| Some of a certain age bemoan the absence of prevailing popularity of Shep -- beyond the fan following of "A Christmas Story," of course. Although I am certainly in the camp believing Shep was a brilliant and masterful storyteller, I must admit that when I listen to some of his old shows, they do sound a bit dated. And the mention of his name by me, especially among a younger cohort, often elicits a puzzled look (or from an older generation, a comment pertaining to a certain female country singer).
But I -- indeed, many reading this post -- listen to old Shep shows in the context of his larger body of work, rather than as a single, isolated episode. We long ago "got" his shtick; we became accustomed to the satirical side (snide?) of his humor; we grew up with mutual old friends Flick and Schwartz, albeit in 45-minute radio episodes. (Yes, we actually LISTENED for almost an unbroken hour -- without benefit of a screen of any sort or a quest for a diploma or degree -- to a single human voice!) We were willing to indulge Shep's eccentricities and patiently give him time to resolve his often rambling stories.
With that as an introduction, I just came across a book review and interview from The New York Times of January 11, 2004 -- already more than 13 years old -- which well illustrates some of my thoughts. The subject was the novel "Me and Orson Welles" by Robert Kaplow, who, like me, grew up in northern New Jersey listening to Shep in the 1960s. At the time of the interview, Kaplow was a longtime teacher at an upscale New Jersey high school, as well as an NPR performer on Morning Edition. Here is what is reported to have been said by Kaplow about his life and work:
Mr. Kaplow's efforts to interest students in his favorite radio dramas, however, have had only limited success.
''I've found that if I play them a tape of Jean Shepherd or Firesign Theater'' -- the free-associative group that was a fixture on many public and college radio stations in the late 60's and the 70's -- ''and all they have to do is listen, in about five minutes they have this overwhelming desire to clean out their backpack, comb their hair or go to the bathroom,'' he said. ''It really makes them uncomfortable that they're just sitting there and not doing something.''
Nevertheless, Mr. Kaplow covets his interests and the way of life they inform, even if they are what colleagues and students might fondly label old-fashioned.
Note, too, that the students' reaction to old Shepherd broadcasts, particularly the onset of apparent boredom after only five minutes, was years ahead of the invention of the IPhone, and long before it became fashionable to blame all manner of inattention and mental sloth -- not to mention political cataclysms -- on such devices and the apps they harbor.