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SHEP WORDS TO LIVE BY Part 4

In Hoc

“In hoc Agricola conc” would appear to be a spoken shrug of the shoulders.

DOING IT FROM WINDOWS

“Hurling invectives” is a funny/hostile activity Shepherd did from time to time, but hardly any have been described/recorded by his listeners. The best known reference in the media is the one where, in the film “Network,” the TV broadcaster tells his listeners to open their windows and yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Also, with a small variation, Ronald Reagan, in a political speech, quoted this phrase from the film.

More importantly, wherever they may have gotten the idea,

Twisted Sister’s most popular song is, “We’re Not Gonna Take it!”

They yell part of “We’re Not Gonna Take it” from windows:

Twisted S. windows (3)

“Razzmatazz”

“Razzmatazz” is a less frequent Shepherd saying, but it refers to a very important aspect of his early-career interest in jazz and his continued jazz-related improvisational monologs.

Shep CD sayings 4

Final set of Shep’s words from my large spreadsheet

just perfect for printing and taping together.

[See previous blog posts for first three parts.]

Other important Shep material forthcoming!

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JEAN SHEPHERD Drawings Part 5 of 5 (18) ARTSY Dee & Twisted

One Shepherd drawing I’m aware of is unlike the rest in media, appearance, and effect.  (It’s not even done with a Rapidograph.) Done on an eight-by-nine inch sheet of gray paper, it depicts overlapping outlines of cartoon heart-faces apparently drawn with a red-violet felt-tip marker, the simple facial features drawn with a pen.  The hearts form a sequence from left to right, starting upright, but a couple leaning a bit, the final one prostrate, as though in a swoon, the entire effect beyond our full understanding.  Yet the words under them, written with a regular pen, say clearly, “I can’t fight it.  I love you. J.”  Obviously not cold and objective, but heartfelt.  It is a valentine to his wife, Lois Nettleton, and thus private, not meant for public scrutiny.  (Shepherd kept his emotions hidden from the public to such an extent that, in his twenty-one years of New York broadcasting, the only emotions of his so far heard, have been when he was performing in the throws of some maniacally comic, musical interlude, when artfully portraying some fictional event or when disparaging someone in the control room. there was obvious emotion behind his commentaries regarding the Kennedy assassination.

As for his personal life, the public at large was not even aware that he and Lois Nettleton knew each other, much less that they were married for over six years.)  Though lacking detail and much context, this valentine is humorous and poignant, but with a full meaning that probably died with the sender and recipient, and which remains for the rest of us a puzzle that can only be seen as another part of the artist’s life that will always be in its essence unknown—enigmatic. Another one of the few instances of a personal connection to Shepherd’s life.

JS to LN valentine

Jean’s Valentine to Lois.

For Shep, so unusual and so unexpectedly expressing a feeling,

this is one of my favorite pieces of Shepherd memorabilia.

Surprisingly, considering Shepherd’s need for acclaim and a more exalted status as a significant creator in his time, he seemed to care little for what happened to his drawings.  True, there were those few used to accompany his Village Voice writing, and those that appeared in two books, but that was about it.  He seemed to only sign a few, including some that are in private hands, and the one framed on Lois Nettleton’s kitchen wall, seen after her death, is also signed.  But of the several dozen that she had stored in a closet in the apartment she had shared with him thirty years before, and that were eventually auctioned, only one bears his name.

END PART 5 of 5

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DEE SNIDER & TWISTED SISTER

The following Artsy, inspired by a very good documentary recently watched, is a shorter, revised version of a description previously posted.

A fellow I know casually, Mark Snider, asked me what I do now that I’m retired. I responded that I’ve been obsessed by, and have written about, Jean Shepherd. Mark said that he was a big fan and that his brother, Dee Snider, was also. He said “Dee Snider” as though I should have recognized the name, but I didn’t. “Twisted Sister,” said Mark. “Who’s that?” said I. Mark told me that “Twisted Sister” was a rock band and Dee was the lead singer/song-writer. I said I’d love to talk to him about Jean Shepherd. Mark gave me contact info and I invited Dee to visit me in my Shep Shrine at our house.

download

Dee Snider in performance.

Twisted Sister is a glam, hair, heavy metal band most visible in the 1980s, though they still occasionally perform.  Their performance style and the content of their lyrics are akin to that of artfully controlled intensity, but remain not nearly as fierce as that of some other groups, because they are organized and carefully crafted by the sensibilities of their lead singer/songwriter, Dee Snider. They’re best-known song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” is more unsettling in its video than in the lyrics themselves.

Dee Snider’s most impressive singing style is a frequently screaming-as-loud-as-he-can while remaining artfully in tune.  As a seemingly manic primitive, he sports outrageously wild and frizzy yellow hair, red lipstick, blue paint on his cheeks, and tattered sartorial outrage calculated to delight rebellious teenagers and whip most parents into a frenzy of disgust.  Dee’s parents had introduced him to Jean Shepherd’s program while he was still a teenager.

He’d listened with his transistor radio hidden under his pillow. Snider is a very big Shepherd cuckoo and he shares some enthusiasms with Shep, including the thrill of motorcycling.

When a black Hummer pulled up outside our house, a tall, thin man dressed all in black like a motorcyclist got out and I greeted him at the door.  It was Dee Snider in mufti.

Dee, with his yellow hair pulled back under a black baseball cap, the peak turned to the back hiding a good part of the protruding ponytail, now in his fifties and still performing with the band, seems neither extravagant nor berserk.  He’s a regular guy offstage—at least for the three hours we spent together—so even his performance persona has its off-duty mufti.

Dee Snider&eb

Dee Snider and me in my Shep Shrine.

Snider said that, “Jean totally affected my storytelling ability. I think it was by osmosis.  We learn from people we listen to.” He’s gotten many accolades for his storytelling on his radio program and, he commented, “I’m known to have a pretty vast vocabulary, using words and phraseology that others don’t use, and I didn’t know exactly where that came from until I realized, upon this reexamination I’m doing now, that Jean has a massive vocabulary.” About word-usage, Snider referred to lyrics in his song “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” including, “Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated.” As he put it, “Not words your average heavy metal rock song would include. I wasn’t very good in English, but I’m taken with Shepherd’s mastery of vocabulary. His mastery of the English weapon.”  Dee stopped himself: “I was going to say ‘using the English language as a weapon.’ Jean used the language as a weapon, and it’s a powerful, powerful tool—offensive and defensive tool, you know–and when it’s working for you, boy, there’s nothing like it!”

I asked Dee how Jean’s attitudes and world view may have influenced him. Dee:  “Well, you know, I’m definitely all about sarcasm [He laughed]. It’s at the core of my sense of humor and my sensibilities and certainly Jean was cynical and sarcastic—to a fault. Here’s Jean as a mentor and as a teacher to us, the misguided youth, and he’s got our ear. And every night here’s someone, a grown man, with very strong political, personal, psychological views filling our heads with his ideology. And the biggest thing to come away with, I guess, besides the storytelling, is his sort of cynical views and his condescending attitude—he looked down on most people, and I dare say that that is a part of my personality I struggle to keep in check. [We both laughed.]  Because it’s not nice! And we want to be nice. [More laughter.] And it’s wrong to think everybody’s ants and you’re Gulliver.

“But I think also, behind the cynicism, hid a love. I can’t believe it wasn’t there. At the same time he seemed to yearn for some of the simplicity that he experienced in his youth and he seemed to be able to step away from it and appreciate the value that these things had. When I’m in the moment I find it very difficult to really appreciate experience that’s happening. Especially the ridiculousness sometimes, of what’s going on around me. But when I step away, when I get on the mic—what I want to call my biography is Just Give Me the Mic—‘cause I love the microphone, whether I’m singing or talking I seem to be ablenow that I’ve stepped back from it—to analyze it and see it for what it was, for better, for worse, the beauty in it, the ugliness in it, the ridiculousness. I don’t know if I got that from Jean, but I think I did.”

I’d saved some of the more difficult subjects for near the end of our talk. I asked what he thought Shepherd would have felt about Twisted Sister and his stage persona and what kind of dialog they might have had. Dee said that Shep “would have had disdain.”  Of course, we knew that already. He did comment, however, that, “The music Shep was passionate about, jazz, was in its own way, for the Beat Generation, what rock and roll is. A music that challenged the norm.  It wasn’t accepted by the mainstream. It was the new jazz, it was against the grain. He didn’t like change.”

Regarding fans, Dee commented: “As a performer—and a successful one—I often have people who come up to me and they’re very excited, but they really don’t know me or my band—they really just grasp the surface of what I’m about, but I appreciate their enthusiasm, their excitement, and I don’t expect them to know better.”  He commented that Twisted Sister plays many kinds of heavy metal rock, yet they had very big success with a couple of very catchy—what he called “anthemic tunes”—such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”  As he put it, “That’s what we’re known for, and thank God there was something. That’s what really connected with the masses.  Your true, hardcore fans, like you for Jean or me for Jean, may know there’s a greater depth, but the average person, you have to say, ‘Twisted Sister—you know the song ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ and they go, ‘Oh, that work?  I know ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’ And with Shepherd you have to say A Christmas Story—that’s Jean’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’” Yes, totally the way I introduce Shepherd to the unknowing.

stay hungry

And, with his unexpectedly articulated intelligence during the 1985 U.S. Senate hearings regarding labeling albums of possibly offensive lyrics—especially focusing on rock music–he befuddled the questioners.  Thoughtful and articulate in his arguments against censorship, Dee effectively presented himself and his relatively witty and benign Twisted Sister, against the censorious beliefs of Tipper Gore.  (The record industry labeled the albums anyway, leading, as one would have expected, to increased sales of those albums.)

Regarding other aspects of his personal life, I learned that Dee is the spokesperson for the March of Dimes “Bikers for Babies” program, and he chairs a Long Island ride for the cause.  Bikers for Babies!  I never would have guessed.

Ah, Shep, your influence in the culture is vast and often emerges in unexpected places, even into heavy metal.  I enjoy some Twisted Sister performances on CD and DVDs. Though I suspect that as a neophyte, all I have so far is what Dee would call “a surface grasp,” it’s (gulp!) a beginning.  Without you, Jean Shepherd, we might not have had quite the same driving intensity, intelligence, comic sensibility, and delightful mayhem of a Twisted Sister and the same surprising, thoughtful, many-sided personage of a Dee Snider.

images

More Than “A Surface Grasp”?

Before we leave Dee and Twisted Sister, let’s think about their loud, slow, insistent melodic line and lyric called “The Price.”  Had Shepherd ever heard it, he might not have been able to get beyond the sound and presentation, as good and appropriate to the song as they are, but the words themselves would surely have resonated with him regarding his ambitions and the arc of his career as he contemplated them toward the end of his life.  It would be difficult to find a song more forcefully and perfectly attuned to the deeper level of the art and enigmatic life of Jean Shepherd.  It is a masterpiece. How inevitable that it’s conceived and performed by one of his most ardent and thoughtful fans.  Here’s the beginning:

The Price

How long I have wanted this dream to come true.
And as it approaches, I can’t believe I’m through.
I’ve tried, oh, how I’ve tried
for a life, yes a life I thought I knew.

Oh, it’s the price we gotta pay, and all the games we gotta play
makes me wonder if it’s worth it to carry on.
‘Cause it’s a game we gotta lose, though it’s a life we gotta choose
And the price is our own life until it’s done.

 “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister!”

Just the other night my wife and I encountered a two-hour documentary about Twisted Sister’s early years. We really like “We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and “The Price,” but we didn’t expect to appreciate the documentary because it only dealt with the group’s formative years. We sat mesmerized. An extraordinary display of the incredible difficulties TS overcame through that first decade! One of the best documentaries we’d ever seen. An internet description of the film:

we are Twisted F.Sister cover

In the mid-1970s, Dee Snider and his Twisted Sister bandmates claimed glitter rock for their own, cross-dressing their way to headlining every club within 100 miles of New York City, from New Jersey bowling alleys to Long Island beach bars. With gigs six nights a week, they were the most successful live bar band of suburban New York, selling out 5,000-seat shows fueled by their no-holds-barred stage presence and aggressive metal set lists. But by the early 80s, they found themselves balancing on a double-edged sword, hugely popular with local audiences but without a national following or a record deal to speak of. When Twisted Sister finally got their big break in 1983, they’d go on to become one of the biggest glam rock bands of the decade, their over-the-top live shows drawing sell-out crowds and their music videos defining an early MTV network.

How had we, New Yorkers—Long Islanders—not known more about them until Dee arrived at my Shep Shrine in black and pony-tailed, his cultured mind and his warm personality all in mufti? What other significant parts of our culture have we been blind to?

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JEAN SHEPHERD– Who’s Got the Juice?

A few years back, in regard to the world of Jean Shepherd,

someone asked, “Who’s got the juice?”

Regarding Jean Shepherd,

what are some major sources of knowledge and material?

poster and banner

[Above, my Shep poster and the banner

Jackie Lannin made for me]

I’d say that there are three major sources, each somewhat different from the others. In addition, with Nick Mantis making his Shep documentary, he is gathering additional material, which is making him another important player in the game. College professor Quentin Schultze, who, years ago,  began teaching courses about Shepherd’s work, has only recently become more widely known as a Shep authority. Several other sources should also be noted. Internet sources of audios, etc. should include the brass figlagee: http://shepcast.blogspot.com  and several others, and some YouTube videos. Major collectors such as Pete Delaney continue to supply important material. What follows is just what I consider the big three, noting the major areas of their contributions.

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JIM CLAVIN: HISTORICAL REPOSITORY

Jim’s essential website for all things Shep is www.flicklives.com . Jim has been collecting and archiving Shepherd material  for years, and those with Shepherd material often contact him to send him previously unknown material. He has amassed an incredible archive regarding all aspects of Shepherd’s life and work, plus listing other various sources. I could not have done much of my work regarding Shepherd without being able to make reference to Jim’s site.

Jim-Gene-Lou

Jim Clavin,  eb, and Lou Miano– 3 Shep fans

MAX SCHMID: PROMOTION AND DISTRIBUTION

Max, as a WBAI FM broadcaster for many years, has promoted Shepherd however and whenever he can, including years of early Tuesday morning rebroadcasts of Shepherd programs. People with Shep audios and other material often contact him and deliver the goods to him. He organized and presented a session with him and me on Shep for an Old Time Radio convention–see photo below. He continues to rebroadcast Shep when he can, and he is a fine source of available audios and videos of much Shepherd material: www.sheptapes.com

eb and maxeb and Max Schmid–2 Shep fans

EUGENE B. BERGMANN: INTERPRETATION AND ESSAYS

I’m the source of some of the earliest audios of Shepherd’s New York broadcasts (I recorded him from 1956 to about 1963). My Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd, containing an overview of his work and creativity was published by Applause Theatre and Cinema Books in March, 2005. My transcriptions and introductions to dozens of Shep army stories, Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles, was published by Opus Books in August, 2013. I’ve been interviewed numerous times for print articles, radio broadcasts, and once on CBS Television regarding these books and other Shepherd matters. I’ve also written and published a number of articles in various periodicals about Shep, including a foreword for Caseen Gaines’ A Christmas Story: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic. I’ve published over 200 posts on my blog regarding many aspects of Shepherd’s life and works.

Other Shepherd enthusiasts continue to comment and help sustain his memory, and all of them are appreciated. To my delight, various well-known (and some lesser celebrated) people have also commented on the importance of Shepherd in their lives. Some I interviewed for my first book, and some, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Keith Olbermann, and Dee Snider, I’ve only subsequently become aware of as Shepherd fans.  Even more recently, I found out that R. L. Stine (Goosebumps book-series author) and contemporary novelist Tom Wolfe, are also Shep fans.

2012-01-23_138_Paley_Center_Gene_and_Jerry

eb and a well-known Shep fan

Dee Snider&eb

eb and a well-known Shep fan

[In foreground, four different editions of I, Libertine,

and on wall, an original Shep still life in ink on a paper towel.

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JEAN SHEPHERD-A CHRISTMAS STORY 2014

Another holiday season and another

Christmas Story show-fest!

ACS Santa and Elves

leglamp dancing

A Christmas Story, the musical, this year is scheduled for NYC’s

Madison Square Garden Theater,

again starring, as Shep the creator and on-stage narrator,

Dan Lauria.

lauria in ACS

(Who had played the father in the popular sitcom, “The Wonder Years,”

which was the unacknowledged inspiration of

Jean Shepherd’s style.)

I was invited to the musical’s opening on Broadway and the after-theater celebration. Despite some trepidation, I attended, and very much enjoyed it. It was wonderful to see that Shep/narrator was given a prominent part as the on-stage commentator for the action. The sets and musical numbers were good, and I applauded appreciatively.

The Cleveland Street museum dedicated to A CHRISTMAS STORY has various activities and more and more related items for sale. Among the new, ACS items, my son Evan found in a Long Island store, is a calendar (pardon the cropped scan):

 acs calendar

Among the other Christmas Celebrations, Twisted Sister, a few years back, did their own version of Christmas songs for an enjoyable album, some of which is on YouTube. What one might imagine being tasteless, I found quite enjoyable. Followers of this blog may remember that Dee Snider,whom I interviewed for 3 hours in my Shep Shrine is a very enthusiastic Shep fan. He feels that some of his own style on his radio program is influenced by Shep’s radio style. (The following Dee-related commentary and images are totally unsolicited–eb)

twisted

Interestingly, Dee Snider, front man of the group, is, when out of  stage gear, an articulate, delightful guy with some rather conservative attributes, including the decades he’s been married, and his traditional sense of Christmas.

dee 10, 2014

Dee being interviewed in 2014 for his Christmas musical.

I was surprised to see that he’s created his own Christmas musical opening in Chicago this year and, he hopes, headed for NYC’s Broadway next year.

deesniderchristmastalenew_638

He describes the story line thus:

“A struggling heavy metal band who sells their soul

to the devil and

finds the magic of Christmas instead.”

Yes, Dee Snider has a positive Christmas spirit.

Recently a video game based on A Christmas Story emerged.

Oh me, oh my:

ACS game

http://laughingsquid.com/the-classic-holiday-film-a-christmas-story-retold-as-an-8-bit-animated-video-game/

When I was a little kid my parents would wait till I was asleep before setting up our Christmas tree and arraying presents under it. I woke up to encounter Christmas morning just about the same as does Ralphie and Randy in that favorite movie we watch every year.

Christmas Eve morning: I just encountered (after many searches), an image of Dan Lauria’s poster on the theater facade showing him as Jean Shepherd–with the title! Read those immortal words! I first saw this as I stood on line waiting to see the opening performance of the ACS musical–it gave me great hope (soon to be justified) that Shep would get his rightful place in the production:

Scan0005

As a Shep enthusiast, my gratitude for this

recognition knows no bounds!

MERRY CHRISTMAS

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Manifesto-Part 5

This current post is the last of this series of “Manifestos.” The following story was scheduled for near the end of the Keep Your Knees Loose book manuscript. Does eveyrbody like green icing?

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A STORY IN KYKL I’VE BEEN SAVING TILL THE END OF ITS MANUSCRIPT

(The sweet green icing flowing down)

A couple of years before Shep died, a number of us Shepherd cuckoos contacted his childhood friends Flick, Dawn Strickland, and Wanda Hickey, and we all made regular pilgrimages to his home, maintaining contact with him despite our shyness and his justified grumpiness.  It helped if we could get songwriters Jimmy Webb and Gene Raskin, and Chicago White Sox first baseman “Banana Nose” Zeke Bonura, to tag along.  I’ll never forget those times we spent with Shep in his later years on Sanibel Island, when the temperature on those cool winter evenings had plummeted to 130 degrees above zero (centigrade), and the crappies were jumpin’ out of the swirling steam.  Just as when listening to his nightly radio broadcasts, we thought those times would go on forever.

Ol’ Shep sometimes entertained guests by serving us highballs of meatloaf and red cabbage, if he could find the recipe.  (I’m telling the truth!  I’m not exaggerating!)

He would tell stories that inevitably began, “I was this kid on the north side of Juneau, see….”  Then he’d go on to relate how, “With both hands tied behind my back [Laughs.] I’d wrestle alligators.”  He referred to these anecdotes as his “Crock Tails.”  If one of his old radio engineers was present at the gathering, he’d fix the guy with narrowing eyes, grab a 6SJ7GT mike and, daring him to cut him off, add, “Or I call these my Tales of Crocks of…” and let the unuttered word hang in the air like the stench of an abandoned latrine.

Inevitably he’d take us to his ham radio room [“shack”], where he’d have us listen while he tapped out some Morse code, and then, on what he called his “Victrola,” he’d carefully put on LPs, one by one, and scat along to “Boodle-Am Shake” and “The Bear Missed the Train.”  He could often be persuaded to get out his jew’s harp and, with his inimitable way with a tune, but straining it a bit, he would render “Escargot” to the consistency of consommé.

It is said that he retained within a crystal case, on the rump-sprung remnant of a red chenille bathrobe, a fragment of broken table lamp in the shape of a woman’s well-turned leg.  This is one of those Shep-myths it’s my duty to expunge from the record—the remaining shard is more likely part of a slender calf, or a hunk of inner thigh.

He would occasionally clear his throat—”HARUMPH!”—and could be heard to mutter, “What a gallimaufry!  Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”  Finally, he would haul out an old wooden crate with a label, tattered and torn, that read, MADE WITH PRIDE IN HOHMAN, INDIANA.  Within, he had a preserved, well-worn knee-handle, nestled on a bed of purest excelsior (you fathead!).

During those days and nights it seemed as though it was always raining.  Maybe that’s why ball-bumbling Banana-Nose Bonura would drop another easy pop fly and Jimmy, nowhere near MacArthur Park, in his stripp-ed pair of pants, would go bounding out into the downpour screaming that he’d “never have that recipe again.”  Yes, the recipe died with Shepherd.  Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d have our Shep forever and a day.  But Jimmy (“MacArthur Park”), nostalgic songwriter Gene Raskin (“Those Were the Days”), and steadfast writer Gene Bergmann (“Excelsior, You Fathead!”) were wrong–he’s alive.  Fortunately, Shep had baked us thousands of recorded broadcast cookies to savor, whether on our brightest, sunshiny days, or during a deluge.

* * * *

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 Thank you, cousin Raymond B. Anderson, for content and editorial advice on this entire project, leading to what I believe is a better book.  Thank you to my friend Margaret Cooper, for her eagle eye and sharp mind not only for editorial corrections, in what might have appeared to be only gentle nudges and minor suggestions, but which were important comments resulting in a much stronger result.

Of course Jim Clavin’s www.flicklives.com continues to be the best source of Shepherd information.  Members of the email shepgroup sometimes post new Shep-related news and respond to my queries, for which I’m grateful.  Contacts from people who were aware of EYF! and my own detective work led to much new material, and I must also thank my able research assistant, Serendipity—hugs and kisses, doll.

Several people have provided powerful jolts of important revelations for our knowledge of Jean Shepherd.  I thank Lois Nettleton, actress and third wife of Shepherd, for her enthusiasm for my first Shepherd book and her offer to invite me to visit her when she returned to the New York apartment she’d shared with Shepherd.  She carefully read the book and wrote extensive notes—notes that provided much fascinating information about her and Jean’s personal and professional life, all of which contributed greatly to Keep Your Knees Loose!  Thank you to director and producer John Bowab, Lois’s long-time close friend and her executor, who gave me two hours of his time in her New York apartment, and who rescued her notes from probably inaccessible university archives and generously gave them to me.  Thank you, Doug McIntyre, for providing me with a copy of Lois’s year 2000 interview with him.  Thank you Barbara Tiedermann Simerlein for the background information regarding Leigh Brown’s early years and for providing many letters from Leigh to her, written during Leigh’s early contacts with Jean.  Thank you Tom Lipscomb for providing much important commentary regarding his friendship with Jean and Leigh.  Thank you, Shepherd fan Mark Snider for providing contact with his brother, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and thank you, Dee Snider, for the great discussion and interview. Thank you also, Dee, for your cool blurb for my Shep’s Army book.

Thank you, Nadine Metta Bordogna and Charles Bordogna for alerting me to the Jerry Seinfeld comment about Shepherd on Seinfeld, Season 6 DVD set —I use the quote at every opportunity—and thank you, Jerry Seinfeld, for saying it.

Thank you Jeanne Keyes Youngson (“The Vampire Lady”) for telling me about your friendship with Shep and his early New York radio days.  Thank you, Joyce Brabner for attempts to locate Jeanne’s misplaced and long-gone box of tapes from Shep’s overnight broadcasts. Many will recognize that Joyce was co-creator of some of Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor”  graphic novels and that her essay on I, Libertine remains available on the Internet. I discuss in my graphic novel reproduced in my early blog posts, her help on that project.

Thank you, film director Raul daSilva for providing me with a copy of the heretofore undiscovered 1973 half-hour film, No Whistles, Bells or Bedlam, narrated by Shepherd (one gets to see him a bit, too!). Thank you Robert Blaszkiewicz, for permitting me to quote from your column about the JSMIGWTAOPC Tollway (described in an earlier post).   Marc Spector, an associate producer at WOR in 1975 contacted me with his observations regarding Shep’s later period at WOR Radio.  Thanks to Bill Myers for helping to expand on the meager information regarding Shepherd’s Cincinnati radio days.  Thank you, Murray Tinkleman for alerting me to Shepherd’s commentaries in the 1987 PBS program “Norman Rockwell: An American Portrait.” Thank you George Irwin for providing a video portion of the TV panel show “I’ve Got a Secret” showing Shep musically thumping his head.  1960-08-31_022_secret-3

When’s the last time you saw Shep with a jacket,

white shirt and tie–and a crew cut?

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JEAN SHEPHERD & TWISTED SISTER’S DEE SNIDER

Dee Snider&eb      download

Fifty years after Shepherd’s adventure with The Beatles, rock and roll has still not died as he’d predicted it would.  How pervasive it has become, how vast in its permutations.  After The Beatles, who now seem so mild and easy to take, even with their later years of increasing complexity and sophistication and their lurch toward sound and fury hinted at by John Lennon’s occasional primal scream—how varied and how quirky rock has become.  Who would have guessed?  We don’t know how Shepherd responded to such convulsive developments as the “punk” Sex Pistols and the many “heavy metal” bands such as Kiss and Twisted Sister, but we can imagine.  For those in need of enlightenment (!?), heavy metal might be recognized by intense attacks on ears, eyes, sensibilities, and society in general.  Depending on the group, one might also be assaulted by intimations of vicious hostility akin to that in violent modern horror movies—imagine bloody monsters and spectacular explosions.  Rock has remained alive, diverse, and sometimes wildly provocative.

Twisted Sister is a glam, hair, heavy metal band most visible in the 1980s, though they still occasionally perform.  Their performance style and the content of their lyrics are akin to that of artfully controlled intensity, but remain not nearly as fierce as that of some other groups, because they are organized and carefully crafted by the sensibilities of their lead singer/songwriter, Dee Snider. They’re best-known song, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” is more unsettling in its video than in the lyrics themselves.

Dee Snider’s most impressive singing style is a frequently screaming-as-loud-as-he-can while remaining artfully in tune.  As a seemingly manic primitive, he sports outrageously wild and frizzy yellow hair, red lipstick, blue paint on his cheeks, and tattered sartorial outrage calculated to delight rebellious teenagers and whip most parents into a frenzy of disgust.  Dee’s parents had introduced him to Jean Shepherd’s program while he was still a teenager.  He’d listened with his transistor radio hidden under his pillow.  “Every night I went to bed at ten o’clock and at ten-fifteen the show came on and I fell asleep to Jean.”  He’s also enthusiastic about Shepherd’s various television works.  Dee Snider is a very big Shepherd kook and he shares some enthusiasms with Shep, including the thrill of motorcycling.  When a black Hummer pulled up outside our house, a tall, thin man dressed all in black like a motorcyclist got out and I greeted him at the door.  It was Dee Snider in mufti.

Dee, with his yellow hair pulled back under a black baseball cap, the peak turned to the back hiding a good part of the protruding ponytail, now in his fifties and still performing with the band, seems neither extravagant nor berserk.  He’s a regular guy offstage—at least for the three hours we spent together—so even his performance persona has its off-duty mufti.  We went upstairs to my study, entering my continually expanding “Shep Shrine” of books, artworks, photos, and other assorted relics.  (The photo of us in my Shep Shrine shows, on the wall, the right half of my paper towel drawing of the Bugatti limo by Shep.  On the table are my four different editions of I, LIBERTINE.)

I gave Dee a short tour and then we two kooks were ready to talk about Jean Shepherd.  I set my tape recorder on the table and we began.  We chatted at length and I also asked a few pre-written questions.

Dee listened to Shepherd broadcasts from the late ‘60s until about 1974, when he became a full-time musician, playing in bands nearly every night until early morning.  So now he’s catching up, listening to tapes of Shep’s shows.  As he said, “Now he’s my radio guy—he’s who I listen to.”

He said he’s often been on Howard Stern’s radio show and he credited that radio talker with encouraging him in his radio career.  But it had surprised Dee that when he’d said that he loved Shepherd, Stern replied, “I don’t like him—that story crap!”  I noted to Dee that in an interview after Shepherd had left radio, asked if he’d ever return, he’d said, “If radio is the kind of medium that can deify a Howard Stern—my God, I don’t want to be involved in it.”  Now that might be a contributing factor in Stern’s attitude!  Dee himself is now a big radio guy, having had his own very successful talk radio shows for over fifteen years, “talking, pontificating, telling stories, news items, whatever—between songs.  And one of the greatest comments I got, one night someone called and said ‘when I hear you talking and you’re telling those stories, it brings me back to Jean.’”

Snider said that, “Jean totally affected my storytelling ability.  I think it was by osmosis.  We learn from people we listen to.”  He’s gotten many accolades for his storytelling and, he commented, “I’m known to have a pretty vast vocabulary, using words and phraseology that others don’t use, and I didn’t know exactly where that came from until I realized, upon this reexamination I’m doing now, that Jean has a massive vocabulary.” About word-usage, Snider referred to lyrics in his song “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” including, “Your life is trite and jaded, boring and confiscated.”  As he put it, “Not words your average heavy metal rock song would include.  I wasn’t very good in English, but I’m taken with Shepherd’s mastery of vocabulary.  His mastery of the English weapon.”  Dee stopped himself: “I was going to say ‘using the English language as a weapon.’  Jean used the language as a weapon, and it’s a powerful, powerful tool—offensive and defensive tool, you know–and when it’s working for you, boy, there’s nothing like it!”

Dee said that when he couldn’t listen to Shepherd’s broadcasts because of his own work, he still read him:  “When I read his books,” he said, “I sit with a little pocket dictionary—I want to know what he means.  Why has he chosen this word?!  And when you read the definition you go, ‘Ah, my God, this is art—he was a black belt!”  Dee went on about Shepherd’s writing:  “I adore his books.  I think his writing is so much more focused than his talking—when he put pen to paper he was able to refine his rhythm—and you heard his voice, you knew his voice, unlike other authors where you kind of fill your own voice in.  When you read Jean’s books, you hear his voice and he had a great-sounding voice.”  He said that part of what attracted him to Shepherd on the radio was the cadence and tonality of Shepherd’s voice: “I think I’ve stolen this from him in my own way.  There was something very alluring.  The way he phrased, there was something going on there that was hypnotic and it pulled you in.”

I asked Dee how Jean’s attitudes and world view may have influenced him.

Dee:  “Well, you know, I’m definitely all about sarcasm [He laughed].  It’s at the core of my sense of humor and my sensibilities and certainly Jean was cynical and sarcastic—to a fault.  Here’s Jean as a mentor and as a teacher to us, the misguided youth, and he’s got our ear.  And every night here’s someone, a grown man, with very strong political, personal, psychological views filling our heads with his ideology.  And the biggest thing to come away with, I guess, besides the storytelling, is his sort of cynical views and his condescending attitude—he looked down on most people, and I dare say that that is a part of my personality I struggle to keep in check.  [We both laughed.]  Because it’s not nice! And we want to be nice.  [More laughter.]  And it’s wrong to think everybody’s ants and you’re Gulliver.

“But I think also, behind the cynicism, hid a love.  I can’t believe it wasn’t there.  At the same time he seemed to yearn for some of the simplicity that he experienced in his youth and he seemed to be able to step away from it and appreciate the value that these things had.  When I’m in the moment I find it very difficult to really appreciate experience that’s happening.  Especially the ridiculousness sometimes, of what’s going on around me.  But when I step away, when I get on the mic—what I want to call my biography is Just Give Me the Mic—‘cause I love the microphone, whether I’m singing or talking I seem to be ablenow that I’ve stepped back from it—to analyze it and see it for what it was, for better, for worse, the beauty in it, the ugliness in it, the ridiculousness.  I don’t know if I got that from Jean, but I think I did.”

I’d saved some of the more difficult subjects for near the end of our talk.  I asked what he thought Shepherd would have felt about Twisted Sister and his stage persona and what kind of dialog they might have had.  Dee said that Shep “would have had disdain.”   Of course, we knew that already—Shep, in some ways was very conservative and we kooks have to overlook some of his rigid attitudes.  I thought Dee might have responded with some sort of fanciful exchange between himself and Jean, but he was too smart for that, commenting only that, “I probably would be too much of a fan to engage him.”

He did comment, however, that, “The music Shep was passionate about, jazz, was in its own way, for the Beat Generation, what rock and roll is.  A music that challenged the norm.  It wasn’t accepted by the mainstream.  It was the new jazz, it was against the grain.  He didn’t like change.”  When I commented that Shepherd stopped playing his favorite, more avant-garde jazz on his show when he had a bigger but less musically sophisticated audience, and that this might have been a compromise, Dee convinced me that other factors could come into play.  He commented that on his radio shows, he himself had stopped playing some of his favorite kinds of music because his audience didn’t get it and that it was not a compromise.  “It wasn’t a commercial decision, just a recognizing that that wasn’t what my radio show was about.  It wasn’t about my musical taste, it was about my world view, and my world view connected and engaged a lot broader audience than my musical taste did.”  Equally, he said that he wasn’t going to “go off on a tangent into my world view in my concert environment.”  He suggested that Shepherd’s decision regarding what jazz to play on the air might not be “so much selling out.  I’m only guessing, I’m relating it to myself.”

But, moving away from Jean’s taste in music, what about a hypothetical interaction between them regarding words and ideas:  “If I’d met Jean, I probably would have said all the wrong things.  I don’t know if you could say any right things to Jean.  I would have said something about Flick or Bruner or somebody, and he would have just blown me off because that was the surface grasp of what he was about.  So I think if Jean heard me on the radio by accident, talking on my talk radio show, heard me observing, saw my world view, saw my—I say my last name, Snider, is not a proper noun, it’s an adjective—I’m snider than you are.  So I would like to think that he might have gone—‘Yeah, this kid gets it,’ or ‘this kid has something interesting to say.’”

Regarding fans, Dee expanded: “As a performer—and a successful one—I often have people who come up to me and they’re very excited, but they really don’t know me or my band—they really just grasp the surface of what I’m about, but I appreciate their enthusiasm, their excitement, and I don’t expect them to know better.”  He commented that Twisted Sister plays many kinds of heavy metal rock, yet they had very big success with a couple of very catchy—what he called “anthemic tunes”—such as “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”  As he put it, “That’s what we’re known for, and thank God there was something.  That’s what really connected with the masses.  Your true, hardcore fans, like you for Jean or me for Jean, may know there’s a greater depth, but the average person, you have to say, ‘Twisted Sister—you know the song ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ and they go, ‘Oh, that work?  I know ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’ And with Shepherd you have to say A Christmas Story—that’s Jean’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’”

We talked about how overbearing Shepherd could sometimes be, how full of himself, even when not performing.  I commented that it was his concentration, his focus, his personality, his mind, and his feelings, all in one person, that intense self-absorption, that also made him such a great talker.

“Oh, yeah,” said Dee, “that’s the problem of being a front man of any kind—people expect you to get up there essentially naked and hold an audience and then they expect you to walk away from the mic and turn it off.  ‘Oh yeah, there’s a switch I throw’—it’s not that easy!  It sounds like Jean didn’t have a lot of people wheeling him in either.  I’ve got a wife-and-a-half, thirty-two years we’re together.  Five-foot-three, a hundred-and-five-pound Italian, and I say, ‘How come you’re so friggin—when you get mad at me you’re so nasty?’  She goes, ‘Look at the size of you [well over six feet tall], look at your persona.  It’s the only way I can get through to you.  I’ve got to hit you over the head with a club!’  It’s true.  I’m just so myopic.  But she wheels me in and does not allow me to act out.”

Neither had Dee “acted out” during the 1985 U.S. Senate hearings regarding labeling albums of possibly offensive lyrics—especially focusing on rock music.  Thoughtful and articulate in his arguments against censorship, Dee effectively presented himself and his relatively witty and benign Twisted Sister, against the censorious beliefs of Tipper Gore.  (The record industry labeled the albums anyway, leading, as one would have expected, to increased sales of those albums.)

Regarding other aspects of his personal life, I learned that Dee is the spokesperson for the March of Dimes “Bikers for Babies” program, and he chairs a Long Island ride for the cause.  Bikers for Babies!  I never would have guessed.  But after getting to know Dee for those few Shep-related hours, it occurred to me that, despite my fear of ever getting onto a motorcycle, if I were to do so, I might chance it on the passenger seat of a bike driven by the kind, thoughtful gentleman named Daniel Dee Snider.

After three hours, Dee had to leave despite our mutual desire to go on and on, endlessly.  Looking around at my Shep-infused study as we shook hands, Dee commented, “You’re doing something great for Shep.”  We promised to keep in touch and get together again.

Ah, Shep, your influence in the culture is vast and often emerges in unexpected places, even into heavy metal.  I’ve started to enjoy some Twisted Sister performances on CD and DVDs. Though I suspect that as a neophyte, all I have so far is what Dee would call “a surface grasp,” it’s (gulp!) a beginning.  Without you, Jean Shepherd, we might not have had quite the same driving intensity, intelligence, comic sensibility, and delightful mayhem of a Twisted Sister and the same surprising, thoughtful, many-sided personage of a Dee Snider.

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More Than “A Surface Grasp”?

Before we leave Dee and Twisted Sister, let’s think about their loud, slow, insistent melodic line and lyric called “The Price.”  Had Shepherd ever heard it, he might not have been able to get beyond the sound and presentation, as good and appropriate to the song as they are, but the words themselves would surely have resonated with him regarding his ambitions and the arc of his career as he contemplated them toward the end of his life.  It would be difficult to find a song more forcefully and perfectly attuned to the deeper level of the art and enigmatic life of Jean Shepherd.  How inevitable that it’s conceived and performed by one of his most ardent and thoughtful fans.  Here’s the beginning:

                       The Price

How long I have wanted this dream to come true,
And as it approaches, I can’t believe I’m through.
I’ve tried, oh, how I’ve tried
For a life, yes a life I thought I knew.

Oh, it’s the price we gotta pay, and all the games we gotta play
Makes me wonder if it’s worth it to carry on,
‘Cause it’s a game we gotta lose, though it’s a life we gotta choose
And the price is our own life until it’s done.