewers’ ignorance is bliss.  Yet, they might increase their pleasure in this delightful creation by understanding more about the film, because knowledge and insight, as we know, is a very satisfying sort of adult bliss worth adding to one’s heretofore innocent enjoyment.  Viewers will come to understand why the kid nearly shoots his eye out.

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

Let’s follow A Christmas Story

from its opening titles to its picture-postcard, sugarplum end.

Of course not enough people read opening titles, but in this case, it’s worth taking the trouble,

because who created the film and narrates the entire thing is of much relevance to what it’s all about.

OPENING TITLES

Probably a vast majority of viewers don’t know who Jean Shepherd is, despite the fact that,

prominent among the opening titles they would read the following four:

Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Presents

A film from the works of Jean Shepherd

a-film-from-the-works-3

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

Ralphie as an adult

Jean Shepherd

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

Based upon the Novel

In God We Trust

All Others Pay Cash

By Jean Shepherd

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

Screenplay by

Jean Shepherd & Leigh Brown

& Bob Clark

•      •   •   •  •   •   •   

The title “Ralphie as an adult,” refers to Jean Shepherd doing the entire narration we enjoy so much.  He had previously used this narrative style in his 1970s television drama, “The Phantom of the Open Hearth,” and he described the style in his introduction to the published script of it, writing: “The Narrator is actually the voice of Ralph, grown up, but at the same time he is somehow mysteriously in communication with the viewer.”  Fans of the 1988-1993 sitcom, The Wonder Years may well recognize that form of narrative.  Shepherd, who, because of his use of it for A Christmas Story in 1983, had been considered for the narrator role in the sitcom, but had then been turned down, apparently because his adamant beliefs regarding his creative endeavors were considered too difficult to deal with.  Bitter for many years, he claimed that The Wonder Years producers had stolen from him not only his technique, but some plot lines.

For those unfamiliar with Jean Shepherd, note that he improvised his nightly radio program in the 1950s through early 1977, and that most of the film’s content was told by him on his shows in the early 1960s without a script.  Then he wrote down the stories and they were published in Playboy, then in his books In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’ Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters.  Shepherd, a major jazz personality in the late 1950s, is also known for his other films, several television series he created, as well as for hundreds of live performances around the country for decades, and for perpetrating one of the great literary hoaxes of all time: the I, Libertine affair. (You can look it up.)

Merry Christmas to all,

and may none of you ever

(even metaphorically)

shoot your eye out.

•      •      •      •   •   

__________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD & BOB DYLAN

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

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, 

play a song for me

In the jingle jangle morning

I’ll come followin’ you.

What questions would I ask?

dylan as woody

Bobby, is That You, Woody?

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

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

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

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

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

dylan-i-cant-2

Yes You Can–Love it!

Dylan quoted from a talk he gave in 2015: 

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

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

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

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

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

dylan-smiling

Nice Ta See Ya Smile, Bobby!

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

dylan-and-obama

The King and the President,

who says he’s a big Dylan fan.

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

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

dylan-writings

Keep on Rockin’

dylan-nobel-2

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

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

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

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

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

to some good rock and to some fine Dylan,

and then gotten him to admit what he really felt.

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

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

________________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–My books about him + SHEP’S KID STORY BOOK

JULY 26, 2016, JEAN SHEPHERD WOULD HAVE BEEN 95, AND SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I TURNED 78. I THINK WE’VE BOTH WAITED LONG ENOUGH.

My two failure-to-find-publishers for completed book manuscripts about Shepherd I’ve cannibalized and posted on this blog: Keep Your Knees Loose: More A. & E. of Jean Shepherd and Jean Shepherd Legends, Conundrums, & Gallimaufries. They detail my quests for new information about Shepherd, and include descriptions of communications I’ve received from his third wife, actress Lois Nettleton, letters written by his producer/fourth wife Leigh Brown, an interview with the delightful woman I call “The Vampire Lady,” an extensive interview with Shepherd enthusiast, lead singer/song writer of rock band Twisted Sister, Dee Snider, and an interview with the editor/publisher of one of Shepherd’s books and of Leigh Brown’s book, THE SHOW GYPSIES. I comment extensively on the similarities and contrasts between Shepherd and his best friend, Shel Silverstein. I discuss the relationship between Shepherd and Hugh Hefner, and with the Beatles. I describe how Shepherd’s creation for Sesame Street, the animated cartoon “Cowboy X” (which can be seen on YouTube), and his story about getting a fishing fly hook stuck in his ear, are both important metaphors for his entire career. The third unpublished book manuscript incorporates  dozens of Shep’s travel tales, also completely posted on this site.

My picaresque travels through the land of Shep have led to many adventures and to many new and fascinating discoveries–and I continue sallying forth in all directions in search of more grails.

  •   •   •   •   •   •

For the last two years (yes, 2 years) I’ve been told by a publisher that my manuscript of Shepherd’s kid stories as told on the air and none of which have been published in print, seemed close to getting a contract. Another publisher reported interest in it, but was heading for a couple weeks’ vacation around Christmas and he’d get back to me soon thereafter–it’s now July and no word. In mid-March the first publisher said the book was just awaiting a contract signature from one of the biggest/best-known New York publishers! Several months later (mid-May) I asked in an email what was happening about that imminent signature–I got no reply. It’s now several months after my tickler email about that signature and still no word.

For half a century, through fiction and non-fiction, I’ve worked hard at writing, attempted publishing, awaiting publishers’ responses to me (usually at least a 3-month delay in publisher-responses for each submission–and they discourage multiple submissions), and agonized my way through the contracted-for two Shep books from signed contract to publication day (Excelsior, You Fathead! and Shep’s Army). “Agonized”? Besides the understandable hard work, let’s just leave the rest at: lost battles, insult, and injury.

I tried 10 agents, asking them to represent my Shep books, and got no positive replies.

Now I’m tired of hanging by my thumbs.

So I’m going to start posting my transcripts of Shepherd’s broadcast kid stories on this blog. At any stage, should a publisher hand me a signed contract, I’ll sign it, stop posting the kid book (if I’m forced to), and we can get going on putting those kid stories in print-on-paper, the way  I–and probably Shep–would have preferred to see them.

Followers of this blog have seen the very positive forewords for the book manuscript from Twain, Fields, and Kafka. (Thanks, guys!) I’m about to start posting my introduction to this book that’s tentatively  titled:

I WAS THIS KID, SEE–

JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES

or

JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES–

I WAS THIS KID, SEE

or

SHEP’S KID STORIES

or something sorta like that.

Happy birthday, Jean Parker Shepherd.

_______________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–AM and FM, Plus (32) ARTSY Planetarium

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.

FM image

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 antenna

BTHS showing radio broadcast antenna.

zenith 2.26.13

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!

AMFMSplit_articleNYT

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!”

________________________________

________________________________

artsyfratsy 10010

(31) PLANETARIUM

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.

Hayden gone16

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.

planet poem front

planet poem begin 1

planet poem end0002

Just the first and last 2-page spreads in the book.

planet poem back 2a

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.

800px-Hayden_Planetarium_outside

STAR TREK

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.

planet entrance a

planet costumes (2)

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.)

planet memo formA0005

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.

ARTSY ARROWS0010

______________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–“Syndicated” Shep 2 of 2

Further comments from the syndicated Shep sets. I wish more syndicated sets could be produced at the same price and format as these original ones.

life is image

-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set

Life Is

In “Playing the Tuba,” Shepherd expresses his lifelong devotion to music.  He organizes this show in a progressive sequence, commenting on the common habit of meaningless humming—then moves us from this mindless noise to the beginnings of artful sound.  Only humming that constitutes a tune, he points out, is music.  He tells us how in eighth grade he began practicing the tuba for his school orchestra and that from the beginning he was obsessed: “I was a dedicated tuba man.”  In the telling, he has fun making a beginner’s awkward tuba notes with his mouth.  Shepherd has always been a master at entertaining his audience with sound effects, especially ones he creates by using his mouth as an instrument to produce all the sounds one might expect from some zany orchestra, and here he renders the tuba (even adding some cuckoo kazoo) with utmost fun and skill.

He goes on to describe playing in the orchestra, commenting that it was the first time he’d ever created beauty.  We are learning about his joy in making art.  He concludes with a paean to great composers—especially of difficult, modern music—and to the musicians who play the music, explaining that no one appreciates great compositions as do those who have to perform them.  Shepherd has done more than entertain us—he has given us his personal take on the evolution of sound from meaninglessness to art in a forty-five minute artistic riff on his own love of music.  All music lessons should be this much fun.

 

pomp and circumstance image

-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set

Pomp and Circumstances

“Have you ever had the vague feeling, friend, that your life is almost totally ridiculous?  That there is no dignity at all?”  What a way to begin a program titled “Pomp and Circumstance.”  Sometimes Shepherd likes to start out with an unexpected comment that shakes things up.  We know that it will tie into his eventual theme.  He continues, “You sit on the edge of your bed and you try to match your socks and you bust a shoelace and your nose runs and all that?  And you have a vague feeling that to that truly great, this does not happen.”

Then he talks about his grandfather, who “walked through life exuding great propriety.”  Already we can hear in our minds that music played during graduation in human memory, “Pomp and Circumstance,” especially when he follows with “we have an innate hunger for pomp-circumstances.”  In the ultimate comic put down of propriety, he does a great absurd kazoo performance of the music.  This alone is worth the price of admission.  He evokes an image: “You are graduating from the Ohio Institute of Chiropractics and Metaphysics.”  Picture doing that with great propriety.

the fatal flaw image

-Radio Spirits-From the program notes set

The Fatal Flaw

“The Fatal Flaw” has to do with petty thievery and two kinds of death rattles.  The thievery has to do with the lack of a sense of morality when encountering a gigantic, faceless institution, and the rattles have to do with the  death of a Model A and the near death of a boy named Shep.

Shepherd comments that soldiers steal from the faceless army—and that steel workers steal from the mill, a circumstance illustrated by those working in the “tin mill,” who steal small piece of valuable tin until a detection device eliminates that thievery and they have to come up with another material to make off with.  Some of young Shepherd’s co-workers in the mill decide to steal benzene for use as gas in their communal car.  However, that theft leads to disaster because the benzene overheats the engine, which reacts by dying in a horrible meltdown.

The near death of young Shep happens because of a car out of gas, a long rubber hose, and a couple of jugs.  We know all about the unlawful siphoning of gas from other people’s cars, the miscreant sucking until gas starts flowing, then quickly transferring the end of the hose to containers to capture the gas.  As one can guess, Shepherd the sucker, new at the job, swallows over a quart of the poisonous stuff.

What makes the tales of tin, benzene, and gas down the gullet so entertaining is not the bare outlines of the stories, nor even the exact words of Shepherd’s verbal concoctions, but his style, his details, his tone of voice, and, especially in this program, his melodramatic vocal sound affects.  The accelerating engine roar ending in a car’s histrionic death rattle, and then Shep-the-siphoner’s howls, yowls, roars, yawps, screams, screeches, shrieks, and near-fatal retching.  Shep the master has struck again!

End of Part 2

Today is April Fools’ Day. On this date in 1968, Shep told the story about the April Fools’ Day trick played on him when he was in grammar school. He replayed the tape of that earlier broadcast rather than speaking live on his last day broadcasting on WOR, 4/1/1977. Near the end of the tape, Shep comments about the kid trick. (And, coincidentally/ironically, about what WOR had done to him): 

“Humiliated before the entire world.

They heard!  I couldn’t figure out why they did it to me.

Why did they do this to me? ” 

______________________________________________

 

JEAN SHEPHERD–a short chronology, 1960-1999

Among the unpublished chapters in my book manuscripts, I encountered a chronology that, in its concentrated form, might be worth contemplating as a very short description of Jean Shepherd’s activities from 1960 on. It’s not complete or definitive, but should probably exist in some form other than in electronic blips on my computer and CDs.

1960-1977

The relative importance of his early, “night people” adult fans diminished in proportion to the subsequent, much larger student population who listened and who also attended his many high school and college appearances, and his many live talks around the country.  He met Leigh Brown, the cute, young, ambitious chick from the Village in the late 1950s, their relationship developing more strongly when she began working at WOR in the early 1960s.  His live broadcasts from the Limelight Café in the Village on Saturday nights began in February, 1964 and ended in December, 1967.  The basic week-nightly broadcasts were mostly 45-minutes long.  One never knew what sort of subject or mood he would be in and what sort of seemingly incongruent mix he might dish up on an evening, and the variety and quality of the broadcasts remained very high.

Sometimes he would tell a story or comment on the passing scene, read a bit from one of his favorite authors, sometimes play tunes on kazoo, nose flute, or jews harp, or knock out a tune by thumping on his head.  Some programs had all of the above and more.  As he loved traveling, by taking his tape recorder with him he would bring back audio samples and commentaries for his programs from such places as the Peruvian Amazon, Ireland, Germany, Australia, and the Windward Islands.

Several times over the years attempts were made to extend his listening audience by sending tapes of the broadcast programs around the country by syndication.  In one attempt, over 200 new programs were specially taped in 1964-1965, but little distribution was done before the project was lost and forgotten about in a warehouse.  Recently, these recordings, four and eight at a time, had been produced and sold in boxed CD sets. Then, more were released one program at a time at a much more expensive rate per show.

1961-07-25_038_destry_photo

Shepherd performed in several plays in the late 1950s and early 1960s, apparently wanting to concentrate on acting, but his then-wife, Lois Nettleton, noted years later, that as his natural style was improvising his own material, he had trouble remembering scripted lines.  No record exists for any acting after the mid-1960s. Of note, “Asylum,” which never opened, was an original play by Arthur Kopit, not a revival, so that its failure to open is doubly unfortunate for New York theater as well as for Shepherd in particular.

SHEP asylum

Regarding live performances, for most of his career he concentrated on performing his own material.  His attempt at doing his own storytelling by facing into the camera on television was not successful.  He did create, narrate, and usually perform, in nearly two dozen programs of two series of half-hour shows for PBS, Jean Shepherd’s America, in which, for the most part, the small video crew traveled the country filming subjects that struck them as relevant parts of American culture (1971 and 1985).  He also created Shepherd’s Pie (1978), a shorter series of half-hour programs featuring several subjects each, again mostly related to aspects of the culture that interested him.  He created three hour-and-a-half stories based on groupings of some of his originally published stories.  Most of his television work includes Shepherd himself as narrator, and he often appears on-camera.  He also created a number of other individual television programs that appeared from the 1960s on.

Although his short stories told on the air were so good and so popular, it seems that only a concerted effort by friends Shel Silverstein and Lois Nettleton had convinced him to write them out and submit them to Playboy.  (He had felt that the human voice was the most direct, and therefore best, medium, for telling tales.)  The first story appeared in June, 1964 and the last of the twenty-three in August, 1981.  He also wrote one humor piece for the magazine. Despite his antipathy toward the Beatles in particular and rock-and-roll in general, Playboy sent him to the British Isles in 1964 for their Beatles interview, which appeared in February, 1965.  Playboy gave him a “humor of the year” award four times.

Most of his short stories and some of his articles were published in his popular books.  He inevitably created odd and funny titles for his stories and books.  Although some of the names in his stories refer to actual people of his childhood, Shepherd’s short stories are mostly fiction.  (For example, Flick’s family insisted that he had never had his tongue stuck to a pole.)  Shepherd claimed that the themes of some of these tales were metaphorical.  For example, he noted that the BB gun story was an anti-war tale.  One might also find an anti-war message in his story of waring tops, “Murderous Mariah.”  Over the years, Shepherd wrote scores of articles for many diverse periodicals, and did forwards and introductions to books that related to one or another aspect of his wide-ranging interests regarding American culture.

Shepherd loved radio, but its importance in the culture began to decline in the 1950s with the coming of television.  His creative interests in other media expanded and his WOR Radio work ended April Fools Day, 1977.  Despite his love for New York City, he and Leigh Brown moved to a condominium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  In 1984 they bought a house on Sanibel Island, Florida, where they lived, becoming increasingly isolated, even from friends, for the rest of their lives.

sheps maine house

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JEAN SHEPHERD-Army stories funny or not? Part 1 of 2 & (9) ARTSY–Picasso

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.

SHEP'S.ARMY.Cover_Final

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 PATRIOTIFUNNY

“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

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artsyfratsy 10010(9) Picasso
ARTSY introPicasso

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.

ARTSY Picasso etching 20006

Illustration in my copy of the catalog

(Part of my Picasso collection.)

ARTSY icecream Picasso

A Baskin-Robbins

flavor of the month
ARTSY ARROWS0010

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JEAN SHEPHERD—KID STORIES!

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.

igwt paperbackwandaH←Perennial sellers

 

 

 

 

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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:

→$←

kid stories cover 1

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.

pun

What will happen to all the kid-story transcriptions

beyond their appearance here?

(Yes, this also is part of the “Rant.”)

→?←

FYI: I’d tried to interest 12 agents in my first Jean Shepherd book manuscript back in the first days of the new millennium and got no takers. It ain’t easy getting an agent. That book continues to sell after ten years, now having reached about 8,000 hardcover copies sold at $27.95–it should go on for a few more decades as a back-list seller.

 ?

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.

SO–NO DEAL

I gave up, but another publication possibility appeared and I await news. Within the next month or so, baring miracles falling from up there in publishing heaven, I’ll begin posting the kid stories on this Shepherd blog.
 
Best Regards,
 
Gene

!

P.S.– To readers of this blog–
If necessary, I’d forgo ALL royalties for this
Jean Shepherd Kid Stories,
just to get it in print.

!

Stay tuned.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–in the public domain

C. public domain

A major question in the world of Jean Shepherd’s radio broadcasts (in NYC 1955-4/1/1977 plus a couple of years before that in Cincinnati and Philadelphia) is whether they have a copyright–whether they are in the public domain.  If they are in the public domain, anyone can sell the audios without fear, and anyone can transcribe the audios (as I do) and publish them without fear of legal problems. Although people have been distributing Shep’s audios since before he died, the tricky and subtle issue had never been resolved beyond some peoples’ doubts as far as I know.

Library of Congress

“What Is Not Protected by Copyright? Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others: • works that have not been fixed in a tangible form of expression (for example, choreographic works that have not been notated or recorded, or improvisational speeches or performances that have not been written or recorded)”

[I believe that what’s important here is “improvisational

speeches or performances”]

Here’s what the Stanford University Library website declares

(http://fairuse.stanford.edu/overview/public-domain/welcome):

Welcome to the Public Domain

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it. An important wrinkle to understand about public domain material is that, while each work belongs to the public, collections of public domain works may be protected by copyright. If, for example, someone has collected public domain images in a book or on a website, the collection as a whole may be protectible even though individual images are not. You are free to copy and use individual images but copying and distributing the complete collection may infringe what is known as the “collective works” copyright. Collections of public domain material will be protected if the person who created it has used creativity in the choices and organization of the public domain material. This usually involves some unique selection process, for example, a poetry scholar compiling a book — The Greatest Poems of e.e. cummings.

This would apply to those who sell audios of Shep’s radio programs (as does Max Schmid: http://www.sheptapes.com), my extensive transcript excerpts in my EYF!,  and my own recent manuscripts consisting of my edited transcripts and commentaries on Shep’s Army stories, my transcripts of his travel narratives, and much more. Max good photo

SHEP'S.ARMY.Cover_Final

Without these uses of Shepherd’s broadcasts, I’d fear that his main claim to creative immortality would be gone with the wind into the ether. (Shep is acknowledged four times at the beginning of A Christmas Story but almost nobody reads opening film titles.)

♦  ♦  

The above was preface.

Below is a condensed narrative regarding my current adventures.

For years I’ve been searching for the answer as to whether Shepherd’s improvised broadcasts are (and can be proven to be) in the public domain. All evidence–the U. S. Copyright website, the lack of legal action against their use, massive commercial sales of thousands of his radio audios (and many other old time radio audios)–all indicate that they are being sold without legal hassle and are thus probably in the public domain.

Publishers of my Shep’s Army wanted a definitive answer to prevent possible legal problems. Through the help of Nick Mantis (Creator of the documentary-in-progress on Shep’s life) I requested an answer from a copyright lawyer. I got a good but not 100% definitive response–so my publisher took part of my royalty rate to secure safety from possible lawsuit.

On the colophon page of Shep’s Army, it states:

“Published by arrangement with the Estate of Jean Shepherd, Irwin Zwilling, Executor.”

public domain artwork

A couple of years ago I completed another manuscript of Shep’s stories but my publisher has not responded to my questioning: ya gonna publish or not publish? To avoid the inevitable hassles of the entire  process from query letters to editorial and accounting conflicts, I’d nearly decided not to attempt more efforts to get my Jean Shepherd Kid Stories published.kid stories cover 1

Photo of kids courtesy of

Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

I ‘d decided to simply publish them on this blog as I’ve done with Shep’s travel narratives.

(Exchanging publication-stress for pure blog-bliss.)

Allison, my wife, suggested that I give print publication one more try (I’d indicated to her that a book one can hold in one’s hand is what both Shep and I would have preferred.) As I have no agent (I tried and couldn’t get one years ago for my EYF!–ain’t that a drag? But then, remember how Leigh had to act as agent herself and hunt for a publisher for Jean’s The Ferrari in the Bedroom.).

I knew I’d have to deal with the public domain question again before I could get a contract for the kid stories, I emailed Irwin Zwilling, Shep’s friend/accountant, who was willed all his creative rights. Mr. Zwilling responded that he’d tried to resolve this issue for years and responded:

“Yes, it is our understanding that his radio shows are

public domain.”

OH, LIFE CAN BE SWEET!

Thus, the audios are available. And my editing of them and using them in my two so-far-unpublished books of transcripts–kid stories and travel narratives–are protected for me according to the Stanford U. description: “Collections of public domain material will be protected if the person who created it has used creativity in the choices and organization of the public domain material. This usually involves some unique selection process,…” (My editing for smoothness, continuity, and organization–retaining the feel of Shepherd talking–and especially in the kid stories, to form a “novel-like” whole.)

I await the next stage of the process.

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