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 The Radio Years
 Shep on the Radio
 A LONG-BELATED TRIBUTE
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Russ Firestone

USA
8 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  20:16:37  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Above all else, Jean Shepherd was about laughter and the love of life. I wish my connection with him made for a funny story. But it's a tribute far too long overdue.

While I was growing up during the 1960s in Long Island, NY, my father (who died when I was ten) was a mean, sometimes violent drunk. He got off work around 8PM and -- depending on if he stopped off for a few drinks, or how many he had -- he'd be home between 9 and 11. Those being schoolnights, I was in bed by 9.

A good night was when he'd come home and merely have a loud argument with my mother. A worse night -- if he was extra-drunk, or my name came up -- would find him opening my bedroom door and slurring curses at me while I pretended to be sleeping. The worst nights were when nothing (including my mother) could stop him from hauling me out of bed and taking his belt to my butt.

Not surprisingly, I was an insomniac by the age of eight. It was better to wait up for whatever was coming than to be snatched out of a dream into a waking nightmare. So, I began sneaking a little 9-volt AM radio under the covers and listening to it through an earpiece, while keeping my other ear peeled for my father. That was how I first stumbled upon Jean Shepherd on WOR, 10:15-11PM, Monday through Friday.

I didn't get all of his humor at that age, of course, although I enjoyed many of the stories he told about himself and his friends as youngsters. But, far more importantly, what I got was this booming, jolly, friendly, male voice -- with the warmest laugh -- in my ear every night. After his show, I'd turn off the radio and, if the house was quiet, I could finally get to sleep... because Jean had told me a bedtime story.

And, every night, I fell asleep wishing (pretending, I think) that Jean Shepherd was my father.

I became a TV writer and producer, and remained a life-long Shep fan. Unfortunately, I had such a big ego early on in my career -- exaggerated, no doubt, by my childhood insecurity -- that I thought it beneath me to write a fan letter to anyone in show business, no matter how much I privately admired them.

Well, I'm now into my fifties, the ego is gone, and I guess I'm doing some "housecleaning". There are a number of artists who have left us in recent years to whom I wish I'd written those fan letters; but there is no error of omission I regret more than not telling Jean, while he was alive, how he helped save MY life.

I don't know if this is the right forum, or the best forum, on which to say these things. I don't know who's out there to read these words. And I'm not religious. But I'm going to address them to Jean, anyway, because I don't know what else to do with them:

Thank you, Shep. Peace. Forever.

Russ Firestone
Orlando, FL
rfirestone2323@gmail.com

Tom J

1192 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  20:54:33  Show Profile  Visit Tom J's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Nicely written, Russ.

Your love and admiration for Jean Shepard are very evident in the heartfelt words that you wrote.

I can easily understand how his show would have meant a lot more to you than it did to most people, considering your situation.

My childhood was quite the opposite of yours, and I am very sorry that you had to grow up that way.

God bless.

Tom

A 1967 Graduate of Hammond High who cherishes his memories of growing up in the Hammond of the 1950's and 1960's. Bring back those days!

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Russ Firestone

USA
8 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  22:23:30  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Tom,

Thank you for your kind words -- and for being the first voice coming back at me from the ether. "We read to know we're not alone," right? I guess we write for the same reason.

In trying to squint at what I wrote through your eyes -- and, perhaps, those of others -- I wish I'd elaborated on this point: once I became an adult, and a writer myself, my appreciation for Jean's artistry took on the same joyful levels I'm sure I share with you and all his other fans. In fact, although I don't do a lot of comedy (aside from occasional open mic club nights, and a brief stint for Comedy Central), he's unquestionably the biggest influence on my sense of humor.

Now that I finally got the "tragedy" off my chest, I look forward to being an active member of this forum, and (hopefully) contributing more in Shep's upbeat spirit. It took me a long time to get here... I'm not leaving that quickly. And, when I do, I plan to do it like he did: "exit laughing".

Thanks again, Tom.

Russ

Russ Firestone
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duane

381 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  23:39:01  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks for sharing your story Russ. Very heartfelt.
Shep touched us all in various ways. I think that was his special talent. While several of us on this forum actually grew up in or near his beloved "Hohman", I have met many many people throughout my life that have read the books, heard the radio shows, or saw the movies and said "I swear that he was talking about my hometown of (insert anytown USA"). Shep told stories and relayed situations that were American tales, no matter where in America we lived.

I wish your youth had been far more pleasant, and we certainly welcome you to the forum. As you can see, there are many topic areas, and many of us (yours truly included) sometimes venture far off topic regardless of the forum topic we happen to be typing in. So welcome aboard and hope you have a great 2009.
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Russ Firestone

USA
8 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  23:47:21  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Thanks to you, too, Duane. And right back at you for 2009! It's nice to be part of a club that would welcome someone like me as a member... ;)

Russ Firestone
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Tom J

1192 Posts

Posted - 01/07/2009 :  07:51:28  Show Profile  Visit Tom J's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Oh, yeah, Russ, come on over to the "Hammond" forum, since that's where most of the posting is going on. You don't have to be from Hammond to be part of the gang over there. I'll bet you will be able to relate to a lot of what is being discussed in that forum.

Welcome to Sheptalk!

Tom

A 1967 Graduate of Hammond High who cherishes his memories of growing up in the Hammond of the 1950's and 1960's. Bring back those days!

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diskojoe

161 Posts

Posted - 01/07/2009 :  09:02:57  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Russ, I would also like to extend my greetings & welcome to this forum & may you make many fine contributions, Sincerely, diskojoe
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Russ Firestone

USA
8 Posts

Posted - 01/08/2009 :  02:05:23  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Hey Tom,

Took you up on your invite to visit the Hammond Forum. Couldn't help noticing: I did the rough math in my head, but it looks like this forum's got the lowest ratio of topics to entries of them all. Does that mean you guys jabber more about less stuff than everyone else? ;)

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I've never been to Indiana -- but I kinda like the music... Which is odd when you consider that my two biggest creative inspirations were both native sons: Shep and Kurt Vonnegut. Am I the only one who finds their writing similar in certain ways? (Discuss among yourselves.)

Actually, I noticed the comparison made between Shep and Mark Twain in the site's profile. Vonnegut often got compared with Twain, too. Who was more Twain-like? I think that's like trying to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin -- an embarrassment of riches best enjoyed without too much analysis.

Oh, yeah -- the other connection I have to Indiana, being a film fan, is one of the best sports movies ever made, "Hoosiers" with Gene Hackman. In fact, I've been toying with the idea of writing a sequel:

This time, the coach's daughter -- and head cheerleader -- is pregnant. She won't say by whom, but the coach naturally assumes it's one of the players. So, while he's drilling the team for the upcoming state finals, he's also drilling them to find out who the father is.

The title? "Hoosier Daddy", of course. (Insert your own groan and rim shot here.)

Don't worry, you don't have to ask me to leave -- I only came to say I must be going...


quote:
Originally posted by Tom J

Oh, yeah, Russ, come on over to the "Hammond" forum, since that's where most of the posting is going on. You don't have to be from Hammond to be part of the gang over there. I'll bet you will be able to relate to a lot of what is being discussed in that forum.

Welcome to Sheptalk!

Tom

A 1967 Graduate of Hammond High who cherishes his memories of growing up in the Hammond of the 1950's and 1960's. Bring back those days!





Russ Firestone
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SpaceCat

USA
13 Posts

Posted - 01/30/2009 :  23:24:13  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Just checking in after an absence, and it's great to see a surge of activity on the board, and some new faces.
Welcome to Russ, and thanks for sharing your story. Shep gave all us youngsters an escape; be it from a bad situation like yours, the misfortune of poverty like mine, or just the hum-drum boredom of everyday life.
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