It's Saturday morning and pretty much like every other day, all I think of is radio. I wake to think radio, and I take my waking really fast sometimes.
As mentioned in previous blog posts that the three or four of read - thank you for your loyalty. Would you like to supersize that? - I have discovered Jean Shepherd. It's not that I never watched "A Christmas Story" and laughed. I did a lot, especially with my kids when they were little. And it's not that I wasn't proud that the parade was supposed to take place in downtown Hammond, a place that I used to hang out in as a kid. I went to those same department stores and I went to a similar parade. I even went with my dad down to the Chamber of Commerce offices and got to run around the lobbies of what seemed like then really big buildings.
And then there was talk about "down in Griffith," where Alexis and I lived for more than a decade when we first got married. There's a lot of local references and that's pretty cool to have in a movie that people all over the world watch every Christmastime. It's especially gratifying in that this is, as Jean Shepherd often points out, an area of steel mills and oil refineries and not much else. We don't have that much to be proud of, so sitting on the couch watching a movie that you know a zillion other people are watching at the same time... and they're talking about Hohman (Hammond) and Griffith and steel and oil, it's just kind of gratifying.
But that's all it is. After you're done watching the movie, you still have to prompt the kids to brush their teethies and read them a story before bed and then do the dishes left in the sink and take out the garbage. The sense of pride of watching a movie about your hometown fades quickly in the face of there's not enough money in the checking account and the battery on the car keeps dying.
So I got in the mail this week my copy of "Excelsior, You Fathead," by Eugene Bergmann. It's a biography of Jean Shepherd, and it talks about Shepherd's whole life. I'm only through the first part of it, where they talk about his early life in Hammond. There's a lot in it but here's a quick Shepherdism.
"We're only in this vale of tears for a short time... "
That's a quote from one of Shepherd's radio broadcasts. It's not even part of the main theme of the movement. The story is about how most people don't try new things. But in reading those 11 words, I start thinking - I've heard this before, somewhere, somehow.
And it comes to me - it's very similar to what Preacher used to say. Preacher was this guy, Steve Glover, who grew up and lived almost his entire life a few blocks from where Shepherd grew up in Hessville. Preach hung out around the station when we first bought it and eventually wound up hosting our afternoon show. He was quite talented and quite difficult to get along with but in the end probably the most talented person do radio that I've personally ever witnessed. And he would end his show with a refrain that started with....
"You're only on this rock for so long..."
It's not a big similarity. It's not this huge overarching theme that reaches over several generations back to the neighborhood of Shepherd's youth, and it's not this stark connection with our own WJOB. No, it's just my own personal revelation... If anything, Preacher the storyteller from Hessville and Shep the storyteller from Hessville each understood one very simple thing - that it'll all be over soon.
There's another little ditty that sticks out as I plod through Bergmann's book about Shepherd. It's another small thing. Bergman quotes one of Shep's shows from the 1950s, and there it is, Shepherd saying -
"Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa...."
That's what Geno says on his noontime rock-and-roll show. No kidding. I'll have to ask Geno about that. I'm also gonna ask Geno how to copyright something. I was driving around the Region listening to our family-owned radio station and Geno told the story about how he paid 250 bucks to copyright "Big dogs, cool cats and Region rats." It's a really cool verbal riff. Maybe one day I'll come up with a really cool verbal riff and want to copyright it. How the hell do you do that?
Theres one other thing creeping up on me about Jean Shepherd - a sense he wasn't that good of a person. He has two sons, but he didn't help rear them or even acknowledge them. It turns out that the dad of A Christmas Story may have just up and left Shep's family for a young stenographer, and for some reason that must have freed up Shep from the chains and encumbrances of raising a family. I don't know. But I'm walking down the stairs to pick up my computer charger, and I'm thinking -
"What kind of man turns his back on his family?"
I think that and,
"How many wives did he have again?"
But there you go again making judgements. Who am I to judge? Who are the three or four of you to judge?
Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa. We're only in this vale of tears for a short time, so learn what you can from others and move on. That should do for a Saturday morning. The sun just came out.