Monday, December 19, 2005

Christmas Special No. 3: Jean Shepherd

For those of you that only might recognize the name Jean Shepherd from the Peter Billingsly TBS loop of “A Christmas Story”, allow me to introduce you to one of my childhood heroes and a consummate story-teller. I spent many an evening from 1968 to 1975 pretending to be asleep, and listening to Shep on WOR. Max Schmid, DJ on New York’s WBAI is re-running Shep’s Radio shows. There is one he ran recently, from October 15, 1964, that is strangely appropriate to what is going on in the Middle East right now. It is titled “Tuareg Culture”, and adequately nails the gulf between Western and Desert Nomad society. It is not 100% politically correct, but that’s the way things were when speech was freer and skins were not so thin. You can get a listen on Max's web site if you hurry.

The Christmas movie is not entirely representative of Shep’s style either. Darren McGavin, for example, does not exude the tough, fatherly menace and beer drinking unpredictability that was Shepherd’s version of his old man. He, and Delbert and the Bumpus hounds, and Ludlow Kissel, and many other elements were, as Shep might have put it, “scrubbed with Pepsodent” to make them a little more mainstream acceptable. I invite you to check out this strange genius as he shares his life from childhood in Depression era Indiana, to his army experiences and beyond. Even if you don’t know what an Ed Winn Fire Hat is, I think you will enjoy it. If you are more into the printed word, pick up a copy of In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash, or Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories (and other disasters). Incidentally, Jean Shepherd has won many awards for his work, including being inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2005. Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh will be lucky if they are ever mentioned in a bathroom stall in the Radio Hall of Fame. Should either of them ever get inducted however, I will make a special trip to post my comments there.