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[Music stops.] Now look. Now look–we’re gonna level, we’re gonna level here. Just for one minute. And don’t you think that I’m here just–night after night just to entertain you, do you?
The more I read and type this Shep-rant the more I see that this form that he’s using is so very different than that of his more familiar 1960-1977, 45-minute programs! I’ve said this before? I’m saying it even more vociferously now!
As much as I like this free-er form Shep, I wonder. Is this earlier Shep actually the more unforced, just talking, just musing, “letting it all hang out,” unstudied Jean Shepherd persona that Lois Nettleton and he preferred–sustainable? When he switched to the 45-minute format, did he realize that not only did a 45 minutes format work against this unguarded Shep, but, if one was going to continue this radio gig for untold years, one could probably not keep this mock-hostile (?) attitude up.
You can’t improvise one’s (rather nasty) curmudgeonly self five nights a week for years. Is it too much all of a sameness after a while? One has to have a format that allows one to bring forth and attach ideas to (improvising in a more controlled format environment). In that one can expand one’s attitudes–downer, funny, informative, mix-em up more.
Is this what I’ve been grasping for in each attempt to analyze and distinguish Shep’s performance variations over the years?
And furthermore I’m going to tell you another thing. We’re gonna have to–this is a moment now, since its almost time to quit. Almost time to quit. We might as well shell it out. I’m not here to play for laughs. I’m not here to entertain you really, you know? I’m here for a much more devious purpose than that.
To begin with, many people here at this very radio station do not even know I am here. They just see it on the log–“The Jean Shepherd Show.” They’re all home there watching television. Doesn’t make any difference. They don’t know.
But I’ll tell you what I’m here for. I am here, and am an extension of–your conscience itself. I am here because I know where you went wrong. I know where you went wrong. The reason I know where you went wrong is because I know where I went wrong. And since I know where I went wrong, I know darn well where you went wrong!
[All this is spoken in mock-argumentative terms.]
So don’t give me any of that jazz! Do you hear me? Any of you! You have fouled up too! You are caught in the same thing. All of you. So don’t–give–me–any–of–your–lip.
STUDY THIS REMINDER!!!
That’s what I’m here for. [Music starts.] So play it cool and easy. I know. You know. We should be honest for the first time. You are not fooling me and I am not fooling you. The thing to remember most of all is that you’re not fooling me. Just because I come out of that crummy little plastic box on the top of your refrigerator does not mean you can push me around….The wrong spot! Yes, by the short ones. So–you know– in the end you’re just gonna have to rely on style. Because you got no content! So don’t try to get by with a message–you ain’t got it….
I am not here to play those old familiar melodies that all of you whistle in your sleep. Not a bit of it. Not a bit of it. I am not here to mouth those old familiar platitudes that fall like autumn leaves from the bottom of bank calendars. Oh no.
Enough? He goes on and I’ve got a bit more transcribed, but enough. I know he had to quite this earlier style, or maybe even I could not have followed him, with all his incorporated funny bits, into the future.
Even so, he could not last forever.
He let go in early 1977.
KID STORIES—FOR GOSH SAKE!’
I believe that among many Shepherd fans, his kid stories are the most popular. Among the hundreds that he told on the air, only about two dozen ever appeared in print—mostly in In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories. We’re familiar with Ralphie wanting—and getting—a BB gun, and we thrill just to hear reference to various other stories. What about so many others that he told—we can access the audios to many of these, and listening to his compelling voice, for me, is the best, most authentic way of enjoying them.
But, as the astronomical sales of those first two books attest (well over two-dozen printings each of the two), there is something special (and undoubtedly more convenient) in holding a fistful of them in a book and reading, pausing, going back, re-reading them at one’s eyes and mind’s ease and speed.
As comparison shows, Shepherd added considerable text to the audios when he presented his stories for print. In Playboy, for example he added what he obviously felt necessary for that audience—expletives in army stories. In addition, he just beefed out the stories in ways that, for the most part, I feel are unnecessary. (Which is to say, in terms of conciseness and effect, I’d prefer that he hadn’t done it.)
For me (ego-centric that I am), that is one of the reasons I enjoy reading my transcriptions from his radio audios—which I very gently edited to retain his “voice,” not adding any words to his immortal voice-on-paper. I do very keenly feel his spoken voice in these transcriptions–see his travel narratives on this blog. Also see my Shep’s Army. I’m most proud of the Publishers Weekly review of it, which includes: “…a presentation that, against the odds, captures the energy of an oral telling.”
For the feel of his voice and existence in print—a medium that Shepherd felt was supreme in his life from childhood on—I’d like to see as much as possible of Shep’s really good stories immortalized in book form for the historical record. So one can see why I want my manuscript of Shep’s kid stories published in printer’s ink on good old book-paper. And hey, publishers and agents, I believe the book would make:
Photo courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
It’s a book full of minor despair and revelatory joy: left-handed disability and decayed teeth, crashing waves of words and Tinker Toys, April fool, dots and dashes, Mark Twain, Roman candles, pharmaceuticals and worms, steel mill with a tornado and catching rats, a date with flies and scragging, digesting snails and a Bugatti—putting hair on the chest and mind-broadening whacks on the ol’ noggin—encountering “an alive, magnificent, evil, sensual machine that lay low.…” All told*, making the kid a man.
What will happen to all the kid-story transcriptions
beyond their appearance here?
(Yes, this also is part of the “Rant.”)
Recently it looked as though the kid-story mnuscript might get published, as an associate at a publishing house read the manuscript and told me it was so funny and enjoyable that it led to laughing out loud and that publishing it was a no-brainer. But at an editorial meeting, it was turned down, surprisingly, by those who’d never heard of Shep and who doubted its sales possibilities despite the connection to the movie A Christmas Story and sales of In God We Trust. They also feared regarding rights to publish even though the Shep estate had researched the issue and had said to me in an email that it was their understanding that Shepherd’s radio broadcasts were in the public domain.
Because of all the foregoing [in Gene B. Rant. Part 1.], I’d decided to take my transcripts of that “sure-to-be-a-hit other manuscript of Shepherd material” and soon I was gonna start posting it on this blog too. (Hey, publishers and agents, why not take a look?) Just as the army stories joined into what I like to think of as a “coming of age novel,” I believe the same can be said of the gathering and organizing of my third book of Shepherd transcripts, tentatively titled:
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
Photo of kids courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.
A book of
that read in sequence
as a coming-of-age novel.
From kindergarten through grammar school,
high school dating,
the steel mill,
and two college-age
I love epiphanies, don’t you?
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GE TV ad:”Ideas are scary”
I will no longer attempt to get these kid stories printed.
I will begin posting them on this blog.
Should something change,
and a publishing opportunity fall into my lap,
I’ll go for it.
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
may never be published other
than on this blog.
the truth is I never left you.”
[A line from “Shep,” the (someday) great, operatic musical film
co-starring me as Antonio Banderas.]
? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
“I’m one of the great underground performers.
In spite of the fact I have millions of fans,” he proclaims,
“I can’t imagine why [someone] wouldn’t know about me . . .
I’ve had three best-sellers, I’ve published forty-eight stories in Playboy.
[By my count, 23 stories, one humorous article, and The Beatles interview.]
Critics have done papers on me. I’ve influenced more kids.
I’ve done thousands of shows at colleges. I’ve been
on the Carson show many times and on the Merv Griffin show.
I’ve had my own television series for years on PBS.
And yet [some people] never heard of me.
Now you’re understanding the nature of twentieth-century fame.”
–Jean Shepherd quoted in Maralyn Lois Polak’s
The Writer as Celebrity.
“…sure enough, he was found in the morning frozen to death but
nevertheless he had there next to him the sign that read
And this is the story of all mankind’.”
—Jean Shepherd, 1958.
“Never give up!”--Gene B. 2015.
Hey, gang, this all sorta sounds like the kind of justified complaints that Shepherd engaged in from time to time over the decades. Maybe all of the above is nothing but my parody of Shep’s complaints? Maybe. But then, maybe not.
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“You could be on New York radio for many years
and be widely unknown.” –Jean Shepherd
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Regarding Shep’s third book of short pieces, The Ferrari in the Bedroom, Shepherd’s main publisher, Doubleday, who had best sellers publishing his first two books of stories, rejected it. Leigh Brown had to go shopping it around until Dodd Mead bought it.
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Where were/are all the Fatheaded Jean Shepherd fans?
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(This is a desert.)
Lemme put it to you another way: the number of listeners Shep had during his live broadcast days has been given at many hundreds of thousands; the lowest figure I’ve ever come across is 60,000.
If there were only 60,000 of us in the 60s and 70s, where are they now—maybe 10,000 are dead; maybe 20,000 don’t pay attention and don’t know there are thousands of free and nearly free audios of Shep shows, three websites, one blog, several trade paperbacks of his stories and articles easily available, two books focused on his work, numerous books with significant references to him, and the Internet with numerous articles about him including Donald Fagan’s on “Slate” and Richard Corliss’s marvelous tribute on the Time Magazine site. And what about the hour Seinfeld talked about him at the Paley Center? Wake up, Shep enthusiasts!
THAT LEAVES AT LEAST
Shep listeners are not like other people–
They are enthusiasts–fanatics,
understanding from their first contact with him
that he is their intellectual soulmate, mentor!
WHERE ARE ALL THOSE FATHEADED JEAN SHEPHERD ENTHUSIASTS NOW?
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The only positive note I can come up with is that In God We Trust, his first book of kid stories, is now, according to its current colophon page, into its 46th trade paperback printing. Encountered recently in a book store. How the
xxxx did that happen?! See below–earlier (only 38th) printing ↓
Why hasn’t the Paley Center released on DVD the Shep-tribute hour as they have all those other programs (that are apparently very popular, but which I’ve never heard of)?
Don’t they care about promoting and disseminating
their fine Seinfeld tribute to Shep
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And why does the Facebook group, with its bold and straightforward name “I’m a Fan of Jean Shepherd,” have less than 700 members instead of tens-of-thousands? And why does only a small handful of those few hundreds ever post on the group? Two of those maybe-a–dozen who post (Max S. and Gene B.) mostly promote their basic Shep-work from elsewhere for anyone who might care.
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Why has the only book about his career (my Excelsior, You Fathead!) in ten years not quite sold 8,000 copies yet? Where are the other 22,000+ Shep enthusiasts? (I recently encountered that on amazon.com, EYF! and S’s A each have about 43 mostly very enthusiastic Customer Reviews.)
Why doesn’t some theatrical producer, or influential Shep-enthusiast, grab my play about Shep? Kevin Spacey, where are you?
Why did my current publisher inform me last year that, after a year on the market, my Shep’s Army book had yet to sell 2,000 copies?
Because of those less-than-2,000 copies, my publisher doesn’t want Shep’s travel-story manuscript, which is why I’m posting the chapters on this blog. And my publisher has even failed to respond to my other manuscript of Shepherd material that’s sure-to-be-a-hit-if-people-pay-attention.
“Get an agent!” Tried that–and no agent is interested even in books with somewhat of a built-in audience. Way back, looking for a publisher for EYF! I chose a dozen agents that seemed likely prospects and sent them query letters with SASEs. I received back 5 no thanks, 4 lots-a-luck but no thanks, and 3 no response. An agent’s commission even on my EYF! would have been under $3,000 so far–is that piddle worth any agent’s time? (And, in recent decades, most publishers won’t even look at a book that isn’t submitted by an agent.) I do not have an agent–not because I haven’t tried.
“Self-publish!” Got any idea how much that costs? Any idea of the non-creative drudgery that involves? What about promotion? Of course I’d broadcast to the email group and the Facebook group and my blog, and I’m sure that flicklives.com would promote it, but, based on previous experience, would that sell enough even to get an agent’s attention? What about distribution? Without having to spend thousands on a small ad somewhere, how would anyone find out about it?
Why don’t I start sending out that sure-hit manuscript to more publishers and more agents? Because I’ve spent over 45-years struggling to get my varied manuscripts accepted and I’m tired of that struggle—it’s a hassle and mostly a time-waster. (“Had we but world enough and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime.”) I’ve experienced many of the aggravating but inevitable snags on the route to publication. The least of which is having to wait–hanging by my thumbs–at least 3 months for a reply for each submission. Should I get an offer out-of-the-blue, yes, I’ll take it. Then I’ll do my very best in the pre-publication process–even though knowing through previous experiences that I’ll have to struggle and spend my precious time going through those grueling pre-publication frustrations and compromises endemic between contract and publication day–yet, it would be worth it all! And I ain’t in it for the nickels and dimes.
• Gene B. and Max Schmid at Old Time Radio convention.
• 70 people at a CT library to attend my discussion of EYF!
• Only TV interview: SHEP’S ARMY.
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And, speaking of my blog, why has it taken several years to even build up what I estimate to be only about 100 readers per post? My site statistics indicate that recently I’ve just achieved 110 “followers,” whatever that means. And why do so few of those 100-or-so people think to comment about Shepherd at the site?
And talking about posting my Shep’s travel manuscript on the blog, I’ll remind you—and myself—that a fair portion of the posts of mine on varied non-travel Shep subjects I’ve cannibalized from my other two unpublished book manuscripts of miscellaneous (and wonderful!) content about Shep.
So—where does that leave me? Am I discouraged?
But I carry on with my Excelsior banner held aloft.
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