Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Unlike some of you natural-born readers, I never did consider myself a tried and true fan and follower of radio personality Jean Shepard. It's not because I didn't care for his contributions to such crucial humor magazines as MAD or HELP, nor was it because I never tuned in to his various PBS series such as JEAN SHEPARD'S AMERICA at a time when such a show might have appealed to my ever-sprouting funnybone. And while I'm at it, I also missed out on all of those articles for PLAYBOY and FIELD AND STREAM that he was pumping out for quite a long time. Did I also mention that I never did get to hear his long-running En Why See-area radio show which started the entire Shepard as sly and witty repartee-master career up and running? (In fact, for years I never even heard about Jean Shepard's long-running radio show and how could I being cloistered a good state-and-a-half away?) And I know you won't forgive me for this, but I only watched about the first twenty minutes of A CHRISTMAS STORY last year (not counting the segment that I caught while attempting to buy a cell phone the day before X-mas about a decade back, the part where the family goes to a Chinese restaurant)...I guess by now you can figure out why I'm not a Jean Shepard fan, and it certainly ain't from overexposure!

Anyway, Don Fellman certainly ain't a Jean Shepard fan but then again he acts like one, like during this one phone call where he was telling me that he's been listening to various Shepard repeats that WBAI's playing not to mention the time he regaled me with this one tale he heard Shepard impart on his gathered minions regarding the time a Tijuana Bible featuring Olive Oyl that was being used to tighten something up in a school toilet tank was discovered and "oh, you should have seen what she was doing!!!!" (This particular tale is actually the lead-in for ANOTHER quite interesting saga which I might depart to you someday when the mood is just right!) Anyway, after giving Brad Kohler the lowdown on the spinoff to the original Shepard tale so-to-speak what does the guy do but send me a Cee-Dee-Are of a Jean Shepard broadcast, nothing that I was really in the mood to hear mind you (given all of the above reasons as to why I am not a Jean Shepard fan) but since there was little else going on and I felt kinda adventurous I figured that hey...why not. It's loads better'n the Scooby Doo movies with special guest star Jerry Van Dyke that I could be watching in the other room!

I'm guessing this 'un's mid-sixties. Has a good AM car radio quality to it and in fact woulda sounded perfect playing outta some 1962 Mercury Comet (station wagon for added suburban effect!) parked in a small shopping center lot on an overcast day while waiting for your sister to come outta the fabric shop.  Nice demeanor to it too...kinda New York classy, or was that just the ad for THE NEW YORK TIMES that appeared? And Shepard was...dare I say it...pretty endearing himself. His voice was a natural for the radio idiom and even if the guy was broadcasting from WOR-AM and FM his tale that night had more of a midwestern small town feel to it which must've sounded like total hickdom to all of the bopster locals who were tuning in. I guess only Shepard could spin something about early 20th century living in a small town and make it cool enough that even the classiest of Big City snootery would want to give him a listen!

The story ain't much, but it at least kept me in rapt attention even if the subject matter (kid sports) is something that only brings back long-held memories of childhood failure. But I sure was kept on edge as Shepard recalled the time he and his friends decided to play ice hockey on a marsh that was in actuality a frozen over swamp filled with oily water and dead vermin, and how one of the players fell through the ice in zilch-degree weather which leads on to a whole episode which woulda been great for a LEAVE IT TO BEAVER if only they wanted to get a li'l more outrageous. Perhaps I overdo it...the story might not really be that much and I'm sure there are equally funny stories of youthful mishaps that non-famous folk can rattle off, but between Shepard's announcing/storytelling abilities, the ingenious use of music backing and maybe the fact that in 1965 everything was a whole lot less jaded and self-conscious of itself the story succeeds. Maybe you will have to revert to the mid-sixties to appreciate it, but given that I attempt to revert back to age three on a daily basis it all fit in rather well for me.

Now, I myself could attempt to re-create a number of not-so-hazy childhood memories for you, and maybe my stories would be just as appealing and as nostalgic as those Shepard spewed forth on a regular basis. I remember one time when I was seven and, while I was changing into my clothing in a locker room at a nearby swimming pool it was discovered, by a typically bragadoccio-filled kid at least two years older than me and four inches taller, that my underwear had sported at least two visible skidmarks!  The big kid easily espies said 'marks and starts yelling, in front of a number of other boys no less, that I ifs ands or buts about it...POOPED MY PANTS! I hastily object that I did not poop 'em (which would have been proven had there been large brown lumps of feces in 'em which there weren't...they were just skidmarks probably made from excessive farting and an inability to do a deep down dig-into-it post-bowel movement cleaning), but the kid self-assuredly says that those marks were indeed poop, so I had pooped my shorts and there was no way I could wiggle outta this tried and true fact of life! I couldn't fight the loudmouth bastard because he would easily have trounced me, so what else could I do but hold the gnarling frustration in as I left the kid who continued to taunt me as I walked away in abject shame and degradation as he and his cronies laughed their heads off. All I gotta say is good thing there weren't any yellow dribble stains in the front, which would only add to my overall crushed feelings!

The story doesn't end there either...a few weeks later it was the first day of school and guess who sees me but the same kid, who starts telling his classmates about my rectal misfunctions as they smile and smirk in their own self-assuring ways. There is an end to this story which I will admit is a bit of a fizzout and not quite the happy one you and I would have hoped for, but at least it got the kid to stop his haranguing of me. Maybe if I had the proper broadcast voice and an appropriate musical library to accentuate the various moments of anger and despair (as well as a few bwaps to signify below-the-waist sound effects) I coulda done this story justice. But now perhaps you know why Jean Shepard was a master at these doofus kiddie stories (the most famous of which might be the tongue on the frozen pole episode of A CHRISTMAS STORY which even a guy like me has heard about), and now you know why I got peeved at Bill Shute the time he was yellin' at his own kid for tryin' to make sergeant (three stripes!) with his jockeys! I mean, there are some things you just don't joke about.


Serena WmS. Burroughs said...

Also, Jean Shepard did a piece with Charles Mingus: "The Clown." Check it here My favorite comment there: "man ive been looking for this song and now that i found it im depressed"

diskojoe said...

Great post about Shep, of whom I've been a student of for the past 8 yrs. after first stumbling on to him as a lad reading his Car & Driver columns in the early
'70s.Like you, I really didn't know about the extent of his career until the Intertubes came along & I got to listen to his radio shows, which should be heard as originally broadcast, late at night. I know that after working a 9AM-9PM day dealing w/humanity or its cheap, shoddy substitute, it's great to listen to Shep like a old friend after a long & nutty day. Him & Ernie Kovacs were walking MAD Magazines & A Christmas Story was only a small tip of his talent & genius compared to those WOR shows.