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Printings, Pricing, Inscriptions.
For someone who is widely unknown among the vast, deprived American public, Jean Shepherd’s books, nearly a half-century after he wrote them, continue to sell, which I can verify because I keep tabs on the current printings of his two best-selling books in paperback. In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, as of this writing, has gone through over three dozen printings, and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, And Other Disasters has passed its twenty-fourth printing.
Think Small, the small give-away promotional book published by Volkswagen in the heady days of the original Beetle, contains cartoons and short humorous essays by Charles Addams, Harry Golden, Roger Price, H. Allen Smith, Jean Shepherd, and others. The longest piece in the book, by Shepherd, concerning his teenage experience buying his first used car, unlike the rest of the contributions, has nothing to do with the VW. Think Small, thirty years after original publication, now sells for prices varying from about four dollars to well over a hundred, depending on the ignorance or whim of many internet book dealers. Some years ago I paid ten dollars when that was the lowest-going price.
The bibliographic details of my special subject are not endless, but I, like an object-specific magnet, seem to attract some of the rare and peculiar elements of Shepherd’s writing life. When, sight unseen through the internet, I bought a used first of his Wanda Hickey, it was my surprise and great good fortune to receive in the mail, a Dover, New Jersey ex-library copy with, as an insider’s little joke done decades before, a presentation sticker affixed to the inside front cover proclaiming that its donors were the Dover High School orchestra’s tuba section (as most Shepherd fans know, in some of his radio commentaries, he described his high school experiences playing the tuba). My surprised acquisition of this little treasure is a fortuitous occurrence that some others would have sufficiently appreciated.
Finally, a few words about a specially inscribed copy of Shepherd’s In God We Trust that I had in my covetous hands, but could not possess. After actress Lois Nettleton, Shepherd’s third wife, died in 2008, her executor showed me her copy of Shepherd’s “novel.” She had been an important part of his early radio career and, after his death in 1999 she corresponded with me about him. I may well be the world’s only kook with a special interest in the association of Shepherd and Nettleton, but the executor would not let me buy it for the pittance I could afford, as he expected to sell it for a bundle. To my knowledge, neither Shepherd nor Nettleton fans ever pay even two hundred dollars for material associated with them, and the relationship of the two must not be of much interest to any of them. I very much doubted that the book dealer subsequently offering it for sale would find a buyer willing to part with even a fraction of his two-thousand dollar asking price. I lust after that book, but from my little allowance I could have just about afforded a tenth of the two grand. Recently I found that a Shepherd enthusiast with much deeper pockets than mine, had come up with the many hundreds necessary (how many hundreds?) and now has that copy.
The potential value of the book (dollar value to a dealer, and intellectual value to me) lies in its inscription. Inscribed at about the time that they parted, Shepherd wrote on the half title page:
“To my own Lois, without whom this book would have been finished two years sooner—! Love—Jean Shepherd (Mr. Nettleton).”
By sheer coincidence, I recently encountered a reference to a book written many years earlier, with its acknowledgement attributed to Franklin P. Adams, one of Shepherd’s favorite writers: ”To my loving wife, but for whose constant interruptions, this book would have been finished six months earlier.” So, with a little work, I encountered from another of Shepherd’s favorites, P. G. Wodehouse, his dedication of his book The Heart of a Goof, published in 1926: “To my daughter Leonora Without whose never-failing sympathy and encouragement this book would have been finished in half the time.” A case of unattributed borrowing? But that is a minor matter to a Shep-kook.
One might wonder what circumstances led to Shepherd’s inscription to his wife—especially in this copy of his book that was a later printing of the first edition (Horrors!). But what were the never-to-be-understood circumstances behind such an apparent attack by Shepherd? I can understand how one might think such thoughts, but I don’t see how a relationship could survive the open expression of such a comment—in ink on paper—in his treasured “novel”! I don’t usually seek sordid details regarding my subject, but gathering bits of evidence, which I have been able to accumulate through single-minded quests for Art and Art alone, I wonder if, soon after Lois had thrown him out of their apartment and changed the locks, he hoped somehow to evoke sympathy leading to a reprieve through this inappropriately tangled wit. Did he thus send her this poisoned copy? (A reliable source told me that Shepherd dearly wanted to return to her.) This all gains some credence as these circumstances happened during the same period during which, from time to time on his radio show, he had mock-seriously, mock-humorously, sung, “After you’ve gone, and left me crying….” Overly intimate matters I’d gathered as I’m not-Shepherd’s-biographer. How in heaven’s name did I ever get caught up in detective work and a soap opera scenario?
I’ll probably never understand some of the enigmatic details of Shepherd’s life. Although interest in personal gossip is mostly a very natural human one, as for me, I’ve never cared about writing a tell-all biography or any other kind. I must remind myself that I am neither his bibliographer nor his biographer. In writing about him I try my imperfect but virtuous best to focus on the work, with essential biography only as it relates to that work. Thus, when I search even under metaphorical beds, salacious tidbits are sometimes inevitable encounters within my major responsibility: dealing with dusty boxes of stuff and foggy memories regarding his significant art, Art, ART!
“The wall is alive with the shapes of music….
The wall fills my heart with the shapes of music.
My heart wants to sing every shape it feels.”
[Lyrics altered from The Sound of Music.]
Despite having a tin ear and no sense of rhythm,
I’m intrigued by the shapes that create the sounds of musical instruments.
I am a “luthier,” a classical guitar-maker. That is, I took a course and made the instrument on the left.
Mom’s violin—while playing she moaned, so as a child I always thought she was in agony. I think that may have been part of my negative feelings about her teaching me to play. I was good and played in grammar school and high school orchestras. Later in high school, violin practice-time was abandoned in favor of tough homework. As an adult I realized that my mother moaned in an agony of ecstasy.
My wife, Allison, gave me the zither, which, for its shape and bulk, forms a kind of solidly emphatic crown atop our display of instruments on our living room wall.
Prima ballerina Suzanne Farrell’s autographed dance slippers evoke, for me, her dancing elegance.
The small guitar-shaped “charango” I bought from a luthier in Cuzco, Peru. This rhythm instrument is almost always part of Peruvian folk music groups. It comes in three forms: a guitar-shaped construction; a bottom that is smoothly sculpted wood in the shape of an armadillo’s back; and the more authentic kind I have, the bottom of which is made of an actual armadillo’s head and back–plates, hair, ears, and all.
My father’s banjo-uke reminds me of the only two songs he sang and accompanied himself on during my childhood: “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo, No Mo,” and “If I Had the Wings of an Angel.” My father was a steadfast and loving husband and father. I always liked it when he picked up his uke to play.
I like the sounds of flutes in many shapes and sizes. Side-blown and end-blown. Wood, metal, bamboo, ceramic, bone.
Shepherd loved not only books, but their multitudinous components, words. Sometimes on his radio shows he would ask someone in the studio or a listener in “radioland,” to look up a word in a dictionary, just to be sure that he and his listeners understood it properly. During one show he announced with great pride that one of his invented phrases, “creeping meatballism,” a comment on conformism, had been formally attributed to him in a new dictionary of slang. He also enjoyed the references to himself in several New York Times crossword puzzles, and one can imagine his joy when, in 1972, he found that the Times puzzle of the day referred to him and his works in eleven words and phrases. A few years back, hearing a rebroadcast of this announcement, I rushed to the microfilm section of my local library to look it up and print it out, thus participating with Shepherd in his bibliophilia and the thrill of his honor, encountering such treasures in the puzzle as, VERBAL SHEPHERD, AIR SPIELER, and his favorite word, EXCELSIOR.
Although I recognize that many bibliophiles must also have unusual stories to tell regarding their own favorites, as a “Shep-kook,” it seems to me that the strangeness of my ragtag little batch of Shepherd books, references, and ephemera is without parallel and is worth describing.
What Author? What Book?
A publishing episode that must have driven Shepherd, the ever-striving author, crazy, involves a coffee-table book about one of his favorite subjects: The Scrapbook History of Baseball. Except for the acknowledgements page and a foreword, the book consists entirely of un-annotated, photo-reproductions of newspaper articles from the years 1876 to 1974. The book contains no authored text other than the duly attributed two-page foreword by Shepherd. Four baseball experts, whose sole job was to select the articles for reproduction, are listed as “authors.” But at best, those four compilers might more accurately have been titled “researchers.” Creator of that sole text, Shepherd might, in these strange circumstances, have been dignified with the title of “author.” Or have I missed something in the book-world’s definition of “author”?
One encounters Shepherd’s short stories everywhere. There is the hardbound, small publication, A Christmas Story, described on the cover as “The book that inspired the hilarious classic film.” But this book, first published in 2003, did not inspire the 1983 film. The book consists of five of Shepherd’s kid stories first published in the 1960s that were seamlessly synthesized into the film. Twenty years after that film was released, without even an attempt at cobbling them together into a logical storyline, those stories were gathered conveniently into a book. Though no crime, the malfeasance lies in claiming, two decades after the fact, that the book as a “book,” rather than that the selected stories in it inspired the film. This false promotion is a distortion inspired by sales-potential. As we know, a simple lie is more easily believed than a more complicated truth. Every so often I encounter much more important re-printings of individual Shepherd stories. He must have enjoyed seeing these stories in schoolbooks as subjects for studying English composition and style. And what pride to find, in another small volume, The Little Book of Fishing, one of his stories rubbing shoulders with those by the likes of Hemingway, Seamus Heaney, and Red Smith.
END OF PART 2
(25) JAPANESE ART—3 WAYS
I own Japanese art in various formats, mostly in reproduction, some original. On our bedroom wall, a trio of images represents three different ways of being. The two top ones are of 19th century woodblock prints, the traditional technique in which the artist draws on rice paper with brush and ink, artisans adhere this to a flat block and someone cuts away whatever is not the black lines. The line-block is then printed in black and the artist indicates on these sheets what and where each color should be. These sheets are adhered to blocks. Then a woodcutter cuts away on each block, whatever is not to be that color. Then all blocks are printed on each sheet to render the final originals of the work.
The left top print on our wall, by Hokusai (most famous work is the “Great Wave”), is not from the original blocks. It is a second edition, made by gluing first editions down on blocks and re-cutting every line—including every leaf of grass–then reprinting. (I compared my print with a reproduction of a verified first edition to encounter an occasional leaf of grass not properly rendered.) This image is from Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” Which consists of 42 views. It’s one of my favorites. I love the dynamism shown by the strong wind affecting humans, papers, hat, trees and leaves, and leaves of grass. I appreciate the dynamic swirl of the footpath, the little objects being swept off to the right, and the immense thin outline of Fuji.
The top right print is a high-quality reproduction of my favorite print by Hiroshige. His work tends to be more flat and stylized than Hokusai’s, which is more “realistic.” Here, in a simple and powerful composition, we see the strong wind and rain, bearing down on humans and the background trees.
As an enthusiast of traditional Japanese art, I spent some time observing, in process, the Japanese section of the American Museum of Natural History’s permanent Asian Peoples Hall. One of the museum’s background painters, Matthew Kalmenoff, worked on the small diorama of a country scene with traditional rice fields. As a coworker and friend of his, I asked to see his preliminary sketch for the curved diorama wall. I expressed delight in it. In his appreciation for the support I’d given him and his work over the years, he signed it and gave it to me. It is a treasure. I enjoy contemplating it and noting some of the painting’s compositional design features.
Two of the berms separating parts of the fields are not parallel with the rest, but come together at an angle at the bottom of the painting so that they enclose it, rather than presenting a visual barrier parallel at the bottom edge.
One of the clouds is perfectly positioned to be reflected in the water, highlighting the farmers.
Regarding the row of farmers planting, the closest one’s round hat is not quite facing the viewer—it’s close enough to a circle to grab attention, but not so much so as to form a bull’s eye that would be hard for the eye to escape. The other hats are even less shown as circles, allowing the eye to move diagonally up the row of them further into the picture. The distant figure with animal is in line to assist the eye to make the little leap even further toward the background.
The design then moves the eye in a zigzag pattern to the right, then, with the help of the land and water there, back to the furthest reaches on the left.
The small building in the middle right is just big enough to give some focus of attention and to prevent the entire right side from being too bare—it almost forms a small framing device, its large tree perfectly placed to block the water there from moving the eye too far rightward–indeed, it caroms the moving eye back to the left.
I see this painting every morning as I get out of bed. I delight in contemplating how Kal’s composition, in what was done as an unimportant, preliminary sketch, but which is so well thought-out, was so elegantly created.
I’ve encountered a photo of the completed diorama, with artifacts in the foreground. I see that, responding to the three-dimensional material, Kal changed a few of the background painting’s details. Magnificent! Rest in peace, Matthew Kalmenoff.
Diorama in the Museum’s Hall of Asian Peoples
On a subject that I believe would be of interest to book-lovers in general in addition to Shepherd fans, I wrote the following article (with illustrations) and submitted it to a high-class magazine devoted to book-collecting. The editor’s response was that he liked it but wanted it to be rather more filled-out with what I felt was uninteresting, difficult-to-ferret-out, pedantic material I had no interest in putting in the required, self-induced and boring grunge work, to accomplish. I much prefer ideas to minutia. Here, with very minor adjustments, is what I believe will be of interest. There are a few details some may remember previously encountering in my work or that by others. But I feel that gathering all of this together, it forms a whole more valuable than the sum of its scattered parts.
STRANGE BUT TRUE ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD
OF A SHEPHERD BIBLIPHILE
I love books and I collect them and a few associated ephemera. Although I have thousands of books, my special gatherings run to a couple of what I call “poor man’s” collections—over the years I’ve bought what my limited budget permitted. I have almost all of Hemingway in first editions, but not all in pristine condition, and a couple of his earliest ones only in facsimile. The facsimiles themselves have risen in rarity and price, gaining admittance among the “collectables.” Although none are signed, when I had more than a bit of loose change, for use as a bookmark for reading his books, I purchased a wine card from a transatlantic liner, which he signed for the booze that he bought one afternoon. I have all of Norman Mailer first editions, many of them signed, most of them in pristine condition. Yet my special treasure is the first edition of his The Naked and the Dead with its rather worn and torn dust jacket, which he signed for me in person. I gather that this jacket is made of rather fragile stuff, so a poor man’s collection is not likely to have a pristine example. His signed letter to me regarding one of my unpublished manuscripts is framed on a wall over my desk. I have most of E. E. Cummings in firsts, but none signed. I make do with a signed postcard written by Cummings to New York’s 8th Street Bookshop. Like the Hemingway wine card, I also use it as a bookmark. So I possess, on a couple of crowded shelves, some ephemeral associations to some of the literature I love.
Cummings wrote poems in lower case,
but signed with initial caps.
In recent years my focus has altered to an area that is more unusual in its bibliographic focus. The subject is the American humorist, active in the second half of the twentieth century, Jean Shepherd. The area is much less well-known, though I find it fascinating, maybe in large part because I wrote the only book about him. In addition to many overflowing file boxes of background information, notes, and audio tapes and CDs of his radio broadcasts, I’ve accumulated the small group of first editions of all the books by this great American creative force, who was a humorist, author, film-maker, and creator of several television series. A major talk-radio innovator, broadcaster of thousands of shows over the decades, and creator of the holiday favorite movie, A Christmas Story, Shepherd talked about everything one can think of, for years improvising 45-minutes a night. Originally he had not wanted to write down his improvised stories because, I believe, as a raconteur he felt that the spoken word was the prime medium not only of humankind in general, but of himself in particular. Besides, he invented his spoken stories without a script and probably liked the idea of keeping them that way.
However, his wife at the time, actress Lois Nettleton, said that she and others urged him to write down some of his stories, and Shel Silverstein, his best friend, cartoonist, and children’s book author, with connections to Playboy, helped convince him to write them down and submit them to the magazine. From the mid-1960s through 1981, Playboy printed nearly two dozen of them, most of them fictions about his Indiana childhood, a couple of them fictions about his life in the Signal Corps during World War II. Many of these stories, and many of his articles on varied subjects published in varied magazines, were gathered into books such as In God We Trust—All Others Pay Cash. (He had a proclivity for making up odd titles for most of his stories and books.) The stories upon which the movie A Christmas Story is based came from these books.
Sometimes Shepherd discussed his love of books during his radio broadcasts. He was obsessed with reading—on one program he commented that if he couldn’t find other material to occupy him, he’d read the copy on Wheaties boxes, and, he said that if even more desperate, he would remove his shoe and read the words impressed in rubber on the bottom of his heel. He said that as an adolescent, he was first inspired to read after having borrowed from the library Thomas Wolf’s Look Homeward, Angel, finding it not totally understandable, yet supremely inspiring. It led to his lifelong love of reading and writing, and, undoubtedly, influenced his decision to publish his spoken stories in print. Apparently for the prestige value, he referred to his first book of gathered, strung-together stories, as a “novel.”
END OF PART 1
THE MYSTERY SALVAGER OF SANIBEL STORY
(What Jean’s heirs may have abandoned)
Reports indicated that immediately after Jean Shepherd died (October 16, 1999), two people entered his home on Sanibel Island, Florida, went through it, and carried stuff off. These people are assumed to have been two of his heirs, and thus, one would like to hope, somewhat knowledgeable about his legacy. Some time later the house was sold.
A man we’ll call Mystery Salvager (MS) tells his tale. He says he got the salvage contract to clean out the house and the right to keep whatever he found there. He says he did not realize to whom the house had belonged until he entered it and recognized the name, because, coincidentally, he had had some slight contact with Shepherd years ago up north.
Here is MS’s story. He says he was amazed at what he found abandoned in the house. As proof of his story he sent to Jim Clavin, a few photos of things he carted off for safekeeping. He sent a photo of the cast bronze Hammond Achievement Award Plaque Shepherd received in 1981, part of which says:
Hammond Achievement Award
Honored by his Fellow Citizens
Of Hammond, Indiana, for Outstanding
Achievement in the Fields of
Literature, Radio Broadcasting & Television.
Among other objects of interest that MS says he now possesses are a framed New York Times crossword puzzle with a reference to Shepherd (a photo of this has also been seen); the marriage license of Jean Shepherd and Leigh Brown; Jean Shepherd’s ham radio equipment; a box of manuscripts with titles that indicate they might be unpublished stories.
Should this tale be true, and the photo of the bronze plaque seems to bear some proof, one might think these objects have sentimental and historical value. Some of them have financial value, and the unpublished manuscripts, if authentic, would have considerable artistic value as part of Jean Shepherd’s legacy. What about tapes of broadcasts? One might wonder what other objects—cast-off salvage—might have been abandoned.
As an indefatigable salvager of Shep material myself, I follow the leads. I talked to Jean‘s son Randall, and he remembers that the ham radio equipment had effectively been retrieved from the house before salvage operations, and he rescued his father’s Morse code key (which he subsequently said that he’d given to a ham radio person). He doesn’t think there were manuscripts of unpublished stories but only scripts sent to Shepherd for his approval and other such matter. (What about the unpublished army story book-manuscript Shep had announced several times? Even the titles would be worth knowing.) He comments that from the condition of the house when he visited it after his father’s death, Jean and Leigh had neglected even basic house-cleaning for what appeared to be years. Mystery Salvager must have had quite a job doing cleanup. For his own odd and infuriating reasons, MS has disappeared.
He holds many salvaged Shepherd treasures, possibly some of the highest artistic order,
but, maybe with a stash of tapes under his arm, he has vanished into his private swamp.
Part 2 coming
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
NEEDLES IN HAYSTACKS
Let’s examine how, in the original context of his broadcast, one of Jean Shepherd’s army stories began as preliminary odds, ends, and diversions. And how might that broadcast, in a comprehensive examination, be the prime mover for a vast and supremely important project just waiting for an audacious, cataloging virtuoso who would achieve immortality in the glorious creative world of Jean Parker Shepherd?
Despite the many army stories Jean Shepherd told, many of which are easily found in audios of his radio programs, more than half of his thousands of broadcasts have not even been located in any form, so we don’t know how many army stories remain among the missing. (And, of course, so much more material of all sorts.) Many broadcasts may never be found because they were never recorded by his listeners, or those that were recorded have been lost. Note that this implies what seems to be the case: that despite statements that, at least in his early New York years, Shepherd recorded all his shows, and his station, WOR Radio, probably recorded some, only those “airchecks” made by dedicated listeners seem to have survived in any numbers.
Photo of Shep
Courtesy of Dorothy Anderson
Among the available broadcasts, some of his army tales are clearly named, but others are hidden because the titles of the broadcast audios, given by the original recorder or a subsequent supplier, don’t include the army material in their names because some other Shep-subject was chosen to highlight. As the author of various works about Shepherd, much of my writing involves finding within the broadcasts, commentaries he made regarding various subjects. Trying to locate Jean Shepherd riffs—army or otherwise— can be very difficult.
The problem—and the glory!—of his works is that each broadcast of 45-minutes, or even longer, incorporates numerous Shepherd-subject per program. This is especially frustrating for at least two reasons. For one, those who save and distribute his radio programs are faced with a limitation of only about twenty-five characters in which to identify a radio program’s audio on internet’s sources such as the Brass Figlagee’s podcasts on iTunes, Insomnia Theater’s site, and the various distributors’ descriptions of Shepherd audios. (By the way, probably all distributors of these audios seem to have exactly copied or made copies of copies of the original sources’ audios and titles, and since some broadcasts were given different names by different fans who taped and distributed them, some programs are repeats with different names.)
Second, the original recorder of the audio, using those few letters and spaces, had to choose a short title based on the many subjects within the broadcast. Sometimes, whoever he/she was, chose a subject (appropriately for the audio or not) other than the one I seek. Seeking audios to include in my book of Shepherd’s army stories, I was faced with the realization that sometimes the title didn’t do a sufficient job of identifying the essence of the matter and some good stories are not even noted in the existing titles. All this seems beyond a practical solution.
As an example, let’s examine the program with a complete designation of “1969 09 16 Army Fist Fight.mp3.”
Some Highlighted Shep shows
from Brassfiglagee, including “Fistfight”
It consists of several subjects that Shepherd talked about, some for no more than for a few moments, and some for several minutes. More than twenty-seven minutes into the show, he segued into a story about a fistfight in the army. I nearly passed this by as I imagined that it would not suit my purposes for Shep’s Army, a book of circumscribed length. But, determined not to miss any important matters in my research, I gave it a try. I found that the story’s essence is not the fistfight itself, but something very different and very relevant to the subject of life in the home-front army. It has to do with the practical, the psychological, and even the philosophical nature of time passing for all of us, and, as Shepherd saw it, especially for those in the military. Sometimes this drag on the psyche leads to boredom ending in frustration and maybe even fistfights. I transcribed it and used it, titling it “Boredom Erupts.”
The only solution for the basic difficulty caused by the multiplicity of Shepherd’s subjects in most of his programs, would be to listen to every one of the many hundreds, most of them forty-five minutes long, along the way making notes of every subject encountered. (Realize that the present Shep-fanatic, before this extensive research project occurred to him, has already heard almost all of these once, twice, and more over the years. Some hypothetical researcher would need to have sufficient fortitude in addition to world enough and time.) That hypo-researcher would electronically file a description and a list of subjects for each show and cross-reference all of them by those subjects. Some sort of vast spreadsheet version of a library’s card catalog. What a marvelous resource for one and all and especially for a serious Shepherd buff! A nice ideal, but I’d guess it ain’t gonna happen.
But, to see how it might go, let’s separate that fist fight program into its elements. Then we can see how the army portion has been plucked out of its surrounding diversions and foreshadowings, and one can also get some idea of how Shepherd programs, with their embedded stories, exist as multifaceted creations. What follows is a description of the program’s subjects with time indicators. Note how many subjects are meant for cross-referencing in the catalog.
End of Part 1 of 3
The ever-so-exciting saga of how to find
a Shep in a haystack