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ASSASSINATION OF JOHN F. KENNEDY
In my memory, Shepherd never made a political comment in his decades on the air, although some of whom I interviewed for Excelsior, You Fathead! said that, privately, he often spoke vociferously about political and social matters. A few months after the March on Washington, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Shepherd’s wife at the time, actress Lois Nettleton, said in a recorded interview that she, her mother, and Shepherd, were intensely disturbed by the news, watching on TV, “We even went down, walked around, went over to St. Patrick’s and saw all the people sitting on the steps and everything. And he was—he had a very emotional side—very strong feelings, but I think you have to know that if you know his work.” Nettleton commented that she and Jean had been strongly pro-Kennedy.
In regard to the assassination, Shepherd did not travel to another geographical location as he did in the other experiences gathered here, but he used the occasion not only to express his strong feelings about Kennedy, but his strong feelings about the state of the American psyche in those early days of the 1960s. He took a heart-felt journey–a 45-minute odyssey–into the psychic innards of the deep mental and emotional problems he saw in the American culture of that time.
The power of his words about the president and about the feelings he had might be compared to Walt Whitman’s elegy upon the assassination of Lincoln in 1865: Whitman’s ruminations on death, and his homage to the president he loved, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”
Shepherd’s style the week after the assassination was not typical in that, instead of his usually engaging in an apparent, informal dialog with listeners, he spoke as though delivering heartfelt lectures regarding Kennedy and American culture and personal psychology. He suggested that the recent ferment of student unrest, the civil disobedience, demonstrations and riots in the streets, with the America-bashing of those days, probably contributed to the atmosphere that led to Kennedy’s killing. He commented that there was a trend of righteousness in the country, “a super, hyper-thyroid Holden Caulfield.” Shepherd admitted that America had problems, but said that other countries had more problems. He recognized that America was not living up to its ideals. His somber tone that week was underscored by his comment that he was not playing his usual, ironic, pompous, musical theme music at the programs’ beginnings and endings. Shepherd talked about Kennedy’s intelligence, humor, zest–all of which make people nervous. He talked about the problems of being a president in a democratic system.
I remember the first time I heard about Kennedy, and I suppose many of you remember… I’ve always been a Kennedy man. And–for probably different reasons than you can always state–how you like a certain person–very hard to know all the personal things that make you lean towards a man–make you believe in a man, and so on. The one thing that I have always noticed about Kennedy, that appealed to me specifically, was that Kennedy was a realist. And being a realist in today’s world is very dangerous. Because realism is not a thing that is easily accepted by Americans in the 1960s. And I always felt sorry for Kennedy because I recognized the fact that Kennedy did not give people a soft pap that most of them somehow wanted–on both sides of the political fence….
Noted by Shepherd–and probably by no others–at the end of the
Arlington Cemetery’s TV coverage:
Here was just this little, simple grave–and–it was just a hole in the ground–there was this little, simple bronze coffin. And there was a quick shot, which they cut away from, I don’t know whether you saw this or not–but it was one of the most poignant shots of all. It was a little moment after the funeral party had left Arlington and–the cars were winding back up the drive over the bridge, back over the river to Washington. And the four soldiers were still standing guard over the grave. You saw coming down from the lower left hand corner, two workmen. Did you see them? Dressed in overalls? Just two workmen with baseball caps, and they were coming to do the inevitable.
And I have a–tonight I have a feeling inside of me–there is a great sense of–apprehension–I suppose you might say–a kind of feeling of–I hate to say fear, because it’s not that clearly defined. It’s a kind of free-floating thing–a strange unreasonableness–a fanaticism that brought about this unbelievable weekend–is not only still around but is slowly beginning to grow in this land.
For the days right after the assassination, regular broadcasting on Shepherd’s station and most others was suspended for coverage of the event. Shepherd was quoted as saying, “For crying out loud, finally have something to talk about–they took us off the air!“ But it gave Shepherd some time to think carefully, not be forced to immediately improvise as he usually did on his broadcasts. It gave him time to compose his elegantly crafted eulogy for his first night back on the air, in which he suggested how the mood of the country had been changing to an unsettling dissatisfaction with the world, and that this mood-change probably contributed to the tragic events. He ended by saying, “It was a terrible weekend. And I’m not so sure that we’re not in for a few more in the next hundred years.” He concluded the broadcast in a way very unusual for him, that suggested to me that he knew he had expressed something very special in this night’s program–he did the equivalent of signing his name to the eulogy, ending it with: “This is Jean Shepherd.”
A close friend and I had taken a train from New York to Washington
and we stood in line overnight to walk past Kennedy’s coffin in the Capital Rotunda.
Then we stood outside on the curb, watching with thousands of others
as the Kennedy family and foreign dignitaries slowly walked by in tribute.
Afterward, the public then dispersing, I removed one of the no-parking signs
from a street-pole along the route. I saw it almost daily
hanging in my workroom
for over 50 years.
Yes, it has been over fifty years.
I still can’t think about the events or see documentary footage of them,
without welling up with tears.
I can’t watch those images–I have to avert my eyes.
[Now, over 50 years later, Shepherd would advise us
to keep our knees loose and not avert our eyes.]
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gang, although the following material previously appeared in my blog posts
on Shepherd’s travels, I feel that this small grouping,
condensed and rethought from the earlier postings,
brings together important elements of Shepherd’s ways of responding
to his experiences of life and to humanity in general.
That all four happened to Shepherd (and to us as listeners)
in only a bit over two years, is extraordinary. –eb
JEAN SHEPHERD, TRAVELER
MARCH ON WASHINGTON
On his radio programs, Jean Shepherd sometimes described traveling–one of the great enthusiasms of his life. Several times on his broadcasts he talked about what it meant for him, once in mock-melodramatic tones, wondering why he did it:
Deep down inside of me is a little violin playing that says, “Yes, why, why me? Why am I a Flying Dutchman, forever sailing over the seas—the seven seas of this benighted globe? Always looking, always searching, always hunting and never finding?”
In reality, he was forever finding. He emphasized that being in new places promotes new ideas, new ways of understanding our world. As the cliché has it, “travel broadens one.” Beyond expressing himself to others–conveying his experiences and observations—broadening his listeners’ understanding obviously added to his pleasure.
Shepherd not only traveled around the world, but to many parts of the United States, including an important bus ride from New York City to our nation’s capital. He told a lot of fictional stories about his kid-hood in the Midwest. He was an enthusiastic American patriot. He expressed his feelings and understanding of American ideas and cultural attributes in many of these stories–as in much of his work, including his creation and narration of nearly two-dozen half-hour programs in his television series, “Jean Shepherd’s America.” This series, but a partial, potentially much longer opus, should be recognized as a central marker in his creative world:
The period from mid-summer 1963 through late summer 1965 especially, provides important and expressive examples of his special turn of mind, his focus on the American experience, and his proclivity to travel in an engaged and perceptive way.
Because he was a serious traveler, he told a lot of true narratives about his experiences traveling the world. (I chose and edited, in an unpublished book-length manuscript, dozens of his travel-based broadcasts) I believe that his travel narratives are, in almost all details, true, especially because, as a mentor for thousands of listeners, he was expressing to them truly, why experiencing other places and peoples was important for understanding America and the entire human condition. Yes, he enjoyed travel:
“As far as I’m concerned, travel—I have found travel to be one of the most—oh—use all the clichés, but it is the one thing that I find that really, truly, does give me a kind of a final sense of involvement and satisfaction.”
MARCH ON WASHINGTON AUGUST 28, 1963
Most written and spoken words on this great American gathering come from those reporters who arrived in Washington in an official capacity and viewed the experience from an official news perspective. Shepherd however, wanted to experience it as a typical American—he traveled to the nation’s capital on one of New York City’s cross-town buses with other typical Americans. Thus, as a perceptive traveler, he could describe the occasion based on a participant’s vision of what really happened, and describe this to his fellow Americans. (On the fortieth anniversary of the event, National Public Radio regarded Shepherd’s vision highly enough to re-broadcast a ten-minute segment of his original, 45-minute program.) What follows is a collage of comments taken from his original broadcast. This is Jean Shepherd’s unique historical document about what over two-hundred thousand participants experienced, and as such, it contains much objective truth and authentic feeling. As for Shepherd, he was overwhelmed. [Excuse a few politically incorrect words that were okay at the time.]
I had all kinds of ideas about the way it would be. Just like all of us have ideas in our head about how history is. I’m sure you have ideas about how it must have been to be in Germany in the 20s. Well, it wasn’t. Not the way you think it was. I’m sure you have ideas of how it must have been when Washington was crossing the Delaware. Forget it. It wasn’t. I was not there but I know one thing—it wasn’t the way you think it was. I’ve found that very few things are the way you think they are.
I went down on this thing very specifically as just a marcher. Just one of the people in a delegation, because I have learned through long experience—and hard experience—that the only real way that you ever get to have even a vague understanding about events is, if you can, possibly, be part of or in the group, or be in with people to whom the event is occurring.
I wonder just how much a newsman ever learns about anything—standing up on the platform. I’m curious. I listened to a lot of jazz yesterday from the newsmen and almost all of them were up on the platform, they were in the news section, which was very, very, very much roped off from the great herd of people who walked along the streets. The great multitude who gathered under the trees, who pushed up through past the Coke stands and finally stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
And every last man that I saw involved in this situation—the police, the MPs, the Red Cross people—was in the most wildly great, holiday mood. You just don’t expect it from officials. Everybody cheering when you came in. I don’t know how much of this has been reported! I haven’t seen much of it reported in the press.
So we were walking along and thousands and thousands of white people and colored people are standing on the sidelines waving. Guys in offices are cheering and waving. Nobody reported on this! And I want to go on record saying that during the entire day, I did not hear one word that I could construe as being the kind of word that you would hear in demonstrations, I did not hear one moment that I could call a moment that gave me even one instant a feeling of imminent rabble-rousing or any of that stuff. There was just an amazing attitude towards everything. You know, I hate to use such words as “love.” These are ridiculous, meaningless words, but there was a feeling of humanity in the air.
We were coming in and millions of people were gathering, and I don’t know how they can estimate the number of people who were there. There would be no way to estimate it.…and suddenly through the crowd was this tiny band of people coming with a little sign that said “MISSISSIPPI.” That was really a moment, I’ll tell you! That was a moment. They came all the way up on some crummy old bus. And everybody was hollering at them and talking and they were laughing and hollering. Incidentally, in that Mississippi group there were more than just a few white people. That should be pointed out. People were slapping them on the back as they walked through.
Well, we were all standing around in this great crowd—it’s going to sound like I invented this. Please listen carefully. This is exactly what happened. There was a man standing back of me who had a big white Panama hat on and like so many of the demonstrators, it was obvious that this was a very big moment for him and he was all dressed up, as were so many. That’s an interesting thing—my delegation was told to wear a jacket and a tie and white shirt, because “this is a thing we’re going to that is very important.” So everybody was all dressed up. As we came into Washington, all the guys were putting their jackets on. And it was hot—oh boy was it hot on the bus. Putting their ties on. Trying to straighten up their clothes and everything, because, as somebody said, it was like going to church with two-hundred-thousand people. The man behind me, a great guy, a short, stout, negro man with glasses clouded-up because he was sweating like mad, was holding up his little sign that said, “NAACP Boston Branch.” It’s a long way from Boston to Washington on a bus.
And Marian Anderson started singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The usual kind of “Star Spangled Banner” where it was through a PA system and we were so far away we could hardly hear. You couldn’t distinguish the words, but it was “The Star Spangled Banner.” Everybody standing there.
Suddenly, a few feet from me, a big colored lady with a big red hat with big white flowers—the official kind of lady who’s always organizing—starts to holler, “Will the Brooklyn Corps representatives please assemble over here. Please get over here. Brooklyn Corps representatives.” She was hollering in the middle of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Well, the guy back of me says, “Madam, madam.”
She looked at him. “What?”
He said, “They are singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ We usually are quiet during the singing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ Please. They are singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
And he stood there sweating, with his hat off, as Marian Anderson sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Don’t anyone say to me, “The Uncle Tom.” Stop it, man. You know not whereof you speak.
Coming back….It was like a great company picnic where everybody knew everybody else. Waving, talking, eating. And finally the busses assembled and one by one the busses took off. Our bus backed out, going north and, all along the route through town—and this was late, about eight-thirty or so—there were people walking, waving at our bus, which didn’t have any big, jazzy sign, it was just a busload of plain, ordinary people sitting in there. And they were waving and hollering and grinning. It wasn’t a feeling of, “Boy, we showed ‘em, didn’t we!” but it was a feeling of, “Boy, it was wonderful that you came!” People were riding along in their cars, just ordinary people, and they were all waving at the busses from their cars as we were going out of town, going north.
Out along the highway, millions of busses one after the other. One after the other! A fantastic parade. And in the end, I’m sure it was a parade that no one will ever forget. A truly historic moment. Not a historic moment politically even. It was a historic moment for a lot of people who did not conceive of people being this way. It’s a new concept, really. For a moment there. At least for a moment it was there.
* * * * * *
I recently noted an LP record titled “The Best of Jean Shepard.”
So I thought, why not a “Best of Jean Shepherd.”
This proves to be a difficult task to compile, in part because there are so many audios of his broadcasts and so many published stories and other works. My memory is deteriorating and I can’t listen to and reread all his published work. I’d appreciate suggestions about what to add to my list, including sources/dates and reasons for the choices.
As a representative selection for possible inclusion with my EYF! (which never happened–it was nixed by the publisher as too expensive) and for eventual distribution as a premium for WBAI, I compiled a CD-worth of excerpts from Shep programs.
Assume that, as a given, I choose the broadcasts below because I feel or assume they are well-told besides having the particular attributes that especially gab me.
I, Libertine,.First comments and suggestion of a hoax. (4 ?/??/1956) One of the great “Holy Grail” Shepherd broadcasts. I have not heard it but I have thought about it and read little bits about it so often that it is a permanent part of my “memory,” and it must be one of the great moments in literary and shepherdian history.
March on Washington. Narrative told the day after the March. (8/29/1963) Shepherd describes his trip, not as a reporter, but as just another American. This conforms to his attitude as an informed and enthusiastic American patriot.
JFK Assassination. First day back on the air. (11/26/1963) Shepherd, from time to time, had described his feelings about psychological issues in America, and he takes this opportunity to reiterate some of them and link them to the assassination.
“Blues I Love to Sing.” Program I describe and partly transcribe in EYF! (6/16/1957) Shepherd interacts with the singer on the record and expresses his joy in the narrative situation he depicts. This but a ten minute portion of the four-hour program. He uses what is a familiar image from his earlier days of the “figure tattered and torn.”
“Why I am Such a Sorehead.” Discusses Mark Twain and Morse code–I describe in EYF! (1/6/1965) He integrates into his narration, Twain, one of his favorite predecessors. He develops the metaphor of the Mississippi as a dangerous path in life, and relates it to one of his favorite activities, Morse code, suggesting that we all have some activity that, in reality, we are not as good at as we think and hope we are.
“Shermy the Wormy.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/4/1964)
“Fourth of July in the Army.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (7/3/1963)
“Lister Bag Attack.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (6/17/1966)
“Boredom Erupts.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/18/1969)
“Private Sanderson.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (1/13/1971)
“Naked Baseball in the Army.” Told on the air, published in Playboy.
“Troop Train Ernie.” Told on the air, published in Shep’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons as
“The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”
“Og and Charlie.” He told stories several times about these two cave-man-type-near-humans. They were a good metaphor for how Shep felt that humanity still was–not quite the mentally/emotionally advanced race we think we are.
Peru–The whole group of programs focusing on his trip, from how it came about to when he got home to contemplate the experience. At the time, he felt it was the best travel experience he’d ever had.
In addition to all of the above, one must add some of the innumerable bits and pieces of his delightful and cuckoo musical interludes on his silly little instruments–including on his sometimes silly head.
I made my own classical guitar. I’m fascinated by how the shape/formation of objects combine form with function. (It’s my design training still influencing me after all these years.) How does the form of a guitar contribute to its sound? Encountering a two-semester, adult evening class in constructing (not from a “kit”) a classical guitar from the raw materials one buys in a shop that supplies such to professionals, I took the course.
I kept notes and I took photos. Two parts of the classical guitar that might vary are the shape of the head and the luthier’s (guitar-maker’s) choice of how to configure the inside structural supports for the top of the body. I designed a simple, classical head, and chose internal struts for the body’s top that I thought would enforce high notes on the higher strings, and lower tones for the lower strings. I redrew all the instruction pages for the instructor’s future use–the upper left of the head is one of my pages.
An eb element of the rosette
around the sound hole.
I also designed and made the wooden rosette with my eb initials, and designed and installed my label.
While I was peacefully working on my guitar construction, my then-wife, from Granada, Spain, threatened me with a kitchen carving knife and I grabbed and rolled up for protection, my Sunday New York Times Arts Section (Yes, the Arts Section–it was the closest at hand), and that’s as far as I’ll take that true story. Except that I did incorporate the episode into my fact/fiction unpublished novel, The Pomegranate Conspiracy.
I completed my guitar at the end of the course, and practiced playing, struggling
for several unsuccessful years. Now my guitar is hung on a wall.
I love classical guitars and guitar music. I also like looking at Picasso’s guitar collages. So much so that I played around with one of his collage reproductions. First, with a color copier that scans one color at a time, I let it scan the first colors, then slightly shifted the original for the scanning of the black. Then I printed it and applied black-and-white photo prints of the underneath side of my guitar top, half on each side, with, in the middle, a photo of myself playing my newly completed guitar. One might title it:
“The Picasso/Bergmann Guitar Collage.”
I’m Conflicted About This Artsy Of Mine.
Is it a witty, clever, personal homage to an artist I greatly admire,
done by manipulating one of his works
(that he had first made by manipulating and reconstructing stuff),
or is it a fartsy, esthetic travesty for which I should be ashamed?
→ It is a unique collaged collage ←
Would Picasso have liked it? *
Greenwich Village is not so much a geographical thing–although it is located geographically. If you were to look at a map you’d have to say it’s in the southern half of Manhattan. And there’s always arguments as to where the Village begins and where it lets off. I would say roughly the Village starts at 14th Street.
[Shepherd discusses the boundaries and comments that it varies depending on one’s interpretation. Despite variations in different maps, I’d just shift the whole gray area of this map about 2 or 3 blocks to the east. He comments that people who visit New York City mostly go to Manhattan’s Mid-town–the Times Square area, and that the Village is just one of many of the city’s neighborhoods.]
Greenwich Village is really just a state of mind. The Village probably has more mis-information and glop and romanticism attached to it by outside people, than any other section of any city in the United States. I doubt very much whether there is any other city in the country about which more literature has been written than New York City.
[Shepherd also comments that New York and other “world cities” do not have very much relationship with the rest of the countries they’re in.]
I’ve been connected with the Village, both as a resident, and as a writer, for a long time.
End of Part 2 of 3
GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS
The New York Times of Feb 17, 2016 announced in an article that there is an upcoming Hieronymus Bosch retrospective in the Netherlands. I’d love to see it. He’s a weird artist and one of my favorites.
By far, his best-known work is “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” a triptych that has hung for centuries in Madrid’s Prado Museum, where I’ve seen it on several trips to Spain.
If you go, don’t ask where their great collection of Hieronymus Bosch paintings is. You may get the same blank stare I got the first time I asked. Eventually I found out that they know the artist as “El Bosco,” and anyway, they’d rather you looked in on their major collections of great Spanish painters: El Greco, Goya, and Velasquez. (They have “El Bosco” paintings, because one of the Spanish kings had a passion for collecting them–they eventually became part of the state’s patrimony.)
Persist—ask for El Bosco–and you’ll be directed to an upper floor way down the far end of the museum. I‘ve probably seen ”The Garden of Delights” better—more completely—than the vast majority of viewers. That’s because I’m aware that the narrow side panels close, and to achieve this, I wait until the large room is empty of all but the guard. I approach him with some Spanish cash casually held in one hand and ask if I can see the painting closed. He undoes the hook and eye latch on the lower back of each side panel, and slowly swings them closed.
There, in its un-glory, all in grays, is the painted Earth—seemingly before life appeared in all its color, sex, and grotesqueries. This is how Bosch worshipers and tourists first should see this masterpiece (which, when closed, is about seven foot high by six foot wide. Stare at this earth for a while, until your eyes are conditioned to its dull grays. Then ask the guard to open the panels, upon which (after handing over the generous tip), be overwhelmed by the color and the subject matter of the Garden of Eden (left, with God, Adam, and Eve); the main panel with its earthly, sinful delights; then the damnations of Hell in darkness and fire (Wow! far right panel).
I had an idea years back. I encountered for sale a large book that contained good color details of the entire work. Wouldn’t it be great (if I had space enough and time) to past up the entire thing and frame it and hang it at home? As the reproductions were on both sides of the pages, I had to buy three copies—one to keep, and two to use both sides of those copies and apply to flat panels and then frame the resultant twelve-foot-high by eight-foot high–what shall we say—social gathering? I bought the books. But it never happened. I still have one copy. I have other books about Bosch and his wacky world.
I understand that the detailed goings-on in this painting are folk sayings illustrated. Back then they had quite an imagination! I have a book by Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death. An article by Thomas B. Morgan in Esquire, comments about it:
According to Brown, the usual interpretation of the painting is not necessarily accurate. Hieronymous Bosch, after all, was a member of a heretical sect known as the Adamites, who practiced “coitus reservatus,” intercourse without orgasm, that is to say, pure forepleasure.” The Adamites’ goal was to recapture in this life the innocent eroticism of Adam before the Fall—the fall into, among other things, the tyranny of a sexuality focused on the genitals. If The Garden of Delights is, then, a portrayal of the Adamite vision, the Inferno scene may have been Bosch’s view of life in the here and now rather than in Hell. And the center section may not be a representation of the kind of sensuality that leads to Hell, but a purposeful portrait of the hope of the Adamites—and of Norman O. Brown.
Adamite’s Here and Now?
Gee, I dunno.
If the wrong people had found out about that idea,
Bosch coulda got into a pile o’ poop.
Part 1 has the most variety of subjects for additional
Jean Shepherd’s America subjects.
Remember that I feel there should be at least a couple of hundred programs
to make complete his
TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY MASTERPIECE
Ice Cream Parlor Drive-through Diners
hot dogs & hamburgers elegant dinners (escargot, lobster, filet minion)
ethnic food—Afro-American Spain.Germ.Ital.Chinese.Mex.Hisp,Jap, etc.
take-out and eat-in eating Italian, Chinese, etc.
Jewish delis, pastrami vs. corned beef, Cel-ray soda, Shep’s whitefish sandwich
breakfasts around the U.S. and in restaurants
Drinks–coffee weak/strong, wine, milk, mixed drinks, hard liquor, specialty (Kahlua, etc.)
Let’s think about a few of these, and in what way Shep could do his bit with them:
Ice Cream Parlors Beyond the usual neighborhood ones country-wide, there are some special ones that should be visited. For most of my life, Jahn’s in Richmond Hill, Queens was “world famous” in Queens. It closed in 2008!
Hardware Stores There are still neighborhood ones that sell hammers and screw drivers and light bulbs, but some of the new ones, like Home Depot sell everything in enormous quantities–they are warehouses. This year we bought our Christmas tree at Ace Hardware.
Drug Stores These sold only pharmaceutical stuff. When I was a kid, the local one also had a soda fountain and a small comics rack where I first discovered Mad Comics, etc. Now they sell lawn furniture and whatever.
Think of the delightful discussions one could have.
For example regarding the best coffee, between the typical weak stuff
in most American restaurants to the stuff now in Starbucks.
Nowadays, even Dunkin’ Donuts has good cappuccino comparable to Starbucks.
And Seattle has become famous for its focus on coffee.
Oh, I wish Shep could have made 300 more episodes!
“…ONE MAN’S VERSION OF HEAVEN IS A SUPER HOWARD JOHNSONS
WITH 28 FLAVORS AND NO LINES FOR THE REST ROOMS. MINE IS A FAST-MOVING STREAM.”
A fast-moving stream in Maine. His version of heaven. One of Jean’s childhood joys was fishing for crappies in northern Indiana. And fishing for crappies is just another name for snagging hooks on beer cans and old submerged tires. The “dream” was to fish from the banks of the Kennebec River. And that’s what he finally gets to do. That’s not all you’ll hear about, because Shepherd doesn’t just follow the camera around, explaining what’s being seen. And he is definitely not into show-and-tell. When you see an unbroken stand of Maine forest, he’s telling some great fishing story. And it’s beautiful. Shepherd himself puts it this way, “If a guy sees a glass of beer on the screen, he knows what it is and I don’t have to tell him. My series isn’t a documentary. It’s going to be hallucinogenic.”
I’ve commented before that Shep’s two series of Jean Shepherd‘s America
are the flawed beginnings of what had been a potential Great American Television Documentary.
What more should be added to the subjects of this series? Here’s a few I’ve thought of to help fill the near-infinity of possibilities in our culture.
(Existing programs 4/11/1971 Existing programs 4/1985 Future subjects)
Ice Cream Parlor Drive-through Diners
hot dogs & hamburgers elegant dinners (escargot, lobster, filet minion)
ethnic food—Afro-American Spain.Germ.Ital.Chinese.Mex.Hisp,Jap, etc.
take-out and eat-in eating Italian, Chinese, etc.
Jewish delis, pastrami vs. corned beef, Cel-ray soda, Shep’s whitefish sandwich
breakfasts around the U.S. and in restaurants
Drinks–coffee weak/strong, wine, milk, mixed drinks, hard liquor, specialty (Kahlua, etc.)
Santa Claus and Easter Bunny in varied stores, malls
SPECIAL STORES OLD FASHIONED VS MODERN
Hardware, drug stores (from only medicine, then ice cream fountains, to lawn furniture)
Alaska Florida Hawaii Wyoming
Okefenokee Swamp South Death Valley New Orleans Chicago
New York San Francisco Las Vegas Dallas Wash.D.C. Hawaii Boston
Trains Driving Flying 28 Flavors (This is about fishing)
Vacations Cruise Ship Cars
Surfing Skating Factory work Hiking Tourist-vacations Cooking
Fastfood-work Exercise(with/without machines) Kite-flying Frisbee throwing
Camping Dog shows Horse & harness racing Greyhound racing Sailboat racing
State fair-going Street fair going Off–road riding Square dancing
Concert-going: classic, jazz, rock Buying a house Automated factories
Two-wheeler biking the countryside Motor biking
WAYS OF LIVING
Filthy Rich Houseboat Mobile Home Guam
Artists of any/all kinds Retirement home living Poverty
More to come–plus suggestions and new thoughts
Jean Shepherd loved
to hate New Jersey.
“New Jersey–the most American of all states. It has everything from the wilderness to the mafia. All the great things and all the worst, for example Route 22.” –Jean Shepherd
Most everybody who lives in New York City and vicinity loves to hate that country-bumkin-and-gas-refinery-state. We all hate “Jersey drivers” and disparage those gigantic summer insects we refer to as “Jersey Mosquitoes.” (Yes, I know that Jersey-ites call ’em “Brooklyn Mosquitoes.”) As Shepherd prided himself on being a cosmopolitan, sophisticated city-guy, this may have been part of why he disparaged New Jersey frequently on his broadcasts. When he was doing his faux-run-for-emperor, he promised to set up gigantic fans along the Manhattan side of the Hudson River in order to blow the Jersey odor away from The City. He said that, while in the army, he spent some time in Fort Monmouth, NJ.
When Shepherd first moved to New York and began broadcasting on WOR from 1 to 5:30 AM,WOR, to save money, the station kept the 1440 Broadway studios closed and had him broadcast from their transmitter in Cartaret, NJ. He claimed on the air that he would race his Porsche down the Jersey Turnpike to get to work and once said that he’d accidentally driven the Porsche into the transmitter’s cooling pool there.
1955 to 19?? New Milford, NJ. This was the period when he had just moved to the New York City area. Dates may or may not represent his actual, continuous residence.
1977-1984? Lived on a three-acre farm in Washington, NJ. It’s said that, when their apartment in the Village was ransacked, the police suggested that Shep and Leigh Brown move away, so this may have been when they moved to Jersey. Leigh was brought up in Jersey and had ridden horses on a farm there, so this may have been at or near where they lived for a time.
PASSING THROUGH AMERICAN CLUTTER
Jim Clavin’s www.flicklives.com describes a Jean Shepherd television special this way: “On October 19, 1984 ‘Jean Shepherd on Route 1’ premiered on New Jersey Public Television. Shep sits in the back seat of a limo and discusses such things as drive-in theaters, the George Washington Bridge, traffic circles, diners, road signs, junkyards, bars, Route 22, and the art of shaving.”
Shepherd in limo discussing Jersey.
Shepherd: “This is the road that is truly the road of American clutter. We have right now, for your edification and your artistic enjoyment, a picture of American grubble at its most beautiful development, its fullest. The vines are rich and growing along this stretch of road. Everybody in his soul—at least in his American soul, has a Route 22—that extends right out of New York City into New Jersey. It’s the true bastion of the slob road in America in full-flower. And it’s got it all goin’.”
Shepherd delights in making fun of Jersey’s Leaning Tower of Pizza and the Margate Elephant:
“Creation of Pizza” mural at Leaning Tower of Pizza Restaurant.
Lucy, Jersey’s most famous hotel.
Shepherd did a program featuring the Margate Elephant.
Shepherd performed at Princeton University 30 times, giving New Jersey a yearly thrill. Gatherings of Shep-enthusiasts, called “Shepfests,” occur from time to time. Shepfest #4, 11/9/03 took place in the Triumph Brewing Company micro-brewery in Princeton:
Some Shepfest participants in Jersey.
Shepherd appeared several times at New Jersey’s Clinton Museum, giving live performances.
NEW JERSEY RESTAURANTS
Jean Shepherd loved food and sometimes talked about it on his show. Lois Nettleton, his wife from 1960 to about 1967, said that he was a gourmet cook and that after one of his great meals, she was happy to clean up and do the dishes. In the late 1980s, Shepherd wrote the intro/foreword to a book. One wonders if he delighted in or disparaged New Jersey restaurants. As of now, here is all we know about it:The New Jersey Restaurant Guide w/ Ruth Alden, 1989. Hdl Pub Co. ISBN #10: 0937359459
Further Shepherd commentaries on the great state of Jersey will be welcomed.
(Actually, I’m from Queens–eb.)
The Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa are probably the best-known artworks in the world. And they are thus, probably the most cliché images of what art is in the world. I suppose they represent, to many people, “the beautiful.” A recent column by a very intelligent and learned and witty fellow who writes for the Wall Street Journal commented that people go to museums to look at beautiful things. Considering the nature of much modern art, isn’t that idea strange? Isn’t it strange that an ancient statue with its arms busted off is so glorified?
I believe that in part this is because its silhouette is so compact—and thus has such visual strength, and a sense of primitive elegance. (In my attraction to the tiny Japanese traditional sculpture called netsuke, I almost exclusively prefer the pieces that don’t have parts sticking out of them—much better are pieces that are compact and powerful in their essence. Besides, considering their traditional use as part of one’s apparel, parts sticking out would easily break off.) Imagine the Venus de Milo with its original arms, as some have done:
I doubt that I’d give it even a second look. It certainly would not be glorified as it is today–armless. It would still be “classic” historically, but would not be as highly regarded. We’d pay it little if any attention. What is “classic” anyway? As classic as is a classic portrait of Santa Claus. Having spent most of my life as a lapsed Lutheran, I still much enjoy the Christmas season, and I much prefer the traditional, classic Santa Claus. At home we always have a classic Christmas tree (I insist on a real one) and set out the nativity crèche my wife loves so much.
But sometimes I like to fool around designing a card.
Decades ago, when I made the card, the surround was white.
Santa de Milo card closed Santa de Milo card when open
with round cutout showing Santa’s head. showing entire image.
SANTA DE MILO
by Gene B. 19??
Maybe such universally admired images we think are so classic deserve to be played with once in a while so that we are shocked into a new/fresh way of thinking about how much we adore their classicism.
MONA LISA WITH MOUSTACHE
by Marcel Duchamp
“One fun way of exposing students to famous works of art and studying the essential identifying features of the piece (style, subject matter, art material, technique, use of art elements/principles) is through remixing. An art parody, a type of remixing, often takes a famous artwork, recreates many of its elements, but through changes and additions, results in a comic effect or mocking of the original. Sometimes the parody is meant to send a political statement; other times it’s purely for entertainment.” –Melissa Enderle
Again, that baffling book, Andy Kaufman Wrestling With the American Dream by Florian Keller (U. of Minnesota Press). The first 67 pages were mostly beyond my understanding. I understood maybe 20% of it–yet, the idea kept me going and I believe that, through my arguing with the book’s text and ideas, I’ve come to understand more about Andy Kaufman and maybe more, fundamentally, about Jean Shepherd. And, through the catalyst of what this book seems to be saying, I seem to better understand in what ways Shep and Andy were similar and in what ways different.
For me the beginning of the book is mostly unintelligible, and the next part, on “The American Dream,” seems to be somewhat akin to the enigma that is Jean Shepherd. (By the way, I disagree with the author’s belief that Kaufman, in any conscious or unconscious way, is commenting on “The American Dream.” I’m not aware of Kaufman on any level dealing with American cultural or social issues. He deals with humans’ specific preconceptions and attitudes.) I’d like to explain how the first and then the following parts of the book appear to me, not only because it’s interesting unto itself, but for a better understanding of how someone–such as myself–should go about discovering and articulating aspects of Jean Shepherd’s life and career–why did he do what he did?
We’re familiar with the feeling that Shep on the air is giving us the true gen–about life and about himself, that what he is on the air is his real self. An interesting comment quoted in the book about Andy is that he blurred the “distinction between his performance persona and himself.” Don’t we all believe that Shep-on-the-air and Shep, the 24/7 person, are the same? Shep in later years insisted that on the radio, he had been a “performer.”
American Heritage Dictionary: Perform, definition #3. To portray a role or demonstrate a skill before an audience.
One might think that to perform could mean to enact the reality of oneself, or, more likely, it suggests that one is enacting some sort of artifice (a “role”). I’m sure that I, as do most all Shep enthusiasts, firmly believe that on the air, he was being his true self (though not all of himself). I think that what Shep meant by describing himself as a performer and entertainer on the air, is that he presented his true self in a way that used the techniques of theatricality (such as sound volume, emphasis, pausing, exaggerating, some self-editing, etc.) in order to best entertain while self-presenting his real self. Might one say that the radio Shepherd is performing himself? Yet–despite Shepherd apparently telling his life and persona as it was, he simultaneously–without our knowing it at the time–contained many unknowns and contradictions–enigmas.
They both basically, truthfully performed as themselves. But though Shep only performed as his one true self, Andy performed the roles of his many true selves–except that he didn’t perform a role as the exceedingly intelligent, clever part of himself that he was. He seemed to always bring his performing persona back to the essential childlike Andy that he seemed to mostly be.
J E A N S H E P H E R D
(The image above is not the real Jean Shepherd.
It is a tracing
of an Internet reproduction
of a paper photo print
from a negative
taken through a camera lens
of a performer
A Richard Corless article’s title quoted from the 1981 Time magazine essay
about then-current/unusual comics is
“Comedy’s Post-Funny School.”
(More thoughts on Andy Kaufman Wrestling With the American Dream)
AWKWARD first 50 pages
What would an absurdly scholarly, overly pedantic article or book in an obscure university journal be like?
Use frequent quotes from obscure sources and frequently use quote marks for simple, descriptive words and phrases, while leaving the unexplained jargon quote-mark-free, as though we all know what it means.
Don’t write any sentence with straightforward words that can be clearly understood when one can slightly misuse more complex and scientific-sounding words that a highly, yet imperfectly educated “Foreign Man” would concoct. Also use slightly altered real words that might–but really aren’t real. Such writing and usage would confuse and bamboozle the earnest and intelligent Kaufman enthusiast.
I find it more likely that Andy Kaufman is alive and wrote this book than that it’s the work of a coherent intellect with a cogent theory. I picture Andy doubled over on the floor laughing at us for imagining that this faux-analysis of him is for real rather than its being another chapter in his mind-bending, created world. My question: Was this book a self-description written by a postmortem Kaufman (ghostwritten?) in the style of an imperfectly over-educated “Foreign Man?” (I should say that there are some parts of this book that do make sense and that add to our understanding of Andy.)
Is this man a genius? YES.
Is Shep a genius? YES.
Are they both expressing truths? YES.
AK confounds preconceptions and expectations,
disturbing us and making us rethink things.
JPS expands our knowledge and sensibilities,
widening our world.
After reading this exasperating–yet interesting–book, what are my thoughts about Andy Kaufman’s agenda (“American Dream” etc.)? I think he was simultaneously an innocent (playing like a child) and a very clever genius who sometimes acted the innocent-role, and who sometimes needed a stern editor. He discovered and expressed various seldom-surfaced aspects of how we think and feel and how we approach the world around us.
Has the book affected how I think about Jean Shepherd? Not in any fundamental way: Radio=genius; writing=good fiction-writer but nowhere up to his radio work; “American Dream”=not specifically, but he worked hard and successfully at describing and expressing himself regarding humanity and its character as revealed in Americans.
(Promotional card for never-realized
lecture tour “On Creating Reality,
by Andy Kaufman,” 1984.)
“Andy was ‘able to mine the fine line between stability
to comprehend the unpredictable,…’”
—Michael Smith Dept. of Art & Art History, U. Texas.
Was it worth reading and posting all that stuff about AK
(Especially as it expands knowledge about Shep)?
Geez, I hope so!
Time Mag: AK: “The critics try to intellectualize my material. There’s no satire involved. Satire is a concept that can only be understood by adults. My stuff is straight, for all ages.” ….What makes Andy Kaufman great is his unassumed childishness, and cruelty, acknowledged or not, is as much a question of childhood as innocence.
In what ways are Shep and Andy dead?
In what ways are Shep and Andy alive?
Shepherd always insisted that, though many people were afraid to venture, that, because one only lived once it was foolish not to get the maximum out of one’s life. While his greatest pleasures were connected with the life in New York, why did he move to Florida–had he given up on that important part of his life? Had he given up on his eternal struggle to gain more fame and acknowledgment for his achievements? Why did he and Leigh (according to those who knew them best) become recluses in those last years? Why and how did he die of “natural causes” the year after Leigh died? Indeed, did loss of their mutual support system strike the final blow to his need to live?
Yes, of course I believe that he really died. But, in terms of his artistic legacy, he still lives–audios, books, videos, films, Internet tributes, the power of his influence on his thousands of enthusiastic listeners, and influence on many current creators in various entertainment fields.
My most recently encountered popular media creators who claim Shep as an important influence are author R. L. Stine (young adult “Goosebumps” books) and bestselling author Kate Collins (“The Flower Shop Mysteries,” etc.) whose childhood home was two blocks from Shep’s and who considers him her mentor: “Jean Shepherd’s amazing books had a major influence on my writing style. I write a mystery series but with comedic overtones. You’d recognize his humor in them…. I was twelve when I read Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters, and was immediately hooked. What a gifted writer, a huge talent. I always give him credit for stimulating my interest in writing.”
Andy thought that if he hoaxed his own death and people didn’t believe it, he’d “live” forever–be immortal. See below:
Considering all the ways in which Andy sabotaged reality, it’s only logical (?) that some dupes think he faked his death. Regarding his death, the more I read and understand what Andy was like and how he talked about and played with the idea of death in public and in private, the more I wonder if I am not one of those dupes. Am I racing down the road to bamboozlement?
Real Death Certificate.*
I’ve checked out lots of websites about Andy’s death. Through googling, find thousands of hits for variations of this:
IS ANDY KAUFMAN ALIVE?
DID ANDY KAUFMAN FAKE HIS OWN DEATH?
TAXI STAR KAUFMAN IS ALIVE!
The March 31, 2015 New Yorker has an article that begins:
Last month, when the fortieth-anniversary special for “S.N.L.” aired, speculation grew on Twitter that Andy Kaufman would make his big comeback during the live program, possibly by crashing it—an unlikely proposition given that Kaufman died, in 1984….
Kaufman’s posthumous reputation has grown in tandem with the rise of a cult that venerates him as a culture god, the harbinger of our comedy verité sensibility. One of the central tenets of this cult is that Andy Kaufman is really and truly alive….
An early trauma for Andy, it’s said: “Kaufman’s parents probably erred in telling a particularly sensitive young Andy that his recently deceased and beloved grandfather, Papu, had merely gone away on a long trip.”
It’s been said by various people who knew him that Andy was fascinated by the idea of dying–but then actually being alive. An elderly lady does a dance onstage during Andy’s Carnegie Hall appearance and “dies” at the end in front of the shocked audience, then is revealed to be alive.
A professional Hoaxer, Alan Abel (who wangled his fake obit into the New York Times), says that Andy questioned him about how he’d faked his own death.
I recently got a CD:
Andy playing with a mini-audio recorder,
messing with unsuspecting minds.
Culled from 82 hours of interesting stuff in this standard length CD, the final cut here has to do with a woman who is very angry that Andy won’t give her his surreptitiously recorded tape of her; there follows a dialog between Andy and his friend/collaborator, Bob Zmuda:
Andy: Wouldn’t it be great if she killed me, and then you have the tapes?…It would be better if I’m more famous.
Zmuda: [musing about how it would play in public] He took his own act into his own life. He played with people’s heads, not only on stage, but off, and it cost him in the end.
Andy: Wow. Wow. That would be great. Except I don’t think I’d want to get killed though. You know what I mean? I wouldn’t want that part. But we could fake it! When I’m more famous we could fake it….Then wouldn’t people hate me when it turns out I’m really alive?
Zmuda: No, no, because every few months you could die, right? ….And then you know what? And then—and then, for a while, everybody says, “Ah, he’s puttin’ us on.” Then, all of a sudden, you die. And I go on TV and say, “I swear this time it’s true. It’s no joke”....For one year nobody hears anything. We have a gravestone, the whole thing…. And then you come back again.
Andy: A huh.
Zmuda: You know how you come back?
Zmuda: There’s the stupid “foreign man” like on the Dick Van Dyke Show, or something.
Zmuda: Yeh, do it with the same [“Foreign Man”] act. People say, ah, that’s him, that’s him….Then, when you really die, nobody will believe it. Years will go by and they’ll go, “Nah.”….They won’t believe your own death, you’ll be immortal, you’ll go on forever.
Andy: That’s great!
[Unless this entire audio of the proposed death-hoax is itself a double-duty fake: a hoaxed-taped-proposal perpetrated about a death-hoax.]
America and “The American Dream”
Jean Shepherd and Andy Kaufman, despite some affinities, were, I believe, different in their sense of America and The American Dream.
I’v just read a strange book published by an American university, written by a “Fellow” at a Zurich University: Andy Kaufman: Wrestling With the American Dream. The idea of the author is that Andy, in a frequent way through his performances, commented on “The American Dream.” I don’t see that at all–for me, his actions reflected his take on what all of us think, feel, respond to life round us–especially to many seemingly minor things we don’t think sufficiently about. He manages to confuse us and make us do bewildered double-takes, making us re-think how we approach our basic surroundings. Recognizing ways in which each of us has thoughtlessly failed to understand ourselves and our surroundings. I don’t think that Andy thought about or commented on America as a particular cultural phenomenon at all. Although he sometimes used subjects such as “Mighty Mouse” and Elvis, I don’t see his use of them as having a particular take on American culture–He seems to me to be essentially a-cultural. Where does “The American Dream” come into this at all?
Jean Shepherd in his commentaries, his American-based stories, his expression of our customs such as in his depictions of some of our American holidays (Fourth of July, Christmas, graduation, etc.), two Jean Shepherd’s America TV series, and his often referring to American ideas and foibles, examines the American persona. He loves America and often lovingly refers to our country in his stories.
Unless otherwise noted, the quotes from Shepherd are from his radio shows;
the quotes from Kaufman are from http://www.andykaufman.com and other sources.
For his upcoming birthday
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jean Shepherd was the recipient of many honors,
including honorary doctorates from universities,
from Playboy magazine for best humor story of the year—several times.
Shep was given the honor of an extraordinary presence
in a New York Times crossword puzzle
(March 15, 1972):
Yet, he was not satisfied.
He deserved more.
So here, for the first time,
I present other well-deserved awards to
Jean Parker Shepherd.
PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES
For creating a body of work
that honors the every-day millions
of us ordinary American folk
who yearn for a tad of recognition.
NOBEL PRIZE IN RADIO PERFORMANCE
For superb use of the unique radio medium
better than anybody else
before or since.
HIGHEST CELEBRITY HONOR
(For being the celebrity extraordinaire–
authentic Jean Shepherd bobbleheads
–sometimes referred to as head-knockers–
to be given to the first 60,000 White Sox fans
who yell “Excelsior!”).
OK, BIG FELLA?
Satisfied at last?
Here, take one of these also:
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦