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The Swish of Windshield Wipers
Airdate: Friday - September 1, 1972

Last Update: 08-27-2017

Show Description
Jean Shepherd's America is back for another 13 weeks of half-hour essays on Jean Shepherd and what-went-wrong-with-our-childhood-dreams-of-machismo rubbish. Mr. Shepherd made his reputation on radio, one of those night talkers who filled the space between our ears with words, a kind of free-associational tom-tom tapping out its verbal tattoo until dawn. Public TV had the admirable idea of sending Mr. Shepherd with cameras and credit cards into his own monologues, at once tourist and guide among things he remembers. For public TV, Jean Shepherd's America represents a unique attempt to get outside New York and find out what the rest of America once wanted to have happen to it. Bill Moyers with a laugh track. They gave Mr. Shepherd a Phillips PCP-90 Back Pack Camera System, an Ampex VR3000 color videotape recorder and three technicians. He took them into a steel mill to look at the open hearth, try out "safety shoes" and wear goggles. He took them fishing in Maine. He went to a county fair, rode a train, ate lobster, drank beer, rented a houseboat. He did programs on prospecting in Alaska (borrowing from the doggerel of Robert Service) and driving the turppikes (he doesn't trust anyone who wears bow ties and won't drive a car). He visited hermits, lived in trailers, got seasick in Florida, went surfing in Hawaii. He never stopped talking the whole time. You can see what he saw and hear what he talked about every week on public television through September. He tells stories the way some machines make buttons and some planes drop bombs. Like most American storytellers - Henry James was admittedly an exception - his material consists of childhood, derring-do, escape, animals, perpetual motion, male camaraderie. Natty Bumppo, Ishmael, Huck Finn, Nick Adams. If Melville was looking for God, and found him, Shepherd is looking for discarded beer cans, and finds them - in every river, on every beach, somewhere in the Arctic tundra. The ecology of dreams is in trouble. It is astonishing what a small part women play in these 13 audiovisual essays. They don't drink beer and they don't go fishing and they hang around the saloons instead of prospecting for gold. Shepherd's mother is mentioned several times, but mostly because she forgot to buy beer for his father or didn't want him as a boy to hear any dirty jokes. Women are the opposite of escape in this scheme of things; the road goes, the river flows, away from them. They are made to symbolize civilization and adulthood. Cities, too, are evil, oppressive, soul-devouring. Cars are all right, because a car is a raft, a boat for going away to where there aren't any women or cities. Bars are all right, because bars are where men get together to talk about beer and listen to the jukebox instead of going home, where, of course, women are. Baseball games are also all right, because, even though they take place in cities, they are country games, played on grass. Or at least it used to be grass. A very nice dream. "The perpetual swish of the windshield wipers is the sound track for our lives," says Mr. Shepherd. Charles Lounsbury, in his last will and testament in 1875, put it better: "I devise to children the banks of the brooks and the golden sands beneath the waters thereof, and the odors of the willows that dip therein, and the white clouds that float high over the giant trees. And I leave to them the long days to be merry in, in a thousand ways, and the night and the moon, and the train of the Milky Way to wonder at." It's that sort of America for Jean Shepherd. I wish that it were that sort of America for all of us, including women.
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September 01,1972
The Swish of Windshield Wipers

Courtesy: Bruce Clark

September 22,1972
Reader responses to the 9-1-72 Life Article

Courtesy: Pete Delaney

Airdate History ' - Original' date is earliest known broadcast)
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