HV/Series/Episode/ Work by: Joe Frank · Harry Shearer · Jean Shepherd · Art Silverman
Hearing Voices from NPR®
067 Jean Shepherd 1: A Voice in the Night
Host: Harry Shearer of Le Show
Airs week of: 2010-07-14 (Originally: 2009-08-12)
“Jean Shepherd 1” (52:00 mp3):
Hour one in this two-part tribute to radio raconteur Jean Shepherd:
Jean Shepherd used words like a jazz musician uses notes, winding around a theme, playing with variations, sending fresh self-reflective storylines out into the night. Marshall McLuhan called Shepherd “the first radio novelist.” From 1956-1977 Shep spun his late night stories over WOR radio, New York City. PBS gave him a TV series, “Jean Shepherd’s America.” In 1983 he co-wrote and narrated the film version of his “A Christmas Story.”
Shep inspired a new generation of spoken narrative artists who tap into the American psyche. Among them was Harry Shearer (Le Show), who hosts this two part tribute to Jean Shepherd. Shearer interviews Shep’s co-workers, friends and fans, including Robert Krulwich, Joe Frank, Paul Krassner, and Jules Fieffer.
Thanks to Mr. Shearer, KCRW– Santa Monica (and Sarah Spitz), NPR, and Art Silverman for production support, and for allowing us to re-air this two-hour tribute. This is part one; part two is next week.
One time I woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning. My radio was still on, and a man was talking about how you would try to explain the function of an amusement park to visitors from Venus. It was Jean Shepherd. He was on WOR from midnight to 5:30 every night, mixing childhood reminiscence with contemporary critiques, peppered with such characters as the man who could taste an ice cube and tell you the brand name of the refrigerator it came from and the year of manufacture. Shepherd would orchestrate his colorful tales with music ranging from “The Stars and Stripes Forever” to Bessie Smith singing “Empty Bed Blues.”
–Paul Krassner (from “How the Realist popped America’s cherry“)
Jean Shepherd – The Great American Fourth of July – PART 1
Dialing through the AM whine and static, I landed upon the chuckling voice of a man who immediately sounded to me like the aural personification of what was, up until that moment, my bible of irreverent, hip “outsider-ness”— Mad Magazine! Suddenly, there in the dark, I found myself in the presence of a grownup who not only used words like “clod,” but actually talked about “kidhood” with such accuracy that my fevered 11-year-old brain immediately sensed a kindred spirit! That’s all it took — one tale about Flick, Schwartz, Randy and Ralph — kids just like kids I knew! — growing up in a Midwestern steel town under the weary beer-soaked gaze of “The Old Man”… and I was hooked!
–Vin Scelsa, WNEW- NYC (from WFMU “Excelsior, You Fatheads!“)
10:15 P.M. The WOR news and weather are out of the way. A bugle sounds, and a sprightly theme song comes trotting on the air. The theme has a double meaning: it is the one that calls the horses to the gate at Aqueduct, and it is the Bahn Frei Overture, composed for an operetta by Eduard Strauss, the only member of the Strauss family who did not make good. Presently, Shepherd’s clear, rowdy voice intrudes. “Okay, gang are you ready to play radio? Are you ready to shuffle off the mortal coil of mediocrity? I am if you are.” There is a noise like a mechanized Bronx cheer (BRRAPP!)— it is Shepherd blowing his kazoo. At other times he twangs his Jew’s-harp (BRROING!). “Yes, you fatheads out there in the darkness, you losers in the Sargasso Sea of existence, take heart, because WOR, in its never ending crusade of public service, is once again proud to bring you — (EROICA SYMPHONY UP) — The Jean Shepherd Program!”
–Edward Grossman, “Jean Shepherd: Radio’s Noble Savage” Harper’s Magazine Jan 1966
Jean Shepherd, born/raised Hammond, Indiana:
While the South has been drenched with Decadence, the Midwest has been swimming in a turgid sea of Futility. It is dotted with cities and towns that have never quite made it… The city is too close to the farm, while beyond the last Burma Shave sign the prairie rolls flat as a tabletop endlessly to the horizon. Everywhere are evidences of faded ambitions and forlorn whistles in the dark… It is this incongruity that produces men who are compelled by secret dark inner urges to warn of the futility of the sad earthly posturing of Man. Of these there are two very common Midwestern types: the Humorist and the hellfire fundamentalist Evangelist… Ade himself pointed out in an essay on Indiana that humorists of the nonprofessional but practicing variety can be found every few feet along Main Street… Almost all of their humor is of the school of Futility… Futility, and the usual triumph of evil over good. Which is another name for realism.
–Jean Shepherd, from intro to The America of George Ade