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THE POSSIBLE DREAM
Of course the “quest” never ends. By persistence, luck, and bumbling happenstance, little grail-ettes have appeared during my searches. Yet he who quests, sometime must recognize that, as for his personal dream of the grail and his being able to listen and contemplate those overnight Jean Shepherd programs of early 1956, the search, for him at least, must end, and the grail, in his imagined future, will surely emerge from somewhere, sometime.
Proposed covers for a boxed set.
Someday this may be more than an impossible dream.
Surely, somewhere, tapes must still exist, the ultimate missing link between Shepherd’s tadpole days in radio and his glorious years on WOR Radio from 1960 onward. Maybe the “Jazzman,” as I call him, who claimed to have tapes of those one-to five-thirty nightly jazz-like performances in words and other sounds, will deliver the goods he’s been neglecting all these years. Maybe the tape hasn’t yet gone to dust—damn you, jazzman! Or maybe some other recording angels will remember their stash of grails and come forth, giving gold to the world of audio art.
With each word I write and publish about Shepherd’s career, I’ve hoped that the grail would appear as in a dream, in time to be written about and published in a book and audios. It has not happened. And I doubt that significantly more new material about Shepherd’s career will emerge that could be formed into another book that would include such a grail. So the permanent and easily accessible format for disseminating information and interpretation about it will probably never happen.
Yet I can imagine that loads of tapes will someday appear, enough to provide reams of transcripts and analysis sufficient for some sort of publication. But who would publish it and who would read it? Maybe a combo—CDs of broadcast excerpts with some written discussion of their content? Only some few supremely dedicated fanatics (Shep-cuckoos such as myself) might buy such a treasure, although the content would surely be such that would entertain, enthrall, and enlighten hordes of listeners.
Should audios appear, and recognizing that they were spoken by Shepherd in a manner to be heard in the late, night-people hours when life is mostly tuned down to an attitude meant for gentle and improvised allurement, I suggest they be listened to, most appropriately, as late at night as the listener can stay awake.
Maybe someone will self-publish and store in dusty closets, boxes of these CDs with text, waiting for sales. That may be my only reasonable hope, but how reasonable is that? Beyond that, maybe Shepherd has the last word regarding what we insignificant humans get so excited about:
“Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory? Think about it, friends. It’s not just a possibility. It is a certainty.”
–Jean Shepherd, 1975
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.
The Shep Shrine and Me
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:
THE COMPULSIVE I WANT, I WANT, I WANT IT STORY
I want a lot of Shep stuff for lots of reasons. To know more about Shepherd, to add to the historical record, both for itself and so I can publish it as part of my work on Shep, to be able to just look at the material and know that it’s mine there on the shelf or hanging from the ceiling, to just be able to think about my Shep stuff anytime I daydream—the typical obsessive collector.
The two-sided sign found at Snow Pond
I want that EXCELSIOR YOU FATHEAD sign from his vacation home at Snow Pond, Maine and that Audubon book with the Jean words and drawing to Leigh.
And I want to rummage through every last scrap of Shep-stuff they have stored away. I want some of that salvage material from Sanibel Island—just to look at and touch and know they are a personal part of Shepherd. And what goodies in attics or compost piles, worthy of dissemination, lie crumbling to ruin?
I want the travel journals that Shepherd said he kept of all his trips around the globe. Do they still exist? I imagine them as thick, hardbound black sketchbooks filled with commentary, insights, and maybe even drawings made on-site. What treasures, related to his great love of experiencing life in new places. What major treasures unto themselves and as private documents of his mind at work regarding one of his favorite enthusiasms—taking part in everything, everywhere he could—a passion of his that directly connected to his profound belief that one must experience to the fullest, as much of life as possible.
And those damn tapes of his overnight shows. Oh, jazzmen, camp-owners, salvager, oh, old flames (real-life loves and mere dedicated listeners alike), oh, even you bloody curators of middle-Europa Dracula Museums—come forth from your closets and crypts!
Emotion Outranks Technique 1 of 2
As a general rule regarding my enthusiasms in the arts, I tend to give some preference to emotional expression over technical agility. Understand that the expression must be backed with some facility to perform the act—not just awkwardly scatter emotion willy-nilly. Thus, my preferences might include Maria Callas, Bob Dylan’s singing of his own music, flamenco guitarist Diego del Gastor, and artists such as American modernist John Marin and English modernist Ivan Hitchens. (Marin and Hitchens Artsy to come.)
Callas, Dylan, Diego del Gastor
I know and understand little of opera, but I can appreciate that, even though it’s generally agreed that Maria Callas lacked the highest technical ability, her emotional/artistic ability prevailed.
Joan Baez, in her August 17, 1963 Forest Hills concert I attended, brought out a scraggly guy I’d never heard of and he began to sing what almost seemed like a one-note song. But it altered a bit at the end of each line in a rough-hewn and intriguing way, and by the time he’d completed his rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” I was captivated—the next day I bought the only albums of Bob Dylan available, his first two. (I had heard others’ recordings of a couple of Dylan songs, but didn’t know who wrote them.) To this day, hearing “Peter, Paul, and Mary” or “The Byrds” singing Dylan songs, I shiver with dislike at their vanilla renditions that lack all empathy for what they render compared to the authentic Dylan. (I have the impression that Peter, Paul, and Mary are heartfelt activists for many good causes, but, for me, their performances don’t project that.) Dylan is not exactly a heart-felt performer–but for me, he has artistic integrity grasped tightly in his fists–and vocal chords. I enjoy few non-Dylan singers of Dylan songs except for Joan Baez. (Yes, and of course such performances as Jimi Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower.”)
I enjoy flamenco—especially guitar renditions. I enjoy the complex and rapid technical ability of Carlos Montoya, Sabicas, Paco de Lucia, Manitas de Plata, and their like. But then I discovered (in a book written by an American!) an artist without their flashy and captivating theatrics, one who played a slower, deliberate, more profound, more emotional flamenco in a style that seems more authentic to the origins and meaning of the art. Diego del Gastor lived in a southern Spanish town and didn’t care to record or concertize or tour or become a celebrity. Diego did not play with groups one might see on television, groups where the female dancers wear elaborate polka dot costumes, where ignorant tour-groups are brought–where I’ve seen Granada gypsies perform in their caves decorated with shiny brass pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Diego was a true master artist. He had what in Spanish is called corazon, he had duende. He would pick up any old, tattered guitar at hand and play it, bringing out its soul. He taught a bit, he sensitively accompanied traditional singers and dancers–as is the flamenco guitarist tradition–and played for his friends in small, nearly private gatherings known as “juergas.” Now he is gone, but fortunately, a few times he had allowed himself to be recorded at these small gatherings–one can see and hear him play on several YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvOIri5vuZw. Only in one of those videos, during a traditional flamenco celebration, does one see him on a stage.) I’d never seen him live, so videos–and audios captured from them–are all I possess of him. Diego has integrity. He is authentic. He enthralls!
Now I watch and listen to no other flamencos.
WHEREFORE ART THOU, EARLY SHEP?
Some familiar with my thinking about Jean Shepherd’s early radio work will remember some of my comments regarding his “overnight” New York broadcasts (January to mid-August, 1956). Lois Nettleton, Shep’s early “The Listener,” when she read those dates in my EYF! book, couldn’t believe it only lasted that short a time! I put it all here together, with my familiar comments.
(Some of this info gotten from http://www.flicklives.com)
Cincinnati and Philadelphia 1/30/1947-1/30/1954
Earliest reported broadcasts (no comments about earlier-than-this-Shep on the radio).
All that is available that I know of is a short snippit from the beginning of a Cincinnati show and his last two half-hours from Philadelphia. These two suggest that, as some have reported, his casual, improvised, and stream-of-consciousness style began and continued for some time during this period. That no recordings of the period have yet surfaced might well be because affordable recording equipment was not yet available to the general public.
New York WOR “overnights” 1/7/1956-8/13/1956
This is the period of listeners most appropriately referred to as “Night People,” and included late-night listeners such as jazz musicians, artists, Lois Nettleton, etc. A few people have reported listening during this period, but have no extensive memories. This period includes the I, Libertine hoax, the Sweetheart Soap commercial, and his reporting that he had been fired. A few people reportedly retain recordings from this important period, but none have come forward with any. Early tape machines readily available (but expensive) were then for sale and probably mostly bought by musicians wishing to record others and themselves. (My mother bought one to record her violin playing, so I began using it to record Shep as early as Sunday nights, September, 1956.)
(A well-known jazz musician/critic has not yet come forward with his recordings.) As I’ve done before, I implore people to come forth so that such early recordings are preserved–before those recordings are tossed in dumpsters by the Shep-enthusiasts’ heirs.
New York WOR Sundays 9:05-1:00 A.M. 9/9/1956-9/11/1960
From the few extant recordings of this period, Shep’s style might be assumed to be similar to his previous overnight style, though my guess is that the overnights (because of the late hours) may well have been even more laid-back, and he seemed to have played, during the Sunday nights, less extensive musical interludes.
“Jean Shepherd Into the Unknown With Jazz Music”
I include this 1955 recording with its cuts of Shep intermixed with jazz music, because it represents early-Shep in a form probably similar to some of his earliest radio work.* It includes some of his references such as the Little Orphan Annie decoder pin.
- *The musician/composer listed, Mitch Leigh, I believe, is the same one who went on to create the musical “Man of La Mancha.” (Attempts to contact him to discuss what he remembered about working with Shep on this early creation, failed. Now he’s dead.)
A WRITE TO ONE’S OPINION?
Sometimes, in order to get a sense of some new book that I’m interested in, in addition to checking professional reviewers, I’ll check out amazon.com’s Customer Reviews and, rarely, the members’ comments on goodreads.com. That is an unfortunate habit on my part and I’ve gotta stop doin’ it. Just like on Wikipedia, anyone (no matter how intelligent and literate–or not) can write what they want and others–such as myself–can maybe believe there’s some truth in the review.
Even such revered sources for reviews as The New York Times are not entirely trustworthy–Somebody at the Times made the egregious error of letting Shepherd review Mort Sahl’s memoir.
I’ve read articles commenting on the fact that the Internet’s attribute that allows anyone/everyone to write what they think/believe gives people the feeling that they know what they are talking about and feeling, and, significantly, want to let the world know it, too. It’s an uncontrolled ego-booster. (Gee, sort of what a blog does and is.)
I sometimes make the even bigger mistake (egotist that I am) of reading some of the more recent Customer Reviews of my own books. From what I understand, many authors do. Most of the reviews of my books are very positive, but when I encounter a negative one and find myself explaining to myself that “the reviewer has gotten it all wrong and if only they’d realized that…,” there is where I understand once again that ya can’t win ’em all. (“That’s what makes horse racing.” What does that mean?)
I recently submitted my JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES book manuscript to a small book publisher. I just hoped he didn’t check out a few of the less than four-star Customer Reviews of my published Shep books and maybe even believe them and think that they represented what the general public might think. If only he’d read all 47 of the Customer Reviews he could get a better overall picture! I commented in my query letter to him that he might appreciate the extensive and highly enthusiastic EYF! Associated Press review that went nation-wide, written by John Skoyles, a professor at a Boston college (an unknown-to-me gentleman-and-a-scholar!) As one might imagine, I recommend it to one and all:
And that’s the truth!–Or is it an opinion?
[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.
So I’m this 63-year-old guy and I’m in a booth at the Museum of Television and Radio on 2/15/2002, listening to a Shep program broadcast 12/20/1959, and I’m doing my best to transcribe it. No, actually–I’ve caught myself–I’ve got a small cassette recorder hidden there in the dark and I’m recording it to transcribe later. Not many of this sort have surfaced yet. It’s one of Shepherd’s really laid-back, ironically amusing “philosophical” broadcasts that I like so much.
Now, about fourteen years after I’d recorded and transcribed in longhand (it’s now early 2016), I look over the eleven pages of script on ruled yellow paper. That’s only about 12 and-a-quarter minutes out of one of his extended programs. I know about how long because I just read it aloud–trying to give it the pacing Shepherd had–timing it with a stopwatch. (I do what I gotta do to get these blogs down right.)
This program of his really is a downer, but, remembering how ol’ Shep can tell it, I know just the kind of amusingly ironic tone he’s giving it, so I know I laughed while listening then just as I’m laughing now. (I hope this hint has readers also listening to Shepherd in their minds as they read.)
Now I’m wondering how much of it I can put down here without losing the audience. I’ve got to give it a try, and maybe break it into a number of separate posts. I hope that will keep the readers/listeners glued to Shep’s philosophical rant–(with the help of a meaningful simile-cum-pun) like bubblegum tossed on the sidewalk now stuck to the souls of their psyches.
…each one of us. Someone who stands off to one side and tells us how we can get it all straightened out. How we are going wrong. How we faulteringly missed the step, the eternal roadway of damnation. Always. I think there is a giant monkey on the back of everyone. It is truly. It is the individual corrective agent. The giant monkey of “Now look, you’re going wrong, and I know how to fix it up. I know how to cure it.” It might be a man, it might be a woman, it might be an incense burner for all I know. But there is that monkey on the back of everyone.
And nothing seems to deter them. They’re always there. They’re always waiting for their moment. And it’s no wonder–it’s no wonder that a good portion of mankind continues to believe in black magic of one kind or another. That the woman who looks out of the television screen, out of that commercial with the great flashing teeth, and she says, “I have just discovered the new wash-day miracle.” It’s going to straighten it all out! All of it! Happiness will flow through your family like a great river of Karo Syrup. A new miracle. And somehow it seems to be true–there is a new miracle. Until the next miracle. Until the next miracle. Until the next miracle. The next miracle, and the one after that.
Yes, be the first one in your neighborhood, friends, to burn Lucky Me-Joe Incense three times a week. according to the directions on the box. The sweetness will last for days. Your friends will love to visit you–and remark on the delightful perfumed fragrance that fills your home.
The burning of incense for luck was a secret belief known to the ancients and people of many different ancient, ancient, ancient, long-forgotten cults. It drives away your enemies and brings out those who will, in the end, be your true loves. Now–there is no guarantee that this will happen. We only say that it has happened in the past. So burn it, burn it, burn it.
To be continued.
Yes, Shep knows how we have gone wrong.
Will he reveal his secret verbal ingredient?
Here is my ever-growing list of well-known people in the entertainment world who are/were listeners to Jean Shepherd. Following includes those who can be rather positively believed were listeners, either because they themselves claim they were or through other rather definite evidence. I note just one or two prominent fields for each listing. This list is not definitive–it’s just of those I can think of. I’d appreciate hearing about others–with source of the info.
Penn Jillette (Comic, magician–Penn & Teller)
Andy Kaufman (Performance artist)
Ernie Kovacs (Video innovator)
Bruce Maher (Comic, “the Rabbi” in Seinfeld)
Henry Morgan (Comic broadcaster)
Roger Price (Comic, author, editor of Grump magazine)
Jerry Seinfeld (Sitcom and standup comic)
Harry Shearer (Broadcaster, “Simpson” voices)
Bob Brown (Editor: Car and Driver)
Milton Caniff (Comic strip artist–pre 1955 “Terry and the Pirates”)
Billy Collins (Poet—U. S. Poet Laureate)
Kate Collins (Writer– humor/crime books—(“Flower Shop Mysteries”)
Ed Fancher (Publisher: Village Voice)
Herb Gardner (Cartoonist, playwright—“A Thousand Clowns”)
Jules Feiffer (Playwright, cartoonist)
Bill Griffith (Cartoonist–“Zippy the Pinhead”)
Hugh Hefner (Publisher: Playboy)
William Hjortsberg (Author–Gray Matters, Toro! Toro! Toro!)
George S. Kaufman (Playwright)
Jack Kerouac (Author–On the Road)
Paul Krassner (Writer, publisher)
S. J. Perelman (Comic writer)
Shel Silverstein (Cartoonist, writer)
R. L. Stine (Goosebumps book series)
Dan Wakefield (Author: New York in the 50s)
Tom Wolfe (Author: Bonfire of the Vanitites, etc.)
George Antheil (“Ballet Mécanique”)
John Cage (Shep describes him as early listener he talked with various time by phone)
Donald Fagen (Steely Dan)
Mitch Leigh (“Into the Unknown With Jazz Music,” “Man of La Mancha”)
Charles Mingus “The Clown”)
Dee Snider (Twisted Sister front man and songwriter)
Fred Barzyk (Video director–major Shepherd TV)
John Cassavetes (Actor, Director–Shadows)
Ron Della Chiesa (WGBH Broadcaster)
Bob Clark (Film director—Porky’s, A Christmas Story)
Bruce Conner (Avant garde film maker, sculptor)
Art D’Lugoff (Concert producer)
Barry Farber (Broadcaster)
Helen Gee (Founder of “The Limelight”)
Larry Josephson (Broadcaster)
Larry King (Broadcaster)
Arch Oboler (Playwright)
Lois Nettleton (Actress, wife)
Keith Olbermann (Media–politics & sports commentator)
• • •
There are also many who had connections to Shep and/or were described by Shep or others as having been his friends, but we can’t know which of these people were indeed friends or which of them may or may not have been listeners. For example, Bob & Ray were fellow broadcasters and friends of Shep; Shep claimed to be friends with Jack Kerouac; Lois Nettleton said that from time to time Shep went on sketching expeditions not only with Shep Silverstein, but with watercolorist Dong Kingman and Playboy illustrator LeRoy Neiman.
I also tend to think that a good portion of those connected to the Village, creative, and intellectual scene in New York City in the late 1950s and into the 1960s were likely to have been Shepherd listeners. These would include people like Laurie Anderson, Bob Dylan, and Woody Allen.
Please let me know of others, giving me whatever evidence you may have of connection to Shep.
I’m happy that I persisted in this quest regarding the perfect system for organizing Shep programs. For Shep’s Army I renamed the tale “Boredom Erupts,” as that is its relationship to life in the army. What I regret is that the focus of my book of compilation and transcription of army stories is not an appropriate setting to include Shepherd’s varied and amusing build-up to this story. The prolog described in previous Parts discusses arcane physics and movie fistfights among other minor detours before engaging us in the approximately twelve-minute main event that ends the broadcast—the boredom among enlisted men in the military. Grindingly uncomfortable and tiring tasks sometimes result in a mind-deadening nothingness. And one result is a sometimes growing hostility that leads to conflict—in this instance, in Shepherd’s witty take on obscure physics, metaphysics, and the meaning of time—to an army fistfight that is simultaneously cosmic and absurd.
The Eternal Shepherd Reference System!
The foregoing material about that broadcast is a rough example of what every Jean Shepherd show should have in a master database. The many hundreds of shows would encompass hundreds of subjects, each a part of the electronically cross-referenced spreadsheet, each living Word quivering with the excitement of knowing it is a part of The Eternal Shepherd Reference System!
I can envision the opus, which will forever expand as more newly discovered shows are added to the stockpile!
All known Shepherd programs captured thusly for easy reference!
All available for the casual Shepherd fan looking for his daily Shep-fix, and for the industrious researcher/author seeking the audio snippet of his desires!
Oh—the potential—unrealizable—glory of it!
SOME SUBJECTS OF THIS ONE SHEPHERD SHOW
CONTROL ROOM COMMENT
WEEKENDS IN OUR MODERN CULTURE
“SPEAKING OF MISTAKES”
ENGINEER IS NAMED (Keith)
ENGINEER (Commentary on)
METS—PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT: BASEBALL, SPORTS.
NEW YORK TIMES—he’s reading it
NEWS NOTES (refers to Times article
REFERENCE [QUARK] TO WHICH HE WILL RETURN LATER IN PROGRAM
JEWS HARP PLAYING (with accompanying recorded music)
LINDSEY (running for re-election)
NEW YORK (“Fun city.”)
PREDICTION (of Shepherd’s)
“PUBLIC SERVICE” provided by WOR
FISTFIGHTS (First mention of fist fights—it’s his prelude to the subject)
MOVIE STARS: KIRK DOUGLAS JOHN WAYNE
ORDINARY EVENTS—(one never sees in movies)
W. C. FIELDS
HUMOR (the nature of)
CRITICIZES THOSE IN CONTROL ROOM (Leigh Brown, his producer/lover?)
MUSIC (as scene-setting, under his talk)
MAN—HIS NATURE (Philosophical; musings)
SEGUE TO A STORY (of the army fistfight caused by boredom-induced hostility.)
How “Boredom Erupts” Starts and Ends
in Shep’s Army
START: The only fistfight that I ever saw–I’m talking about a real fistfight–not just guys pushing each other around or guys belting each other–happened in a tent….
END: ….Is it Zinsmeister’s contemplation of the eternal hourglass, or is it part of the quark theory of the quantum, dipole-estrogen theory of multiple, fourth-dimensional, time-curve-space factors? Who is to know?
DESCRIBING A SHEP BROADCAST
(See my post “Missing in Action Part 1”)
What follows, in this and the following post, is a rough idea of the contents of a program–it would need to be put in a spread-sheet format and tweaked.
The description would begin with certain basics:
Jean Shepherd WOR broadcast, SEPTEMBER 16, 1969;
Length of iTunes recording: 0:39:16 (about 5 minutes missing);
ORIGINAL TITLE OF AUDIO=ARMY FIST FIGHT;
Theme music=BAHN FREI.
The program description would begin with 0:00-0:52, opening theme music; Shepherd begins speaking over theme about “sneaky people;” he warns that the show will be “real bad;” he indicates that it is a Friday night and he feels like indulging himself. Card catalog titles and subtitles for this first segment would include:
WOR; DATE OF BROADCAST 9/16/69; BAHN FREI (Theme music—use of); SPEAKING OVER OPENING THEME; WARNING THAT SHOW WILL BE “BAD;” FRIDAY NIGHT SHOW—HE CAN INDULGE HIMSELF.
0:2:04 Theme ends. Somebody in the control room apparently indicates that it’s not Friday, but Thursday, and Shepherd kiddingly calls them “old fashioned.” He says that any modern person insists that his weekend starts no later than noon on Thursday. Says today he saw a WOR executive going off with tennis rackets under his arms and another executive with a secretary under his arm. He says that the weekend doesn’t end anymore until roughly eight P. M. on Tuesday. Says that the engineer wants to hear him play his jews harp.
0:05:24-0:07:33 Rinky-tink piano begins and Shepherd plays along on jews harp, joined by other Dixieland instruments doing “In the Good Old Summertime.” Says that playing/listening to the jews harp helps clear the sinuses.
0:08:15 Comments on walking around town listening to people talking about the Mets. “Maybe sports is far more subtle than we think.” “Everything in New York wins.” Talks about being in a waiting room for an appointment. Do people subscribe to National Geographic, or is it only sent to doctors’ offices?—he says it’s a philosophical question. Now he’s reading the Times. Encounters article about smallest particle in universe: the “quark.” Says it’s a cute word, its sound suggesting a duck running around in a kiddy cartoon. A major category here would be SPORTS, with a subcategory of BASEBALL, and a sub-sub-category of METS. Of course QUARKS needs to be noted, as it will become an element in the fistfight story. Etc., etc.
0:12:20 Reads about elections and mud-throwing (we all start in life making mud pies, etc.) Sees a sign for John V. Lindsey’s mayoral campaign for reelection. Shepherd refers to one of his own recent predictions. Says that when we refer to sin, it’s always about sex and comments that “This is a limited view of sin.” Discusses Fellini’s film, Satyricon, saying it’s about all seven sins and WOR will send a brochure as a public service: “How to Get More Out of the Other Seven Sins.” He discusses the advantages of other sins. “Why don’t you get up tomorrow morning and just do it. Stand by your bed and swear about the other ones. Just get mad. Break the windows. Now this is all philosophical. Understand…” Again mentions his reading about the quark.
0:18:50 Says he watches TV and what’s always happening on TV is fistfights. Says that Kirk Douglas in a movie says, “You said what?!” and a fistfight breaks out. “How many have you ever seen in your life?” More fistfights in movies than love scenes. One never sees ordinary events in a movie such as a guy waiting for his cleaning. Shepherd segues from fistfights to ordinary events. In retrospect one can see that he is beginning to telegraph his punches regarding the forthcoming fistfight story.
0:20:10 He’s in the waiting room waiting for appointment where he’s going to be charged a lot by the dentist. He asks if you have ever seen the W. C. Fields short titled “The Dentist”? Shepherd describes it. “That is the essence of humor—to play it the way it is.”
0:22:58 Again mentions sitting in waiting room reading about the quark. “The smallest particle known to man!” Asks the engineer for Japanese koto music. (“Contemplating-the-navel-music.” He nastily criticizes either Leigh Brown or engineer for having trouble finding the music in the control room.)
“The most violent side of man” he says, “is not the violent side, it’s the contemplative side. It’s the side of man that sits there and contemplates the infinite. And makes fantastic generalities out of it. And I thought to myself, where did I hear ‘the smallest particle known to man.’? Where did I hear that before? Yes, yes indeed. And then the doctor’s office faded out and I see the whole scene before me. The only time I ever saw a full-blown fistfight. Just like the kind they have in the John Wayne movies. It did not come about in a bar, which is where everybody likes to think is where the fights happen. Like arguing over some chick, which is the way they always are in the movies. It came about over the totally nutty, irrational side of man.
“I wish you now, friend, to look into the incense of your mind, yes, you see that little old Buddha sitting there with the smoke coming out of his nose? You can hear the sound of the temple chimes, can’t you? As man counts those bits of straw and rice, those fish bones and those dry tea leaves of philosophy. And contemplates what it’s about. The smallest particle known to man. Now if you take an atom and you divided it up it has to be smaller, there has to be smaller. You can bust anything. And you get molecules, and then you break the molecules down and the thingies down and the radons down and the quasars down and the protons down and you’re left with what? A quark? Indeed a quark.
Study this. It will appear
in the next bluebook quiz.
“Reminds me of the poem ‘The Hunting of the Quark.’ No, they picked that name seriously. You think that’s a bad joke. It’s not a bad joke. It is a bad joke only to those without humor in their soul. [He laughs ironically.] You may now remove your seared ashes from the premises. Heh, heh. The quark, the smallest particle known to man. That’s it, drift it out now, Keith [his engineer should fade out the koto music] and I will describe the scene.
“Now the only fistfight that I ever saw, really a genuine one. Now I have seen guys push each other around, I have seen guys belt each other once in a while, but I’m talking about…”
0:27:12 Now he segues into his main story!
I telegraph my punch here by indicating that
the story is only superficially about a fistfight–
it’s not only about boredom
but about how we perceive time!
Clock from Dover Castle, 1348.
Flash! Top 4 songs in the USA on 9/16/1969 (date of “Army Fistfight” broadcast.)
END OF PART 2 OF 3