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A few years back, in regard to the world of Jean Shepherd,
someone asked, “Who’s got the juice?”
Regarding Jean Shepherd,
what are some major sources of knowledge and material?
[Above, my Shep poster and the banner
Jackie Lannin made for me]
I’d say that there are three major sources, each somewhat different from the others. In addition, with Nick Mantis making his Shep documentary, he is gathering additional material, which is making him another important player in the game. College professor Quentin Schultze, who, years ago, began teaching courses about Shepherd’s work, has only recently become more widely known as a Shep authority. Several other sources should also be noted. Internet sources of audios, etc. should include the brass figlagee: http://shepcast.blogspot.com and several others, and some YouTube videos. Major collectors such as Pete Delaney continue to supply important material. What follows is just what I consider the big three, noting the major areas of their contributions.
JIM CLAVIN: HISTORICAL REPOSITORY
Jim’s essential website for all things Shep is www.flicklives.com . Jim has been collecting and archiving Shepherd material for years, and those with Shepherd material often contact him to send him previously unknown material. He has amassed an incredible archive regarding all aspects of Shepherd’s life and work, plus listing other various sources. I could not have done much of my work regarding Shepherd without being able to make reference to Jim’s site.
Jim Clavin, eb, and Lou Miano– 3 Shep fans
MAX SCHMID: PROMOTION AND DISTRIBUTION
Max, as a WBAI FM broadcaster for many years, has promoted Shepherd however and whenever he can, including years of early Tuesday morning rebroadcasts of Shepherd programs. People with Shep audios and other material often contact him and deliver the goods to him. He organized and presented a session with him and me on Shep for an Old Time Radio convention–see photo below. He continues to rebroadcast Shep when he can, and he is a fine source of available audios and videos of much Shepherd material: www.sheptapes.com
EUGENE B. BERGMANN: INTERPRETATION AND ESSAYS
I’m the source of some of the earliest audios of Shepherd’s New York broadcasts (I recorded him from 1956 to about 1963). My Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, containing an overview of his work and creativity was published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books in March, 2005. My transcriptions and introductions to dozens of Shep army stories, Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles, was published by Opus Books in August, 2013. I’ve been interviewed numerous times for print articles, radio broadcasts, and once on CBS Television regarding these books and other Shepherd matters. I’ve also written and published a number of articles in various periodicals about Shep, including a foreword for Caseen Gaines’ A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. I’ve published over 200 posts on my blog regarding many aspects of Shepherd’s life and works.
Other Shepherd enthusiasts continue to comment and help sustain his memory, and all of them are appreciated. To my delight, various well-known (and some lesser celebrated) people have also commented on the importance of Shepherd in their lives. Some I interviewed for my first book, and some, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Keith Olbermann, and Dee Snider, I’ve only subsequently become aware of as Shepherd fans. Even more recently, I found out that R. L. Stine (Goosebumps book-series author) and contemporary novelist Tom Wolfe, are also Shep fans.
eb and a well-known Shep fan
eb and a well-known Shep fan
[In foreground, four different editions of I, Libertine,
and on wall, an original Shep still life in ink on a paper towel.
Frequently Shep said that, “I’m an entertainer.” Yeah. And he was lots of other stuff on a rather high level of achievement, but was never as acknowledged as he felt was his due. I think that most of us (especially those who heard him in their youth) have felt that he helped them carry on despite adversity and be better at anything/everything than they might have been without him. This certainly included such luminaries as U. S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and comic Jerry Seinfeld. Probably not many Shepherd enthusiasts realize that besides entertaining us, he was often telling us something about life–often a bit ironically and always somewhat shy of total happiness. (One might remember the Mark Twain/Mississippi River/ Morse Code story he told about how, no matter how good one is, there is, somewhere, someone lots better! (For a partial transcript and some discussion of this, see my Excelsior, You Fathead! pages 357-360).
Probably only a tiny portion of Shep’s fan-base know that several of his stories have been reprinted into schoolbook anthologies for reading and study in English composition. More of these anthologies continue to be discovered. These textbooks usually contain “questions for study and discussion” and ”writing topics” for student essays. Considering his reverence for the written word, especially in books, Jean Shepherd must have been delighted. One such example is Shep’s “The Endless Streetcar Ride into the Night, and the Tinfoil Noose,” that was reprinted in this college text:
Typical of such schoolbooks as this Outlooks and Insights, the collection concludes each contribution with a “Questions for Study and Discussion.” Among the topics for Shepherd’s story are:
7. What do you know of the narrator from the story he tells? What do you learn of his appearance? His personality?
8. To what extent does Shepherd use figurative language in his essay? Cite several examples of metaphors and similes. What do these figures add to his style?
And even fewer people know that Shepherd claimed in one of his broadcasts that he had given lectures in communication at New York University.
* * *
And even fewer people have known that Professor Quentin Schultze, PHD, of Calvin College (Grand Rapids, Michigan), has taught courses in Jean Shepherd’s art of communicating his ideas and stories. Through my earlier contact with Professor Schultze, I told Nick Mantis about him and Nick recently interviewed him for his forthcoming documentary on Shepherd.
Professor Schultze, who teaches communication within a religious context, has studied Shepherd’s work in all media, and even had Shep participate in some of the class sessions. He got to know Shep about as well as anyone could. Schultze understands Jean Shepherd’s image of himself as a philosopher of everyday life (in America) and the common people, who carry on despite their problems. Schultze explains that Shepherd would look at everyday culture and pull stories out to illustrate his themes, showing in his stories how people live through the craziness of everyday life and survive it all.
Professor Schultze sees Shepherd as a “secular preacher,” and indeed, considering Shep’s rather negative views on life and people’s foibles, Schultz refers to him as a “Calvinist” secular preacher. One might note that Calvin had a rather negative view of the human soul.
I abide by Nick’s stricture that I not quote directly from the nearly hour-long raw-footage of the dialog, as much as I would like to have been able to record here large blocks of this fascinating interview. We must wait for Nick’s documentary and hope that a lot of Professor Schultze’s extended comments are included.
The interview clarifies, confirms, and greatly extends what we know of Jean Shepherd’s art and philosophy.