I’m going to have to get this thing framed, so it’s not currently on display. But it will be soon, and I’m excited to have it. In my home office, I try to surround myself with small tributes to the things that have meant a lot to me and have long craved something from Jean Shepherd. But he’s fairly obscure (criminally), and the right piece never really came along. He’s now known, if at all, as the person behind A Christmas Story. Which annoys me somewhat… It’s like when people only know Warren Zevon as “that Werewolf of London guy.” Wow! That’s just a scratch on the surface of the tip of the iceberg.
Jean Shepherd had a radio show in New York City from the late 1950s to 1977. It was a 45-minute nightly program, usually airing from 11:15 to midnight, I believe. And he told stories from when he was a kid and from his time in the army. Or he might discuss some obscure thing he saw in a newspaper, or just play kazoo for most of the show. You never knew what you were going to get, but you knew it was going to be great. He was hip and funny and smart, and one hell of a storyteller.
Dr. Buford, a longtime Surf Reporter, hipped me to the man many years ago, and it was right in my wheelhouse. I ended up procuring mp3s of all of Shep’s shows that have survived, and it’s more than 800 episodes. I’ve listened to all of them at least once, many of them multiple times. They’re great! Especially the ones from the 1960s. That’s when he was hitting on all cylinders. All the big scenes in A Christmas Story were tales he told on the radio show and also wrote about in his books. His books are also great.
In any case, most of the Jean Shepherd stuff you see on eBay (or whatever) is Christmas Story-related or paperback copies of his books. Most photos of him are from the 1970s for some reason, when he was bearded and looked like Mr. French from Family Affair. I wanted something from the ’60s, and preferably something authentic. I’m not 100% opposed to a photo reprint but preferred something original. And I finally got it! This is a 1966 photo from the picture files of a newspaper, to coincide with the release of Shep’s first book. Here’s the back of it.
And if you want to learn more about Jean Shepherd, here’s his Wikipedia page, and this is a good article from The Atlantic about him. This is a great song by Donald Fagen (from Steely Dan) inspired by Shep and an article by Fagen about the man.
Do you do anything like this? Surround yourself with items that pay tribute to important stuff that kinda, in some small way, made you who you are? I’m not talking about family, I’m talking about writers and musicians and artists, and that sort of thing. Please tell us what ya got, or what you’d like to have in that realm.
And I’ll leave you now with my favorite photo of Jean Shepherd. Is that cool, or what? If I could find a vintage version of it or a large framed copy, I’d snap that shit up in short order. I saw a magazine article years ago that showed an NYC apartment with a huge wall-sized version of it. I experienced a pronounced case of wall-envy that day. Why can’t my walls be that cool? Hey, I’m trying!
Have a great day, my friends.
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I have some photos of certain musicians up on the wall. Those photos have been on the wall for about 3 decades now.
Very cool. When I think of the late 60’s and early 70’s I remember reading the National Lampoon and listening to Jean Shepherd. These two things formed the basis for my sense of humor. I was very fortunate to see Jean Shepherd in person when he performed at the obscure college, now defunct, in the town in Maine where I grew up.
In 1968 my girlfriend, later my wife, turned me onto “In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash)” and I became a Shep fan for life. I’ve read all his books, but I haven’t heard many of his radio shows. I need to get to that. As for “In God . . .”, Shep managed to write as if he were always coasting downhill: easy, naturally, gently. The characters pop off the page because they aren’t characters: they’re people. I knew these people in the 1950s: they were friends of my parents and grandparents, but they populated my life the way they populate Shep’s work.
There are books that frame a life, and for some I remember exactly where I was living, how old I was, and who I was sleeping with. Catch-22, The Continental Op, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Slaughterhouse-Five, on and on, including In God . . . . They are jewels and mileposts throughout the gift of life. Shep has always somehow been there, waiting for me patiently.
Shep’s fiction/remembrances live on in audio, print, and film, but life moves on and I lost track of the girlfriend/wife along the way — haven’t seen her for nearly forty years now. Wherever she is I thank her for getting Shep to me, for her many kindnesses and for her pot roast, a dish that hasn’t been since duplicated, and forgive her her trivial sins of commission and omission. If I ever forgive my own, we might cross paths again one day. Until then, I still have Shep.
Very cool my friend!
Excellent! Shep was on WOR every weeknight, and I would listen when I was supposed to be asleep. This was around 1970 – 73, so I would have been 12 to 15, or so. I’m very glad I had the chance to hear his show when it was on, even if I didn’t get half the references. Brush With Greatness: Jean Shepherd called me “kid” to my face at a book signing around 1971-ish. I have (somewhere) In God.., Wanda Hickey and Ferrari.
And yes, each of those little vignettes in Christmas Story (the dogs, the tongue on the lamppost, the furnace, the lamp, etc.) was its own 45-minute story on the radio. Sometimes more; there were several Scut Farkas stories.
Pictures on the wall: nothing of intrinsic value except a painting by a good friend. Other than that, just some prints. But a couple of them belonged to my grandmother, so there’s that.
As a kid in central NJ I listened to Jean Shepherd religiously on his nightly AM radio broadcast in the late 60s and early to mid 70s. He was evocative and funny and because we too were transplants from the midwest, it was like listening to a kindred spirit.
I’m pretty sure it was not an 11pm start, but 9pm (actually about (9:15 after news and commercials).
Brush with greatness: my mom (a newspaper reporter) once shared a press pool office with reporter from another paper (the one I delivered.,..long story) who had grown up around Shep in Hammond, Indiana.
When “The Ferrari in the Bedroom” was released, he did a book signing and the Bamberger’s department store in the Monmouth mall when I was 10th or 11th grade.
His inscription in my copy: “Excelsior”. Of course.
An awesome and underappreciated American voice
I’ll defer to the other readers,. Don Fagen and Wikipedia that put his WOR show in the 11pm hour…
I have an orange plastic traffic cone (mini, about a foot high) with cartoon bees hand-drawn with a sharpie by Robyn Hitchcock.
There are several other movies based on his books: “My Summer Story” stars Charles Grodin as the old man, Kieran Culkin as Ralphie and Mary Steenburgen as mom, and “Ollie Hopnoodles Haven of Bliss” with James Sikking as the old man and Jerry O’Connell as Ralph. There is even “A Christmas Story 2″ with David Stern as the old man! There are others I think, but the first two are worth watching. He also had a TV Series cal Jean Shepherds America, which was awesome…
I saw Jean Shepherd live at Princeton University and the show was amazing… Mostly about his life in the army highlighted with an amusing story about playing baseball in Africa. They played naked because it was so hot. So, the catcher was able to send signals in quite different ways! Unlike the view Donald Fagen talks about in his article, I didn’t pick up on the ” straight-up narcissism” and thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
I’ll always be a fan and agree, there is much more to Jean Shepherd than just “A Christmas Story”