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JEAN SHEPHERD–Accolades, a Blog as well as (26) ARTSY

Jean Shepherd is my most elaborate and long-lasting artsy fartsy subject matter. My obsession and constant work on Shep-projects, that started roughly 10/19/1999, has no end in sight. It’s a constant theme of my daily life, including my searches on ebay where I encounter false hits such as the differently spelled name of a country/western singer, non-Shepherd encounters such as a 19th century poet, parts of names of actors, movies, books, etc., and objects of other sorts that include the name Shepherd.

I preserve and display my Shepherd files in “The Shep Shrine.” This includes his poster; his books; my Shep-books; books about radio including some with text about him; his original drawings; his films and videos; many audios of his broadcasts; text and audios of interviews of him and me; media articles and audios about him; photos of him; file boxes of my continuously updated book notes and background info; my original handwritten published and unpublished notes and manuscripts of books about him; text and info and props regarding my play about him and my Shep-blog; a box devoted to many “Shep People” associated with him, especially about Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown; a copy of his will; a large “Excelsior” banner; Excelsior Seltzer bottles; a small glass-topped box containing kazoo, jews harp, nose flute, and brass figlagee with bronze oakleaf palm; voluminous esoterica and various etceteras. And a one-of-a-kind Jean Shepherd bobblehead.

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The Shep Shrine and Me

(Partial View)

Jean Shepherd, as always, needs more recognition and effective promotional methods. He is quoted as having said, “You could be on New York radio for many years and be widely unknown.”

In my  Excelsior, You Fathead: the Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd,

preceding the book’s title and the rest of the 495 pages, I begin with accolades:

accolades 1accolades 2a

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JEAN SHEPHERD and Alexander King & (21) ARTSY-Full Color Newspaper Wars

In the late 1950s Jack Paar’s late-night TV program was the first big Tonight Show to gain wide popular viewership. (Remember that this was the show, earlier staring Steve Allen, that Shepherd was reportedly brought to NYC to take over—but the evidence shows that this was not so). Alexander King, as a guest, became very popular on Paar’s show. This resulted in high sales of several of his books.

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PAAR                          KING

King told autobiographical stories with entertaining wit and charm. The first paragraph of an Amazon Customer Review of a King book by Jon Richfield—-describes him well–at least as he appeared on TV: “King was a mercurial spoiled brat with enormous talent, great compassion, great selfishness, idiosyncratic tolerance and intolerance, impressive culture, totally variegated experience, a marvelous capacity for talking about it, and enormous charm. He raises serious doubts about some of what he says, but says it all with such natural conviction….”*

The New York Times obit of 11/17/1966 described his Paar appearances as providing “…witty, pungent, irreverent and continual outflow of comments on life, art, woman, sex, psychiatry, celebrities, narcotics addiction, and just about any other topic that happened to annoy him at the moment.”

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FIRST BIG KING BOOK

King’s charm, wit, and quirky energy captivated the audience. Shepherd’s style, being more of a slowly articulated description that relies on a build-up of humorous situation, did not grasp and hold a studio (or a home-viewing) audience sufficiently, I believe, which is why Shepherd-telling-a-story on television by simply talking, as he did on his radio shows, did not work. Fellow-performers on TV such as Ernie Kovacs and Victor Borge seemed to recognize this and undercut Shep—on live TV.

*King once claimed that he’d published his translations of Ovid’s love poems (43 BC-17 AD), even though he knew no Latin. He said that he gathered various translations of the poems and reworded them for the better. He said that he received acclaim for the best-ever translations of Ovid. Amusing story and very possibly true–but I’m not convinced. In fact, it may also be that, just as with Shep, little that King told was more than a smidgeon true to fact.

A.King Ovid book

The Love Books of Ovid:

A Completely Unexpurgated

and Newly Translated Edition.

Internet search shows several booksellers

offering this 1930, privately published book.

All booksellers (and the book’s spine) show

King only as illustrator.

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(21) FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS

The New York Times, from time to time, has published some esthetically lovely photographs. Beautifully composed, wonderfully colored. One might say, “masterpieces.” They compare with some of the great painted masterpieces of violent centuries past. Many of these depict the ravages of wartime. They’ve made me stop and wonder at my own intellectual/emotional conflict. I’ve saved scores of these images and concocted a couple into an elegant, cedar, cigar-box-artifact meant to preserve and remind. (It needs to be noted that some of the lovely photos I’ve saved from the Times are simply beautiful and not disagreeable in content.)

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Village: burns.

Man and grandmother: homeless refugees.

Women: grieve over the yellow head, cheerful red and white-striped cover

with body beneath.

burning landscape

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women grieving

A few others in my collection.
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photo recent0003

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photo black pot

There are still elegant photos in the Times, and I look forward to those to come.

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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.

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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–Performance and Creativity & ARTSY (6) The Bulls

Sometimes Shepherd discusses his thoughts about what he is doing on the air.  In part, this shows his interest in the nature of his performance, and also it’s probably a way for his listeners to realize that there is more to his work than coldly coming into a studio and talking. In a Seattle radio interview on KRAB-FM in October, 1971, he sets a little scene while talking to one of the interviewers:

When I am doing a radio show it’s really a performance. I don’t talk to the microphone or to the listener—I talk to myself. I’m having a continuing conversation with the other half of me, which keeps laughing maniacally and saying, “Oh, what a crock of canal water.”

And then I keep saying, “No, no, you don’t understand.” And so, when somebody is listening in, I have never yet gotten over that. All the years I’ve been on the air, all the shows I’ve done, I’ve never yet gotten over that curious little feeling of surprise that somebody actually listens. It’s private to me. I never think in terms of the audience.

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“It’s private to me”

It’s like if you’re sitting in your room, your own room someplace, let’s even say more intimate than that—let’s say a bedroom somewhere and you’re doing something. Let’s just say you, Helen [one of the interviewers]. Let’s just think a hypothetical thing. You’re sitting there weaving the great, mystic doily of all time. You’ve got the secret doily, this gigantic doily that has the history of the world woven into it, see. You’re weaving away there, see.

And you put it down now and you go out. You go to the A & P. You’re in the frozen food department and someone comes up and says, “Helen, my god, that doily is fantastic.” Someone you never saw before, see?

You say, “Oh really? You like it?”

“The thing you did on the pyramids.”

[Helen comments, “You say, ‘Back off.’”]

Well, that’s what I do. But the thing is, it’s a very private thing…. There’s an old actors’ axiom. It has lot of—it even deals in a way with Pirandello, and it says, “If you’re ever on stage and you start hearing yourself talk, you’re in bad trouble.”

Think of this: “I’ve never yet gotten over that curious little feeling of surprise that somebody actually listens. It’s private to me.”  Shepherd, in a way, feels that he is talking only to himself. Doesn’t that remind one of the idea that each listener indeed feels that Shepherd is talking to him/her alone?

Doesn’t it all remind one of how many creators are so locked into their own thoughts and feelings while they work, that each one feels that he is in a world of one? Truly, it does seem that Shepherd, especially, is within himself. That he is, most of his waking moments, self-absorbed. I suppose we mostly all are. When I’m in the middle of some engrossing project,  sometimes I have to mentally jolt myself into remembering that I’m also part of a family, neighborhood, world.

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The Bulls–¡Ole!

“By profession I am a drama critic, by conviction a believer in the abolition of capital punishment; by birth, English. The reader may find it odd that a lover of the mimic deaths of stage tragedy,  an enemy of judicial killing, and a native of a country which has immemorially detested those blood sports which involve personal hazard should have succumbed to bull fever, joined the aficion, become a friend and apologist of the Spanish bullfight. And indeed it is odd….But now the bullfight seems to me a logical extension of all the impulses my temperament holds—love of grace and valor, of poise and pride; and, beyond these, the capacity to be exhilarated by mastery of technique. No public spectacle in the world is more technical, offers less to the untaught observer, than a bullfight.” Kenneth Tynan, English and American theater critic and author, beginning his 1955 book, Bull Fever.

I was an aficionado of los toros. That is hard to believe for most people who know me (including my wife). I blame it on my cousin, Raymond B. Anderson, who, when I was an impressionable pre-teenager and he was years older, gave me advice on what to read. He suggested Hemingway among other authors. He loaned me his copy of Death in the Afternoon. I soon became hooked on Hemingway, bullfighting, and Spain. I ended up reading and collecting virtually all of Hemingway, becoming an enthusiast of the bulls, and marrying a young woman from Granada, Spain. Over the years I’ve seen a total of about a hundred bulls (usually it’s 6 per afternoon, with 3 matadors) “fought” in Spain, Mexico, and Peru.

Death in the A 1932

My poor-man’s first edition.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT IT.

I hate boxing, wrestling, and cock-fighting, etc. I am not a brave person. I have never been in a fight. I never hurt a living thing other than killing–and regretting it– mosquitoes and flies. However, I recognize that I, as well as most civilized people, live in a world in which there is little left of the primal essence and intensity that is our ancient heritage (all to the good, but we’re left with boxing and wrestling, etc.). In the modern, civilized world, there is nothing that combines our primitive being, fear/bravery, esthetic skill, our esthetic joys and terrors played out in REAL LIFE, and our “moment-of-truth” decisions, as does the art of toreo. (I’ll use a word like this rather than the inaccurate term, “bullfighting.”) Maybe toreo’s minor enactment of existential dread in our mostly sanitized modern world is worth some moral price?

pamplona.me in ring

ME

Having run through the streets

before the bulls in Pamplona, July, 1966.

Toreo is not a sport nor is it “fighting”—in Spain it’s not found in a newspaper’s sports section, but in a separate section titled Toros. It is not an “equal contest” as are sports, yet there are many strict rules regarding how the encounter is allowed to proceed. Neither the ring’s judges nor the public will tolerate breaking of these ritually determined rules. The judges administer fines and the public whistles and throws cushions. The rules are meant to properly allow for a “good” encounter—if the bull, at any phase of the ritual, is overly harmed (to make the matador’s job less risky than permitted), the encounter loses its efficacy: the power and emotion are diminished as it would be if Beethoven’s “Fifth” were played on a kazoo. Neophytes in the crowd don’t know anything about what’s going on. They think the opening passes by the matador’s assistants (that are a tentative testing of the bull’s reactions) are part of the ritual, akin to believing that an electrician, adjusting the priest’s microphone before a high mass, is part of the religious ceremony.

It’s an ancient ritual of man against a force of nature in which the bull virtually never “wins,” and the man may die and only temporarily perseveres until he is tested next time in the ring. The only “fight” is between the matador and his own bravery and sense of integrity. The man is up against certain aspects within himself: his bravery in the face of death; his decision as to how much of himself he is willing to brave at the moment; his esthetic sensibility regarding how to encounter with his choice and execution of passes, how close he’s willing to approach the horns of his potential death. In addition there’s his skill in knowing as much as he can about the nature of all bulls and learning in-process about this particular bull, improvising his strategy regarding this bull’s temperament. Properly orchestrated in the symbolic world of brute nature and a man, the man in the ring evokes the audience’s desire to encompass all those qualities within themselves, while facing the bull in twenty minutes of emotional intensity.

(How many people hunt down and kill birds, deer, and other targets just so they can beat their chest like a cave-man hero? And how many cattle are killed daily to give us the pleasure of wearing leather shoes? Or eating a good slice of London broil. I prefer mine with just a touch of red in the middle and a touch of burnt meat on the edges, while not at all thinking of “meat” that is actually an animal’s dead “flesh.”)

One sits directly on the concrete surrounding steps of the plaza.

As on the ancient Greek stone steps of an open amphitheater.

Barcelona cushion

Unless, like most, one rents a cushion. As Barcelona, in 2011, banned the corrida,

a cushion (a portion of my 9” X 13” one shown here) I found in the arena

after a visit to the plaza’s museo, would be one of maybe just a few remaining.

The hoped-for emotional intensity doesn’t happen often at the event called a “running of the bulls” (in Spanish, corrida de toros). One has to attend and endure some disappointing bull-encounters to experience–when all the aspects synthesize–a near-ideal.

Tauromaquia goes back a few thousand years in the West (see Goya’s 19th century depictions), but it only became formalized recently in Spain, and its esthetics, if I understand its history properly, only became high art with the early twentieth century innovations of Juan Belmonte, who chose not to move out of the way of the charging bull, but to create the frightening emotion embodied by standing rigidly still and controlling death to closely-but-safely pass by him, creating a moment more intensely emotional than the scripted leap and twirl of a ballet dancer. (By the way, I am a big fan of Balanchine’s dance.)

A series of passes (like a series of linked ballet moves) executed closely and with elegance, often result in the matador’s suit of lights being smeared with the bull’s blood–a stark dichotomy to the fineness of his splendid attire. Belmonte’s example led to the elaboration of elegant passes that advance the drama, as they must, to “the moment of truth,” the most intense moment of all, when man and bull are most in danger, and the bull will inevitably die. To exaggerate a comparison, would we be happy at the end of Hamlet if Hamlet didn’t die, but lived out a long and tranquil life? Hamlet has a predetermined and scripted end—and it isn’t “real.” Toreo is a fusion of art with real life. Real life—something we, in our civilized existence, seldom experience to any high degree. The audience, through the matador, is transfixed by a ritualized expression of life, death, fear, and artistically controlled bravery—the height of which is given us, in a few moments of escalating intensity, with a human’s triumph or tragedy.

….I can only say that many Americans, Englishmen, and Europeans generally, have found the bullfight something worthy of attention. That one of our premier artists chose to elucidate it both in his youth and in his older age is worthy of note, and I have never been ashamed to follow in his steps. Bullfighting is far less barbarous than American boxing, and the death of men comes far less often,…  —James Michener in his introduction to Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer, which recounts his following the 1959 season of competition between the two finest matadors of their day, Luis Miguel Dominguin, and Antonio Ordonez.

Hem & Ordonez

Hemingway preferred Ordonez. I saw Dominguin and Ordonez only once each, between 1966 and 1973. Both showed thorough understanding of the bulls and performed extremely well. Dominguin seemed cold, bloodless—a supreme technician at work. Ordonez seemed a highly skilled artist with flesh and blood and soul, at one with his bulls. By the way, a good torero feels an emotional kinship with the bulls he kills. The lead human participant is the matador–the “killer”—of bulls.

To get an idea of a really good performance, see:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr0UZUb3Tq4 

[When first posted, this was short with only Ordonez; now much longer]

eb on the defensive

In an ideal, perfect world, I can’t defend the corrida de toros.

Yes, it is brutal in parts and it does hurt animals. But still—

here are a couple of personal mementos:

IN THE RING AFTER HAVING RUN IN FRONT OF THE BULLS IN PAMPLONA

A SEAT CUSHION FROM THE BARCELONA BULL RING

AS A TOURIST I VISITED A BULL-FIGHT SCHOOL IN MAJORCA–

At the authority’s invitation to the audience,

I was first to jump into the ring, confronting

a small, harmless heifer—

I induced it to make one pass.

From the very small and untutored crowd,

I received an “¡Ole!

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FIRST PAGE OF MY ESSAY IN

CURATOR, THE MUSEUM JOURNAL.

lima toro ticket

MY TICKET FROM THE SPRING 1980 SEASON

OF 8 CORRIDAS IN LIMA, PERU.

I SAW THE FIRST 7 BEFORE HAVING TO FLY BACK TO NYC TO WORK & HOME

(Those were probably the last corridas I will  ever see. I remember the ambiance: the heat of the sun; the brassy blare of the plaza band’s  pasodoble; the acrid whiff of a Spanish cigar; the exhilaration after a matador had brought us to an emotional peak; the exultant roar of the crowd’s ¡Ole!)

I enjoy my loving family, my books, my artworks, my sofa,

my TV for some innings of Yankee Stadium’s manicured grass;

maybe a raw performance of blood sport on a CD–Dylan or Janis Joplin.

–I save my ticket, my photo, my cushion—

memories of 35 years ago: a touch of real blood

from my pagan past.

PS

I wrote the above thoughts in January and have been tweaking them a few times. On February 2, 2016, the New York Times had a major article on the front page of its “Sports Tuesday” section, about the current hero of the bullring, 40-year-old Jose Tomas, who, in the ring that Sunday, had been knocked down twice but not gored. (Note that the Times located the article under “sports,” as it does not have a section devoted to Toros.

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Jose Tomas that Sunday

www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYRnZFJq6u4

Geoffrey Gray, the article’s author, writes, “Tomas’s performances were savage ballets, a blend of elegance, fearlessness, timing and sacrifice. He seemed determined to pass bulls ever closer to his body, pushing the boundaries of how close a man could get.” Gray quotes Allen Josephs, a university professor and fellow aficionado, “We want the great matador to bring the animal closer and closer and closer. It’s playing with death. Why do we play with death? Because by playing with death, in some ways, we overcome it.” Gray continues, “In a real sense, bullfighting is more religion than sport, a ritual left from the ancient world.” He goes on to quote the professor again: “You know, the matadors are really the only high priests from the pagan days we have left.”

Coincidentally, on that same 2/2/16, I read the end of Julian Barnes’ introduction to his new book of articles about art, Keeping an Eye Open: “Art doesn’t just capture and convey the excitement, the thrill of life. Sometimes, it does even more: it is that thrill.”

A ritual left from the ancient world.”

My ancient, primitive world left behind 35 years ago.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–“I know how you’ve gone wrong!” Part 1 of …

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.

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…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.

miracles

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?

Stay tuned!

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Why Create? & ARTSY (5) Raven Rattle

Why do people exert the considerable energy required to create stuff? Why did Shep?

What follows are my thoughts/interpretations of why Shepherd did what he did, in part contributed by my own attempts at self-interpretation. Any comments and additions are welcomed.

Left-Brain-Right-Brain

Looks great, doesn’t it!

Relates to left-brain/right brain.

(I made the mistake of checking the googled source:

it’s about ads and marketing. Wooden cha know!)

SELF-EXPRESSION

For me, there is a great enjoyment I have in giving expression to my ideas and feelings. This is irrespective of the possible quality of the result. From following Shepherd, I believe without doubt that he got great joy in self-expression. I believe that most artists in all fields enjoy expressing themselves. Some claim that this amounts to an obsession. Sometimes I feel this–I don’t want to stop for food or sleep.

PURE ESTHETIC PLEASURE

There is pleasure in creating something that one considers to be “a work of art.”

PURE ENJOYMENT OF PROVIDING INFO/EDUCATION/ ENTERTAINMENT

Shepherd, along with most other creators had this joy.

The above categories involve “self-actualization,” the being at one’s

best/highest level that humans are capable of.

See Abraham Maslow–including my post on his work.

PURE EGO

This ain’t so bad. All of us need some of this, and artists tend to have it to a very high degree. It may even help them achieve all the other attributes listed here.

YA GOTTA MAKE DOUGH

This ain’t so bad. Most all of us gotta do this–unless born rich or happen to fall into it. One of the issues most artists have in life is how to balance the need to create with the necessity to make money to obtain food and lodging and a few goodies.

I don’t know how Jean Shepherd could have balanced art and money in any other way than he did. He might have continued–until he died–with his great art of improvised radio work at the sacrifice of more money and renown–but this would probably have driven his ego mad. I think that one of my heroes, Norman Mailer, determined and succeeded in promoting himself to the crass, real world in ways that for him, allowed him to write even his lesser writings in ways that, on some level, also produced work that had artistic as well as monetary value.

money

♥  ♥   

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Raven Rattle

I’m fascinated by raven rattles. These are objects used in ritual ceremonies by Northwest Coast Indians. They are carved with a raven and several lesser figures on or incorporated into it, using the typical, stylized shapes of Northwest Coast art. Ravens are usually depicted with something in their beaks. This is a “box of sunlight,” which the mythological trickster-bird opened and gave to humans (in a similar way to Prometheus giving light–fire/knowledge–to humans in the Greek myth).

The main part of the body is the raven. On its back there is usually a red-colored, naked human with his tongue out, being given (at the tip of the giver’s tongue,) some important attribute. Sometimes the giver is a bird, sometimes a frog, etc. On the bottom side of the rattle, carved in slight relief, is a bird’s head with large eyes and various abstract shapes in typical Northwest style.

ARTSY rattles.museum0005

Vancouver Museum exhibit.

When I was designing “Chiefly Feasts,” a large temporary exhibit of Northwest Coast art that would travel to several other museums in the U. S. and Canada, I flew and drove to see and consult at other museums, with Allison and our young son. I’ve seen many actual raven rattles in museums such as the American Museum of Natural History, Chicago’s Field Museum, Vancouver University Museum Victoria.

ARTSY. Chiefly F. by eb

My design sketch for one section of the exhibit.

For several years, every time I walked through the Northwest Coast permanent hall of the American Museum of Natural History where I worked, I’d stop and look at the good one on display. When our museum did a temporary exhibit brought in from another museum, I had the chance to hold a fine example during set-up time.

ARTSY rattle & eb

When I had more brown hair than white.

I’m holding it upside down

as one does during a native ceremony.

A conservator will tell you that the white gloves

are to protect the artifact.

From books, magazines, catalogs, I collect photos of raven rattles by the score.

ARTSY rattles.AMNH,etc0002

Clockwise from lower left: At auction, $30,000-50,000;

Three views of a specimen at AMNH; For sale at a gallery.

In my belief, many I’ve seen are not well carved. I imagine that a good one would go for many times what I ever could afford. As much as I try to collect real stuff, a few years ago I encountered a replica for sale on ebay, thought it compared very well with photos of really good ones, and bought it for $125. The seller, owner of a NW-Coast gallery, had commissioned a half-dozen, made by a family of Indonesian carvers!

A major issue for me is: I’d rather have an authentic one carved by and used by the actual people of the Northwest Coast. But considering all the inferior specimens, actually distastefully/poorly carved authentic ones I’ve seen (even those beyond what I might one day be able to afford) would I really want such a poorly done job facing me nightly? Other than its aura of authenticity, it would be one that fails in all the visual attributes that make raven rattles in the ideal such a joy to behold. My Indonesian replica is better made than most authentic ones I’ve seen—it gives me an esthetic pleasure I’d never get from a badly carved authentic one that visually offends me. Faced with the reality, I’ve denied my ideal principle. I’m very pleased to view nightly in front of me in our living room, my Indonesian replica.

ARTSY rattle.mine0005

MY RAVEN RATTLE

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

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

jean and lois c.1962

Jean Shepherd and Lois Nettleton

4.lois and sinatra dirty d

Frank Sinatra and Lois Nettleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A scrawled masterpiece by Marta Monteiro

BorderCover02_489

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

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

WHAT?

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

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

NYT book cover

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Eugene Bergmann,

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

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

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

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JEAN SHEPHERD–the sitcom

Think about a sitcom based on Jean Shepherd’s career. There was word that one might have been in the works a few years back, but the whole focus was altered and nothing happened.

My idea would be somewhat like the popular WKRP in Cincinnati which originally aired from 1978 to 1982. It dealt with a small radio station. I’d deal with a fictional WOR in New York City. The details would not follow what we know actually happened, but would have some connections to it, with some of the major characters, and would conflate calendar events as well as invent much, somehow based on our understanding of some real people and actions. Inspired by. And, I think it might have less simple comedy and more Shepherd-like humor. Maybe instead of sit-com (for comedy), it could be called, for humor, a sit-hum. Speaking of hum–the opening theme song would be “Bahn Frei” played on kazoo.

All names and some recognizable detail of characters would be changed.

Never fear—or hope—the chances of this coming to fruition are infinitesimally small.

CAST

of the immensely successful future sit-hum to be titled

EXCELSIOR, YOU SLOB

NOTICE

Photo below does NOT represent

the cast of Excelsior, You Slob

WOR cast

NOTICE

Photo above does NOT represent

the cast of Excelsior, You Slob

ALL NAMES BELOW ARE TOTALLY FICTICIOUS

(AND WILL BE ALTERED TO AVOID LITIGATION)

→Jean Shepherd←

GE idea 1

→The STAR←

A Midwestern radio guy who comes to New York to make his mark and create great art in many fields in the entertainment capital of the world. He has a special, captivating way of improvising his shows. He begins to create in other fields such as writing stories and television. He works hard at becoming an actor and artistic celebrity.

He pulls some noteworthy pranks such as an I, Libertine-type hoax, and various mills set up to disturb the tranquility of the populace.

Leigh Brown

A young woman living in Manhattan, who is immersed in the arts. She knows many young creative types in the Village such as Shel Silverstein, Rip Torn, Herb Gardner, Jason Robards Jr. When she meets Shepherd she is smitten by his mind and eventually will try to seduce him.

Eventually Shepherd hires her as a gofer, and she little by little works her way up to be his producer and much more.

Lois Nettleton

A young, beautiful, and intelligent actress who, captivated by Shepherd’s innovative radio work, has recently married him. She sometimes shows up at the station to Leigh Brown’s chagrin.

Herb Saltzman

The station’s General Manager.  He likes Shepherd, listens to his complaints, and is a sharp observer of all that goes on at the station, including the relationship between Leigh and Shepherd.

Herb Squire

The only engineer at the station who understands and likes what Shepherd does.

Laurie Squire

An attractive young woman who begins at the station, marries Herb, and acts as Shepherd’s producer when he and Leigh are off somewhere busy creating wildly creative projects.

WOR Executives

These klutzes do not understand Shepherd’s talent and disparage him when they can.

Sponsors

These klutzes do not understand Shepherd’s talent, but he sells product so they accept him.

Assorted Close Friends of Shepherd’s such as

Shel Silverstein and Bobby Fischer

Talented, young, creative types and celebrities frequently show up.

Hugh Hefner peeks in to hand Shepherd checks.

Village Voice luminaries arrive once in a while to cause trouble (i.e. Norman Mailer).

Jerry Seinfeld

Occasionally drops by to talk about nothing.

Assorted minor figures

Station engineers, many of whom dislike Shepherd; breakfast-cart folk bearing tepid coffee, frosting, and sprinkles; cleanup people; repair people; security guards who protect Shepherd from *(see below);  deliverymen on bikes carrying large orders of chicken with bean sprouts, egg rolls, and BBQ spare ribs (on the bone); etc.

Every year on Shepherd’s birthday, his mother shows up from Homan (yes, Homan) bearing a dripping brown paper bag full of what she knows is his favorite meal (me-lo, re-ca, and ma-po).

And a leg lamp salesman with, in hand, a large sample which does not light–salesman improvised by Robbin Williams or Tim Conway. Or both.

.

.

.

*(Shep-Cuckooswho inevitably crash and burn.)

[By the way, maybe this could work? I solicit editorial suggestions

and contacts with entertainment bizz VIPs.]

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JEAN SHEPHERD–GARRISON KEILLOR. & ARTSY (Intro)

KEILLOR

keeler photo

Many well-known people in the media have commented that they are fans of Jean Shepherd and many have been influenced by him. Among them, as we know, are Seinfeld, Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead comic strip), Penn Jillette, Andy Kaufman, etc. Most of us feel that Garrison Keillor has also been influenced by him, although it’s said that he has denied it. However we have some ambiguous pieces of evidence regarding this:

G.Keeler re Shep Bday                G.Keeler my career in radio0004

Good to see that Keillor, in public, recognized Shep’s existence on his radio program, “The Writer’s Almanac,” and on its accompanying website–nice to see that Keillor recognized Shep on his birthday.

But in his “Tanglewood’s 2008 Season” appearance, his little ditty printed here contains an ambiguity–or rather, an ironic denial. The ditty suggests that people who remember Allen, Bob and Ray, Benny–and Shepherd, claim he, Keillor, imitates them. And it’s only when those (misguided) old fans are dead will his true value (reputation) be secured. Really?! Not nice–especially in suggesting that fans of those older comics claim an influence (I never heard these claims), thus undercutting Keillor’s much closer resemblance to what Shepherd did.

To repeat from an earlier blog, here’s Shep’s blurb for Keillor  on the back of Keillor’s 1981 book, blurbed before Keillor became too big for Shepherd’s itches:

“I welcome Garrison Keillor to the ranks of a very endangered species.

Keillor makes you laugh, and that ain’t easy these days.”

happy to be here

I’d like input as to what ways Keillor may be similar in style to Allen, Bob and Ray, and Benny. And what about to Shep?  (Enough to be considered “influenced by.”) Is it just because they both talked, sometimes with a touch of humorous irony, about the old days when life was seemingly simpler–maybe with a sometimes subtle and unacknowledged nostalgia?

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“Something supposedly highly cultural, but to the

regular sane person merely pretentious.”

–Artsy Fartsy definition found on the Internet–

Long ago (do some still do it?) on the comics pages some Sunday funnies had a less-important, supplementary strip below (or above). I believe that “Smokey Stover,” that cuckoo strip about firefighters, sometimes had one. Shep’s delight in describing “slob art” (such as his old man’s leg lamp) inspires me to add to the bottom of some of my future Shepherd posts, a few of my quirky commentaries about some art that we have hanging around our house (or, like the “Venus de Milo,” just hanging around my mind)—most of the stuff that, in the main, is in no way slob art, but that for me has some unexpected backstory wandering through my consciousness that may be of some wider amusement–(aren’t life and art strange and wonderful?). I believe that my decades of work at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, and the widespread nature of my interests in the arts has led to some interesting contacts with such matters.

My Artsy Fartsy comments are not intended just to describe the art I like. My intent is to explore the quirky nature of why someone (yours truly, for example) becomes involved with particular creations and in what way they might have an interesting/unusual context that might surprise and delight regarding an encounter with the arts. Sort of like why the unexpected nature of Shepherd’s art of radio sound continues to fascinate me. Ah, yes—I also hope my comments are enlightening and entertaining. artsy cartoon

ARTSY ARROWS0010

“Artsy-fartsy individuals tend to be unemployed

and enjoy finger-painting.”

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NEVER FEAR–

SHEP AND MY OBSESSION WITH HIM

AIN’T GOIN’ NOWHERE.

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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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