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JEAN SHEPHERD–Invectives and other Communication–Part 1 of 2 & (33) ARTSY Tube Guys

“Hurling Invectives,” in a sense, is what Shepherd did nightly (which is to say, he spoke out, even though usually in the most subtle way), but also because one of his well-heard-about (but rarely heard) bits was to instruct listeners to place their radios on their open windowsills, loudspeakers directed outward, turn up the volume as he “hurled an invective,” meaning that he would hurl a disconcerting epithet out into the night. A major one that I heard and recorded from November, 1957 I transcribed in part on pages 210-211 of EYF!

Myrtle! This is the third time you’ve come home drunk again! [etc., etc.]

In later years, he would occasionally refer to invectives, once even hurling a minor example, and once promising one but not producing it.  Other early ones he did hurl have not so far been found on tape, and any others he may have done in the 1960s and 1970s remain to be discovered.

So it was with great anticipation that I heard him on a recording of a 1976 program announce what he said was to be an invective, with an extended introduction regarding radio placement and turned-up volume.  What he played, however, was the complete recording of an extraordinary, operatic-sounding, warbling, off-pitch and out-of-synch woman in overblown vibrato, accompanied by orchestra and chorus rending the Petula Clark song, “Downtown.”  Yes, “rending” is the word, because Mrs. Elva Miller’s 1960s hilarious singing tore into shreds whatever she rendered.  She had more than her fifteen minutes on such TV venues as Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and Laugh-In.  Shepherd’s joke of substituting this for his words-as-invective we all anticipated is a tribute to her performance.  A tribute equal to his occasional playing of the warbly Arturo Mouscatini version of “The William Tell Overture.”  That he played “Downtown” as a complete performance unto itself is quite unusual for Shepherd, who rarely allowed any music-as-music-alone on his program after the 1950s.

Elva Miller and a warbling mouse-catini

Mrs. Miller and Mouscatini obviously struck Shep’s funny bone.  They strike mine too, but my hope for more real invectives remains, so far, deliriously unfulfilled.

End of Part 1 of 2



artsyfratsy 10010

Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guys

4 fly guys (2)

There may be a few unfortunate souls who, though they often drive buy avenues full of cheek-by-jowl selling-emporiums, have never seen an inflatable wacky waving tube guy. This deprived populace has never had its heart skip a beat uplifted by a tall, thin, vacantly smiling, wriggling wiggle-guy jouncing in ways human masters of movement can only hope to accomplish momentarily and incoherently. Wind dancers, arms a-flailing, electric fan forever blowing up their fundaments, never stopping. Never, not ever, ever.

wacky yellow guy

One might think that these stretched-out humanoid clowns, contorted beyond anatomical constraints, are totally boneless—invertebrate and bodyless. In fact that’s what they are. Their mindless stare and grin inspired—brought to life–by nothing but driven wind.

One might add their type of art to a category of kinetic sculpture that includes Alexander Calder’s mobiles. But mobiles have a gentleness, a soothing, Zen movement about them—while wind dancers are incessantly manic.

red awkward wacky

Some may find them annoying—their choreography a visual affront to reality and serenity. I, however, gaze entranced, wishing I could loose-jointedly join in the fun. If these human artifices, these artsy buskers, had a contribution-hat out on the sidewalk, I’d toss them a three dollar bill. Do they ever repeat themselves? Has anyone preserved their choreography in labanotation?*



And, if their disjointed, gangly moves remind one of Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dryfus) “dancing” in Seinfeld Season 8 Episode 4, find that on YouTube for an exercise in comparison-and-contrast.

Elaine good

Why does no one invent a desk-top,

inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guy

(or a dancing Elaine Benes)

 I can stare at whenever I feel the urge?

Sometimes my lava lamp is too slow-motion.

It could use a defibrillator.

*Labanotation is a precise notation system for describing

and preserving human motion (especially dance).


Labanotation for a sequence in

“Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.”

I never would have guessed.




JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (1)


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,

Dawn Strickland–

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.

school desks

….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.LookHomeward Angel 1st edAnd 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.

ham radio talk

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.

• •

Two 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. imgres

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



JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Australia, part 2

Australia is a Very Exciting Country

austraalia flag

You know, Australia is a very exciting country.  I’ve been to Australia, and I just want to say that of all the countries I’ve been in—now I’m not talking about beauty because that’s something else—probably the one that is physically exciting beyond any stretch of real estate I’ve seen in the world—is Australia.  Boy is that a wild place!  Oh, I’ll tell you!  Wild in more ways than one.  One of the things that I remember about Australia is the absolutely unbelievable women.

A lot of people wouldn’t like Australia and I’ll tell you why.  Because Australia—if you have intellectual pretensions, if you’re an intellectual type, you’d probably flip in Australia. It’s a totally physical country.  Yes it is, it really is a physical country—it’s one of the things I remember about it—the first impression I had.  Of course I read a lot about it when I went over there, but nothing you read about any place has anything to do with the actual reality when you encounter it.  It’s like living in Indianapolis or someplace, you can read all you want on New York but the reality of New York is very different from what you’ve read, because here it’s all hitting you.  It’s a very personal reaction.

In Australia, because of the climate, because of a lot of things, they’re practically all physically-oriented.  Well, it’s not a coincidence that the Prime Minister who was here a couple of years ago died skin diving in very dangerous waters.  As a matter of fact, in Australia the theory is not that he drowned but that the sharks got him.  The sharks, of course, are famous in Australia.


Oh boy!  That’s what I wanted to tell you about Australia that I remember.  I went to the beach there and of course their whole world, their beach-world, is very different from ours.  It’s a way of life there so they don’t make a big issue of being at the beach as people do here in America.  Here, you go to Jones Beach, it’s a two-and-a-half-hour trip, it’s a big holiday.  But it’s every day there.  It’s ten minutes from wherever you live there because everything’s right on the coast.  So the people are very different at the beach.  They’re really cool and really on top of it.  Nobody’s pushing to have a good time, they’re just—they’re like animals.

And you wouldn’t believe their bathing suits!  Did you see on television a couple of nights ago the movie The Endless Summer?  A big sequence of that beautiful movie—I love that movie—a big sequence was shot in Australia.  And the one thing, the very little sex in that movie showed these two guys who were supposed to be, well actually, they were just surfboarders, but the only time they mentioned sex was in Australia when they saw these women there.

australia swimsuit

tntitaniumTITANIUM POUCH.PRICE: AU$20.00
Now why it is—Because from the time they were little kids they’ve been swimming like five miles a day and they have tremendous physiques.  I mean really!  It’s obscene, I’ll tell ya!  That, that—Believe me, I was with a guy who had these thick glasses—a very nearsighted guy in Australia.  And it’s the only time I’ve ever seen—The temperature was eighty-five degrees that day—His glasses actually clouded up.  It was—was sickening.  One chick walked by and you saw a crack came in his glasses.  Just a—the dynamic kinetic heat just generated inside of him, see, just broke his bu—And why?  Because they’re so oriented to the outdoors, that their bathing suits—here’s the curious didactic quality about it and also it’s a paradox.  It’s also, simultaneously, a very prudish country.

They’re very prudish.  You know that Playboy is not even allowed in the country.  [It is now.]  Can you imagine what they would do with Times Square?  Playboy is not allowed in the country!  That’s considered unbelievably obscene.  Well, so, on the other hand you go on the beach and these girls are walking around—believe me, they have bathing suits that are made out of like Band-Aids!  I’m serious!  You never saw anything like it.  You don’t even see how they can stay on ‘em.

And they go past you and the men—I’m serious, the men have bathing suits that—you know what a very hip bikini would be here—they make that look Victorian.  So here you are out on the beach—eighteen thousand people that are totally naked—I mean really.  You can’t believe it.  And so I’m walking around digging the scene, see, and I’ve got my bathing suit on, which, of course, I bought at magnificent Alexanders before the trip.  And it was a very hip one by American standards and here in Australia I’m looking like grandpa Charlie.  so this Australian guy I’m with says to me, “Hey, mate, a very interesting swimsuit there, mate.”

And I say, “Yes.”

“Your grandfathers?”

So I say, “It’s a museum-piece, it’s camp all the way.”

So I bought myself one of those swimsuits.  I had to, just for self-protection.  It was a great moment.  I put this thing on, the breezes are blowing over me and I go out on the beach.  I’m holding newspapers up all around me.

Ever since I bought that thing I’m kind of afraid to take it out in the States.  I’m thinking of trying it once at Jones Beach.  I’d get arrested.

austraalia flag

End of Part 2

Stay tuned for Australian Sharks,

Sydney, Martinis, and ANZAC DAY


JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Australia, Part 1


Jean Shepherd,  preceding  this wide-ranging trip, mentions various countries he will visit before describing his arrival in the northern Australian city of Darwin. He talks about visiting Australia on at least two different occasions, beginning each with a prologue, describing what he anticipates doing. I include both prologues here because they each add something to our pleasure in his excited anticipation.

In addition to his descriptions of the trips themselves, Shepherd, a few times, diverges to a related topic regarding the nature of Australians and humans in general. The diversions are typical of Shepherd’s habit of diverging from whatever his main topic–they add to the surprise and entertainment factor of his broadcasts. I offset these paragraphs a bit to distinguish these from the basic descriptions of locations.

Shepherd will display his usual descriptive strategies—acute observation with its attention to detail that makes it come alive. He love the varied sounds in different parts of the world.  Among other things, he uses tone and pacing of voice, and exuberant enthusiasm, and he uses his voice to capture the exact sounds he hears, represented here as best one can in type.  He is a master, a vocal magician!

He delights in describing the ordinary occurrence that most would not think of, but which everyone recognizes once Shepherd goes about his right-on descriptions. His perceptions described are entertainments unto themselves.  He delights in describing the experience of being in a plane about to land, and one receives the thrill of recognition—yes! that’s exactly the way it is!

As he does from time to time in his travel stories, Shepherd takes the opportunity to complain about the then-current anti-American sentiments he finds in the turbulent, confrontational 1960s, not only around the world, but in America itself—he finds the good and the bad almost everywhere in the world.  Not a super-patriot, but a lover of his own country, he dislikes unfair simplifications.

Jean Shepherd loves Australia.  He gives us a startling description of living with sharks, comments on Australian prudery, and gives a somewhat different take on his experience at a party in an extraordinary house on a Sydney hillside.  As always, he describes his very personal observations and comments regarding contrasts between cultures.

Despite his love of Australia, Shepherd does not deny himself the pleasure of disparaging some aspects of it.  Australians discovering his attitudes must be torn between pride and wrath.

Pay special attention in one episode to his description of Australian women at the beach. He is overwhelmed.  In over a thousand Shepherd programs heard so far, this is a rare time that he has been encountered incoherent.

Let’s begin with one of his introductions:

austraalia flag

We are going to go—I’m using, of course, the “editorial we,” meaning me—me and my flight bag.  I am going to leave this Sunday via a plane, and I’m going to arrive at Frankfurt a couple of hours later.  You know the marvels of the jet age.

And then, from Frankfurt I will take off in another aircraft on my way to Athens.  Mysterious, romantic, ancient, decadent, smelly Athens.  I’ll be in Athens for a while, I’ll futs around, and walk around, blow my nose and yell, and then I’ll get back in a plane, and a few hours later, guess where I will be.  I will be in Cairo for a moment, and then the plane takes off once again, on its way to mysterious Bangkok.  I’ll find out if what they say about Bangkok is true, and I’ll report to you if what they always say is true.  Then I will leave Bangkok and I go to Singapore.  Sinister, mysterious Singapore, that plays such a strong role in the great dramas of the sea written by Joseph Conrad.  The mysterious, decadent waterfront, where the British cannons all pointed in the wrong direction when the Japs snuck up from behind.  What a fiasco.  It was one of the great fiascoes in history.  And then I’ll fool around in Singapore and then I will leave Singapore and the next moment I will be in the ancient land of India.  I will be in Karachi, New Delhi, and then, finally, after dining sumptuously on sacred cow, I will land at Darwin!  Darwin, named after Charles Darwin.

This is where Darwin sailed around and—what was the name of his boat?  No, it was not the Pequod.  And it was not the Bounty.  No, it was not the U. S. S. United States.  Yes, that’s right, The Pinwheel—you’re right, yeah, I remember that it was The Pinwheel.  The H. M. S. Pinwheel.  Yeah, what the name of the captain?  Somebody named Horatio Hornblower.  The famous cruise of the—what’s the name of it?  Well, anyway, I’ll be in Darwin, which I understand was bombed during the war, wasn’t it?  Japanese laid a couple of eggs right on there.

And then I will get back in a plane and I will be on my way to Sydney, and then I will go all over Australia.  I’m going to go Outback—I’ve made arrangements.  For those of you who love to travel—to me, traveling is the ne plus ultra of life.  It is it.  The roses come to my cheeks.

And then I made arrangements to get my hands on a private plane in Sydney, and I’m going to fly all over Australia as much as I can in the time I’ll be there, which should be about ten days, and I’m going to go Outback and I’m going to fly all the way back into the wilderness.  Back there where they tell me the kangaroos are so thick that they have to buzz the ground about five times with their airplanes to clear them out before they can even land.

And I’m going to go back into the sheep country, I’m going to go out on the Great Barrier Reef, I’m going to fish for sharks.  They have the greatest—I understand, some of the greatest deep-sea fishing in the world off that barrier reef there.  I’m going to make the whole scene there.

I’m going to find out what they say—you’ve heard what they say about Australia.  I’m going to find out if what they say about Australia is true.  And I’m gonna report it to ya.  A lot of things they say.  Well, for one thing, they say that the water—when you’re letting the water out after you’ve washed your hair—the dirty water in the sink—that it revolves a different way than it does here.  I’m gonna watch that.  I’m gonna make very sure that that’s true.

austraalia flag

I’m taking with me my Uher tape recorder.

uher portable end 60s to end 80s

A Uher portable recorder model (from end of the 1960s)

I have a beautiful little tape recorder and I’m going to record sounds—not interviews.  I’m not going to walk around and say, “How do you like being a native of Bangkok, friend?”  Nothing like that.  I’m just going to record sounds, because to me, one of the most fascinating parts of going to other countries, one of the most interesting things, is the way different countries sound.  They really do sound differently from each other.  The sound of America is very different, for example, from the sound of Holland.  How do you think Holland sounds?  Just walking around the streets at two o’clock in the morning, opening your window and listening?  Doesn’t sound like America.

When I was doing the Beatles piece in Playboy a few months ago, I was particularly fascinated by the sounds of Scotland at two o’clock in the morning.  Forever and ever and ever the sound of Scotland will be the sound of old steam locomotives coming through the hills with that peculiar English/Scottish whistle—Weeeeeeeeeuu.  You know that crazy whistle they’ve got—Weeeeeeeeeuu!  You hear Chuchochuchuchuchuchuchu woooooooo!  Chuchuchuchuchushep card beatlesAnd there’s a kind of wonderful dark blue, golden quality to the sound of boats.  You can hear ships.  One night in Dundee, for example, I could hear the sound of buoys and they have a special kind of buoy that doesn’t sound like the ones in Maine.  Buoys, the sound of water, the sound of the harbor in Dundee, that sort of fits in and makes all the sounds distinctive and real there in Dundee.

I’m going to record how it sounds in Bangkok.  Have you ever wondered how it sounds at two o’clock in the morning in Bangkok?  What do you hear?  Well, you know, that’s an awfully hot country and I’ll guarantee you’ll hear a lot.  And I’m going to put the old microphone out the window and turn the gain up and just record the sounds of a Bangkok night.  And I’m not just talking about street sounds or night spots or night clubs—just the way it sounds.  Ordinary sound.  I’ll record sounds in Germany, I’ll record sounds in Athens, I’m going to record sounds in Singapore.  And you can hear how all these different places sound.  And I intend to have them on the air as soon as I get back.  I’m really beginning to get excited.

Shepherd introduces his beginning to talk about Australia by commenting again about sound as a fascinating part of his world, and repeats his general enthusiasm for–and the importance of–travel as an important human activity.

I have just returned from a trip half-way around the globe.  One week ago tonight I was lying in a seamy sack, feted temperatures of one-hundred-and-five degrees, humidity one-hundred-seventeen percent, in the heart of Bangkok and I could hear off in the distance, the wind is tinkling the temple bells ever so gently, and the sound of those great fans moving through the air above me, plowing their way through an endless wall of mosquitoes.  And I lay there thinking what a great thing it is to travel.  How beautiful travel is—and wishing I’d brought some Ex-Lax.

Australia is a Very Exciting Country

austraalia flag

End of Part 1

Stay tuned for Australian Sharks,

Sydney, Martinis, and ANZAC DAY


JEAN SHEPHERD-favored arts and artists Part 1 of 2

Shepherd sometimes talked about, or in other ways indicated, what arts and artists he loved

and even hated. What did he “vibrate to?”


He’s known for hating city-folk music and rock and roll. One wonders how much of it he’d heard, especially the later, most sophisticated styles of rock. It’s certainly understandable that he would hate the fad of relentless even rhythm of piano chord-plunking background that nearly covered the sound world of radio for an interminable time–back in the seventies was it? But how could he not vibrate positively to such masterpieces as “Satisfaction,” “Respect,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Great Balls of Fire” (surely, in its sound, the most erotic rock song ever!), “Life’s Been Good,” and “Who Put the Bomp”(one of the most playful, funniest songs I’ve ever heard!) Rock and roll expanded into so many sophisticated varieties over the decades, but I never heard Shepherd comment on rock after his early put-downs and his inaccurate prediction of  its imminent demise. (His good friend in his last years says that they talked about rock and roll–but what did they say about it?)

We know he loved classical music, opera, and modernist jazz–and jazz was an essential part of his professional life as announcer, commentator, emcee, etc. And, of course, his style of talk flowed with the rhythms and style of jazz.

1953-shep opera





He turned many listeners (myself included) on to Django Reinhardt, whose two-finger style (necessitated by an old injury) had a lovely, lilting effect. I do believe that a major force in the great sound his group produced was his jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

Django-Reinhardt-Stephane-Grappelli He much-enjoyed, for its cuckoo-ness, Paul Blackman’s “one-man-band.” He frequently played various Dixieland jazz pieces by various groups. (In a book I just read parts of, The Village: A History of Greenwich Village, it comments: “It was no coincidence that a renewal of interest in old-school Dixieland jazz occurred around the same time….Dixieland was big in the Village clubs throughout the 1950s.”) His favorite old jazz piece must surely have been “Boodle-Am Shake” by the Dixieland Jug Blowers. (See my EYF! page 409, the beginning of the final chapter, titled “These Guys Can Play at My Funeral Any Day” for the lyrics to “Boodle-Am Shake.” The book also includes my puny attempt to describe the sound, but one must see to hear a bit of it.)

He was also fascinated by the myriad sounds that make up the world–and that we hardly notice–such as those of airplanes and train engines.


He hardly had anything to say about visual art that he might have cared for. Picasso, maybe? He palled around with Don Kingman, Shel Silverstein, Leroy Neiman.


Shepherd loved reading, and sometimes discussed and read fine poetry (including haiku–undoubtedly for its precise concision, and the amusing–if not quite fine– Archy and Mehitabel for its sharp and quirky irony and wit),archy and mehetabel cover

novels including Moby Dick and Look Homeward, Angel. He once commented that “Nelson Algren is probably as close a–a blood brother as far as philosophical outlook on–on the world…as anybody I know in literature. When I say blood brother, I mean to me. If there is anyone I vibrate to it’s probably Algren.”


Among humorists/comics, he definitely liked Mark Twain, George Ade (sharp and ironic criticism of ordinary people), Paul Rhymer’s “Vic and Sade” (gentle but pointed commentary on small-town mentality), P. G. Wodehouse, S. J. Perelman. He gave an enthusiastic appreciation of Jack Benny on the air.

“Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”

Stay tuned



gould Bach GoldbergVriations

Canadian pianist/genius Glenn Gould (1932-1982) was a strange and fascinating person. He’s most famous for his interpretations of Bach’s “The Goldberg Variations.” I’ve always been intrigued by what makes artists of various kinds tick–go about their work–at least in part this is envy–wanting to be like them. (However, I’m a very conventional sort of guy–except for a few of my inexplicably “uncharacteristic” activities–for example, I’ve spent a good part of the last 15 years focusing my attention on a personage named “Shep.”) I think there are some similarities between Shep and Gould.

Although I listen to very little classical music these days, I’ve got a couple of Gould recordings and I’ve read a major book about him to see, in my own conventional sort of way, if I could somehow understand his ticking. (Yes, I know–people like Gould can’t be understood by reading books about them–but maybe a bit of understanding can be grabbed?! For the most part, in my  Excelsior, You Fathead! I didn’t try to understand Shep–I felt it much more important to describe and appreciate what he’d created. And as for interpretation, I tried to give quotes and suggestions from others who knew him, adding what Whitman referred to in another context as “faint clues and in-directions.”)

The book I read years back, Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations by Otto Friedrich, says this on its back cover:

He was a virtuoso of the piano who inspired an almost religious fervor in his fans, yet he hated performing and left the concert stage forever at the age of 31. He was a tireless advocate of the technology of recording, an artist who looked forward to a time when mere musicians would be rendered obsolete.

He was a notorious–and some thought, a deliberate–eccentric, who muffled himself in scarves and gloves, liberally dosed himself with pills, and once sued Steinway & Sons because one of its employees had shaken his hand too roughly. He lived in hermetic solitude and liked to call himself “the last Puritan,” but those who watched Glenn Gould play piano saw an eroticism so intense it was almost embarrassing.

gould in joy at piano

One encounters many descriptions of Gould that might well make one think that he was a totally goofy guy.  Why did he wear gloves and be so ultra sensitive about his hands? Why did he perform with his own odd piano seat (His father had made it for him and it made him feel more physically comfortable than any regular seat he’d ever sat on. It was unusually low, so that his hands on the piano keys were at a seemingly strange angle). Critics complained about his odd mannerisms on stage: singing loudly while playing, waving his hands about. It’s said that he approached each performance “from a totally re-creative point of view”–that is, with the aim of playing a “particular work as it has never been heard before.” Why did he abandon public performance? Many other oddities. But each had its “reasons”–he was not just the cuckoo he appeared to be on the surface. Watch the film “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.”

What do Gould and Shepherd have in common?

Stay tuned for part 2, in which Shep enthusiast

Joel Baumwoll comments on the matter.

JEAN SHEPHERD- Travel. Middle East, Tel Aviv (2)

I am now walking along this main seaside road that goes up to Jaffa, the Arab quarters of Tel Aviv.  I can see the moon hanging over and I can smell the Mediterranean, and I’m coming down toward the Arab quarter.  You can smell the Arabic quarter, a smell that I remember from one summer when I was about ten or twelve, when I got a job on a farm in Indiana.  It’s not really a barnyard smell but it’s the smell of a sheepfold. Ever been around sheep much?  Around goats much?  Ever been around places where they roast coffee?  Ever been around places where strange tobaccos are smoked?  I’m talking about tobaccos that are dark, kind of tar-y, tobaccos that are smoked through perfumed water pipes.  It’s a strangely attractive, sharp, bitter, biting, exciting aroma.  This is the only way I can describe the Arab quarter.

 jaffa streetJaffa Street

Now Americans are very funny people.  Americans believe that Lifebuoy smells good.  That’s a special kind of people.  We’re the kind of people who live by Dial Soap ads, who believe if a person is totally antiseptic, he’s a good person.  Nobody in the world is as hung on cleaning and laundry and soaps and deodorants and all this stuff that’s designed to eliminate our humanness, designed to erase, somehow, the animal side of mankind, than Americans themselves.  So, when I say something has an aroma, immediately, people say “Ug!” assuming it’s bad.  Don’t be so sure it is.  As a matter of fact, I find that when you’re not around it, you miss it—yes, it’s all part of it, it’s a part of the world there, and I’m only sorry for you if you don’t appreciate it.  You’re really not getting a very important facet of the life in the world.

A little vignette.  I drive down through a long, winding passageway with a friend of mine and he’s taking me to a very good Yemenite restaurant.  It’s considered a very good, high class one, one of the best in all Tel Aviv.  And here are cars all pulled up, a couple of Mercedes, there’s a Rolls Royce, here’s two or three long, low Ferraris pulled up in front of this place.  Not more than one car can get through at a time.  And this restaurant has a big, blue neon sign with the name in Middle Eastern script.

You can see the people of all nationalities sitting in there, all finely dressed. There’s nothing more exciting to me than to be in an area where there are all kinds of things, nationalities, all types of languages spoken.  There’s a certain dynamism.  I suppose it’s the endless excitement of endless variety.

It’s a long, low restaurant that bends around this sharp corner.  The Mercedes, the Ferraris.  Inside, the candles are lit, and what do you think is standing right in the middle of the street?  A great big, fat sheep. It isn’t that someone parked his sheep out in front and went into the place to pick up some shish kabob—he just lives there.  Just standing there tethered to a fire hydrant.  That would be the equivalent of going along 48th Street, you get to about Lexington Avenue and somebody has parked his water buffalo out in front of the restaurant.  There it is in the street and everybody is going around it paying no attention at all.  That’s it.   That is what makes a place exciting.

I go around the corner, driving this little European car.  We’re trying to park the car, so we take it up an alley and finally stop.  Just as we stop, out of a little alley right in front of us, you hear clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, clop, this little furry burro comes clop, clop, clop, clop, clop. A kind of white burro with black ears, clop, clop, clop, clop, and sitting on its back is this fantastic chick—ohhh!  This girl looks at us with her sloe eyes.  She’s carrying what looks like a little silver platter, and on it are three green peppers, clop, clop, clop, clop clop, clop, clop, clop.  She goes right across the alley in front of us and into another dark passageway and disappears.

All around us these windows are open and you see people and the girl is sitting up there.  She’s got big, golden, sparkling ear rings and she’s looking down, and you hear this music all around, it’s just drifting down from everywhere.  It seems to come out of the gutter pipes, drifting out of the alleys, just all around. You can smell the sheep, you can smell the tobacco burning, you can smell the pavements on which people have walked for maybe five-hundred years, and a lot of other things have happened in five-hundred years or more.  You can smell the edge of the old Mediterranean.  It’s just a night out in the restaurant—Ahhhhh! Yeah!

Good bye, Tel Aviv. Next, hello, Beersheba.


JEAN SHEPHERD- Travel. Middle East, Tel Aviv (1)

tel aviv waterfront

Tel Aviv Waterfront

I’m walking along this waterfront street in the ancient city of Tel Aviv.  The time is now one A. M. and you can hear the ancient waves of the Mediterranean laving the beach below me.  I’ll tell you, coming back to the subway, coming back to Nedick’s after Tel Aviv is a rather sharp delineation of values.

There’s a high seawall—maybe chest-high, concrete and heavy stones.  As you look over the seawall it drops sharply down maybe thirty to forty feet, and there’s a short strip of sand and there’s dark, rolling waters of the ancient Mediterranean.  The sea of the Romans.  The sea of all the ancient tribes who moved over it.  In fact, in the days of Rome’s glory, this sea was called the center of the world.  You can smell it.  There’s a smell to the Mediterranean that isn’t quite the same as Jones Beach.  As that ancient sea rolls over those sunken urns of Grecian wine casks, it produces something just a little different from Coney Island.  Ahaaaa!

As you walk along,  you can hear the sound of Middle Eastern music.  You can’t tell what country it’s from, whether it’s Jordanian, whether it’s Syrian, whether it’s Lebanese, whether it’s Israeli.  What it is no one quite knows.  It just comes out of the air from a thousand windows, from a thousand darkened rooms, from ten thousand radios and record players, and it rises to the night, higher and higher.  Ahhhhh!  And all the while that ancient old friendly Mediterranean rolls on under that fantastic moon.  Tel Aviv—do you know what Tel Aviv means?  It means the city of spring.

Enough of that Middle Eastern music for now, before I go mad!  I have felt for a long time that the music of any given area of the globe tells more about that area of the globe than almost any other form of communication—the literature, the sculpture, the movies—because somehow there’s something very basic about music.  This really is the way the Middle East is, friend!

middle east music

It’s Thursday night in Tel Aviv and boy, the place is roaring!  The life gets almost to a frenzy about ten-thirty or twelve at night and there are thousands of people just wandering the streets.  It’s very hot.  People rise late in the morning in these tropical cities and they stay up late.  Everything is moved down just a little bit in time.  The stores close at one o’clock in the afternoon and that’s it.  Everything stops, and it begins again at four.  The whole afternoon—they just cut that hot part of the day right out.

The traffic stops, the sidewalk cafes empty, the trees just hang there, the sun is lying overhead.  And once in a while you see somebody walk by.  And, I’ll tell you this, you have to see the girls of Tel Aviv to believe it.  That’s all I can say.  To use a graphic analogy, these chicks generally start where Sophia Loren stops.  I couldn’t believe it!  I mean, the first five minutes in Tel Aviv I thought it was the heat that was getting me.  Or maybe it was a mirage.  They would come by in singles, they would come by in pairs, and then in threes, sometimes in squadron formation.  You could hear the finger cymbals, you could see the muscles rippling up and down!  Holy smokes!  There’s something that the tropics does to female figures.  It’s terrible.  Wow!  And I’m sitting in a sidewalk café.  It’s terrible.  I swallowed a whole cup of Turkish coffee when the first crowd went by me—cup and all!

It’s a full moon.  The moon in the vicinity of the equator, particularly in this region of the world—this moon stretches across the sky about four-hundred yards and it is a silver, angry, white, brilliant, almost too-bright moon.

moon full

It gets very difficult, I understand, to get any kind of privacy when the moon is really in business in certain areas of the country.  This is my third or fourth night in Tel Aviv and I’m just beginning to get the flavor of this.

Of course, when most people come to this part of the world, unfortunately, they head for the big, plush hotels, and you’ll find most Mediterranean areas, stretching all the way down from Beirut, places that are on the Med like Haifa, like Piraeus, the island of Crete, the Isle of Rhodes, stretching along the golden horn of the Mediterranean, there are these great hotels lying right on the sea, magnificent hotels.  The beaches—oh boy!  Most people go to these and too many people, I’m afraid, don’t go into the city itself, go walking into where the non-tourist world is, where it’s just happening, where people are just walking around and scratching.

Of course they do that in New York City too.  Most tourists immediately head for Radio City and then they go down to take a look at the Statue of Liberty and they go down to Chinatown.  But the whole, great, vast area of the city that’s just simmering there under the heat in the summer, just never gets seen.  I don’t know how many tourists have ever seen Fordham Road in New York, or Pelham Parkway in heat!  I think if I ever wanted to show a tourist from a foreign country what it’s really like in New York, I’d take him to a magnificent Alexander’s up on Fordham Road at three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon when the pack is out in full cry.  That’s our native bazaar.

Take them through the housewares department, watch the screaming and the yelling.  The ladies summerware department.  Take a tourist from any country—a tourist from Nigeria, and take him to see all the ladies with their shopping bags `going and their girdles creaking and their daughters dragging behind and their kids behind them and yelling and hollering.  And try to

Black Friday, Anywhere U.S.A.

Of course he would not have to have it explained—he would understand that this is the bazaar.  And we all have our own bazaar.  You can spell it with an “a” or an “i.”  Depends on how you approach it.


JEAN SHEPHERD Travel. Middle East Beirut part 3

Life-Mag-1958-07-28. lebanonjpg

They were operating twenty-four hours a day combat patrol.  That old catapult was going up there every ninety minutes as another flight would take off.  The flight that was out would land and you’d hear the arresting gear.  You’d hear that bullhorn:  “There is a banjo in the groove.  Banjo in the groove,” and you’d hear that SHROOOOOM! you’d hear that bounce and a plane had landed.  Thirty seconds later they’d start launching.  The launch is a special sound.  You hear this thing cocking itself.  It’s a great, steam-operated slingshot!  An enormous piston that literally hurls the planes right off into the void, right down the carrier deck.

As a pilot, I must say, you have never really experienced the ultimate flying thrills until you have been in an aircraft that is landing on the deck of a tossing carrier in a spanking wind—oh, wowee!  And I have done this on several hairy occasions.  Holy Smokes!

Here it is, two o’clock in the morning.  We’ve been up for maybe eighty hours.  Sweaty, hot, and I’m lying there in nothing but skivvies and T-shirt.  Just drenched, the bunk is so wet that it was like sleeping on a sponge.  You can feel that water all over, just clammy and at the same time you are so hot.

I’m lying there in the darkness and everything is fine and you hear this SHHHHHH GEROMOMOMOMMMM! That’s the sound of a plane being launched.  A long pause between the cocking of the mechanism and then GEROMOMOMOMMMM! 

catapult detail

Catapult and plane on an aircraft carrier.

GEROMOMOMOMMMM! Off she goes and another guy has been hurled out into the night.

We’re now in the immediate vicinity of Lebanon and there’s a lot of enemy action going on.  There’s a lot of stuff happening.  Lying there, everything is kind of funny to me.  You reach a point when you’re so tired that you can’t sleep.  You’re physically tired, your mind keeps running on and on like some kind of giant flywheel that won’t stop, and I had been trying to sleep now for about half an hour.

This is down in the junior-grade officers’ quarters where every bunk had a tiny light above it and I turned on the light.  I reached down into my seabag, looking for something to do, something to read, and I pulled out a book and started to read, and I started to laugh—I couldn’t stop.  It was a hysterical, tired laugh, and I looked across the darkness and there on the bunk across this little stateroom, lying in the dark and sweating like hell was Bob Gaffney, the man who committed the Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster epic movie disaster that was made a few years later.

Bob is half asleep, and he says, “What are you laughing at?”

I say, “I don’t know, Bob, just everything.”

He says, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

And then SHOOOOONK! AAAAWUUU! Off it goes again.  We both start to laugh—at the sound of the planes being shot off.  Then we begin to ad lib a giant movie script in the darkness.  We’re laughing like hell—can’t remember a word of it next morning.  We’re ad-libbing a movie script at two in the morning in the heat and sweat, and all of a sudden this clanging bell goes through the ship DOING DOING DOING. It’s General Quarters.  We jump up out of our bunks and run through the dark corridors, which are lit with these dim red lights, to our battle stations down below in the intelligence department, where they have the great radar screen.  We’re down below and we can’t stop laughing, and the Lieutenant Commander is looking at us.  “What?  What?  What’s up now?  Take it easy, guys.”

Uncontrollable laughing.  We’re in the big navy helmets and all.  And that night is just one long, involved, curious nightmare, with the heat and the script and all the sounds of the planes being launched high above us on the flight deck and we’re hurling through the night off the coast of Lebanon and Syria, we’re at General Quarters and the radar screen keeps whirling round and round.  A fantastic, total nightmare.

After they called off GQ, Bob and I are sitting in the ward room soaked in sweat and drinking navy coffee, trying to remember the script we just invented.  I saw pieces of it in the Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster movie years later, I really did.  That strange, nightmare quality to it.  These are things that even Stanley Kubrick would never under understand.  No way!

frank. and space monster 1965

[Note  above, Shepherd’s sound effects made by his voice alone. He loved sounds of all kinds and he loved to produce replicas of those he heard–and he was very good at doing so. My printed word attempts can’t possibly produce and elicit the pleasure of hearing him do what he did with his voice. On  a few of his programs he played the actual sounds of various machinery (such as vintage airplane engines). He once commented that such sounds should be preserved as much as should the actual objects from our past.]

 Village Voice, “Night People,” Jean Shepherd, October, 1957.

“In Beirut When It Was on the Hit Parade”

Jean Shepherd begins by stating that he arrived in Beirut with five or six other passengers in a 15-year-old Navy transport plane by way of Naples and Crete.  Apparently the Carrier Essex dropped him off in Naples after he’d completed his work on the documentary film on board.  He comments that Beirut was at this moment at the top of the news media’s hit parade, but would not be there for long when the public got tired of its temporary celebrity.  At the moment, with a headline including the important word “crisis,” Beirut was it.

Seeing a man with an ice-cream cone in the airline terminal, Shep is pointed in the proper direction, and soon has his own frozen custard cone just like those a New Jersey Dairy Queen ladles out daily.  He is happy, ending his column by exulting, “By God, I was in Lebanon.  I caught a bus and went to town.”


“Trouble in Beirut?  Not Before Dinner.”

The Village Voice comments that Jean Shepherd has just returned from working on a movie in Beirut, indicating that he was there during the crisis.  Shepherd tells how he has just gotten his room in an elegant hotel in Beirut, describing the place as having the aura of a class B spy movie, with people coming and going who would do well in Hollywood if found by a good talent agency.   He describes Beirut as being the Riviera of the Middle East, with rich shipping magnates surrounded by brown-skinned girls in pink bikinis.

Rushing toward the elevator in his swim trunks, he asks the bellboy what he thought of the current troubles.  “Oh,“ the bellboy responds, “that doesn’t start until 8 p. m. every night at dinnertime.”  Shepherd enters the terrace, feeling like “a bit player in a Sydney Greenstreet movie.”

Bye, bye, Beirut.




Oh how we Shep-cuckoos have sought the elusive video of Shepherd performing by thumping on his head (kopfspielen) as his secret on that early TV game show, I’ve Got a Secret, originally aired August 31, 1960.  Seated with host Gary Moore, the guest would be questioned by a celebrity panel of four until they guessed the secret or time ran out.  “The Game Show Network” occasionally replays that program but despite entreaties by hordes of anxious fans, they won’t say when it or the I’ve Got a Secret anniversary broadcast of June 21, 1961, containing just the Shepherd performance itself, would be aired.  The only way to snatch a copy would be to set one’s video recorder going day after week after month, search while running the recordings at fast speed, and some year luck out.  You see the kinds of things that make anxious fans spend fitful days and sleepless nights.  Eventually a couple of fans managed to capture a showing of the anniversary program and it’s now part of the Jean Parker Shepherd Historical Record.


In that visual record, in glorious and blurry black and white, Gary Moore introduces: “Here is Norman Paris and his quartet [piano, drums, guitar, and bass] featuring Jean Shepherd on head, playing ‘The Sheik of Araby.’”  Shepherd, in front of the musicians, wears a suit, white shirt with cuff links, and tie.  As the music starts, he quickly massages his short crew cut (part of the tuning process?) and then rapidly thumps his knuckles on his head, mouth opening and closing to various degrees, performing the piece.  At the end he bows his head slightly, gives one of his shy smiles, and it’s over.


Shepherd with knuckles and head.

Anyone who has heard Shepherd head-thump on the radio knows how it sounds.  The song is recognizable by the rhythm and the rise and fall of the “notes”—tune-appropriately—though nowhere near on pitch.  Shepherd shows off his skill by rapid embellishments to the base “melody.”  This talent is extraordinary and one must remain in awe—he can thump out at least a half-dozen notes, but on the many occasions I’ve given it a shot, I manage only two notes and a sore head.

On a radio broadcast he comments that he performed head thumping on several other programs and was “always well-received critically.”  He muses:

The only problem is, they typecast me.  They never ask Zsa Zsa Gabor to thump her head.  And I can be funnier than Zsa Zsa, although I’m consciously so.  She’s unconscious, but that’s something else.  And so I’ve given it up….What if the word had gotten out that Ernest Hemingway, for example, used to make music by cracking his knuckles?  What if Hemingway sat around and played “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” crackin’ his knuckles, and he was invited on Bookbeat to do that?…No one would take his writing seriously.  No way.  No way.  And if tomorrow morning, say, Norman Mailer suddenly announces that he is a fantastic, secret, closet tap dancer.  And the next thing you know he’s out there tap dancing on the “Sonny and Cher Show.” (April 12, 1976)




Another bizarre instrument in Shepherd’s bag of musical tricks is the kazoo. Sometimes he plays it straight, sometimes he does a jazz rendition, and sometimes he does the equivalent of “scat.” The extraordinary Italian composer/performer, Paolo Conte, in about 1988 performed with his group, his “Lo Zio” (“Uncle”) , on the piano, singing, and playing the kazoo (and for some moments, playing two kazoos at once!) See YouTube for his “Lo Zio,” plus his “Come With Me,” and “Sotto le Stelle del Jazz.”

P.Conte LoZio kazoo

Shepherd: “I think the kazoo is a kind of amalgam of all of us,” adding:

You know there’s something very irritatingly, maddeningly true about the kazoo.  I think the kazoo in a very real way, Don—I think it takes the human voice, it takes music, it takes it all and puts it together in one almost unbelievably, realistically, irritating package.” (June 1964)




The nose flute is played by placing the instrument (frequently seen as a small brightly colored plastic piece) flat against the nose and mouth. One exhales through the nose, adjusting the tone by changing the volume of one’s mouth cavity. Preferably one plays when one does not have a drippy nose. (I can get about three distinct notes, Shepherd gets a lot more than that.)




Shepherd played the jew’s harp from time to time, and claimed that Lincoln was an expert and played it frequently. According to Weldon Petz, one of America’s leading Lincoln scholars, “Lincoln played the jews’ harp at the debates with incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois state election campaign.”

lincoln.jews harp young mr. lincoln

Henry Fonda as “Young Mr. Lincoln”

(1939 film) playing the jew’s harp.

Shepherd claimed that he made his first entertainment money at age 15 playing jew’s harp for the Colorado Cowhands group. Describing a letter he’d gotten accusing him of pandering when playing his strange instruments and that it wasn’t the “real” him, he responded:

Baby–this is the real me in spades!

Recently I discovered on a blog (see below) Leonard Cohen in Ghent (August 12, 2012.) playing the jew’s harp for about 10 seconds! WOW!

jews harp l. cohen

Leonard Cohen in concert with jew’s harp