You'll put your eye out!
December 11, 2007 8:05 PM   Subscribe

Jean Shepherd was one of the greatest storytellers ever to be heard on radio. The Jean Shepherd Project collects recordings of these historic broadcasts, converts them to mp3 files and makes them available to be revisited by his longtime fans and by those who wish to discover what great American storytelling is all about.

Via the Wikipedia entry, via I'm Learning To Share.

Also, I don't think the marathon on TV has started quite yet, but the one on the Internet is well underway:

A Christmas Story
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posted by carsonb (26 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, man, I totally love Jean Shepherd.

As awesome as Christmas Story is, though, the fourth of July movie was EVEN BETTER. Seriously. Although I sometimes feel as though I was one of only seventeen people who ever saw it, since all I get are blank stares from people whenever I mention it.
posted by dersins at 8:12 PM on December 11, 2007

Jean Shepherd is great, but has anyone here ever seen the sequel to A Christmas Story? It's just terrible, I tell you.
posted by dhammond at 8:20 PM on December 11, 2007

A Christmas Story is a classic!
"I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!"

"No, you'll shoot your eye out."

"It's a Major Award! Fra-jee-lay. That must be Italian."

"I think it says 'Fragile.'"

"Hey, smart ass. I asked my old man about sticking your tongue to a flagpole in the winter, and he says that it'll freeze right to the pole, just like I told ya."

"Ah, baloney. What would your old man know about anything like that?"

"Be sure to drink your Ovaltine. Ovaltine? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!"

"Over the years I got to be quite a connoisseur of soap. Though my personal preference was for Lux, I found that Palmolive had a nice, piquant after-dinner flavor - heavy, but with a touch of mellow smoothness. Life Buoy, on the other hand... YECCHH!"

"Deck the halls with boughs of horry, ra ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra."
posted by ericb at 8:23 PM on December 11, 2007

A Christmas Story is a certifiable classic, one of those movies you can use to gauge the overall taste of a movie fan. If you don't love that movie, then there's probably something wrong with you.
posted by dhammond at 8:36 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Jean Shepherd is one of those people that I can listen to talk about ANYTHING. I remember stumbling upon a half hour clip of him that just fascinated me - and when I tried to describe it to a friend I realized that he really didn't talk about anything specific in this bit. He just talked, but his delivery and story telling skills were so top notch that it didn't matter. There was a great NPR tribute a few years ago put together by Harry Shearer (I think) that would be great to hear again.

Pretty much any audio clip of him is worth hearing. But his stories are also great on their own without his delivery - his book "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash" is worth seeking out.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:01 PM on December 11, 2007

Hm. That's weird. This very site was at the end of a long tangential thread for me the other night--most likely I couldn't sleep and wanted something soothing to put on the iPod. Always loved this kind of stuff, and Shepherd was always a favorite as well. Good stuff, all around.

In fact, my love for Le Show probably owes a lot to Jean Shepherd. Harry has a similar format--like an old friend just calling you up to read bits of his local paper to you and tell old jokes.
posted by littlerobothead at 9:10 PM on December 11, 2007

There was a great NPR tribute a few years ago put together by Harry Shearer (I think) that would be great to hear again.
It's in there, Slack-a-gogo.

In case it is not apparent, you can browse or search The Jean Shepherd Archive to find available recordings, then check the box next to the recording(s) you wish to hear and click one of three buttons: The musical note streams the audio in .m3u format, the down arrow allows you to download the .mp3 file, and the ? brings detailed information on the track.
posted by carsonb at 9:11 PM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

I can remember listening to him on WOR - my parents were big fans, and still remember him fondly and retell the tales. My brother's a big fan too, and started trading the CDs with this group a while ago, when it was all snail-mail format. He's got hundreds and hundreds of hours of this audio, which someone painstakingly recorded from original radio station studio reels.

Listening to him now, it's hard to understand the groundbreaking nature of his spooled-off personal reflects delivered in stream-of-consciouness narrative style. Without Jean Shepherd, not only no Christmas Story: also no Spalding Grey, no Garrison Kiellor, no Eric Bogosian.....

What slack-a-gogo says is true, as well: his books are a riot. The chapters on which Christmas Story is based are extremely funny reads on their own, and full of texture and neighborhood characters that the movie couldn't squeeze in.

One line I wish hadn't been sacrificed in the movie script is this one:

In the department store, after the visit to Santa, Dad asks Ralphie "So, did Santa ask you if you were a good boy this year?"

Ralphie says "No...he didn't."

Dad says "Well, that's all right...he knows."

That dialogue's in the movie. In the book, Dad adds after a small pause " he knows about the basement window, too."

Lots more Shepherdiana on Flick Lives. Another film version of his material: Wanda Hickey's NIght of Golden Memories.

Awesome post - thanks!
posted by Miko at 9:13 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Great links! I read every Jean Sheppard book I could get my hands on when I was in my teens. Love him.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 9:47 PM on December 11, 2007

If you're in Chicago, there is a very well-reviewed live stage production of A Christmas Story playing at the Theatre Building. I think it closes on New Year's Eve.
posted by tzikeh at 9:48 PM on December 11, 2007

Genuflecting in the direction of carsonb. Thanks!

I love Shepherd -- that's an understatement -- but I burned out on endless repetitions of Christmas Story some years ago. Happily for me, there's a wealth of brilliant non-Ralphie-related holiday shows available from the Shep archives:

Rattling Home for Christmas: Shep takes on Grant Reynard's 1940 proto-beat classic.

Uncle Carl's Gift: The sort of thing you might hear from the next barstool over just before last call on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Madness: Holiday mayhem double feature -- a broken jaw for Christmas, and Shep's first office party.

Christmas in the Army
: Mesmerizing. Probably one of his best shows ever.


New Year's Eve
: 1930's Chicago provides some unexpected entertainment for the kids.

Excelsior, you fatheads....
posted by Kinbote at 10:47 PM on December 11, 2007

Does anyone remember his public TV show? Thanks for this wonderful post.
posted by LarryC at 11:30 PM on December 11, 2007

posted by wheelieman at 5:47 AM on December 12, 2007

Damn! That's not related, wheelieman, that's a straight-up double. I blame y2karl's poor spelling, and apologize to him for my flimsy search. Damn! Of course, he rounded up a whole slew of cool Shepherd links while I trust y'all can find your way from the wikipedia entry (they're mostly there). Well, oh well—if there was a MeFite I wouldn't mind being shown up by, it's y2karl. Damn!
posted by carsonb at 6:59 AM on December 12, 2007

For those of you playing along at home, here is how I fucked up and posted a double. First and foremost, I didn't use the search page. I searched tags for every iteration of Jean Shepherd I could think of, but that wasn't enough because whomever tagged the previous post (whether it was y2karl or a backtagger) spelled Shepherd "Sheperd" in the tags and throughout most of the post. Next, the very first thing I do when I find something glorious to share is use the New Post page to check the link. It's the same search that the Search page provides, only sort of a short-cut. But you're supposed to check various configurations of the url. I checked, but forgot to try, which is the version y2karl used. Finally, I haven't read all of y2karl's posts. This is perhaps my gravest mistake. And thus, wholly preventable, a double slips through. Let this be a lesson to us all.
posted by carsonb at 7:07 AM on December 12, 2007

wow. My whole late 60's early 70's just came flooding back. I also listened on WOR late at night In my bed, and the whole world just parked itself in my bedroom when he talked.

I still have two of his books, Ferrari in the Bedroom and Wanda Hickeys Night of Golden Memories, the latter signed "Excelsior, Dad!". I remember him signing in a small bookstore in Red Bank, New Jersey, and I remember thinking there should be more people here.

His storytelling prowess is just incredibly lacking today, and as happy as I am to have this link to his recordings, it saddens me that we have no one left to furnish our childrens imaginations as I had.
posted by rudy26 at 7:19 AM on December 12, 2007

I was lucky enough to hear Shep on the radio when I was very small and visiting my grandparents, and I remember being entranced although I had no idea what I was listening to. Radio wasn't nearly as good where I grew up, I remember thinking.

I am subscribed to 2 Jean Shepherd podcasts (of old radio shows): The home base for one is:
and the other is the Brass Figalee, which is linked off that link, as well (it's not updated anymore, but there's a chunk of goodness there).
posted by julen at 7:56 AM on December 12, 2007

Flick Lives!
posted by zaelic at 8:08 AM on December 12, 2007

Finally, I haven't read all of y2karl's posts... Let this be a lesson to us all.

posted by y2karl at 8:29 AM on December 12, 2007

Wow. My dad used to make me watch Shepherd's show on public television when I was young. I distinctly recall an episode about windshield wipers that had me transfixed.

And there were a couple American Playhouse movies, one of which I'm guessing is the Great American Fourth of July, with an earlier version of the lascivious lamp scene, as well as the Prom Night story ("Wanda Hickey"?) that had me in tears of laughter. Never forget the white rental tux with bullet hole and blood stain.

Call me Scrooge, but I actually thought James Broderick and Barbara Bolton in those PBS movies were better as the parents than Darrin McGavin and Melinda Dillon. Some of those Christmas Story scenes were a little too cartoonish. Not that I don't love that movie.
posted by stargell at 8:33 AM on December 12, 2007

I've been listening to some of the WOR podcasts and mp3s at work today, and the thing that I'm finding really amazing is the pacing. In thirty years, how much radio has changed. Shepherd's voice is so easy, so rambling, so late-night, so gently unspooling as slick and easy as fishing line whispering off a reel. Bantering with his guests, they are utterly unhurried. They're talking. The guests aren't repeating their plug for their latest film/book/record every four minutes. Shepherd isn't hammering on some shtick phrase, and isn't using any segmentation. It's a conversation - either two-way, with his guest, or one-way, with his audience. It's very hard to imagine that happening today on commercial radio, or even public radio, for that matter. There are so few pockets of free-form music, and even fewer of free-form talk.

It's really relaxing just to listen, and definitely brings back the sensation of listening in a dark room in the 70s under a nubbly blanket.
posted by Miko at 12:07 PM on December 12, 2007

dersins: I feel the same way about The Great American Fourth of July and Other Disasters, although I haven't seen it since about 1984. Anybody have any idea how I can see it again? Google's never helped me.

One of these days I'm going to see just how a raw onion compares to a sexual experience.
posted by Ickster at 5:13 PM on December 12, 2007

There were giants in the earth in those days.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:03 PM on December 12, 2007

"randy lay there like a slug. it was his only defense."
posted by CitizenD at 12:36 AM on December 13, 2007

Jean Shepherd is one of my most favorite broadcasters ever and one of the only writers of 20th century Americana who really, y'know, [i]got[/i] it.

I've been listening online to the Shepherd segments of Max Schmid's Mass Backwards radio broadcast for at least six years now. His style of radio monologue and storytelling was absolutely incredible. You could listen to him speak about anything, and he usually would. Some of the more fascinating stories came from his travelogues, where he describes visiting the Middle East, or venturing into the Amazon to give cough drops to rainforest tribesmen (no, really...) He also delighted in recording odd bits of ephemerae to play on the air -- it'd make good radio no matter what.

Even his more mundane shows, the shows where he'd mostly just read and comment on news items which had caught his eye, are compelling. He'd make fun of his sponsors, sing their jingles on the air along with 'em, nip the hand that feeds him ("...and speaking of atrocities, this is WOR AM and FM, New York...") and, if things flagged or he got bored, he'd put on a record of old nickelodeon recordings and play along on the Jew's Harp ("with a razzmatazz and a rooty-toot!")

My favorite series of his is the multi-parter he did of the 1964 World's Fair. He went to the fair and carried around a reel-to-reel recorder with him and commented on all he saw. At one point he visits GE's "Carousel of Progress" as put on by Walt Disney. The show presents four scenes of a family life in various eras of the 20th century and how electricity, thanks to GE, has made things just so gosh-darned great for them. (The original version's final scene of Modern Day 1964 includes the infamous line "And out the window there, you can see a welcome neighbor: our local GE nuclear power plant.")

Jean sits in the auditorium and completely slags, in his hipster broadcast way, GE's vision of the future and its teachings of progress through corporate advancement. He deconstructs the show and rips it to shreds in the process.

And thirty years later, when Walt Disney World updated their Carousel of Progress show, they tapped Jean Shepherd to play the voice of the father. I wonder if Shep thought back and recognized the irony when he went in to sing his own version of "It's a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow."

Every week I greatly enjoy another of his 45-minute rambles, even if I've already heard it.
posted by Spatch at 5:55 AM on December 13, 2007

"...and speaking of atrocities, this is WOR AM and FM, New York..."

My favorite station ID (from one of his mid-60's shows) is: "This is WOR, spelled with an H, and an E on the end..."
posted by Kinbote at 7:19 PM on December 13, 2007

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