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JEAN SHEPHERD–Accolades, a Blog as well as (26) ARTSY

Jean Shepherd is my most elaborate and long-lasting artsy fartsy subject matter. My obsession and constant work on Shep-projects, that started roughly 10/19/1999, has no end in sight. It’s a constant theme of my daily life, including my searches on ebay where I encounter false hits such as the differently spelled name of a country/western singer, non-Shepherd encounters such as a 19th century poet, parts of names of actors, movies, books, etc., and objects of other sorts that include the name Shepherd.

I preserve and display my Shepherd files in “The Shep Shrine.” This includes his poster; his books; my Shep-books; books about radio including some with text about him; his original drawings; his films and videos; many audios of his broadcasts; text and audios of interviews of him and me; media articles and audios about him; photos of him; file boxes of my continuously updated book notes and background info; my original handwritten published and unpublished notes and manuscripts of books about him; text and info and props regarding my play about him and my Shep-blog; a box devoted to many “Shep People” associated with him, especially about Lois Nettleton and Leigh Brown; a copy of his will; a large “Excelsior” banner; Excelsior Seltzer bottles; a small glass-topped box containing kazoo, jews harp, nose flute, and brass figlagee with bronze oakleaf palm; voluminous esoterica and various etceteras. And a one-of-a-kind Jean Shepherd bobblehead.

eb shep shrine (2)

The Shep Shrine and Me

(Partial View)

Jean Shepherd, as always, needs more recognition and effective promotional methods. He is quoted as having said, “You could be on New York radio for many years and be widely unknown.”

In my  Excelsior, You Fathead: the Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd,

preceding the book’s title and the rest of the 495 pages, I begin with accolades:

accolades 1accolades 2a

JEAN SHEPHERD and Alexander King & (21) ARTSY-Full Color Newspaper Wars

In the late 1950s Jack Paar’s late-night TV program was the first big Tonight Show to gain wide popular viewership. (Remember that this was the show, earlier staring Steve Allen, that Shepherd was reportedly brought to NYC to take over—but the evidence shows that this was not so). Alexander King, as a guest, became very popular on Paar’s show. This resulted in high sales of several of his books.

A. King paar4

PAAR                          KING

King told autobiographical stories with entertaining wit and charm. The first paragraph of an Amazon Customer Review of a King book by Jon Richfield—-describes him well–at least as he appeared on TV: “King was a mercurial spoiled brat with enormous talent, great compassion, great selfishness, idiosyncratic tolerance and intolerance, impressive culture, totally variegated experience, a marvelous capacity for talking about it, and enormous charm. He raises serious doubts about some of what he says, but says it all with such natural conviction….”*

The New York Times obit of 11/17/1966 described his Paar appearances as providing “…witty, pungent, irreverent and continual outflow of comments on life, art, woman, sex, psychiatry, celebrities, narcotics addiction, and just about any other topic that happened to annoy him at the moment.”

mineenemy1

FIRST BIG KING BOOK

King’s charm, wit, and quirky energy captivated the audience. Shepherd’s style, being more of a slowly articulated description that relies on a build-up of humorous situation, did not grasp and hold a studio (or a home-viewing) audience sufficiently, I believe, which is why Shepherd-telling-a-story on television by simply talking, as he did on his radio shows, did not work. Fellow-performers on TV such as Ernie Kovacs and Victor Borge seemed to recognize this and undercut Shep—on live TV.

*King once claimed that he’d published his translations of Ovid’s love poems (43 BC-17 AD), even though he knew no Latin. He said that he gathered various translations of the poems and reworded them for the better. He said that he received acclaim for the best-ever translations of Ovid. Amusing story and very possibly true–but I’m not convinced. In fact, it may also be that, just as with Shep, little that King told was more than a smidgeon true to fact.

A.King Ovid book

The Love Books of Ovid:

A Completely Unexpurgated

and Newly Translated Edition.

Internet search shows several booksellers

offering this 1930, privately published book.

All booksellers (and the book’s spine) show

King only as illustrator.

true-false-sign

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____________________________________________

artsyfratsy 10010

(21) FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS

The New York Times, from time to time, has published some esthetically lovely photographs. Beautifully composed, wonderfully colored. One might say, “masterpieces.” They compare with some of the great painted masterpieces of violent centuries past. Many of these depict the ravages of wartime. They’ve made me stop and wonder at my own intellectual/emotional conflict. I’ve saved scores of these images and concocted a couple into an elegant, cedar, cigar-box-artifact meant to preserve and remind. (It needs to be noted that some of the lovely photos I’ve saved from the Times are simply beautiful and not disagreeable in content.)

box top

Village: burns.

Man and grandmother: homeless refugees.

Women: grieve over the yellow head, cheerful red and white-striped cover

with body beneath.

burning landscape

wheelbarrow0003

women grieving

A few others in my collection.
black poles boat0003

photo recent0003

national guard0013

photo black pot

There are still elegant photos in the Times, and I look forward to those to come.

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ARTSY ARROWS0010

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Gene B.’s Rant. Part 2

Because of all the foregoing [in Gene B. Rant. Part 1.], I’d decided to take my transcripts of that “sure-to-be-a-hit other manuscript of Shepherd material” and soon I was gonna start posting it on this blog too. (Hey, publishers and agents, why not take a look?) Just as the army stories joined into what I like to think of as a “coming of age novel,” I believe the same can be said of the gathering and organizing of my third book of Shepherd transcripts, tentatively titled:

JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES

kid book cover

Photo of kids courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek.

A book of

never-before-in-print

Jean Shepherd

kid stories

that read in sequence

as a coming-of-age novel.

WOW!

From kindergarten through grammar school,

ham radio,

high school dating,

the steel mill,

and two college-age

extra-curricular

epiphanies.

I love epiphanies, don’t you?

→ ? ←

ge-ideas-are-scary-commercial

GE TV ad:”Ideas are scary”

?

1) My kid stories book would increase interest in: the movie ACS; the straight play of ACS; the musical of ACS; all the statuettes and leg lamps and costume sales and board games and Christmas tree ornaments associated with ACS; and the sales of all of Shepherd’s previously published books still in print.
2) My Shep’s Army book has a little note on the colophon page: “Published by Arrangement with the Estate of Jean Shepherd.” (Has anyone who has picked up the book noticed that?) That note, my publisher tells me, represents the deal they made that gives a chunk of my royalties for that arrangement.
3) Beyond all those legalities and financial ditherings, my Jean Shepherd Kid Stories book would become part of Shep’s permanent, published creative works–and, I believe, further enhance his critical and popular reputation. IS THIS NOT “WORTH” SOMETHING IN OUR WORLD OF COMMERCE and our weak and undernourished world of ART?
GE idea 1

?

 I can’t fight it any longer
and still remain the sweet, all-loving, wise and wonderful person that I am.
(Please note the irony here, folks.)

?

I will no longer attempt to get these kid stories printed.

I will begin posting them on this blog.

Should something change,

and a publishing opportunity fall into my lap,

I’ll go for it.

Otherwise

JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES

may never be published other

than on this blog.

GE idea in box“Don’t cry for me, all you Shep fans–

the truth is I never left you.”

[A line from “Shep,” the (someday) great, operatic musical film

co-starring me as Antonio Banderas.]

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

“I’m one of the great underground performers.

In spite of the fact I have millions of fans,” he proclaims,

“I can’t imagine why [someone] wouldn’t know about me . . .

I’ve had three best-sellers, I’ve published forty-eight stories in Playboy.

[By my count, 23 stories, one humorous article, and The Beatles interview.]

Critics have done papers on me. I’ve influenced more kids.

I’ve done thousands of shows at colleges. I’ve been

on the Carson show many times and on the Merv Griffin show.

I’ve had my own television series for years on PBS.

And yet [some people] never heard of me.

Now you’re understanding the nature of twentieth-century fame.”

–Jean Shepherd quoted in Maralyn Lois Polak’s

The Writer as Celebrity.

? 

“…sure enough, he was found in the morning frozen to death but

nevertheless he had there next to him the sign that read

enigmatically, ‘Excelsior.’

And this is the story of all mankind’.”

Jean Shepherd, 1958.

“Never give up!”--Gene B. 2015.

?

Hey, gang, this all sorta sounds like the kind of justified complaints that Shepherd engaged in from time to time over the decades. Maybe all of the above is nothing but my parody of Shep’s complaints? Maybe. But then, maybe not. 

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

Stay tuned.

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstance–& Road Not Taken (9)

The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 .
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 .
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 .
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In EYF! I prominently designate the period from early 1956 to some time in 1960 as Shep’s

GREAT BURGEONING.

What follows is more delving into this thought. (Please be aware that I believe that Shepherd’s 45-minute shows from the early 1960s to his last show on April 1, 1977 contain many masterpieces, and are a major part of Shepherd’s claim to greatness. See my many  EYF! chapters–consisting of the majority of the book–in this regard.) Yet, the change from overnight shows (and the related and intermediate period of long Sunday night shows from 1956-1960) to the 45-minute shows most basically and most well-known of the 1960-1977 period, present interesting questions regarding  the road not taken.

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

When he was fired during the summer of 1956

and would be rehired to begin in September, 1956,

what options did Jean Shepherd (and WOR) have?

what where

This in part must be seen without having the “overnight” programs available for study. (When will somebody, please, contribute some recordings of his overnight shows?) We can assume that to some extent, they were similar–but maybe more laid back than the Sunday night programs. Sunday nights, with the earlier hours–having only a small sample to go by–must be seen as an only partly known, transition between all-night and the 45-minute shows that dominate Shep’s best-known, final seventeen years of radio.

Recently I read a great and fascinating book about Robert Frost’s well known poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Yes, the book is titled The Road Not Taken; it is by David Orr; it is 172 pages; it consists entirely of why the poem has been misinterpreted by nearly all who have read it and who describe it erroneously. It’s a wonderful, easily understood book, described on the flyleaf: “Yet in spite of this extraordinary devotion, almost everyone gets ‘The Road Not Taken’ hopelessly wrong.” Why is this related to Jean Shepherd? Because it was in the summer of 1956 that Jean Shepherd faced a path in the woods and had to make a choice that would determine the future of his career, his art, and his life.

motivation.creativity

Is the poem, “a paean to triumphant self-assertion, in which an individual boldly chooses to live outside conformity? Or a biting commentary between self-deception, in which a person chooses between identical roads and yet later romanticizes the decision as life-altering?” The later is the surprising answer  regarding the poem.

For Shepherd, what was his thinking regarding why he chose to change from the late-night route to the earlier, and eventually, the shorter time period? In what ways did he imagine it as life-altering and better? Was he right? What did he gain? What did he lose? Did he then or later understand all the important consequences of his choice? Did he believe, in later years, that he had made the better choice? Did he tell himself, as does the poem’s speaker, that his choice had made all the difference?

work balance life

He certainly could not have told himself that he took the path less traveled by, because the path he chose led to easier and more popular hours, more exposure and bigger audiences, more sponsorship, wider work in more media. In certain ways, he became more popular. Is this what he wanted? Did he realize all the ramifications of this popularity?

There are quite a number of books on decision-making. In an op-ed essay in the August 25, 2015 New York Times, David Brooks’ column is titled “The Big Decisions.” He ends the column with: “It’s probably safer to ask ‘What do I admire?’ than ‘What do I want.'”

What more is there to it than that?

? ¿   OVERNIGHT   PROGRAM   VS.   ? ¿

Was he tired of the hours and preferred the easier lifestyle of more “normal” hours?

Did he think he’d get more listeners broadcasting during earlier hours?

Did he realize what kind of changes in the type of listeners he would get with earlier hours?

Did he realize that the more hip audience he’d had might not follow him into evening hours?

Did he realize how the earlier and shorter hours would force him to change the nature of his style and content?

Did he understand that earlier (and ultimately shorter) hours would change the nature of his laid-back improvisation?

Did he recognize (as Lois Nettleton said she and he both did) that the shorter, tighter format was in some way not quite as “unique” and pure “genius” as Lois felt?

Did he realize that he would not be able to pursue on the air the kind of jazz he preferred?

How much did the potential for more sponsors (more $) affect his decision?

Did his jealousy toward the celebrity/success of some of his contemporaries (Mort Sahl, etc.) contribute much to his decision?

.

WE DON’T KNOW

AND

PROBABLY NEVER WILL

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances & Road Not Taken (7)

THE SAD, UNFULFILLED REMNANTS OF A STORY

(With a few minor repeats, but worth it.)

1966-10-07_022_IGWT_photo_doubleday

UNHAPPY?

Let’s bring some threads together.  Maybe they weave themselves into one of the shreds of truth about Jean Parker Shepherd.  So he was unhappy despite all he had accomplished?

Barry Farber: “A towering success, but I think inwardly he knew, compared to himself, and his potential—he felt like a failure!”

Herb Saltzman: “You know, there were many guys who would have achieved his success and would have really been happy with it.  He was never happy.  I don’t think he spent many happy times.”

Fred Barzyk: “Happy!…The only time he was happy was when people would come up to him and say how great he was.”

What had he had?  Lois Nettleton: “…he had headlines!…I remember in the Post he was—he was just a big celebrity!”  This was the time of the I, Libertine affair, the firings from WOR, and the highest level jazz connections.  The “great burgeoning” period of the late 1950s in New York, his overnight extemporaneous work, association with the highest avant-garde, the Beats, the intellectual elite who were his most impressive “listeners.” The more evidence we accumulate, the more I think about it, the more certain I am that this was the period when, with what he was involved in and creating on the highest level, he peaked.

shep closeup

WHAT DID HE WANT?

Lois Nettleton makes the same point as have others who knew Shepherd: “I think if he had gotten the public fame and acclaim that Mort Sahl got, [cover of Time Magazine and related celebrity], I think that would have been very good for him, although with him, who knows, he might have not been satisfied with that.”  Coming out of the heady postwar artistic ferment, he could have remained there with Mailer, Kerouac, Mingus, Pollock, each a unique giant, and Shepherd with his art of sound, unprecedented in his own field of improvisation and Mark Twain-like humor and commentary.  (I can’t leave Lois with the implication that she was mainly impressed by his headlines, so I’ve got to repeat what she most importantly said: “I really want him to be recognized for what he was—a brilliant genius.  The wonderful, wonderful unique—the wonderful thing that he was.”)  Widely recognized for what he was—a unique giant in his own field.  This, I believe, is what he wanted.

shepherd-wor_1970

What happened?  He could have had it, he should have had it, because he’d already had it and knew he had it—right there in his hands until his dreams were undone by some unfortunate shift in timing or emphasis, and, he must have eventually been aware, of miscalculated alternatives.  Did the kid-stories and the kid-fans such as myself and many who are reading this, do him in?  I repeat words of “The Jackdaw Story.”  Shepherd himself: “And by the way, for those of you who think kid stories made me what I am today [laughs], you’re crazy.  Not at all.  They’ve held me back from what I should have been.”

shep in gocart

For his particular long-form of humor and intellectual engagement as practiced in the late 1950s and even the more accessible style of the 1960s and 1970s, his artistic style was incompatible with that larger constituency he coveted.  That mass audience was now watching television, a medium not suited for his extended monologs—his style too laid-back and subtle and thus beyond the mental capacities of a countrywide, adult mass audience.  Maybe he realized this, or maybe he didn’t realize what the shift to earlier broadcast time periods would do, even with his four hours on Sunday nights for a while.  Maybe the larger audience of high school and college kids was the best he’d be able to garner.  Maybe he thought he could have it both ways—artistic heights and celebrity such as had Jack Benny, Norman Mailer, and innumerable others, not damaged by accumulating more young listeners on that lessening national influence called “radio.”

1966-08-dd_022_playboy_pic

INEVITABLE DECLINE?

Maybe he did it with full understanding of what the effects would be?  Maybe the cultural dynamics of how people were spending their time under the onslaught of TV made the rapid decay of radio-as-it-had-been an inevitable disaster for him in his ideal medium.  Maybe he miscalculated the effect on his style caused by the more abbreviated forty-five-minute format.  Maybe he was capitulating to the inevitable decline of radio?  I quoted Shepherd in regard to radio’s decline, and what strikes me now is that he’d articulated this harbinger of his own doom so early, his late-night programming already ended, at the turning point between his longer and much shorter programs:

It’s sad that a whole art form grew to fruition and suddenly disappeared….because radio can do things that television and the movies and the stage can never do.  It plays with the imagination and the mind [in a way] that I think no other medium can ever approach.  (July 9, 1960)

Channel_Cat. 1 png

Maybe when it was too late he wished he had made different choices?  During this transition period around 1960, he may have been responding to radio’s decline and the choices he’d made by focusing on an acting career but somehow this did not work out.  He needed to improvise, not memorize a script.  Between a rock and a hard place?  He made his choices, or was forced into choices by circumstances beyond his control.  Opposed to my speculation and Shepherd’s own assessment, many listeners argue that his mid-1960s period and his kid stories were his crowning glory.  They can prove it to their own satisfaction?  Yes, and I don’t have a definitive response, but I don’t believe “a matter of taste” is an accurate answer.  I’m up against what I can only fend off by relying on that lovely, that delectable, that conveniently apt word “enigma.”

thurber excelssior

ENIGMA

Enigmas upon enigmas.  The enigma of self-defeat and self-creation.  Regard some of his debilitating human foibles and flaws—compulsive talk and overbearing ego, inability to distinguish his truths from his fictions both in his work and in his life, abrasive self-centeredness, sometimes abusive personal interactions.  What did he make of it all and what do we make of it all?  (And while we’re at it, why did this great lover of all that was the glory of New York City, MOVE TO FLORIDA?!?!) Was Jean Shepherd just an enigma?  Maybe he was also an alchemist.

shep as ewingshep as ewing

shep as ewing

        ALCHEMIST?

Maybe we are the beneficiaries of his intuitive genius through a mysterious psychic alchemy, the transforming of the sometimes base metals of obsessive talk and character flaws such as self-obsession into the gold of art.  Consider this, I say with conviction and yet enigmatically: without the base metals we would not have had the gold.

classic shep image

STILL MORE TO COME

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (6)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

“Just a philosophical question. I mean, who does who in–in life?

Or–and this is the worst question of all to ask–

do you do yourself in?

Aaaaa!

“Oh no, it can’t be! No, no, that’s ridiculous!

No, no! Society did it to me!

Rotten, crummy, evil society!” 

(Jean Shepherd, January 22, 1966)

THE TRAGEDY

The scheduled time slot (overnight) for which he was one-of-a-kind got changed to his style’s detriment (so say some of us–it was a different kind of genius).

The medium in which he was fully prepared and the outstanding genius, faded in that aspect in which it–and he–excelled.

The audience for which his original style excelled, changed and expanded into adolescent acolytes who overwhelmed him–positively with their adulation and overwhelmed him negatively by overcrowding him in his personal space (Remember that WOR had to hire a guard to keep them at bay).

The audience, for whom he was an important mentor, included his two children for whom he was an abominable parent.

Apparently, the pursuit of greater respect, renown, dough, and additional outlets for his art produced a broadening of his professional endeavors.

º

The extraordinary fields and activities in which he excelled, diminished in popularity:

º

Radio as a medium.

º

He was a modern jazz aficionado–

evidence of change:

“A few years ago I was deeply involved in jazz—and in fact in my private life I still am.  … I used to work in jazz a great deal.” He names many major performers he worked with and mentions the Loew’s Theater late-night concert featuring Billie Holiday. (November 23, 1971)

 He does not explain why his interest has diminished to just private–but not public manifestations; during this program of jazz-nostalgia he plays not just snippets but complete jazz recordings, naming the performers and commenting on the pieces, just like the knowledgeable disc jockey he used to be;

º

I, Libertine hoax mentality;

º

(Blame the  popularity of TV).

º

Culture-determined, diminished attention span of audience;

º

The varied skills he possessed to a high degree, failed to adequately replace, in other media,

his loss of  radio as  his prime medium.

º

Could/would he have continued to produce his unequaled radio art if increased money and desire for celebrity not been a factor?

º

That his frustration and anger at the world’s unfairness sometimes overwhelmed the better parts of his persona may well have been inevitable.

º

Larry Josephson: “I don’t think it’s possible to perform at the level that Shepherd did and have that kind of ego and drive–to be on the air five or six nights a week and yet be a sensitive, caring, loving human being. You have to get up and concentrate the energy–drive, whatever–to be a performer. It narrows your ability to give warmth and love to kids, women, and friends….I’m sure here and there there’s somebody in the world who was a very great creative artist and also a nice person, but I can’t think of anyone.”

º

We’re all born butterflies. Each one of us. With these beautiful, magnificent wings ready to fly in the sunshine. For those slow barrel rolls and loops. And slowly, oh, ever so slowly we burn those wings off–in flame And we wind up where we are now. Me sitting here. You sitting there….It’s a funny thing. We loose our wings in the sneakiest way possible, and it’s when we least expect it’s about to happen. (Jean Shepherd, November 25, 1958 [?])

I mean, anyone who looks at life with a cold unprejudiced, agate eye of truth must realize that life is basically in extremely bad taste. (Jean Shepherd, date unknown)

We ought to have  a Dream Collection Day….As a kind of public recanting, you see….Everybody would have to do it together–all together, we’ll clean out all these broken, old, sad, poor, wonderful, idiotic, debilitating, defeating dreams. (Jean Shepherd, November 22, 1959)

[Note above how early in his NY career he said these things.]

Shepherd from time to time commented on the discrepancy in life between what we assume is reality to be expected and the actualities of life. Therein lies much irony. Should examples of this be called “humor”? In a reference I recently encountered, a Lois Rubin has been quoted:  “The great American joke” is “the incongruity between promise and reality, things as they should be and as they are.”  I find this discrepancy as commented upon several times by Shep, but I’m not quite sure he was sufficiently aware that it also applied to him. And I’m not so sure he’d describe this as humor. He expected much more, and this is a good part of his tragedy.

Close friends of theirs say that in their final years (In Sanibel, Florida) Leigh drank and both of them lived like recluses. I don’t even like to think of them that way–a way in which they seemed to have given up. Laurie Squires: “After Leigh died, I called, and he sounded like a broken man….”

1997 Shep christmas

A Reality, 1997.

º

classic shep image

For Me, the Reality Always.

º

We are not the “vast hordes” he once described us as being, yet–yet still

Jim-Gene-Lou

–we three here represent part of the small horde

of Shep enthusiasts.

And Jean Shepherd still speaks to all of us:

Hear it? Listen, listen–you hear it? I’ve been trying to say it. What I have been trying to say all along. Yeah. There’s not much time left. But you’ve got to hear it. You’ve got to be able to hear it. I guess you can’t. I guess everybody hears what he is hearing. Nobody else can hear it. 

Did you hear that?

Oh yeah.

You know, it’s going to be summer soon.

Yes. Yes.*

–Jean Shepherd, 1960?

º    º   º   º   º

Obdurate Acts,

Extenuating Circumstances.

The End.

THE END–BUT WAIT! I RECENTLY ENCOUNTERED

WHAT WAS TO BE THE FINAL SUMMING UP

OF ONE OF MY “MISCELLANEOUS” SHEP BOOK MANUSCRIPTS.

OH YES, AND A RECENT BOOK

ABOUT A ROAD NOT TAKEN.

SO SEE THE NEXT POSTS–

A SUMMING UP OF ALL THESE LAST

TRAGEDY-LIKE COMMENTS.

See EYF! last page of text, p.439-440 for longer quote.

_________________________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (5)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

Cultivation and Leveling of

A Great, Communicating Art Form

And then the chick said, “Who listens to radio anymore?”

The guy says, “I sat there for a while and drank some of my wine, and my wine wasn’t piquant anymore.” (Jean Shepherd, April, 1960.)

.

Nobody worth his salt is listening to the radio at this hour of the night, I can tell you that. And I can tell you this–nobody worth his salt is doing radio at this hour of the night.” (Jean Shepherd, August 22, 1964)

radio listening

 Radio–when it was the major communicator

to the great American public.

By the late 1950s, the attention paid to radio by the public and the advertisers declined drastically with the onset of rock and roll and television. That Shepherd’s rise, with his genius for the medium, could not sustain itself through the historical happenstance of TV and rock, was a cultural phenomenon beyond his control. For him, a tragic cultural decline in the media he’d mastered.

It’s sad that a whole art form grew to fruition and suddenly disappeared It would be as if somebody had invented painting and great painters had flourished for–oh, maybe twenty years and then everybody forgot about painting because everyone discovered ceramics…–because radio can do things that television and the movies and the stage can never do. It plays with the imagination and the mind [in a way] that I think no other medium can ever approach. Some great actors rose to become really fine artists in the field of radio back in the 1930s and early 1940s. And the whole–the whole canvas is gone now. (Jean Shepherd, July 9, 1960)

From emceeing important jazz concerts, he enjoyed the lesser artistic thrills of live shows such as the Limelight broadcasts, with the attendant young accolades elbowing for his attention.

His style and content on the radio was to be as open and descriptive of his life and ideas as possible. To be a mentor toward the thousands of youngsters who followed his every word. His overwhelming secret need, it seems, was to keep his private person as safe and as unknown as possible. He kept parts of his private life secret even from his close friends. From anything he might ever have said in person or on the airwaves, one would not have known that, as an adult, he ever had a girlfriend, any wives at all, and any children such as Adrian and Randall Shepherd. He definitely had such girlfriends as “The Vampire Lady,” Lois Nettleton, and Leigh Brown, and four wives: Barbara Mattoon Shepherd, Joan Warner Shepherd, Lois Nettleton Shepherd, and Leigh Brown Shepherd.

505_Shep_Family_1953

Despite the many instances and circumstances in which he was an important mentor to thousands, through his personal weaknesses he could sometimes be dismissive and cruel, and, deny the parenthood he had to Adrian and Randall (It is possible that, with his consistent denial of parenthood, the opening part of his last will was just a sad, inexplicable error.):

Shep will0002

Jean Shepherd was an original–a creator. It’s been said that Shepherd, in his career, copied himself a lot. True, but, in his defense, he created a tremendous amount of original material–and, when he chose, it was his to copy. What is of special concern is the contrast between the burgeoning of the late 1950s and his leveling off from then on, and the great loss of momentum in his last decade.

Some prefer Shepherd’s more honed stories published in print. From the early 1960s, he published 23 of his kid and army stories in Playboy, but these were not original written stories, they were his edited and augmented  stories originally improvised on the radio. I prefer his tellings on the air, with all his spoken abilities such as tone, volume, pauses, sound effects, and the shorter, more focused, spoken words. I commented on a Customer Review on Amazon.com’s page regarding my transcripts of Shep’s Army, in which the Reviewer writes that the printed stories are less readable when you take the content from tape: “Yes, there is definitely a difference between my edited transcriptions of Shep’s radio stories, and his previously published stories. For one thing, readers should be aware that (in my understanding of the matter), all of Shep’s published stories come from his stories broadcast on his shows–but he not only edited them for print, he augmented them with a fair amount of written content–he added to what he improvised on the air. One might then discuss whether Shepherd was a better improvising radio storyteller, or a better augmenting-writer-for-print. I, for one, prefer his creative improvisations–for me, this is his claim to uniqueness and immortality.” (And, truth is, I prefer my transcripts that remain truer to the improvised radio tales than I like the Shep-augmented stories that were printed. Note that my complete transcripts are not of any of his previously printed stories, which are copyrighted.)

As for his many curmugeonly complaints displayed in so many of his later published comical articles, I for one don’t find many of them funny.

Indeed, the fine and highly regarded 1983 movie of his, A Christmas Story, is an amalgam of his previous stories. And a movie is a collaborative effort. Mainly: the script by him, Leigh, and director Bob Clark, yet, the movie indeed, with his narration, is a high point of his later years–every time I watch it I laugh and tremendously enjoy it.

Compare the high level, high-ranging activities of the late 1950s “burgeoning” seen in the chart below (click on each part to enlarge) with the self-copying and more minor work from the 1960s onward. [I created this chart in 2002–to help me better visualize the over-all sweep of Shep’s creative works while working on Excelsior, You Fathead!–and also for the pure pleasure of seeing it in this form.] Remember that the stories, seeming a great burst of creativity in the second and third sections, plus the three long-form TV dramas (all collaborative works) are based on the radio originals. For me, his great accomplishment in his later works is the two-part (1971 and 1985), uneven and incomplete television series (If only he could have created another 100 or 200 episodes!), Jean Shepherd’s America:

JS career chart 1JS career chart 2JS career chart 3JS career chart 5

 

Stay tuned for Part 6

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JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (4)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

Consolidation

classic shep image

Why and how he was switched from the more innovative overnights (at the NJ transmitter) to the in-studio, earlier-in-the-evening slot, is unknown. That he seemed to have retained the impetus of the overnights into Sunday evening, is a major victory. He seemed to have retained the slow and easy-going style of the overnights (I’m assuming this, as the following, much shorter broadcasts are of a different kind–still seemingly loose, and definitely improvised, but a bit less free-flowing.) That this schedule gave way to those earlier, 45-minute weekday segments, also represents a change that resulted in a different kind of show with its own very high-quality use of the radio medium.

My chart, shown in the previous post on the subject–as well as in a much earlier post–shows the difference in his career trajectory. Most noticeable in the programs themselves would seem to be the much larger percentage of school-age listeners and what I observe is the absence of contemporary jazz.

Many prefer his more refined and organized, 45-minute improvised radio to his long, Sunday evening, looser style. There is something easier to take, more conventional, more traditional as art and organization in his 45-minute style. He recreated himself, and that is a great accomplishment. The variety from night to night over about seventeen years is a marvel to behold. His commentaries, wit, philosophical bits and pieces, his cuckoo musical interludes with jews harp, nose flute, kazoo, and head-knocking, his stories that seem both improvised and sometimes, somehow well-formed, coming out just right at the end of the show. We revel in the variety, the unexpectedness, the mastery.

Comic strip artist Bill Griffith, in his “Zippy the Pinhead” tribute, expresses it well: HIS WIT WAS LIKE A LIFE RAFT TO ME. I CONFESS…I WAS A CULTIST…AND JEAN SHEPHERD WAS MY GURU. WHO KNOWS WHAT DEEP SUBCONSCIOUS EFFECT HIS LATE-NIGHT LOQUACIOUSNESS HAD ON ME…?

Zippy detail 20005

The large influx of high school and college listeners was a good thing as far as sponsorship was concerned, and Shepherd also enjoyed the adulation. But he did not so much like the intense crowding of his personhood that such cult-like celebrity brought.

As I’ve suggested before, I believe that, despite such masterpieces of his post-1960 WOR days as: Eulogy of JFK; Morse Code and Mark Twain; March on Washington, etc., Jean Shepherd’s creative heights leveled off at the very high standard he maintained for another decade-and-a-half.

 shep portrait

Stay tuned for Part 5 of

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (3)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

Burgeoning

“It was unique and it was profound and it was real genius!”

young shep

  1956-1960

The chart below should be seriously contemplated for comparison with Shepherd’s fine,

but less far-flung creative work, from 1960 onward.

                  great burgeoning 2great burgeoning 1

One might title this period

High On a Mountaintop.

Jean Shepherd’s first years in New York, starting with the beginning of

his “overnight” broadcasting,

were an assorted fervor of glorious activities.

Below are some major examples.

Far-flung extemporaneous monologs, “invectives”

Within New York City’s highest levels of artistic activity connected with The Voice, Greenwich Village, the avant garde, etc. Shepherd associated with such as: Amram, Silverstein, Feiffer, Antheil, Gardner, Mingus.

Look, Charlie theater piece 

Cassavetes and the promotion of Shadows

Village Voice and The Realist

I, Libertine and The America of George Ade

Promoter and participant in the forefront of modernist jazz

As Lois Nettleton put it, “He had headlines!”

Jean Shepherd must have felt himself to be an

innovative master of the highest

modern urban/urbane arts

–and rightly so.

The above list is extraordinary and unprecedented. A major problem is that we have as yet no available examples of his early 1956, overnight, four-and-a-half-hour shows to give us a reasonable idea of what they were like–we can only assume, for now, that they were probably similar to and even more loose than his subsequent four-hour Sunday night broadcasts. My impression is that he played some extended–if not complete–cuts of the major jazz masters of this period. (Talking from 1 AM to 5:30 five or six nights a week most probably was a bit different from Sundays only, 9 PM to 1 AM.)

I repeat here, from an earlier post: In an interview with Doug McIntyre, January 2000, (Just a few months after Shep’s death) Lois Nettleton commented that Jean’s improvisation on radio was a higher art than acting:

“…acting is not shallow, it is an art with depth and all of that,

but it seems almost–almost, less profound,

less important than what he was doing.

I mean I think what he was doing was so

it was unique and it was profound and it was real genius!”

Stay tuned for Part 4 of

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

________________________________________________________

JEAN SHEPHERD–Obdurate Acts, Extenuating Circumstances (2)

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

A Tragedy in Obdurate Acts

and Extenuating Circumstances

In childhood and youth, Jean Shepherd encountered some little realities (no desks in kindergarten, not getting his name right!–oh my!) He discovered the joy of words and art. In his time in college he had two major epiphanies–snails and cars can give one important life-lessons. Among his early adult experiences in the army, he said that his training in Camp Crowder (aka “Camp Swampy” as it’s named in Beetle Bailey) made him a man.camp crowder postcard


Tadpole Dreams and Aspirations

Soon after the war, he began his radio career in such lesser locations as stations in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. He referred to these early times as his tadpole days. He honed his skills by talking “too much.” With the early history of radio’s dominance across America and his skill with improvised words, he had dreams, he had aspirations.

kyw_shep1

To me it’s the most romantic of all the media. Fantastically romantic medium. I’ll tell you some night.

At night I’m working in a radio station, see. I’m doing all these things. I’m doing these things–and slowly, by tiny, tiny inchings, my fame grew. I’m doing the English cut-ins  on a Lithuanian man-on-the-street broadcast. After that I was given my own program. A program that was heard every morning at 5:30 AM. A program of Elmer Rhode Heever hymns–recorded–in which I did the commercials in between.  I was beginning to inch my way up and up and up. Inch by inch. Moment by moment it looked like any day now–the next assignment I was Cousin Jean on a hillbilly teenage program when I had to talk like this [Imitates accent.] I was beginning to really feel it. I mean, you know, I was “tearing a side.”

I was just beginning to see that there was a world out there. I mean that there was something beyond Western Avenue, I was beginning to understand that–that out past Howard Street there was something. And it was beginning to erode me. This city [New York] is the worst seducer in the world. It erodes. It cuts and digs and grinds….Well, I got this special delivery letter. It said, “Dear Mr. Shepherd, I own a string of radio stations in Alaska. We would like you to come up and run our Juneau radio station. We will provide you with a cabin.” A cabin! 

And every one of these guys who were doing things like the Elmer Rhode Heeber Gospel Hour, and guys who were doing the English cut-ins on The Croatian Hour. All of them looked at me. “What are you doing this ridiculous thing for?”

“Well, look at this–Alaska! Alaska!”

“Are you out of your mind?”

I said, “No, look around. Listen. Here we’re in this little dark radio station with the liana vines growing up the side, and the old Wayne King records that we play over and over and over again.”

Three of them looked at me with one eye, and all three of them said, “If you go anywhere, man, the only place to go–New York!–I mean, the Big Apple–that’s the big time! You can stand right next to Andre Baruch, right up there with Frank Gallup, with Kenny Delmar!”

And all the while the Bing Crosby record was going, “You and me, and blue Hawaii, da de a do do do do.”

I looked at the three guys and I said, “You’re right!”

Yes, Jean Shepherd knew that they were right. Beyond his tadpole experience in his early radio days, with what sources of nourishment and knowledge was Shepherd equipped to create a name–and a persona–for himself in New York? The Midwest storytelling tradition and style. Extended stories that create a narrative environment for insights he wanted to convey to amuse and instruct through context and humor. Mark Twain, George Ade, W. C. Fields, Jack Benny, Paul Rhymer’s Vic and Sade. No more “You and me, and blue Hawaii, da de a do do do do.” He was on the cusp of burgeoning. Evidence refutes the story that he would go to the Big Apple to take over as host of the Tonight Show. He would go to New York to be on the radio. He would burgeon.

new-york-city-night-shawn-everhart

Portent: That  Andre Baruch, Frank Gallup, and Kenny Delmar are not currently names widely celebrated, or even widely known, does not tend to bode well for radio-based aspirations.

I believe that Shep’s faults and failure (despite his genius) to achieve universal renown to the height he believed to be his due, rise to the general classic level of tragedy. Read my first post on the subject and my upcoming posts (every other post on a subject, as is my custom) and give me some feedback, please, especially as I proceed with later posts in this series.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of

THE SHEPHERD’S LIFE

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