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Airdate: Sunday - January 11, 1970

Show Description
You can stop Jean Shepherd's world wherever you want and get off. Six nights a week, up to a million people gather around their radios to hear Shep tell how it is to be a kid growing up in America, laugh at themselves as he needles American mores and customs. And where you get off depends upon your age, "The adults think I'm just reminiscing," he says, "college kids think I'm a humorist, and old people think of me as that guy who talks.' " What the kids think of him is what Shepherd thinks of himself - "just telling a story." A modern day Mark Twain, Jean Shepherd says he is the only verbal story teller in American mass media. The plots of Shepherd's stories generally are localized in his native Hammond, Ind., where he grew up with typical midwestern parents (his description), and with the whimsical and earthy clique of Flick, Schwartz and Bruner. Flick, Schwartz and Bruner are all only character types of "the kind everybody knows," but to Shep's nightly listeners they have become as real as Shepherd himself. Recently Shepherd saw a subway graffito in black grease pencil proclaiming "FLICK LIVES." The trio followed Shepherd into his hated Company K in the Signal Corps, where, together they suffered through the foibles, complexities and snafus of military life. Company K is as recent as Shepherd's reminiscences go. After that he was an adult, and he uses childhood as "a very valid literary device." "If there's anything we all share," Shep declares, "it's that we were all kids and didn't know anything. Society has to be, viewed from the eyes of someone who doesn't understand it. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are examples of the journalistic trick. They are universal and timeless. There's no generate gap." Shepherd envisions himself as "just the observer, sitting in a grandstand and watching the world go by." That way, he can objectively study the crowds without joining them. "I've found that all writers, except current news writers, are observers," he said. It gives him the privilege of carefully and slowly absorbing the actors in the arena and digesting their antics before he tells his listeners what it's like. Shep is a man of many opinions, but "my stuff is all in the stories I tell," he says. "I don't see myself as an evangelist or preacher, and l have a responsibility first to myself and then to my listeners oat to step in somewhere where I don't know what I'm doing." Shepherd's biggest gripe is "the Paul Newman syndrome," or entertainers commenting on the political scene. "One of the sickest manifestations," Shep says, - "is the belief that because a man is a good actor and singer he's a good political commentator." "The Paul Newman syndrome is galloping. Singers approach Vietnam with the same confidence as they do a-song Actors are all highly qualified on any subjects - but it works only one way. You never see a scientist or a politician telling an actor how to act. "It's all a product of panel shows (another Shepherd sore point along with most movies and pontificating folk singers) that let entertainers sound off on anything they want." Specifically, Shep cited the recent tacit approval of marijuana by anthropologist Margaret Meed to discuss drugs, "which are a medical problem," Step pondered. Shep's own opinion on drugs: "People who dig life have no need to get high." Shepherd keeps his own personal life just that - very personal. All his liseners know is that he lives in the Village, likes to fly and fish and his greatest kick is to walk up to an air ticket office and casually order a one-way ticket for some romantic or far-away like Khartoum or Kuala Lumpur. He deplores an increasing invasion of privacy and senses that by the year 2000, will be only "a romantic concept of the past." And Shepherd likes his pad when has a chance to get to it. He averages about 13 hours of work a day in his WOR radio studio and office and makes about 35 to 40 college appearances a year. "When I'm home I try to write," he says. He contributes regularly to about 20 magaines."'The hard part is not that blank piece of paper staring at me from typewriter," he said, "but just the time to get started." Although he does his radio shows with only a few notes and sometimes an interesting and only news item or so he wishes to Lt. Cherry, who was in quote, "each program takes about 3 or 4 days' thinking and planning," he said. Planning the stories Involves seeing a situation through the innocent eyes of a child or misunderstood and misunderstanding Army enlisted man, and using the familiar characters of his pixyish past to make his audience feel they are part of the story - to laugh with or at the cast. Shepherd best describes the major characters in his yarns: His mother: The quintessence of mother - not an eastern Protective mother, but vaguely amused at life and taking it as it comes. "She wonders when I'm going to get a job." The Old Man: Totally optimistic, typically Midwestern type. A great bowler and real White Sox fan. Nothing ever defeated him, and he always thought of cars as essentially used. Flick: Everybody has known a Flick. He tells dirty jokes but he KNOWS what they mean. He's a Good year ahead of the rest of us. Bruner: Occupation, laborer. The perpetual out of work man. His real occupation is drinking. In any society a total loser. Very harmless and always on relief. Schwartz: Eternal beaver with no discernible talent. Totally industrious and very earnest. "If you had a double date with Schwartz he would always show up with the short fat girl with glasses." And there's Sgt. Kowalski in Company K, the illiterate bane of Shepherds Army life. "He's based on a real sergeant, but with another sergeant's name. Unlike Bilko, who was a lovable tyrant, Kowalski was a hateful tyrant. He was short and made up for it by his malevolence. He wore green Air Corps sunglasses even in the shower. Kawalski always starts his incomprehensible lecture to the troops with "Alright mens, I'm going to tell you this once, and only once" Cherry, who was in charge of the radar team that was always stationed in some deserted, festering, uncivilized part of the world where no one had been before, was cool and non-involved. "He sensed he knew something that none of us knew. He was vaguely amused in a sad sort of way." Other characters are into the stories from time to time, the standbys are the favorites. When Shep makes a college appearance he'll bring most of them into his story, and then gets the real welcome when he asks: "Hey, do you guys want to hear about my life in Campany K?" Shep's philosophy is ever apparent in his soliloquies but not blatant. It's kind of "if you understand the meaning of the story and its significance, I don't have to tell you the philosophical angle. I'm not a preacher or folk singer." Here are a few of Shepherd's off-the-top-of-the-head opinions on various topics, answered rapidly as if in a word association quiz. They may or may not have been or ever will be threaded in his stories. American politics: exciting. Education: going down hill. Peace conference: a joke. Hippies: another fanatical religious sect. with a cloying sense of righteousness. Sex education: sex is much more than a mechanical operation. I don't believe it can be taught. Joe Namath: darn good quarterback whose charisma is more powerful than his knees. Restaurants: our best aren't as good as Europe's best - but our cheap ones are better than cheap ones abroad. The Army: like any other. No war ever makes sense to the guys fighting it. Mass communications: just at the beginning of an unimaginable era of mass communications. It hasn't even begun. By 1985 it'll be almost impossible to escape voices. Suburbia: like oyster stew - if you like it, it's fine, if you don't, it can give you a rash. Personally, it makes me break out. Nude movies: boring - sex is not a spectator sport. Newspapers: addicted to them. I read every one I get my hands on. Music: there is some good rock, but like everything else on the pop scene, a lot is over-praised. That's true of any era, from Scarlotti to a good Jew's harp player. There's some good in all. Ads and commercials: the art form of our day. Ultimately the most truthful reflection of the way we really feel about things. There's a 1906 Sears catalogue for sale that tells you more of life then than any novel could - that'll be true of our commercials. AND, New Jersey: the most American of all states. It has everything from wilderness to the Mafia. All the great things and all the worst., for example, Route 22.
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January 11,1970

January 11,1970

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