Home » Travel
Category Archives: Travel
PERU TRIP A LA LUDEN’S
After the following dramatic, and even soul-searching trip to the Amazon, Shepherd explained to his radio listeners what he was about to convey to them in a series of broadcasts:
“I was there. I am a trained reporter.
“I’m not going to appear, incidentally, as an anthropologist
on any of these shows—an expert.
I’m appearing as an artist who has seen something
and would like to transmit his impressions to you.”
Jean Shepherd’s friend and fellow-broadcaster at WOR Radio, Barry Farber, won a prize at a Luden’s Cough Drop Company promotional event. Farber told them where he wanted the donated prize delivered, but didn’t want to deliver it himself, though he figured that his friend Jean, who loved to travel, would want to go. Jean, not realizing where he’d go and what he was getting into, said he’d do it.
Then Shepherd found out where he was going—with a Luden’s representative and a photographer, and there would be a translator. He was going to Amazonian headhunter country to deliver to the recently converted and now former headhunters, 500 pounds of Luden’s candy and cough drops. In little boxes. Free. To headhunters.
As for headhunters, New York’s American Museum of Natural History has a couple of shrunken heads on exhibit along with a detailed text describing how to shrink a head. See small foreground case here. It’s part of the large, permanent Hall of South American Peoples that I designed over a period of years in the 1980s. This exhibit is in the Amazon half of the hall, which was curated by Dr. Robert Carneiro, a Jean Shepherd listener back in the 1960s.
By the way, speaking of myths, I received a letter from one of the museums locally and the writer happens to be an expert on South American matters, both flora and fauna, and he sent me a long note telling me about various myths. He says, you know, one of the best things he ever found in the jungle was to walk around in street shoes. He says street shoes in the jungle, and he says when he was walking across streams he wore tennis shoes.
He said, don’t worry, Shepherd, about the electric eels and the piranhas. He says, don’t worry about the crocodiles. They’ve got them down there, but don’t worry about them….
[Regarding the letter which Shepherd received from the expert at “one of the museums locally,” the present author worked with that expert for years designing and overseeing the Hall of South American Peoples, the far half of which is about peoples of the Amazonian jungle. Years before I designed that hall, in a small, temporary exhibit based on one of Dr. Carneiro’s research trips to the Amazon, he and I installed the hammock he had used there, still stained with his own dried blood, extracted by vampire bats while he slept.]
Dr. Robert Carneiro.
A Jean Shepherd listener and an ethnologist of Amazonian cultures,
he sent me a copy of the letter he wrote to Shepherd fifty years before.
With his permission I reproduce part of it here:
Before you buy your ticket for the Peruvian Jungle, I suggest you forget all about boa constrictors, piranhas, and electric eels. If I were you, I’d start worrying about the amoebae you’ll meet in your palm hearts salad at the Gran Hotel Mercedes in Pucallpa. The world’s record for bowel movements in one day is 28, and you’ll get your chance to break it….
You can leave your heavy leather boots home, too. In the jungle I found street shoes most convenient except when I had to wade across streams. Then I switched to tennis shoes.
If you don’t chicken out, and prefer not to carry a headful of myths with you into the jungle, come on up one of these days.
An old friend of mine who does travel pieces for Playboy—Shel Silverstein—really travels around—and I mean there’s a difference between traveling and tourist things. Usually a traveler is a lonesome, solitary figure….
A lonesome, solitary figure.
(Self portrait of Shep’s best friend, Shel.)
Whereas the tourist remains part of the thing that he was that he’d left at home. He really remains a Texan or a guy from White Plains. Because he usually travels with a lot of other guys from White Plains and Texas. They travel like a little knot of migratory birds moving across the landscape.
Jean Shepherd, after his Peru experience, may never before have been in such an extraordinarily excited state on the air. Giving listeners his authentic Peru tales within a mere few hours after his return, he is in a heated rush. Wordsworth described poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” Shepherd’s overflow in extemporaneous prose does not here have the necessary time for recollection in tranquility. Listeners and readers are caught up in the unstoppable flow of spoken words as he describes this unique adventure for us and we exult with him.
• • • • • • • • • • • •
Back from the Amazon:
“I guess I came back changed.”
Indicative of the profound experience Jean Shepherd has had in the Amazon, his preconceptions and change of mind—and admitting to them on the air—are nearly unprecedented. His ways of thinking: about the delights and dangers of the Amazon; the particular nature of primitive peoples and how they live; and even the work and nature of at least some missionaries, will never be the same.
“One of the Truly Great Experiences of My Life”
Wow, I’m back! This is Jean Shepherd, and I can say it will take me at least a week and a half or maybe even a month to begin to sort out all the strange, exhilarating, exciting—perhaps in some cases frightening— impressions that I’ve had. I’m going to tell you this as a man who has been in several places in the world and who has involved himself in several things. Adventure is always something that can’t truly be described. I’m talking about genuine adventures, not necessarily to go on a safari in Africa that is organized by a safari company. Or even the Hemingway kind of organized adventure.
This sort of adventure that I’ve just come through is a total adventure in the sense that you’re not going to kill an animal, you’re not going to a place where other people have gone to do a thing that other people do. This is something else again, and it’s almost impossible to tell you or describe to anyone else just what it was like.
Peru as a country is one of the most exciting, unusual, eerie, spooky, beautiful countries in the world. After trips, I constantly get heckled by people who say, “You go there and you come back an expert.” I’m not trying to say that at all. I’m not going to be an expert. I went to the headwaters of the Amazon. I was there. I am a trained reporter. My life has been devoted to absorbing sights and sounds and listening.
And I am going to try to give you my impressions
of what I consider probably the high point of my life
as far as adventures and experience is concerned.
I had no idea it would be like this when I left and I might point out that it was not a lark. It started out a little bit that way, but by the time we arrived in Lima and had begun to go over the Andes, we realized this was a very serious thing and not only was it serious, there were certain elements of danger in it and I don’t wish to even dwell on that. It had nothing to do with the headhunters by the way—the people we visited are ex-headhunters.
This has been a great experience for me and again I would like to thank all the people who made it possible. The Luden’s Company. They sent us there—to give five-hundred pounds of candy to the natives, who went out of their skull—you should have seen them. There were guys running around throwing “5th Avenue” candy bars in the air yelling and hollering….It was not done as a promotion or gimmick for Luden’s. It really wasn’t. It was one of those strange, believe-it-or-not stories. Luden’s had no idea there were even such people called the Shapras, so they weren’t down there promoting Luden’s Cough Drops with the headhunters—who don’t have much need.
When I left to go visit these people, I had the usual hip, urban attitude towards the “native,” and particularly what we call the “unspoiled” savage. That anyone who went and tried to bring any kind of help to them was, quote, destroying them. You know the feeling. And I’d like to say that, after having been out there and having been around these natives and listened to them talk and watch what was happening, and heard things about the other tribes in the area, I came away with a totally different concept.
Primarily because it is an inevitable problem that civilization will creep in and is creeping in on these Indians because there are great oil deposits in the jungle. Great mineral deposits—gold is found there and there is gold mined and gold is panned in the rivers. Prospectors are there and if these people have no language, have no written way to understand the complexities of the world that’s coming in on them—know how to read and write—they will be totally destroyed, just like we destroyed many, many tribes as we moved West.
And these missionaries are trying to prevent that by giving them a language that can be preserved, so that a thousand years from now somebody will be writing in Shapra, and their literature can be preserved and they will have a way of dealing with civilization when it comes in on them. Of course, not only that, they take to the Indians something which is of inestimable value and that’s medical aid.
I guess I came back changed, no question about it. We walk around town, we walk around our world, and it’s unbelievable how much we take for total granted. One thing I learned out of this experience—which was a tremendously moving one to me—was how resilient and how tough and how un-killable, in a genuine sense, mankind is, and even you and I. I wasn’t in this camp twenty-four hours and found myself drinking the river water without question about it, eating the roots and the vines and one thing and another they dug up and gave us for food, and I realized very quickly that if need be, we can survive. We really can. And not only that, it’s a pleasant survival. It’s hard but it can be done and it is done.
You eat their food—if you don’t eat their food, it’s not really an insult, it’s a slight. Can you imagine somebody arriving at your house and they bring their own lunch? And they say, “You know, we don’t trust your food, so we’re bringing a lunch.” So we ate their food. They have a kind of yam they boil that tastes very much like roasted chestnuts. They also have a kind of banana that’s not quite like ours. They throw them in the fire to roast. You split the skin after it’s been burning and it’s fantastically hot and succulent and absolutely delicious.
So we had eaten and they were burning a monkey for us. Here’s the recipe for cooking monkey. You get a spider monkey or a rough monkey or a howler. You just throw the monkey, fur, insides and all, onto the fire. That’s the recipe. An hour later you drag it out and call the gang.
• • • • • • •
[Tariri is the native chief, Dori is the missionary/translator.]
I want to tell you this little story. This is one of the truly great experiences of my life and I want you to accept it as that. I’m just telling you what happened. After supper I went over to my bag and I took out my jews harp, and they were all looking, smiling. And two little girls about two or three years old had attached themselves to me and they were holding my arm and sort of petting it. Just beautiful. I’d look at them and they’d giggle, and they loved my beard—they’d reach up and pull it. They loved to feel it, and they were laughing about it. It turned out that the reason that they loved me was that Indians are beardless—no beards at all but their ancestor had beards. Tariri said that the children laughed whenever I said anything because they said that “He is the first big monkey who talks.” I was like a big monkey to them.
I said, “Dori, call them all around,” and they stood there. They didn’t know what was going to happen. I said, “Tell them I will play for them. This is an American folk instrument. This is what the natives of America play. I’m a native of America. I’m not going to play a violin or an organ or sing a hymn, I’m going to play what the natives just like you play. I’m also a native.”
I took the jews harp and I sat up on the table and I began to perform. And there was a moment—the kids giggled and Tariri looked, and Arushpa looked. I played You Are My Sunshine, and I finished it and they were astounded! And I said, “Now I will sing the song for you.” They were so enraptured by that, their eyes were shining. And then I took my kazoo. I said, “Now I will play another native American instrument.” You couldn’t believe it, they loved it so! And then I took out my nose flute and that threw them, because they play flutes. The kids died—they were rolling on the floor and Tariri was yelling. I played You Are My Sunshine, and Red River Valley.
Shepherd holding jews harp, tape player in front.
Luden’s Lee Chamberlain holding microphone,
Sol Potempkin must have taken the photo.
I played about five songs and then Tariri says, “We want to sing,” and they all sang for me. Arushpa came creeping out with his long bamboo flute and he played the very intricate music they play, and the other boy brought his out and they both played. And I said, “Now I will play with you. Let’s all sit in together on a session.” Probably for the first time in the history of music there was a headhunter/Madison Avenue, flute-and-jews harp duet and we really swung. I caught the beat of what he was doing—their music is pentatonic—a five-note scale, a very minor-sounding scale. Well, they led and I followed with my jews harp and my nose flute and the three of us played and the crowd went out of its mind!
We stayed till three and four o’clock in the morning playing and singing and the translator had faded off into the darkness. They’d never had anything like this in their lives before.
Many white men come to them and give them medicine, white men come and preach to them, white men come and study them. But no white men ever came to entertain them. And be part of them.
When I left, Tariri said,
“We have never seen this kind of white man.”
He said he loved it. He said–to use his exact phrase, he said,
“This is the first white man
who has ever come to them
who has participated with them.
Who has done things with them.”
JOHN, PAUL, GEORGE, RINGO, SHEP
—THE BEATLES TRIP
The Beatles had been an enormous phenomenon in Great Britain since 1963, traveling mostly on one-night stands and selling records. They were already selling well in the United States and were the nation’s number-one group by the time they first arrived at New York City’s Kennedy Airport on February, 1964. The airport, the Plaza Hotel where they stay, and nearby streets, were mob scenes with hysterical fans. Sunday they performed on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time live in the United States, with an estimated television audience of seventy-three million.
In July their film, A Hard Day’s Night opened in Great Britain,
and in August in New York City. They had arrived, and they are not going away.
Jean Shepherd, a long-time enthusiast of classical music and opera, does not like contemporary folk-singing, and has a particular aversion to rock and roll, sometimes making disparaging remarks regarding the motivations of such luminaries as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. And also, regarding the music, Shepherd directs negative comments toward The Beatles because they are such a spectacularly unavoidable target.
Playboy offers Shepherd the opportunity to go to the British Isles for two weeks and travel with them, in order to do the Playboy Interview. I asked Hugh Hefner why Playboy would choose a rock-and-roll-hater such as Jean Shepherd, and he replied that sometimes the magazine would send what seemed to be an antipathetic person on assignment because the editors felt it would produce an “interesting” result. Hefner said, “Using a very American guy like Jean, with his sensibilities” to interview The Beatles, is just such an inspired decision.
And why does Jean agree to go? As an intrepid traveler, he probably can’t pass up a free trip to observe the primitive natives—aka, the British— with their attitudes and pop-fashions, their strange, trendy, tribal customs now enveloping his own world back home. Especially on an excursion in which he will have the opportunity to trash the already mythic heroes of what he calls “pop music.”
On a postcard to his then-wife, actress Lois Nettleton, sent at the beginning of his Beatles adventure, he writes from Edinburgh, “The Beatles are a first class pain in the ass! I’m really sorry I have to do a story on them. They are the epitome of aggressive cocky slobs who lead other slobs— Love! J.”
While in Edinburgh, Shepherd takes advantage of free time to record some comments about his experience, which he tapes in a series of programs to be used in syndication rather than for his regular broadcasts. Only about forty years later are these recovered, and then released little-by-little in boxed CD sets. The present author, based on his program guides for the series, appropriates some of those comments here.
Disparaging The Beatles whenever he has the chance, he sees them as a prime example of Britain’s degeneration of taste, also exemplified by the then-popular English fashions and art. Yet, he will come to like the four mop-topped Liverpudlians as rough-and-ready fellows. Rubbing shoulders with them in smoke-filled hotel rooms and bumpy car rides through the night, escaping wide-eyed fanatics down fire escapes and dark alleys as though he were a fifth Beatle in their A Hard Day’s Night, brings him to a modified view of them as fellow human beings. As he says, “I wasn’t really traveling as an observer—they began to accept me as part of the gang.”
On his radio shows when he returns to the States, he reports on the outlandish activities he’s observed and participated in. We get an inside look at daily life on the road of four guys who have become celebrities beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. And we see how a world traveler, used to encountering unexpected experiences and different types of people, comes to accept these cocky, witty guys as companions. In an extraordinary admission he can hardly believe himself, he says, “I found myself becoming not only a Beatle fan but a Beatle!”
For the past two weeks I have been living with The Beatles. I have been in Dundee, Scotland, I’ve been in Edinburgh, I’ve been in London where they worked, Leeds, Liverpool, I’ve been in all these various cities on a whole series of one-night stands with The Beatles. Living with them, living in their room with them, in their dressing room, riding in the dark countryside trying to escape the fanatics, and observing England from the other side of the glass.
Because, you know, I, being a good American, have been completely awash in Britain ever since I was a kid. We take English literature in school, we study English poets, English history. In fact, most of us know more about English history than we do American history. So now I find myself in England in the real thing. Sitting in a tiny, super-heated, stinking, smelling, dressing room knee-deep in fish and chips and beer with the Beatles. England’s final answer to Richard the Lionhearted.
It’s a weird thing. Out in the darkness I can hear the sound of millions of girls screaming. It’s a children-girl thing in England. It sounds like a thousand sirens going off in the distance. It’s just a high-pitched wail—WEEEEEEE! Goes in waves—WEEEEEEE! And then one of the Beatles says to another Beatle—I think it was George saying to Paul, “Paul, you’re a Beatle!”
And Paul says, “Aye.”
George says, “Paul, you’re a Beatle. Pass a miracle—walk on water. Walk on water!”
Paul says, “Okay,” and he goes to the window, sticks his head out and—WAAAAAAA! the whole world explodes. He turns back to me and he says, “Are you Beatle-people?”
I say, “No.”
He says, “Well, sit down and have a beer.”
I’ll tell you, the sense of unreality I think that these four people feel—nothing is real out there anymore. They have to drive at three o’clock in the morning through secret roads that are guarded by police so people will not attack out of the bushes. You’re seated in the back seat of the car and the Beatles are hiding down on the floor at three o’clock in the morning going god-knows-where, being protected from god-knows what! You begin to have a slight realization of what mankind is about. And you don’t really quite like it. And at the same time you can’t help it because you’re part of it.
Today the world is like Mars to the Beatles. They’re the only real thing. Just four of them sitting there, eating a steak, drinking a beer—and it’s all brought to them. They’re never allowed to walk on the street—like normal people. They’re never allowed to even look out of the window—it’ll cause riots. How would you like that fantastic sense of power that all you had to do is go to the window and say “Kill each other,” and the knives would come out! That’s exactly what they do, and they do it often.
Once in a while, sitting around there in their T-shirts, they will get a little bored, and outside you hear the rock and roll roaring around, and suddenly Lennon, or maybe Paul, will get up: “Ya like a li’l excitement?”
And Ringo says, “Uh!” That’s Ringo’s total vocabulary. Not one of the brighter people. But he’s sweet, girls. I wish I could tell you the real story of the Beatles. Ringo goes “Uh!”
And just five minutes before—you have any idea the kind of madness this thing is? Because we’re sitting in this tiny little dressing room, sweaty, hot, show-biz, these are rock and roll performers you know, and they’re very simple, very earthy, basic people, just like show-biz people everywhere. They don’t read, they just sit there and there’s a little knock on the door. And one of them looks up and says, “’o’s there?”
The door opens just a crack and it’s one of their managers. He says, “Excuse me, Paul. The Lord Mayor of Glasgow is here. The Lord Mayor.”
Ringo turns to Paul.
Then somebody says, “Let ‘im in!”
The little Lord Mayor comes in. Remember, this is the Lord Mayor of the city of Glasgow. He comes in with his hat in his hand. “Are you the Beatles?”
And they say, “Ay, we’re the Beatles. Who are you?”
In a whisper, in a trembling voice, he says, “I’m the Lord Mayor of Glasgow.”
“Ah, politician, ay?”
“We’ve got to get back to work.”
He says, “Thank you for letting me in.” And the door closes.
What kind of madness is this!
Now get this scene. This is the Beatles in Dundee, Scotland. This is an ancient part of the British Empire. There’s a knock at the door and one of the Beatles says, “’o’s there?”
And I hear another little knock, and it’s the secret knock, which says it’s okay, open up.
Lennon goes over and he takes the door and he just sort of peaks out and there is one of their managers, who says, “A countess is here.”
And Lennon turns to the other Beatles and he says, “A countess.”
And Ringo says, “Let ‘er in. Let’s take a look at her.”
I’m thinking, “A countess is coming to see this!“ And sure enough, the door opens and in comes this magnificent woman—she really looks exactly the way you think a regal countess should look. She’s dressed in furs, she’s tall, thin, she has a peculiar kind of ring on. And she walks in, and behind her are two ladies-in-waiting and a tiny chauffer wearing a little black hat and black puttees.
I’m standing there watching this. My god! I had the terrible feeling of being an eavesdropper on something I shouldn’t have seen.
The countess comes in—and here are the Beatles all with their shirts off. One is sitting there with his shoes off, picking his toes. I’m telling you the truth. I’m not inventing it.
They’re all sitting and not one of them gets up as the countess comes in with her furs trailing behind her, and you could just hear the sound of the medieval trumpets rising—it was the British Empire! She stands in the middle of the room.
Nobody says a word until finally, Paul says, “I ‘ear you’re a countess.”
She says, “Yes, I am a countess, yes, yes. Are you the Beatles?”
Ringo belts John in the short ribs, “Get this—are we the Beatles? Is she putting ya on?” With their hair all Beatle-style, like asking Santa if he’s Santa Claus.
I wonder, “When are they going to ask her to sit down or something?” Here they are, they’re shoving potato chips in their mouths, one guy’s got a piece of fish hanging out, they’re belting down the Scotch, and she finally says, “We have driven all the way over from the castle to see you, and I’m so delighted that you’ve allowed us to come by today. I love your work.”
Ringo says, “Uh?”
She says, “Yes, we play your records at the castle all the time.” And I could hear it—rock and roll booming out through the castle! You just don’t want to think these things.
There’s a long, pregnant pause and Lennon, who is the most civilized of the Beatles, suddenly comes to and says, “Sit down, sit down, countess, sit down.”
And she sits down. You ever see a countess sit? All the Beatles are watching her sit down, and her furs go down and they see her special ring displayed.
She says, “Which Beatle are you?”
The Beatle in question says, “George, like in King….”
She laughs. She says, “Yes, how funny!”
Then Lennon says to her, “Are you a real countess?”
She says, “Yes, I am.”
Paul says, “Where’s the count?”
“Well, he didn’t come tonight.”
We wait for a moment. It is one of those great moments of classical human behavior. It sort of hangs there for a second. Then Lennon says to her, “What kind of castle do ya live in?”
“Well, it’s a very big one. It’s called Glamis Castle.”
Glamis Castle is the oldest of all the great castles in the British Isles—and she’s talking to four Englishmen, remember that.
One of them says, “Glamis? Where’s that?”
She says, “Well, you turn left at the road out here and turn at Route 7 and you continue—you can’t miss it, you know. It’s a big castle.”
McCartney says, “How many rooms does it have?”
She turns to her lady-in-waiting and says, “Lady Barbara, that would be in your department. How many rooms do we have?”
Lady Barbara thinks for a second and she says, “I believe, two-hundred thirty-eight.”
Paul says, “You got plenty of room for your relatives, haven’t ya?”
She says, “Yes, we have lots of rooms.”
Lennon then comes back with a question that is a pure American question. “When was it built? How old is it?”
She says, “I believe it was started in ten-sixty-seven.” Ten-sixty-seven! And I’m listening to this fantastic story of the British Empire unfolding, right out here before me.
The countess finally speaks. You can see she is the master of all difficult situations. This is the thing that sets the aristocracy apart and above us. She doesn’t know how to end the conversation, but she finally says, “You’ll have to come and visit me. Why don’t all of you come to the castle?”
Paul said, “That ain’t a bad idea! We’re staying in a motel tonight.”
Immediately the poor countess can see four drunken Beatles arriving at four in the morning with eight million fans in Glamis Castle. She says, “That would be lovely. May I have your autographs?”
And one after another they sign their names. That’s the end of it. She walks to the door and the Beatles, not once getting up with their fish and chips, their gin going, slugging away their Scotch, as she gets to the door, one of them says, “Countess, have you eaten? Would you like something to eat?”
She says, “It looks very good.” And out she goes to the sound of more trumpets.
I sit there and I’m an American and I shouldn’t have seen this. Somehow it doesn’t seem right that I should see a thing like this.
Was she slumming—or were the Beatles slumming? It is very hard to tell. She went out and walked down the hallway. And Paul said to John, “You know, you guys, that was a real countess!” And John said, “Yes, I’ve seen countesses before. They always wear coats like that.” And Ringo went “Uh!” And that was the total discussion of the countess and her life.
So the big concert went on and the people screamed and yelled. It was almost like a fever in the air. It was like the bubonic plague. As if the entire country has decided it’s going out of its skull. And they have appointed the Beatles to be the reason. And the Beatles don’t even sing anymore, they just go out on the stage WHOOOOOOO! it starts, they wave a little and they leave the stage. And the roaring continues for hours.
About two hours later I’m in the back seat of the Beatles’ car and we’re heading for the Scottish Highlands. A very interesting experience. These hills climb all the way to the sky. The country is probably the most beautiful in the world, next to Switzerland, and possible even Switzerland included. You can’t believe it. It’s two or three o’clock in the morning and we are screaming down a highway at ninety-five miles an hour in a gigantic Austin Princess, which is about the size of a supper-deluxe Rolls. They’ve got it floored, screaming through this little country road, taking corners on one wheel WHOOOOO! in the back with the Beatles.
I say, “What’s the matter, what are you doing?!” They’re all sitting back there changing clothes. Their clothes zip-on. You can’t put on those little skinny suits they wear. Their pants zip all the way up the back. They have a guy who zips them and they walk out on stage. Have you noticed the Beatles don’t move much when they’re on stage? No Elvis-movements. They just sort of stand there. The curtain goes down, it’s wild, they all turn to the right and a guy rushes out and unzips them and then they walk.
We went deeper and deeper into the countryside until we finally arrived at the loch where we were staying. The Beatles have more security regulations governing where they stay than that which governs the President. People are sworn to secrecy all over the countryside, and they always stay outside of town in the most likely place. The most likely place for anything but Beatles. They’ll stay in a little place that’s marked “Diner.” Just staying there overnight. Or they’ll be in a little place marked “Motel” and they’ll stay there.
We were staying in a tiny inn next to an ancient Scottish loch, which is one of the most ancient and most revered. In fact, Bonnie Prince Charlie had fought a battle twenty feet away from where I was staying. They had a little plaque out there. Rob Roy had robbed somebody twenty feet outside the other way.
Each one of us is poured a little drink. We start to sip the drink when, without warning there’s a sound outside in the darkness. A hum, like the hum of angry bees—at three o’clock in the morning. And it’s getting closer and closer. It is coming like a big storm. And the Beatles are doing nothing, they’re just sort of standing. And I say to the man behind the bar, “What is this, a storm?”
“I don’t know what that sound is. Must be something on the road.”
Just when he gets this out of his mouth, the door slams open and there stands a Scottish constable, who says, “Are the Beatles staying here?”
The man behind the bar says, “Yes, sir, yes, sir.”
The constable says, “I have just called out all available men. There are twenty-thousand people coming this way. What are you going to do about it? What have you done to us?” The Beatles, calm, are just drinking their Scotch.
That night we spend in total darkness, in the hills, with a ring of policemen. Five hundred policemen keeping the entire British Isles away. You can hear the hum of them out there. You can hear them in the trees. You can hear them in the hills. Once in a while you can hear a little wail and it would trail off.
Jean Shepherd’s reporting about his extraordinary experience of being with the Beatles concludes with his description of a riot on stage and his own comments on what it was like to be a part of the Beatles’ world and to be surrounded by a mayhem of pre-pubescent girls gone amuck.
The Beatles sat in total control of their world. They would either give people an audience or they would deny them. And believe it or not, it got to the point where I began to feel special myself because they talked to me! Yes! This is the kind of nuttiness that must have created a Hitler. Must have felt good to a guy to walk in and have Mr. Hitler say, “Oh, hello, hi, Hans!” We all have a secret desire to somehow be greeted on a first-name basis by somebody who is a real myth and a legend. And up to that point, I’d been a non-believer. And I saw this happening.
So it got to that point where I would come into their room and John would look up and say, “How ya doin’, Jean?” I would glow! The Beatles recognized me! When one of them would say to me, “How’d ya like a drink, heh? Here, have a drink,” and he’d hand me a drink, and that great warmth would come out again, and I realized that I had been admitted to Olympus! I was allowed to be on the same plain with a world phenomenon. Fascinating!
And when I got out into the privacy of a hotel hallway, all of a sudden I’d say to myself, “What are you doing? This is a rock and roll group—these are the Beatles. For god’s sake, Shepherd, get a grip on yourself!”
And then the door would open down there and McCartney would stick his head out and say, “Hey, Jean, when you come back, knock twice, we’ll let ya in.”
He’d slam the door and I’d say, “God recognizes me!”
Well, let me tell you, the wildest scene of all is not to watch the Beatles—I stood on the stage apron just back of the curtain where you could see out and they couldn’t see you, and I watched the audience. Whoever was staging this did a fantastic job. They had red lights playing over the audience—just back and forth, red and green spotlights up into the balcony and over into the lodges and into the theater pit.
And this entire mass of screaming, waving, insane, wild human beings you couldn’t even relate to as human beings. It was like looking at some kind of swarm of beetles or gnats, some kind of insane wasp nest that had been stirred up.
Shepherd has been in the underbelly of Western decadence, 1960s- style in the British Isles, and he has come home to tell us and Playboy readers all about it. His interview of them took place in the town of Torquay on the English Channel, the south-western coast of England, following the Beatles performances in Exeter, on October 28, 1964, about ten days after he’d met them. In Playboy, Shepherd describes the hotel setting as consisting of a padlocked suite with a “goodly supply of Coke, tea and booze.”
PLAYBOY asked if they were primarily entertainers or musicians
JOHN said they were money-makers first, then entertainers.
RINGO said they were entertainers first because they were entertainers before they made money.
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Shep traded questions and remarks for about six pages in the February, 1965 issue of Playboy. The published interview is not at all as exciting as Jean Shepherd’s spoken descriptions of his experiences in the land of Richard the Lionhearted—his hard days’ nights’ adventures with four regular fellows who had only recently been inexplicably, miraculously, transformed into a performing entity known forevermore as The Beatles.
* * * * * * * *
ASSASSINATION OF JOHN F. KENNEDY
In my memory, Shepherd never made a political comment in his decades on the air, although some of whom I interviewed for Excelsior, You Fathead! said that, privately, he often spoke vociferously about political and social matters. A few months after the March on Washington, President Kennedy was killed in Dallas. Shepherd’s wife at the time, actress Lois Nettleton, said in a recorded interview that she, her mother, and Shepherd, were intensely disturbed by the news, watching on TV, “We even went down, walked around, went over to St. Patrick’s and saw all the people sitting on the steps and everything. And he was—he had a very emotional side—very strong feelings, but I think you have to know that if you know his work.” Nettleton commented that she and Jean had been strongly pro-Kennedy.
In regard to the assassination, Shepherd did not travel to another geographical location as he did in the other experiences gathered here, but he used the occasion not only to express his strong feelings about Kennedy, but his strong feelings about the state of the American psyche in those early days of the 1960s. He took a heart-felt journey–a 45-minute odyssey–into the psychic innards of the deep mental and emotional problems he saw in the American culture of that time.
The power of his words about the president and about the feelings he had might be compared to Walt Whitman’s elegy upon the assassination of Lincoln in 1865: Whitman’s ruminations on death, and his homage to the president he loved, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed.”
Shepherd’s style the week after the assassination was not typical in that, instead of his usually engaging in an apparent, informal dialog with listeners, he spoke as though delivering heartfelt lectures regarding Kennedy and American culture and personal psychology. He suggested that the recent ferment of student unrest, the civil disobedience, demonstrations and riots in the streets, with the America-bashing of those days, probably contributed to the atmosphere that led to Kennedy’s killing. He commented that there was a trend of righteousness in the country, “a super, hyper-thyroid Holden Caulfield.” Shepherd admitted that America had problems, but said that other countries had more problems. He recognized that America was not living up to its ideals. His somber tone that week was underscored by his comment that he was not playing his usual, ironic, pompous, musical theme music at the programs’ beginnings and endings. Shepherd talked about Kennedy’s intelligence, humor, zest–all of which make people nervous. He talked about the problems of being a president in a democratic system.
I remember the first time I heard about Kennedy, and I suppose many of you remember… I’ve always been a Kennedy man. And–for probably different reasons than you can always state–how you like a certain person–very hard to know all the personal things that make you lean towards a man–make you believe in a man, and so on. The one thing that I have always noticed about Kennedy, that appealed to me specifically, was that Kennedy was a realist. And being a realist in today’s world is very dangerous. Because realism is not a thing that is easily accepted by Americans in the 1960s. And I always felt sorry for Kennedy because I recognized the fact that Kennedy did not give people a soft pap that most of them somehow wanted–on both sides of the political fence….
Noted by Shepherd–and probably by no others–at the end of the
Arlington Cemetery’s TV coverage:
Here was just this little, simple grave–and–it was just a hole in the ground–there was this little, simple bronze coffin. And there was a quick shot, which they cut away from, I don’t know whether you saw this or not–but it was one of the most poignant shots of all. It was a little moment after the funeral party had left Arlington and–the cars were winding back up the drive over the bridge, back over the river to Washington. And the four soldiers were still standing guard over the grave. You saw coming down from the lower left hand corner, two workmen. Did you see them? Dressed in overalls? Just two workmen with baseball caps, and they were coming to do the inevitable.
And I have a–tonight I have a feeling inside of me–there is a great sense of–apprehension–I suppose you might say–a kind of feeling of–I hate to say fear, because it’s not that clearly defined. It’s a kind of free-floating thing–a strange unreasonableness–a fanaticism that brought about this unbelievable weekend–is not only still around but is slowly beginning to grow in this land.
For the days right after the assassination, regular broadcasting on Shepherd’s station and most others was suspended for coverage of the event. Shepherd was quoted as saying, “For crying out loud, finally have something to talk about–they took us off the air!“ But it gave Shepherd some time to think carefully, not be forced to immediately improvise as he usually did on his broadcasts. It gave him time to compose his elegantly crafted eulogy for his first night back on the air, in which he suggested how the mood of the country had been changing to an unsettling dissatisfaction with the world, and that this mood-change probably contributed to the tragic events. He ended by saying, “It was a terrible weekend. And I’m not so sure that we’re not in for a few more in the next hundred years.” He concluded the broadcast in a way very unusual for him, that suggested to me that he knew he had expressed something very special in this night’s program–he did the equivalent of signing his name to the eulogy, ending it with: “This is Jean Shepherd.”
A close friend and I had taken a train from New York to Washington
and we stood in line overnight to walk past Kennedy’s coffin in the Capital Rotunda.
Then we stood outside on the curb, watching with thousands of others
as the Kennedy family and foreign dignitaries slowly walked by in tribute.
Afterward, the public then dispersing, I removed one of the no-parking signs
from a street-pole along the route. I saw it almost daily
hanging in my workroom
for over 50 years.
Yes, it has been over fifty years.
I still can’t think about the events or see documentary footage of them,
without welling up with tears.
I can’t watch those images–I have to avert my eyes.
[Now, over 50 years later, Shepherd would advise us
to keep our knees loose and not avert our eyes.]
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Gang, although the following material previously appeared in my blog posts
on Shepherd’s travels, I feel that this small grouping,
condensed and rethought from the earlier postings,
brings together important elements of Shepherd’s ways of responding
to his experiences of life and to humanity in general.
That all four happened to Shepherd (and to us as listeners)
in only a bit over two years, is extraordinary. –eb
JEAN SHEPHERD, TRAVELER
MARCH ON WASHINGTON
On his radio programs, Jean Shepherd sometimes described traveling–one of the great enthusiasms of his life. Several times on his broadcasts he talked about what it meant for him, once in mock-melodramatic tones, wondering why he did it:
Deep down inside of me is a little violin playing that says, “Yes, why, why me? Why am I a Flying Dutchman, forever sailing over the seas—the seven seas of this benighted globe? Always looking, always searching, always hunting and never finding?”
In reality, he was forever finding. He emphasized that being in new places promotes new ideas, new ways of understanding our world. As the cliché has it, “travel broadens one.” Beyond expressing himself to others–conveying his experiences and observations—broadening his listeners’ understanding obviously added to his pleasure.
Shepherd not only traveled around the world, but to many parts of the United States, including an important bus ride from New York City to our nation’s capital. He told a lot of fictional stories about his kid-hood in the Midwest. He was an enthusiastic American patriot. He expressed his feelings and understanding of American ideas and cultural attributes in many of these stories–as in much of his work, including his creation and narration of nearly two-dozen half-hour programs in his television series, “Jean Shepherd’s America.” This series, but a partial, potentially much longer opus, should be recognized as a central marker in his creative world:
The period from mid-summer 1963 through late summer 1965 especially, provides important and expressive examples of his special turn of mind, his focus on the American experience, and his proclivity to travel in an engaged and perceptive way.
Because he was a serious traveler, he told a lot of true narratives about his experiences traveling the world. (I chose and edited, in an unpublished book-length manuscript, dozens of his travel-based broadcasts) I believe that his travel narratives are, in almost all details, true, especially because, as a mentor for thousands of listeners, he was expressing to them truly, why experiencing other places and peoples was important for understanding America and the entire human condition. Yes, he enjoyed travel:
“As far as I’m concerned, travel—I have found travel to be one of the most—oh—use all the clichés, but it is the one thing that I find that really, truly, does give me a kind of a final sense of involvement and satisfaction.”
MARCH ON WASHINGTON AUGUST 28, 1963
Most written and spoken words on this great American gathering come from those reporters who arrived in Washington in an official capacity and viewed the experience from an official news perspective. Shepherd however, wanted to experience it as a typical American—he traveled to the nation’s capital on one of New York City’s cross-town buses with other typical Americans. Thus, as a perceptive traveler, he could describe the occasion based on a participant’s vision of what really happened, and describe this to his fellow Americans. (On the fortieth anniversary of the event, National Public Radio regarded Shepherd’s vision highly enough to re-broadcast a ten-minute segment of his original, 45-minute program.) What follows is a collage of comments taken from his original broadcast. This is Jean Shepherd’s unique historical document about what over two-hundred thousand participants experienced, and as such, it contains much objective truth and authentic feeling. As for Shepherd, he was overwhelmed. [Excuse a few politically incorrect words that were okay at the time.]
I had all kinds of ideas about the way it would be. Just like all of us have ideas in our head about how history is. I’m sure you have ideas about how it must have been to be in Germany in the 20s. Well, it wasn’t. Not the way you think it was. I’m sure you have ideas of how it must have been when Washington was crossing the Delaware. Forget it. It wasn’t. I was not there but I know one thing—it wasn’t the way you think it was. I’ve found that very few things are the way you think they are.
I went down on this thing very specifically as just a marcher. Just one of the people in a delegation, because I have learned through long experience—and hard experience—that the only real way that you ever get to have even a vague understanding about events is, if you can, possibly, be part of or in the group, or be in with people to whom the event is occurring.
I wonder just how much a newsman ever learns about anything—standing up on the platform. I’m curious. I listened to a lot of jazz yesterday from the newsmen and almost all of them were up on the platform, they were in the news section, which was very, very, very much roped off from the great herd of people who walked along the streets. The great multitude who gathered under the trees, who pushed up through past the Coke stands and finally stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
And every last man that I saw involved in this situation—the police, the MPs, the Red Cross people—was in the most wildly great, holiday mood. You just don’t expect it from officials. Everybody cheering when you came in. I don’t know how much of this has been reported! I haven’t seen much of it reported in the press.
So we were walking along and thousands and thousands of white people and colored people are standing on the sidelines waving. Guys in offices are cheering and waving. Nobody reported on this! And I want to go on record saying that during the entire day, I did not hear one word that I could construe as being the kind of word that you would hear in demonstrations, I did not hear one moment that I could call a moment that gave me even one instant a feeling of imminent rabble-rousing or any of that stuff. There was just an amazing attitude towards everything. You know, I hate to use such words as “love.” These are ridiculous, meaningless words, but there was a feeling of humanity in the air.
We were coming in and millions of people were gathering, and I don’t know how they can estimate the number of people who were there. There would be no way to estimate it.…and suddenly through the crowd was this tiny band of people coming with a little sign that said “MISSISSIPPI.” That was really a moment, I’ll tell you! That was a moment. They came all the way up on some crummy old bus. And everybody was hollering at them and talking and they were laughing and hollering. Incidentally, in that Mississippi group there were more than just a few white people. That should be pointed out. People were slapping them on the back as they walked through.
Well, we were all standing around in this great crowd—it’s going to sound like I invented this. Please listen carefully. This is exactly what happened. There was a man standing back of me who had a big white Panama hat on and like so many of the demonstrators, it was obvious that this was a very big moment for him and he was all dressed up, as were so many. That’s an interesting thing—my delegation was told to wear a jacket and a tie and white shirt, because “this is a thing we’re going to that is very important.” So everybody was all dressed up. As we came into Washington, all the guys were putting their jackets on. And it was hot—oh boy was it hot on the bus. Putting their ties on. Trying to straighten up their clothes and everything, because, as somebody said, it was like going to church with two-hundred-thousand people. The man behind me, a great guy, a short, stout, negro man with glasses clouded-up because he was sweating like mad, was holding up his little sign that said, “NAACP Boston Branch.” It’s a long way from Boston to Washington on a bus.
And Marian Anderson started singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” The usual kind of “Star Spangled Banner” where it was through a PA system and we were so far away we could hardly hear. You couldn’t distinguish the words, but it was “The Star Spangled Banner.” Everybody standing there.
Suddenly, a few feet from me, a big colored lady with a big red hat with big white flowers—the official kind of lady who’s always organizing—starts to holler, “Will the Brooklyn Corps representatives please assemble over here. Please get over here. Brooklyn Corps representatives.” She was hollering in the middle of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Well, the guy back of me says, “Madam, madam.”
She looked at him. “What?”
He said, “They are singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ We usually are quiet during the singing of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ Please. They are singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”
And he stood there sweating, with his hat off, as Marian Anderson sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Don’t anyone say to me, “The Uncle Tom.” Stop it, man. You know not whereof you speak.
Coming back….It was like a great company picnic where everybody knew everybody else. Waving, talking, eating. And finally the busses assembled and one by one the busses took off. Our bus backed out, going north and, all along the route through town—and this was late, about eight-thirty or so—there were people walking, waving at our bus, which didn’t have any big, jazzy sign, it was just a busload of plain, ordinary people sitting in there. And they were waving and hollering and grinning. It wasn’t a feeling of, “Boy, we showed ‘em, didn’t we!” but it was a feeling of, “Boy, it was wonderful that you came!” People were riding along in their cars, just ordinary people, and they were all waving at the busses from their cars as we were going out of town, going north.
Out along the highway, millions of busses one after the other. One after the other! A fantastic parade. And in the end, I’m sure it was a parade that no one will ever forget. A truly historic moment. Not a historic moment politically even. It was a historic moment for a lot of people who did not conceive of people being this way. It’s a new concept, really. For a moment there. At least for a moment it was there.
* * * * * *
Although I’ve posted on this subject before, I’m interrupting the kid story posts to do a variation on Shep’s important travels, etc.–just 4 of them. I’m making a special point regarding Shep in this short series. Here is how I’m beginning:
JEAN SHEPHERD, TRAVELER
On his radio programs, Jean Shepherd sometimes described his travels–one of the great enthusiasms of his life. Several times on his broadcasts he talked about what it meant for him to travel, once in mock-melodramatic tones, wondering why he did it:
Deep down inside of me is a little violin playing that says, “Yes, why, why me? Why am I a Flying Dutchman, forever sailing over the seas—the seven seas of this benighted globe? Always looking, always searching, always hunting and never finding?”
STAY TUNED FOR SHEP TRAVEL
This advertisement from General Electric has fascinated me since I first
saw its recently born, furry, TV personality.
“Imagination at work.”
I admire the focus on innovative ideas and I see their symbol for it
as akin to my thinking about my ARTSY FARTSY posts.
He’s sort of like a mascot for me so I named him.
“Ideas are scary.
They come into this world ugly and messy.
Ideas are frightening because they threaten what is known.
They are the natural-born enemy of the way things are.
Yes, ideas are scary—and messy and fragile.
But under the proper care—
They become something beautiful.”
∞ ∞ ∞
[To me he seems sorta ARTSY FARTSY.]
I recently noted an LP record titled “The Best of Jean Shepard.”
So I thought, why not a “Best of Jean Shepherd.”
This proves to be a difficult task to compile, in part because there are so many audios of his broadcasts and so many published stories and other works. My memory is deteriorating and I can’t listen to and reread all his published work. I’d appreciate suggestions about what to add to my list, including sources/dates and reasons for the choices.
As a representative selection for possible inclusion with my EYF! (which never happened–it was nixed by the publisher as too expensive) and for eventual distribution as a premium for WBAI, I compiled a CD-worth of excerpts from Shep programs.
Assume that, as a given, I choose the broadcasts below because I feel or assume they are well-told besides having the particular attributes that especially gab me.
I, Libertine,.First comments and suggestion of a hoax. (4 ?/??/1956) One of the great “Holy Grail” Shepherd broadcasts. I have not heard it but I have thought about it and read little bits about it so often that it is a permanent part of my “memory,” and it must be one of the great moments in literary and shepherdian history.
March on Washington. Narrative told the day after the March. (8/29/1963) Shepherd describes his trip, not as a reporter, but as just another American. This conforms to his attitude as an informed and enthusiastic American patriot.
JFK Assassination. First day back on the air. (11/26/1963) Shepherd, from time to time, had described his feelings about psychological issues in America, and he takes this opportunity to reiterate some of them and link them to the assassination.
“Blues I Love to Sing.” Program I describe and partly transcribe in EYF! (6/16/1957) Shepherd interacts with the singer on the record and expresses his joy in the narrative situation he depicts. This but a ten minute portion of the four-hour program. He uses what is a familiar image from his earlier days of the “figure tattered and torn.”
“Why I am Such a Sorehead.” Discusses Mark Twain and Morse code–I describe in EYF! (1/6/1965) He integrates into his narration, Twain, one of his favorite predecessors. He develops the metaphor of the Mississippi as a dangerous path in life, and relates it to one of his favorite activities, Morse code, suggesting that we all have some activity that, in reality, we are not as good at as we think and hope we are.
“Shermy the Wormy.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/4/1964)
“Fourth of July in the Army.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (7/3/1963)
“Lister Bag Attack.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (6/17/1966)
“Boredom Erupts.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (9/18/1969)
“Private Sanderson.” My transcription in Shep’s Army. (1/13/1971)
“Naked Baseball in the Army.” Told on the air, published in Playboy.
“Troop Train Ernie.” Told on the air, published in Shep’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons as
“The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”
“Og and Charlie.” He told stories several times about these two cave-man-type-near-humans. They were a good metaphor for how Shep felt that humanity still was–not quite the mentally/emotionally advanced race we think we are.
Peru–The whole group of programs focusing on his trip, from how it came about to when he got home to contemplate the experience. At the time, he felt it was the best travel experience he’d ever had.
In addition to all of the above, one must add some of the innumerable bits and pieces of his delightful and cuckoo musical interludes on his silly little instruments–including on his sometimes silly head.
I made my own classical guitar. I’m fascinated by how the shape/formation of objects combine form with function. (It’s my design training still influencing me after all these years.) How does the form of a guitar contribute to its sound? Encountering a two-semester, adult evening class in constructing (not from a “kit”) a classical guitar from the raw materials one buys in a shop that supplies such to professionals, I took the course.
I kept notes and I took photos. Two parts of the classical guitar that might vary are the shape of the head and the luthier’s (guitar-maker’s) choice of how to configure the inside structural supports for the top of the body. I designed a simple, classical head, and chose internal struts for the body’s top that I thought would enforce high notes on the higher strings, and lower tones for the lower strings. I redrew all the instruction pages for the instructor’s future use–the upper left of the head is one of my pages.
An eb element of the rosette
around the sound hole.
I also designed and made the wooden rosette with my eb initials, and designed and installed my label.
While I was peacefully working on my guitar construction, my then-wife, from Granada, Spain, threatened me with a kitchen carving knife and I grabbed and rolled up for protection, my Sunday New York Times Arts Section (Yes, the Arts Section–it was the closest at hand), and that’s as far as I’ll take that true story. Except that I did incorporate the episode into my fact/fiction unpublished novel, The Pomegranate Conspiracy.
I completed my guitar at the end of the course, and practiced playing, struggling
for several unsuccessful years. Now my guitar is hung on a wall.
I love classical guitars and guitar music. I also like looking at Picasso’s guitar collages. So much so that I played around with one of his collage reproductions. First, with a color copier that scans one color at a time, I let it scan the first colors, then slightly shifted the original for the scanning of the black. Then I printed it and applied black-and-white photo prints of the underneath side of my guitar top, half on each side, with, in the middle, a photo of myself playing my newly completed guitar. One might title it:
“The Picasso/Bergmann Guitar Collage.”
I’m Conflicted About This Artsy Of Mine.
Is it a witty, clever, personal homage to an artist I greatly admire,
done by manipulating one of his works
(that he had first made by manipulating and reconstructing stuff),
or is it a fartsy, esthetic travesty for which I should be ashamed?
→ It is a unique collaged collage ←
Would Picasso have liked it? *
THE COMPULSIVE I WANT, I WANT, I WANT IT STORY
I want a lot of Shep stuff for lots of reasons. To know more about Shepherd, to add to the historical record, both for itself and so I can publish it as part of my work on Shep, to be able to just look at the material and know that it’s mine there on the shelf or hanging from the ceiling, to just be able to think about my Shep stuff anytime I daydream—the typical obsessive collector.
The two-sided sign found at Snow Pond
I want that EXCELSIOR YOU FATHEAD sign from his vacation home at Snow Pond, Maine and that Audubon book with the Jean words and drawing to Leigh.
And I want to rummage through every last scrap of Shep-stuff they have stored away. I want some of that salvage material from Sanibel Island—just to look at and touch and know they are a personal part of Shepherd. And what goodies in attics or compost piles, worthy of dissemination, lie crumbling to ruin?
I want the travel journals that Shepherd said he kept of all his trips around the globe. Do they still exist? I imagine them as thick, hardbound black sketchbooks filled with commentary, insights, and maybe even drawings made on-site. What treasures, related to his great love of experiencing life in new places. What major treasures unto themselves and as private documents of his mind at work regarding one of his favorite enthusiasms—taking part in everything, everywhere he could—a passion of his that directly connected to his profound belief that one must experience to the fullest, as much of life as possible.
And those damn tapes of his overnight shows. Oh, jazzmen, camp-owners, salvager, oh, old flames (real-life loves and mere dedicated listeners alike), oh, even you bloody curators of middle-Europa Dracula Museums—come forth from your closets and crypts!
Emotion Outranks Technique 1 of 2
As a general rule regarding my enthusiasms in the arts, I tend to give some preference to emotional expression over technical agility. Understand that the expression must be backed with some facility to perform the act—not just awkwardly scatter emotion willy-nilly. Thus, my preferences might include Maria Callas, Bob Dylan’s singing of his own music, flamenco guitarist Diego del Gastor, and artists such as American modernist John Marin and English modernist Ivan Hitchens. (Marin and Hitchens Artsy to come.)
Callas, Dylan, Diego del Gastor
I know and understand little of opera, but I can appreciate that, even though it’s generally agreed that Maria Callas lacked the highest technical ability, her emotional/artistic ability prevailed.
Joan Baez, in her August 17, 1963 Forest Hills concert I attended, brought out a scraggly guy I’d never heard of and he began to sing what almost seemed like a one-note song. But it altered a bit at the end of each line in a rough-hewn and intriguing way, and by the time he’d completed his rendition of “Blowin’ in the Wind” I was captivated—the next day I bought the only albums of Bob Dylan available, his first two. (I had heard others’ recordings of a couple of Dylan songs, but didn’t know who wrote them.) To this day, hearing “Peter, Paul, and Mary” or “The Byrds” singing Dylan songs, I shiver with dislike at their vanilla renditions that lack all empathy for what they render compared to the authentic Dylan. (I have the impression that Peter, Paul, and Mary are heartfelt activists for many good causes, but, for me, their performances don’t project that.) Dylan is not exactly a heart-felt performer–but for me, he has artistic integrity grasped tightly in his fists–and vocal chords. I enjoy few non-Dylan singers of Dylan songs except for Joan Baez. (Yes, and of course such performances as Jimi Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower.”)
I enjoy flamenco—especially guitar renditions. I enjoy the complex and rapid technical ability of Carlos Montoya, Sabicas, Paco de Lucia, Manitas de Plata, and their like. But then I discovered (in a book written by an American!) an artist without their flashy and captivating theatrics, one who played a slower, deliberate, more profound, more emotional flamenco in a style that seems more authentic to the origins and meaning of the art. Diego del Gastor lived in a southern Spanish town and didn’t care to record or concertize or tour or become a celebrity. Diego did not play with groups one might see on television, groups where the female dancers wear elaborate polka dot costumes, where ignorant tour-groups are brought–where I’ve seen Granada gypsies perform in their caves decorated with shiny brass pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Diego was a true master artist. He had what in Spanish is called corazon, he had duende. He would pick up any old, tattered guitar at hand and play it, bringing out its soul. He taught a bit, he sensitively accompanied traditional singers and dancers–as is the flamenco guitarist tradition–and played for his friends in small, nearly private gatherings known as “juergas.” Now he is gone, but fortunately, a few times he had allowed himself to be recorded at these small gatherings–one can see and hear him play on several YouTube videos (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvOIri5vuZw. Only in one of those videos, during a traditional flamenco celebration, does one see him on a stage.) I’d never seen him live, so videos–and audios captured from them–are all I possess of him. Diego has integrity. He is authentic. He enthralls!
Now I watch and listen to no other flamencos.
THE ONCE AND FUTURE SHEPBOOKS
As my educational and professional background has been in the commercial, visual arts (graphics and museum exhibit design), I enjoy trying my hand at book covers of manuscripts I’ve written.
When I submitted my first Shepherd book, I included, in a fully rendered, in-color layout, my suggestion for the front cover. The published cover is precisely what I created except that the iconic photo of Shep got cropped in the upper left-hand corner more than I’d designed and presented it. (The person in charge cropped a bit off Shepherd’s upraised hand, probably to make the image larger and thus a bit more impressive.) Other than that, colors, type style, layout, use of photo–everything about the cover is as I designed it. But I got no credit for it in the published book–or anywhere else:
(Published cover with cropped hand at upper left)
I’ve tried a variety of designs for other book manuscripts of mine. It’s lots of creative fun. What the heck, one or more may yet, with some improvements of my preliminaries designs made by a publisher’s cover designer, find itself out there on innumerable bookstore shelves from coast to coast!
REMEMBER THAT THESE BELOW ARE OF MANUSCRIPTS
THAT DON’T YET HAVE PUBLISHING CONTRACTS
[As usual, click on images for larger views. Where shown, narrow vertical area to left is spine.]
Mostly, these cover ideas were designed and printed on my now defunct special printer
before my SHEP’S ARMY book arrived on the scene
Compilation of unpublished observations and essays of mine written subsequent to the material in EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! It includes Lois Nettleton notes to me and an interview on Shep she gave soon after he died; Leigh Brown’s letters to her best friend on her scheme to kidnap Jean from Lois; and lots more stuff–on Shel Silverstein, Hugh Hefner, “Cowboy X,” and so on.
Contains additional original essays by me on Shep. Photo by Don Knowlton, drawing of the guy shown with the excelsior banner is from Shel Silverstein’s drawings on Shep’s LP album, “Jean Shepherd and Other Foibles.” The above two books, publisherless, I have been cannibalizing for posts on this blog (which also includes much new material I create as I go along).
This loose leaf book I put together, composed of dozens of photos of Shep at all stages of his career. This was inspired by my comments in the final chapter of my EYF!, page 415-416 titled “The Many Faces of Jean Shepherd: A Metaphor?” I comment therein:
Complementing the many-sided and often self-contradictory aspects of Shepherd’s stories, biography, and persona were the many faces he presented to the world over the years. Examining photos may yield some clues to the real Jean Shepherd….
We do not know why he changed his look so frequently and so markedly over the years. He appeared to be at least a dozen different people. Was he responding to the style of the times (for his own pleasure or to better appeal to his audience); was he trying on visual aspects of his artistic persona to discover which outward manifestation might best fit the variety and complexity of the creative forces he felt within himself, was he trying to conceal himself from others–or was he himself seeking a real Jean Shepherd?
This is an idea I have of publishing a selection of my blog posts that would be made up of material from the above two miscellanies and the new material I’m writing these days. [BTW, For technical reasons beyond my understanding and control, some colors, shown on these cover images, got god-awful-changed in the computer-process. The one immediately above is a major example. In it, visualize a solid black background and bright red type,]
A book manuscript of edited broadcast transcripts of Shepherd’s travel narratives, organized and introduced by me, encompassing his love of traveling around the world. Including, among other areas: Maine, the “March on Washington,” travels with The Beatles (“John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Shep”), Australia, Africa, Ireland, Paris, Peru’s headhunter country in the Amazon, and his whirlwind trip around the world in seven days. Followers of this blog can read the entire manuscript in many parts.
Stay tuned for Part 2
“Deep down inside of me there is a little violin playing
that says, ‘Yes, why, why me?
Why am I the Flying Dutchman,
forever sailing over the seas–
the seven seas of this benighted globe?
Always looking, always searching,
hunting and never finding?'”
TRAVEL HOMILIES OF A NOMADIC AMERICAN
Jean Shepherd liked to talk about his enthusiasm for traveling, and he enjoyed promoting the advantages of travel to his listeners. In short homilies on various radio programs he promoted traveling. Some of his comments about travel can be found in the various travel posts on this blog. Here are a few others.
I’ve often said that there is nothing in the world—and I mean nothing in the world—to change you completely, irrevocably, and for all time, than travel. And I mean real travel. There’s a difference between traveling and touring. A tourist often sees the world through the viewfinder of his Brownie. He sees it out of the window of the car that hurries him though the countries he’s going to. And that’s touring. The world is very unreal when you do that. It’s as though you’re on some kind of a trip on a toy railroad and the scenery’s moving past you and you’re just sitting still. That’s a crazy feeling. But when you learn to travel, then you begin to change. You cannot get around it.
I’ve never taken a tour in my life. I just walk around and dig the scene, see. And when I see a dirty, rotten, crummy, smelly alley, I go up it. I mean, if I feel like going up that alley, and if I don’t, I don’t. I see a lot of country and I see a lot of the world this way.
As far as I’m concerned, travel—I have found to be one of the most—oh—use all these clichés, but it is the one thing I find that really, truly, does give me a kind of a final sense of involvement and satisfaction.
I love the sensation of being completely removed from my known environment, and just looking out—just being able to walk through a street that is—that is completely unknown to me—to look at people who are unknown, to go into a place that is unknown—a restaurant to look at—the sky is unknown.
You know the one thing I think keeps most people from really enjoying travel—in fact enjoying life itself—is groundless fear. I wonder where we develop these fears—early in our lives. The fear of strange smell, for example, you know? How many people have these fears? The fear of strange food. Yeah, that’s right! The fear of strange names. Just the name, for example—Tel Aviv sounds foreign. It sounds vaguely dangerous. I suppose most people would feel better if it was called Circleville—you know—or Littleton, or some name that you can handle like that.
Yet I do feel that fear—groundless fear—keeps most people from actually—genuinely enjoying their lives. I’m talking about fear of all kinds. Sexual, esthetic, and we could go further and further and further until finally you don’t know where it ends.
If you ever have any doubts about spending any money on traveling, friend, forget it. I’m serious. The people that I always feel sorry for are people who are old and are about to depart this mortal coil, who have never traveled. Who have never really seen the world. And it doesn’t take a lot of money, you know. Really doesn’t because it’s amazing how people tend to spend a lot of money on junk.
Book cover choice 3.
My first 2 choices for covers of my Shep’s Travel book
I posted in the beginning of these travel posts: Parts 1 and 4.
Thus endeth Shep’s travels a la eb.
[It would still be so nice to see all my transcripts of Shep’s travels book-bound.]
Onward to other travails.
WRITING AND TALKING ABOUT TRAVEL
Traveling is one of Shepherd’s favorite activities, and the previous posts about his wide range of sites visited should give some sense of this. From the following list of original radio audios used for the transcriptions, one will note that the sequence I’ve used is not a chronological one–I organized by what I thought made an interesting variety of stuff to read.
SOURCES FOR JEAN SHEPHERD RADIO AUDIOS
Of Jean Shepherd’s comments regarding his enthusiasm for travel, all originating in his radio broadcasts on WOR Radio, some come from my original transcriptions found in Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd (Applause Books, March, 2005). Several originate in additional audios subsequently encountered.
There are several sources of Shepherd audios. Most come from Max Schmid’s WBAI-FM broadcasts and his commercially available cassettes and CDs of this material. Many, originating from Max’s material, are also found on the internet’s iTunes/podcasts/brassfiglagee, where they came from Jeff Beauchamp’s no-long-extant Jean Shepherd Project. A short written comment by me about the Beatles trip comes from the Program Notes of www.RadioSpirits.com CDs, composed of syndicated shows virtually unheard before the early 2000s.
Note that broadcast titles are not “official,” but are those given by the person providing the material, lo these many years ago. Dates of the broadcasts are those provided by the recorder of the broadcast, and though considered rather standard, they might not be definitive.
In the majority, travel episodes found in these posts come from a single radio broadcast or from a series of broadcasts extended over several days. In a few instances, Shepherd’s comments found here in a particular chapter might come from isolated comments made by him on some broadcast made later. Note that the audios we have for the Lebanon visit of 1958 date from radio reminisces in 1973 and 1974. He did, however, write a bit in his Village Voice columns soon after he returned in 1958. (Bits of these have been included in the travel posts.)
A couple of broadcast audios were forwarded to me by Jim Clavin of www.flicklives.com. and a couple of others by a Shepherd enthusiast who wishes to remain anonymous. Although some of the audios can be found in more than one source, listings here are based on the version I used for this book: Clavin; iTunes; Schmid; Syndicated.
March on Washington: 8/29/63 Schmid
Maine Deciding to be Beautiful: 9/15/66 Schmid
The Middle East: 2/25/73, 3/4/74 Schmid; 1966 6/6, 6/7, 6/8 Schmid; 1966 6/9, 6/11 iTunes;
1966 6/10 Clavin
John, Paul, George, Ringo, and Shep 11/2/64, 11/7/64 iTunes
Irish Blood in Me 3/17/67 Schmid; 3/17/72 iTunes
The Last Time I Saw Paris 6/15/66 Schmid
Around the World With Shep 4/4/72, 4/5/72 Schmid; 4/10/72, 4/13/72 iTunes
Australia 1965 4/14, 5/8, 5/13, 5/18 iTunes; 1969 9/17 iTunes
Amazon and the Headhunters 1965 9/2/ 9/16 9/17, 9/18 iTunes; 9/7v Schmid
Nigeria 3/21/63, 2/22/63, 3/23/63 Anon; 4/29/63, 8/5/66, 1976 Clavin; 7/4/63 Schmid
?/64 or ?/65 Syndicated
Sailing the Windward Islands 12/10/75 iTunes
Maine is a Foreign Country 6/17/65 Schmid
A coupla books about travel
In doing some research about the act of travel. I encountered various books and articles describing the pleasures of travel. A number of them describe, as Shepherd later did on his programs, the difference between a tourist (A person who encounters superficial aspects in the places he/she passes through), and traveler, as Shep prided himself on being.
I encountered the works of Paul Bowles, and by cherry-picking his 1949 “Novel”–or not-a-novel, The Sheltering Sky, I found some of the comments that give Bowles credit for perceptive ideas about traveling. If Shepherd had encountered these perceptions (as I would guess that he had), I would expect that he would have agreed with them and maybe incorporated some of them within his own sensibility:
“[A]nother important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking.”
“Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.”
“The only thing that makes life worth living is the possibility of experiencing now and then a perfect moment. And perhaps even more than that, it’s having the ability to recall such moments in their totality, to contemplate them like jewels.”
WHY WE TRAVEL—By Pico Iyer Saturday, Mar 18, 2000 SALON.COM
We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate….
Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle….
But for the rest of us, the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head. If a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism), a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism). And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal….
Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit….
So travel, for many of us, is a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing; I, at least, travel in search of an innocent eye that can return me to a more innocent self….
Travel, then, is a voyage into that famously subjective zone, the imagination, and what the traveler brings back is — and has to be — an ineffable compound of himself and the place, what’s really there and what’s only in him….
THE ART OF TRAVEL by Alain Botton, 2002.
“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival….[travel] whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia or human flourishing.”
Here, repeated from the beginnings of my travel posts:
Shepherd would probably be pleased to find a link between himself and his revered forebear in a sentence from Twain’s preface to The Innocents Abroad. Shepherd might have written it for his own travel tales: “I offer no apologies for any departures from the usual style of travel writing that may be charged against me—for I think I have seen with impartial eyes, and I am sure I have written at least honestly, whether wisely or not.”
With his own distinctive brand of wit, Shepherd shares with Twain
his sharp-eyed observations and a penchant for truth.
The following I find fascinating because it applies to travel, as well as to national and international affairs, and to every other other thingamabob we encounter in the world:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” –D.Rumsford (a former public figure)
The next blog post includes various Shepherd comments on traveling.