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My previous blog about “The Village” focused on what the book, The Village, had to say about Shep’s Greenwich Village. I just re-encountered the audio of Shepherd’s program (reportedly broadcast sometime in 1972) about his connections with the Village. He talks about his various associations with it, but, as related to him as it mostly is, he treats it in a rather objective list as explanation for his affection toward it. Although I wished for a more heartfelt paean, what he has to say is worth repeating in order to get a fair surface picture of Shep-and-the Village. Because portions of the program he devotes to some basic background info, I edit out and rearrange some of this to make it more concentrated regarding issues that fatheads would find of special interest. As always, I don’t change anything and I don’t leave out important stuff. For Shep, follow the bold text.
Washington Square Arch,
near which Shep held a “mill-in,”
one Saturday afternoon, listeners having made,
at his suggestion (and attempted
to fly there) 3″-5″ box kites .
According to one of the letters I’ve just received—the letter here says, “Shepherd, the trouble with you is it’s obvious that you live in Greenwich Village. Of course that totally warps your view and makes you somehow suspect.” Well, this is one of the most prevalent ides of the outside world RE the Village.
You know I rarely talk about that part of the world. Even though I live in the Village. You probably know that, don’t ya, Herb, that my home is the Village, and I’ve lived in the Village for a long time. And various parts of the Village. I used to live in what is now called the East Village over on 7th Street. And now I live in what is called the West Village. And I also lived in the Village when they just called it the village-Village.
But the curious thing about the Village, I think–which to me is very interesting–it’s one of the few places in America, really, where you can live–you live in an area–it’s almost a state of mind.
End of Part 1 of 3
In part we create and admire artworks with diverse ways of seeing and diverse attitudes toward the subjects. Jean Shepherd’s drawings will remain treasures for his admirers, and worthwhile objects for detailed scrutiny. During that newspaper interview noted earlier, regarding his special ways of observing the world, promoting his own artistic priorities, he was quoted as saying that, “Artists miss the point by spending time on people’s faces,” adding that, “Faces haven’t changed in years! A telephone reflects 20th century man much more than his face does.” That may be true, but human forms and faces have been a prime focus of artists throughout history for good reasons—unchanged over the millennia, faces and figures tell us who we are as individuals, they are subtle and complex, and they provide a good gauge of the skill and sensitivity of the artist depicting them. For all his ability as an observer and all his aptitude as a visual artist, maybe Shepherd lacked the particular skill or empathy required. (And maybe he disparaged depictions of people because he recognized his own deficiency.) Whatever the rationale, it seems rather odd—and enigmatic.
From what’s available to see, he sketched only a couple of people, and those without much detail. For the most part he didn’t do faces. Rather odd and seemingly contradictory for a humorist—observer of the human condition— who in words so skillfully depicted the human comedy, but maybe it fit within the parameters of his idiosyncratic and self-contained world. After all, everyone doesn’t bring the same appetite or skill to the table or to the sketchbook.
To repeat from Part 1: Many additional drawings can be seen on www.flicklives.com
under “Achievements. Line Drawings.”
To end with another repeat:
“Guernica Colorization Kit” Augmentation Annex
Previously I described my “Guernica Colorization Kit” as a vehicle for commentating negatively on the colorization of movies, and positively on Picasso’s rationale for painting “Guernica” in black, white, and grays.
While pondering my enthusiasm for graphic novels, I encountered in my Facebook inbox (5/8/2016), “Zippy the Pinhead” comic strip creator Bill Griffith’s* newly posted strip. The middle panel shows Zippy in a typically innocent-but-absurdly-realistic mode:
I recognize that “Guernica” is, indeed, a sort of gruesome comic-strip-like image. I knew that Picasso had made, in connection with the large mural, numerous smaller works, and I note that Picasso did an etching–a two page, 18-panel one related to “Guernica.” It’s titled “The Dream and Lie of Franco,” and might be considered a mini, wordless “graphic novel.” Knowing that Franco was the fascist leader who fought against the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, it’s obvious which image represents Franco. But the poem Picasso wrote to accompany the etchings, for me, fails to elucidate its meaning. (Maybe I don’t have a sufficiently surrealistic mind.) I quote a translation of the opening portion of Picasso’s page-long, single-sentence-epic:
fandango of shivering owls souse of swords of evil-omened polyps scouring brush of hairs from priests’ tonsures standing naked in the middle of the frying pan—placed upon the ice cream cone of cod
fish fried in the scabs of his lead-ox heart—his mouth full of the cinch-bug jelly of his words…
There you have it, the whole kit and its caboodle.
(One can see that a couple of the panels in the
second sheet echo parts of “Guernica”):
Picasso’s graphic novel!
* Many will recognize Bill Griffith as the creator of the Zippy comic strip tribute to Jean Shepherd that appeared January 9, 2000 (reproduced in my EYF!).
Another of Shepherd’s drawings shows a restaurant façade, with a window through which we see a self-contained composition of flower vase on a table and a waiter’s hand delivering a drink, showing a personal interaction going on just out of our view. At the corner of the building over the front door, is the establishment’s name, reminding the viewer of Shepherd’s improvised radio work: “Hutton’s AD LIB.”
Here in a drawing we see one of the few instances
of a personal connection to Shepherd’s life.
Hutton’s Ad Lib.
I did some research and determined that it was probably
located in New York, about Lex. Ave. and 47th St.
[Collection E. Bergmann]
The drawings by Shepherd so far seen in public have precise and objectively observed details—a strict depiction of what he saw—which is to say, an observation, but seemingly without an intellectual viewpoint and without feeling. Apparently done with no preliminary pencil lines (Unless he subsequently erased them?), in a straightforward, simple style, only a couple are what one might describe as “sketchy,” but that occasional sketchiness tells us nothing new either. On the other hand, his spoken and written words, based on the same acute ability for fine-tuned observation, produced humorous forays into humankind’s foibles. None of the ink drawings I’ve seen seem to have any of the sense of humor or warmth (except for the Ad Lib one) for which his words are considered an equal to those other Midwesterners, Mark Twain and James Thurber. With pen and ink in hand he saw clearly and depicted accurately, but I see no attempt to incorporate commentary except in the window scene in Hutton’s Ad Lib.
NEW YORK TIMES DELIVERY!
Saturday mornings are a glorious time at our house, full of wild anticipation. The daily Times arrives on the lawn, encapsulated in its blue, plastic, Times bag including some sections of tomorrow’s Sunday Times. I don’t believe that any other newspaper in the world is so likely to contain such possible subject matter that thrills me so! The Wall Street Journal might approach my high standards. Tabloids are below contempt—even if they do mention some worthwhile artsy subject that entrances me, I know, from long-past experience, that the quality and thoroughness of their coverage will be vastly inadequate.
The Saturday, April 30, 2016 delivery contained major, illustrated articles, on not one, but three of my favorite creators. Kahn, Sunday Art Section; Bosch, Sunday Travel Section; Whitman, Saturday Main Section, page 1. (Understand that I have significant books and stashes of clippings and personal memory-holdings on each of these masters.)
After Frank Lloyd Wright, my favorite architect is Lois Kahn (1901-1974). His buildings exude a richness of materials and a warm and life-affirming feeling for light as a substance nearly on a par with material. It’s glorious to see and be within a building by Kahn. I’ve visited the one shown. Here’s The Times opening page on Kahn:
One of my favorites, Bosh’s work is bizarre, it is quirky, it thrills me—especially his “Garden of Earthly Delights.” I’ve been in its presence several times. Here’s The Times opening page on Bosch:
My favorite poet is Whitman. Some of his words and lines and poems, such as “Song of Myself,” grab me as do few other creative works. Here’s The Times continued page on Whitman that began on the main section’s front page:
I must criticize The Times for its faulty choice of that photo of the poet—but Whitman himself bears much blame, as he promoted himself as the “Good, Gray, Poet.” Thus, he’s usually thought of and depicted as a really old guy with a long white beard. When he wrote and published the first edition of his Leaves of Grass in 1855, photos show him as a vigorous young man (about age 36). Even the Matthew Brady portraits of him taken several years after he wrote this “health” article in 1858, show him to have been much younger and more vigorous than The Times image—shame! They probably grabbed both of their printed images from the originator of the story, without the grabber thinking more knowingly. But even The Times isn’t (always) perfect.
Whitman by Brady
during the Civil War (1861-1865)
Not many people who are aware of Jean Shepherd in the media know of the importance to him of drawing, his mostly private avocation. (Shepherd seemed to do many of his known drawings circa 1960 although some are dated as late as 1962. When I visited the apartment Shep had shared with his third wife, actress Lois Nettleton, several mid-size painting of Shepherd’s were pointed out. They were neat, well-organized abstractions, but, for me, not distinctive or innovative.)
After many years during which the pen and ink drawings of Jean Shepherd had only been known through an occasional reproduction in the Village Voice, some sketched tableware reproduced on the back of a fast food restaurant paper place mat, and two of his own books of stories and articles, more artwork recently appeared. The new and unpublished materials offered on ebay from the estate of Lois Nettleton were snapped up by Shepherd’s fans. These drawings, mostly black ink on white paper, only a few with a touch of color, now permit a better appreciation of this part of a creator’s wide-ranging interests.
Shepherd prided himself on his close observation of all sorts of major and minor details (which he called “straws in the wind,” or “cracks in the sidewalk”), referring to their significance as often overlooked indicators of worthy concern. This interest in observed details led him to explore and express in many media, anything and everything that came to his attention. Shepherd said that, although people in the mass media denied that one could be competent in more than one creative field, in his many activities he proved them wrong. As his friend, Helen Gee, founder of the Limelight Café and photo gallery put it, “The amazing thing about Jean is that whatever he decided to do he did rather well….He decided to draw and he drew very well….He wanted to become an artist. An artiste.”
An early drawing of the Limelight from Helen Gee’s estate
(from before Shep had broadcast there).
John Erdman, of Gee’s estate, sent me a copy of this.
When I asked about Shep’s drawings on napkins that she told me she had,
he said that they had been thrown out.
(Thank you, Jim Clavin, for this copy)
On a radio broadcast, describing his adventures in headhunter country of the Peruvian Amazon, Shepherd commented with an idea relevant to his skills as an observer: “I was there. I am a trained reporter. Those of you who listen to me know that. My life has been devoted to absorbing sights and sounds and listening….I’m appearing as an artist who has seen something and would like to transmit his impressions to you.” Yes, the self-description, referring to his radio talk, applied as well to his other mass-media creations and also to his lesser-known work as a visual artist with pen and ink.
In his The Natural Way to Draw, Kimon Nicolaides begins the introduction to this important book of drawing exercises on how to observe and how to express what one sees in visual media, with a statement as appropriate to Shepherd’s spoken words as to his pen on paper: “The impulse to draw is as natural as the impulse to talk.”
[In the next part, see more drawings. Many additional ones can be seen on www.flicklives.com under “Achievements/Line Drawings.”]
END PART 1
(15) Emotion Outranks Technique Part 2
I discovered John Marin’s work in the 1970s. In the early-to-mid-20th century, he was voted the top living American artist by his peers. He had been one of the Alfred Stieglitz circle, but not as celebrated as Georgia O’Keeffe and some other modernists, in part because he had mostly worked in watercolor. I believe that what most attracted me to his work was the strikingly improvised effect he got, fusing an empathic fervor with a stylized but accurate sense of place—of a real scene in front of him. I visited Maine one summer vacation because that is where he had usually painted in the years before his death in 1953. I visited his home there. His son and his son’s wife invited me to view his work on their walls and in their files. (Their hospitality gives another instance where my struggle to be adventuresome triumphed over my natural timidity.)
I found, at the time, that if I were lucky, I could probably afford a small original Marin at auction. (Prices for his work were not too high yet.) A major New York auction house had one for sale and I asked to see it out of its frame, especially because the dusty glazing somewhat obscured it. The process of removing it by their person caused the frame to come apart, so that, after I’d looked at it, it was placed in its unstable frame horizontally in a glass exhibit cabinet where it could not be adequately viewed. I’d seen it well. I bid and won. I had it re-matted and re-framed as close as I could to the original. It’s been in my view daily for decades. (I saved the old backing—it has what I identify as Alfred Stieglitz’s signature.)
Me and my Marin
Photo by Allison M. Bergmann
Though the painting is smaller than his major watercolors and not a great masterpiece, it’s an early and decent example of his mature style and I revere it. A few years after buying the painting, I saw at auction a low-priced and unsigned (except in the plate) Marin etching I liked and bought it. What I didn’t realize until much later is that the watercolor and etching both have the same dynamic composition of a strong arrow-shape wide at the right, pointing diagonally upward toward the far left. Also, now I can’t look at the etching’s cloud formation without thinking that it also points upward to the left in a shape much like a penis and testicles.
Browsing through a box-full of small publications at The Strand bookstore on Broadway and 12th, I encountered a slim monograph of an English artist I did not know of, Ivan Hitchens. The cover reproduction (shown below) struck me powerfully. It was a landscape scene of a waterfall and pond in oil that, though different from Marin’s work, struck me because of the strikingly improvised effect he got, fusing an empathic fervor with a stylized but accurate sense of place—of a real scene in front of him. I have a framed reproduction of the cover image in my study and several catalogs and a major monograph of his work, but I’ve hardly ever seen an original.
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
“Pretty Bubbles in the Air”
I’m forever blowing bubbles,/Pretty bubbles in the air,/They fly so high, nearly reach the sky,/Then like my dreams they fade and die./Fortune’s always hiding,/I’ve looked everywhere,/I’m forever blowing bubbles,/Pretty bubbles in the air.//I’m dreaming dreams, I’m scheming schemes,/I’m building castles high./They’re born anew, their days are few,…
No wonder Shep would sing some of the lyrics–they exemplify his philosophy.
Some of the little-known or unrealized Shep projects
Over the years, Shepherd claimed to have a play in the offing, and a movie he said he was working on as late as 1998, the year before he died. None of these has appeared. Maybe they were mere pretty bubbles.
In a major film made in 1964, Light Fantastic, Shepherd plays a dance instructor. The film, apparently released only in Europe, has not been available in the United States.
Shep plays the part of Frank, the older Dance instructor. “In this romantic drama, a plain, lonely secretary wins three dance lessons. Her handsome instructor tells her that she is quite talented and cons her into signing a long-term contract. She soon finds herself in love with him, and an affair begins. The normally cold-hearted instructor is surprised when he finds himself genuinely returning her affections. Trouble ensues when she dances with another instructor who gives her exactly the same sales pitch.” Source: IMDB – Written by Jim Sadur.
For a video documentary of 1974 that hasn’t been seen for decades Shepherd narrated “The Great American Balloon Adventure” about a ten-week tour of America in an eighty-foot balloon. And a number of other projects have been reported. Two “Fisherman’s World” videos (1969, 1970) show Shep fishing for salmon in Michigan and ice fishing in Wisconsin, with a gag showing him being served drinks on the ice by Playboy Bunnies.
In An Answer, a half-hour documentary about an early 1963 visit by President Kennedy to Naval and Marine facilities to observe military might, especially on the high sea, Shepherd gives a straight narration of what obviously was material scripted by the armed forces. That he had the opportunity to be involved must have gratified him, as in his eulogy of JFK only a half year later, he said that he had always been “a Kennedy man.”
Another film project recently uncovered is No Whistles, Bells or Bedlam. In 1972, Shepherd appeared in and narrated this half-hour film for The National Technical Institute for the Deaf. I encountered this title on the internet’s IMDB.com, and I emailed Raul daSilva who had written the description of it there. To my surprise he was the filmmaker, and he sent me a copy of it. What delights me is that such a basic attempt at contact led to a positive resolution to this little quest.
Among Shepherd’s media projects that started well but never achieved their hoped-for success was an hour television pilot he wrote and narrated, Phantom of the Open Hearth, with the same title as his earlier PBS TV drama. The pilot, for a weekly series, focuses on Ralph, shown as an incredible klutz, finding out that he was the blind date. Another segment shows his father thinking he is a smart negotiator when buying a used car, but being depicted as an utter fool. These portrayals are quite mean-spirited—not something television in those days wanted in a sit-com. Shep, your sense of “realism” got out of hand and clobbered you!
More to come
“Honey, I think you and I were wrong.”
Allison and I are enthusiasts of much (but not all) rock-and-roll. Beatles, Bruce, Holly, The Who, Stones, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” and lots more, but other than “Purple Rain,” we weren’t aware of Prince’s music or what he had accomplished in the world. (We were prejudiced, in part, by what appeared to be the one-dimensional aspect of his sexually explicit self and the lack of sufficient major media attention.) With his death, we know a little more–my favorite (political) television station did four hours straight on him the day he died, my New York Times did major stuff on him (I’ve always said that if the Times didn’t do anything about a subject, it didn’t exist) and now I know just a tiny smidgen. But, though listening to a bit of his music this morning and reading about his wide-ranging genius, I still don’t know about him. But maybe I begin to have an inkling.
Shepherd spoke about writing and literature from time to time. He expressed how much he enjoyed reading. He discussed some serious literature such as the novels of Thomas Wolfe, and mentioned that he felt that he and Nelson Algren surely “vibrated” to each other. Of course we know that he frequently disparaged Norman Mailer and his writing. He mentioned Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He once spent a program reading the work of various serious poets he liked, and he on occasion read haiku, which, with its extremely short and compact form relaying symbolic meanings, would attract him in its relationship to his own stories. I wonder if he did the “serious” poet program in response to people who may have commented that most of his poetry reading consisted of stuff on the level of R. W. Service.
Service is fun. Service is cornball. Service’s familiar, comic poems have narrative–they tell a story as, frequently, does Shep’s own material. I enjoy Shepherd’s overly dramatic renderings of some of Service’s best-known poems, and I have a copy of his LP of reading Service. (He once commented that a particular Service poem was deeply serious–maybe to counter negative comments he’d received about the majority of them?)
Related to the over-the-top literature Shepherd liked, of course, is his use of Longfellow’s “Excelsior.”He seemed to especially like funny/quirky stuff such as Archy & Mehitabel, with its poet cockroach who typed lower case on an office typewriter. Come to think of it, it was Shepherd who introduced me to Service, haiku, and Archy & Mehitabel.
There is also the genre of “recitations,” which were memorized, moralistic stories popular in rural areas in the 19th century, Shep said. He commented:
“… the work that I do [on radio]…is a form of recitation, a form of imaginative drawing upon our own life and out own emotions to paint a picture, in a sense, of something that most of us don’t feel day by day. and I have a great sense of empathy for the early recitation artists and monologists….every time there was a gathering of the community, a social affair, Charlie would be called upon to give his famous recitation, his recitation of “Life is But a Game of Cards…”
“Asleep at the Switch” was another poem read by Shepherd, and several times he read the long poem by Langdon Smith, “Evolution,” accompanied by appropriately violin-suffused, dramatic music.
There it is:
storytelling, metaphor, and moral, creating an aura
with humor & bombast–
Jean Shepherd’s favorite literature to perform on the radio–
My design sketch for the Hall’s inaugural banner that
hung from the Museum’s main entrance.
Among my most treasured memories of decades designing exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History was the years I spent designing and supervising the installation of the permanent Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.
[The entire Hall is filled with ART, but the final touch for me is how I dealt with
the issue facing installation of the Museum’s biggest ARTIFACT.]
As Senior Exhibit Designer at the Museum, I was told by the Exhibit Department Chairman that a major re-installation of our Pacific Peoples Hall would be designed by an outside design firm and that I would be responsible for its supervision and realization in its new space. (It had been designed by a former designer and had been universally criticized—The New York Times review was titled, “I Could Cry, I Could Just Cry.”) I was highly dismayed that I, a full-fledged designer, would be responsible, in such a diminished position, for overseeing someone else’s design, having to do the clean-up job of every possible design flaw—and then be blamed for any unavoidable problems that resulted. We held meetings with our director, my boss, Margaret Mead, as well as curators in our Anthropology Department and the outside designer. I surprised the group by presenting my own re-design solution, and, given the chance to compete by the director, with my mock up of a portion of the hall created by me in a month or so proving its superiority, I was given the job as the hall’s designer. (I won’t go into details of the other proposal’s major design flaw that would have resulted in a disaster beyond anyone’s ability to correct.)
Margaret Mead had been a curator at the museum for fifty years, but she was best known in the field as a major force in anthropological studies of Pacific Peoples, bringing her insight to her very popular books and to her widespread public media appearances regarding social issues in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a force to be admired and reckoned with. (I originally wrote “feared,” which also was true.)
When I ascended the narrow, winding stairs to her tower offices in the Museum for the first time to meet her one-on-one to discuss my thoughts for her hall, I was nervous. My hands were sweaty and cold, a factor I knew she felt when we shook hands. We spent a half hour discussing the hall and my design ideas. At the end she commented that she knew that we would work well together and produce a superior hall. When we shook hands goodbye my hands were warm and dry. She knew how to deal with the underling essential to her permanent hall’s legacy.
In the following months, before we knew of her terminal illness, I would go across the street from the Museum and meet with her in her apartment, spreading out my floor plan of the hall on her living room coffee table, and we would arrange plexiglas model exhibit cases on each section of the hall’s plan until we were satisfied with the anthropological aspects of the design. When she was too ill to manage, I worked with another anthropology curator until the hall’s completion.
THE NEW HALL
The previous hall installation was very cold in feeling (largely because of its dominant white paint on walls and columns, and the omnipresent ceiling lighting which shed a blandness that failed to distinguish artifacts from surroundings and created reflections and confusion.) I won’t discuss other major flaws, except to comment that, with various changes to layout and other matters, my lighting and reorganization of case placement eliminated reflections and confusion, and my use of appropriate color in the subject areas created warmth and coherence.
A major focal point of the old hall—and the hall that preceded it—had been a cast of an Easter Island head that stood at the far end, and that would do the same—but more dramatically—in my new design.
Easter Island with a couple of heads.
For the major physiological studies that a Museum anthropologist had done decades before regarding the inhabitants of the Island, its government offered as a gift, one of the original stone heads. The Museum found that its weight would have crashed it through the floor, so the anthropologist, on the island, made a multi-piece mold from which the head was cast in New York and put on display. That old cast was lowered from the existing window of the old installation, down one floor and through the corresponding window to the new hall’s space.
Museum metal-workers lowering the head out—
and then down–into the new space.
I had intended to close off the window with a painted wall in the sky-blue color appropriate for the head. But the Museum workers who, for a year, had been reconfiguring the exhibit cases of the hall to my design, had come to love that large window view, and argued that I should retain it. At first I disagreed, saying that the public, in the Pacific environment of the hall, wouldn’t want to see out to New York’s Upper West Side.
Then I realized that, as I’d designed the space with the head on a grass-colored, upward-curving green carpet, I could have the window installed with a translucent, rippled glass and sky-blue sheeting that would allow light and suggest the sky behind the head. The mottled effect would disguise the outside scene, yet maintain the look of the outside—cloudy days or clouds in a blue sky, and, in the evening, the street lights giving a feeling of stars in the night sky. I exult in my design solution jump-started by the two Museum metal-workers.
New hall with blue “sky” behind the head
and sky blue paint on walls.
Green “grass” carpeting on floor.
[In reality, the colors and effect are far more subtle than in the photos.]
Only one problem remained to complete my tale. The Museum’s Director told me to put a railing on the green “grass” carpet so that the public could not approach to scratch, and thus disfigure, the painted plaster head. I commented that this would place an artificial barrier to what was, in a museum setting, a rare opportunity to have an open and appropriate environment around an enormous artifact. I pleaded for time to find a solution. I asked the supervisor of our Museum Reproductions section if he could apply a tough clear coating to the head.
In the head’s final position, I privately tested that coating and then phoned the Director. He met me in the hall by the head. Without a word, I pulled from my inside jacket pocket, a hefty hammer and with all deliberate strength gave that giant artifact–
several vigorous whacks on the nose.
He looked at the nose, he looked at me.
“Gene,” he said, “you win.”
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
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts
and Extenuating Circumstances
“Just a philosophical question. I mean, who does who in–in life?
Or–and this is the worst question of all to ask–
do you do yourself in?
“Oh no, it can’t be! No, no, that’s ridiculous!
No, no! Society did it to me!
Rotten, crummy, evil society!”
(Jean Shepherd, January 22, 1966)
The scheduled time slot (overnight) for which he was one-of-a-kind got changed to his style’s detriment (so say some of us–it was a different kind of genius).
The medium in which he was fully prepared and the outstanding genius, faded in that aspect in which it–and he–excelled.
The audience for which his original style excelled, changed and expanded into adolescent acolytes who overwhelmed him–positively with their adulation and overwhelmed him negatively by overcrowding him in his personal space (Remember that WOR had to hire a guard to keep them at bay).
The audience, for whom he was an important mentor, included his two children for whom he was an abominable parent.
Apparently, the pursuit of greater respect, renown, dough, and additional outlets for his art produced a broadening of his professional endeavors.
The extraordinary fields and activities in which he excelled, diminished in popularity:
Radio as a medium.
He was a modern jazz aficionado–
evidence of change:
“A few years ago I was deeply involved in jazz—and in fact in my private life I still am. … I used to work in jazz a great deal.” He names many major performers he worked with and mentions the Loew’s Theater late-night concert featuring Billie Holiday. (November 23, 1971)
He does not explain why his interest has diminished to just private–but not public manifestations; during this program of jazz-nostalgia he plays not just snippets but complete jazz recordings, naming the performers and commenting on the pieces, just like the knowledgeable disc jockey he used to be;
I, Libertine hoax mentality;
(Blame the popularity of TV).
Culture-determined, diminished attention span of audience;
The varied skills he possessed to a high degree, failed to adequately replace, in other media,
his loss of radio as his prime medium.
Could/would he have continued to produce his unequaled radio art if increased money and desire for celebrity not been a factor?
That his frustration and anger at the world’s unfairness sometimes overwhelmed the better parts of his persona may well have been inevitable.
Larry Josephson: “I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive–to be on the air five or six nights a week and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being. You have to get up and concentrate the energy–drive, whatever–to be a performer. It narrows your ability to give warmth and love to kids, women, and friends….I’m sure here and there there’s somebody in the world who was a very great creative artist and also a nice person, but I can’t think of anyone.”
We’re all born butterflies. Each one of us. With these beautiful, magnificent wings ready to fly in the sunshine. For those slow barrel rolls and loops. And slowly, oh, ever so slowly we burn those wings off–in flame And we wind up where we are now. Me sitting here. You sitting there….It’s a funny thing. We loose our wings in the sneakiest way possible, and it’s when we least expect it’s about to happen. (Jean Shepherd, November 25, 1958 [?])
I mean, anyone who looks at life with a cold unprejudiced, agate eye of truth must realize that life is basically in extremely bad taste. (Jean Shepherd, date unknown)
We ought to have a Dream Collection Day….As a kind of public recanting, you see….Everybody would have to do it together–all together, we’ll clean out all these broken, old, sad, poor, wonderful, idiotic, debilitating, defeating dreams. (Jean Shepherd, November 22, 1959)
[Note above how early in his NY career he said these things.]
Shepherd from time to time commented on the discrepancy in life between what we assume is reality to be expected and the actualities of life. Therein lies much irony. Should examples of this be called “humor”? In a reference I recently encountered, a Lois Rubin has been quoted: “The great American joke” is “the incongruity between promise and reality, things as they should be and as they are.” I find this discrepancy as commented upon several times by Shep, but I’m not quite sure he was sufficiently aware that it also applied to him. And I’m not so sure he’d describe this as humor. He expected much more, and this is a good part of his tragedy.
Close friends of theirs say that in their final years (In Sanibel, Florida) Leigh drank and both of them lived like recluses. I don’t even like to think of them that way–a way in which they seemed to have given up. Laurie Squires: “After Leigh died, I called, and he sounded like a broken man….”
A Reality, 1997.
For Me, the Reality Always.
We are not the “vast hordes” he once described us as being, yet–yet still
–we three here represent part of the small horde
of Shep enthusiasts.
And Jean Shepherd still speaks to all of us:
Hear it? Listen, listen–you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I have been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it.
Did you hear that?
You know, it’s going to be summer soon.
–Jean Shepherd, 1960?
º º º º º
THE END–BUT WAIT! I RECENTLY ENCOUNTERED
WHAT WAS TO BE THE FINAL SUMMING UP
OF ONE OF MY “MISCELLANEOUS” SHEP BOOK MANUSCRIPTS.
OH YES, AND A RECENT BOOK
ABOUT A ROAD NOT TAKEN.
SO SEE THE NEXT POSTS–
A SUMMING UP OF ALL THESE LAST
* See EYF! last page of text, p.439-440 for longer quote.
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE
A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts
and Extenuating Circumstances
(First of a Tragic Series)
This is The Shepherd’s Life, a very partial bio, selected, condensed, concentrated, focused—one idea and interpretation of a classic tragedy as understood by a particular person based on what he knows and understands and guesses. (Many people, including the media, describe any and every unfortunate occurrence–such as a fatal accident–as a “tragedy.” This may well be very sad, but not a classic tragedy.) For me, a classic tragedy emerges from a combination of a person’s conflict with his/her cultural environment along with some personal attribute and/or flaw within that person’s being. (Oedipus, Hamlet, Lear, etc.)
Please remember that quotes from the Shep are not necessarily objectively true, but are probably true in spirit. The opinions are based on current knowledge.
In italics there are basic facts, objective evidence, and subjective interpretations.
In boldface there are direct quotes from The Shepherd, based on edited, transcribed words from his radio broadcasts.
The results are as objective as I can make them–and simultaneously subjective/creative. If this is contradictory and an enigma–make the best of it. And let’s have feedback, gang.
I believe this is an insecure world. I mean, you know, that’s the way life is. Lightning bolts, thunderstorms, hail, Mack trucks, fistfights in the dark. –Jean Shepherd. August 29, 1964.
Jean Parker Shepherd, born July 26, 1921 on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois to Anna and Jean Shepherd–
Jean Shepherd with football,
and other kids.
On the South Side of Chicago.
[Photo: Steve Glazer, Bill Ek]
where he spends the first years of his life, until he and his parents and his younger brother, Randy (whining under the daybed), move across the state and city lines, eventually to Cleveland Street in Hammond, Indiana. He remembers his first days in kindergarten:
I had seen pictures of classrooms—with desks. The desk itself was very very attractive to me. The idea of having a desk—little kids love desks. They love to sit at their own little thing. Pile stuff on it. And have their desk….And I always pictured school too, to have something to do with reading. I was an early reader. And I was a fanatical reader. I could read well by the time I was about four so my whole idea of school was that I would go to school and we would read and I’d have this desk, see.
….This lady took us right into that room. That was actually the beginning of life itself. The official world, those buildings, and those buildings will pursue us all the way to the end of our life. Those official places. This is the very first one.
It was our first day of kindergarten. I will always remember. And, in fact, vividly remember—the intense shock and great wave of disappointment. There were no desks! There wasn’t a desk in the entire room! And there were sandboxes. Sandboxes! There were little girls sitting around cutting stuff out! There were thousands of kids all sitting around playing in sandboxes! I didn’t know what to do sitting in the sandbox.
I didn’t know what to do sitting in the sandbox. I didn’t want to come to school to play in the sand.
Already little Jeanie can see that he is in a world filled with disappointments. The teacher wants the kids to introduce themselves by telling the others their names:
And this is the first of a long series of traumas that begin. She says, “What is your name?”
“Yes, but you see, Gene is short for Eugene. And you can all call him Gene if he wants to be called Gene. But that’s a very pretty name. Is your father’s name Eugene?”
I never heard the name Eugene in my life! My name is not Eugene. Jean. J E A N, Jean. I’m falling behind in school—over my own name! I’m lousing up over my own name!
Jean Shepherd has many experiences typical of grammar school kids, and some that are special. He is particularly fond of reading, including, when he was about fourteen, P. G. Wodehouse:
I started laughing in the study hall and I couldn’t stop laughing. I was laughing like I was out of my mind. The author, of course, was P. G. Wodehouse and I read everything this guy wrote. From that time on, to me, writing—as a writer—writing and performing has always been directed toward being funny.
And, at about fourteen or fifteen he took his class’s supplemental reading list to the library and took out a book.
And everything changed. Trumpets blew. From that day onward I have not been the same as I was the minute I opened up that first page. I never read anything in my life that was like this. It was some vast organ playing somewhere and the words rolled on and on and on and on. It wasn’t that they made sense or not sense. They were beautiful. Great crashing waves of words rolling over the rocks. And I remembered the name of the book. Always, forever. Look Homeward, Angel.And from that minute on I realized that there was nothing ever in this world as more—as even remotely as powerful–as words. Words are what it’s about.
Reading. And words. Words are what it’s all about. Jean Shepherd found his love of words at about the same time that the great invention of electronic sound and words—radio– was becoming widespread in the United States. As he was growing up radio became the great communicator of music and words—ideas. Broadcast radio, ham radio, the medium for talking and creating sounds of all kinds. Classical music, jazz, stories, sports, news, ideas, all coming to you from Chicago and around the country. And Jean Shepherd was there at the time and place for him to embrace it and eventually realize it as a love and as a career for his talent.
Interest in ham radio begins for Shepherd in grammar school and extends throughout Shepherd’s life. Shepherd several times speaks on the air about his love of ham radio. He says that in high school, it led to his being chosen to announce a sports program—his first experience with broadcast radio.
I became, at the age of ten, totally, maniacally, and for life I might point out, completely skulled out by amateur radio. Once Morse code gets hold of your soul, buddy, it gets ahold of your soul and gnaws at it and never lets go. I would sit in class in eighth grade and I would send code to myself by the hour, as I’m reading something—say, a geography book—I wouldn’t read it, I would send it to myself. I’d actually hear it in my head. The dots and dashes of the words. As a CW man, it got to the point when all of my world was bound by the sound of this language.
Shep in 1975 talking
about amateur radio
Sound as Art
In high school Shepherd plays bass violin, tuba, and sousaphone–instruments requiring both physical strength and intestinal fortitude. He describes the crucial role music plays in his life. From the beginning he is obsessed: “I was a dedicated tuba man.”
How does a guy get to be a tuba player? There’s a certain look of sadness in the eye of all tuba players. A tuba player is a man who has lived through a peculiar kind of hell.
He comments on a broadcast that his playing tuba in the school orchestra is the first time he ever created beauty. Using music as metaphor, he illustrates his joy in making art.
As a kid in high school I was absolutely the ace of the bass section of our band. The first chair bass man. And that is a great feeling. For years I had worked my way up. I started in eighth grade playing E-flat tuba. The tuba itself is a kind of challenge. It’s a heavy instrument. You get so that you love the tuba. You get so that you actually have a physical love for your instrument—for your tuba. Yeah, you sit there and you pat it, you talk to it. Many’s the time I’d come into the band room and seen Reg Rose, who was in the bass section. I saw him one time weeping, sitting there talking to his B-flat sousaphone, weeping and crying, and the sousaphone was crying back. [He entered a tuba-playing contest and lost out to a phenomenal player.] Ever since that time I have known that for every good thing you do there are fifty-thousand better things that somebody else can do with his eyes shut.
In contrast to making art, as a youngster he spends time working in the steel mill as a mail boy (delivering words), and he describes his first disorienting and anxiety-filled day there. He finds Mr. Galambus, his protector, there and he feels better. And that was only the beginning. That day I learned something very important. I haven’t discovered yet what it is. Even after high school it’s sometimes hard to understand the nature of what one is learning. Shepherd says very little about higher education. But he learns two very important lessons outside of his college classroom. They are an essential part of his education. The lessons remain with him—because there is an aftertaste. They are epiphanies.
Escargot and Bugatti
Part 1–Escargot. He’s invited to dinner where the house and the customs and the food are much more expansive and finer than were his custom.
And the next thing I know, in front of me is this plate of something which had always been rumored in our house that people somewhere, someplace, ate. And we never really believed it! And whenever it was mentioned they ate these things—“Oh, ugh!” Nancy takes one of the snails and says, “Oh, these are so wonderful.” She takes one out of its shell and I see how she does it. She takes this little fork and she fishes one of these things out, and it looks strange, you know—like a little black snake or something. She pulls it out and puts it in her mouth—“Oh!”
I can’t chicken out. I’m feeling sick inside. With the little fork I fish the little thing out. I put it in my mouth. I go, “uuushup!” I taste it. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! [Pause.] It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is fantastic! It is so good I can’t believe it!
And then the lesson hit me. I looked around. I saw all these other people—they’ve been doing this all of their lives! They weren’t surprised at snails. And it began to sneak up on me—what other terrible stuff did I learn at home? What other things do I think are awful? Just because it was back in the kitchen that way, you know? I ate the snails.
Late that night, lying in the dormitory room, I felt those snails—you could taste them. There’s an aftertaste. And I began to suspect that night that there was a fantastic, unbelievable world out there. And I was just be-gin-ning to taste it! Just beginning! God knows where it would lead!
Part 2–Bugatti. A Cincinnati college professor invites Shepherd and a couple of other students to go see something special on a Saturday morning. (An authority on the subject confirms to me that such a sight as Jean was about to see really was in Cincinnati at the time. Although Shepherd sees a variation on the actual car he later remembers as the one that appeared as one of the great masterworks, the epiphany remains valid.)
I’ll never forget the day that I had the great awakening regarding an art form. Even today, in this country, there are very few people who recognize this as an art form.
Up to the point when I’d discovered this form, I’d been a walking-around-ignorant. I was just beginning to see that there was more to the world than “Flash Gordon” and more to drawing than “Prince Valiant.” I was beginning to suspect things. We go through this period when we begin to see things that we never really realized. That the world is a giant iceberg and in these first years of our life we only see a little bit of it sticking up on the top. We begin to see how fantastically varied and infinitely complex it is.
It turned out to be a garage. A plain, ordinary, crummy-looking garage. He took his key and opened the lock on these big garage doors and he swung them open and the four of us walked into the gloom of this garage on a gray Saturday morning in Cincinnati.
And I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was that unreal. He had reached up and flicked on a neon light and that light made it look even more spectacular. This thing began to gleam with that light. And there it was.
We were looking at one of the great automobiles. I mean one of the great automobiles. By “great”—this car had appeared in probably two or three hundred catalogs of great masterworks—that specific car. Even today that car is almost priceless. It was one of the finest works of one of the great artists of the twentieth century–considered possibly his prime work. Ettore Bugatti. A man who created automobiles the way Michelangelo created altar cloths. He created them as works of art.
I didn’t realize that there was one man to whom a car was not a car, and he spoke in a universal language. It was an art—pure and simple.
“The world is a giant iceberg and in these first years of our life we only see a little bit of it sticking up on the top.” To paraphrase Shepherd here, he found that there was one man to whom words were not just words….. It was an art—pure and simple.
Two Epiphanies: “And I began to suspect
that night that there was a fantastic,
unbelievable world out there.”
Stay tuned for Part 2 of
THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE