Customer Review

77 of 85 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hoo boy. This is a tough one., July 11, 2005
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This review is from: Excelsior, You Fathead!: The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd (Hardcover)
Before I go any further, let me congratulate Mr. Bergmann on a prodigious piece of work. This book must have taken a great deal of time and effort and that fact needs recognition. Jean Shepherd was a unique individual who means different things to different people. Because of that, I wonder if the book couldn't have been better with some collaboration in the writing.

I grew up in mid-Michigan. I stumbled on Jean Shepherd quite by accident one night in 1965 while tuning around. I don't think I heard more than a dozen shows altogether because the reception was lousy. When I was at college, reception was completely non-existent. Following college, I was drafted into the Army and subsequently served a year in southeast Asia. Not only would reception be virtually impossible, but also our radios didn't tune down that far. But I came across him again with his periodic stories in Playboy. And there the relationship ended. I did see a couple episodes of Jean Shepherd's America, but nothing else. Not until one of my kids asked me to watch a movie. Of course, it was Christmas Story and as soon as the narration started, I jumped up and yelled "Its him!" The kids were not impressed. Still aren't, 10 years later.

I think this is an important point. Everybody loved the movie, but it took someone special to appreciate Shepherd on the radio. Even today, when my wife and I are going to be together in the car for a couple of hours, I'll pop in a Shepherd CD. Inside of 10 minutes she is either asleep or she wants to tell me about her sister's foot problem. No interest whatsoever in the gems being imparted to us. So my love of Shepherd is something I keep to myself and I wonder how many others find the same thing.

Mr. Bergmann's book bothered me, especially the first two-thirds. I really wondered how much of Shepherd he understood and I wonder how much of the radio world he understands. One example: on page 150 is the sentence "Or styrene, for the low, lost types." This is a terribly funny line had it been copied in its original form which should have been "Or styrene, for the low loss types" indicating the properties of an inductor used in electronic circuits, which of course has absolutely no bearing on the subject matter. Mr. Bergmann repeatedly points out that Shepherd had little or no use for those employed in other capacities at the radio station, such as the engineers, salesmen and executives. He makes this sound as if Shepherd was the only performer in the world to ever feel this way. This is dead wrong and examples can be easily found to back this point. During Shepherd's time, did Johnny Carson ever say anything respectful of the NBC executives? Listen today to the syndicated Neil Boortz Show when he refers to the `sales weenies.' And engineers many times do not understand the creative process the performer is striving for. They are more concerned with flipping switches and reading meters. This I know for a fact because I used to be one. Shepherd was hardly unique in his disdain.

Shepherd referred several times, especially in the early 60's, to having played baseball. From what I gathered, it was only minor league, but still a part of his life. I found no mention of this whatsoever in the book, fabricated history or not.

Quite a bit of print is used to describe Shepherd's dysfunctional home life. This portion did need to be told, but again the impression I came away with was that it was unique to Shepherd, which, sadly, isn't true.

Having said all of that, there are some real jewels here. Unfortunately, the spoken word does not easily translate to the written word. The written excerpts from many of Shepherd's broadcasts are difficult to read and appreciate since there is no way to easily convey his mannerisms, tone, pacing and other techniques used to get his point across.

One of the best statements from the book should have been placed on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter as a continuing reminder of the flaw in how we perceive our personal celebrities. On page 438, Larry Josephson is quoted as saying (in part) "... I was disappointed because he didn't live up to his image- but most people don't. One of my rules- and most people's rules- you don't want to meet your hero. They very rarely live up to your image of them."

Summation: if you followed Shepherd, buy and read the book. If you didn't, then don't.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 1, 2008 7:45:24 PM PST
This hits the nail on the head. Dead on. I enjoy listening to Jean Sheperd's stuff and enjoy reading about him but it can be a bitter pill for many (if not most people). Only the very few brave souls who are afficianados (sp?) of Jean Sheperd need to proceed into "this book"

Posted on Dec 27, 2008 8:07:27 AM PST
Yes, I could have devoted half a sentence to my disbelief that Shepherd had played minor league baseball. However I do discuss his enthusiasm for the game on pages 169 through 171. Plus I discuss his several stories about Yankee players hitting home runs in the direction of his father in response to his father's yelled comments.

Posted on Jan 27, 2009 5:28:48 PM PST
A reader says:
Shep was of a time and place. If he didn't grab you back then, it's hard to appreciate now just how special and influential he was for his time. My time was 1962 or thereabouts, when I was 10 years old. I hid the transistor radio under my pillow at 10:15 p.m. when I was supposed to be asleep, and lay awake listening to his nightly shows on WOR. One time he imitated the blood-curdling sound of a dentist's drill so accurately that I began to laugh hysterically and blew my cover. Then there was the Night People vs. Creeping Meatballism from Mad Magazine. When I read it again now, I recognize the roots of my burgeoning nonconformism and how proud I was of it. It was Shep's fault! I wonder if he knows he influenced a whole generation of radicals and hippies who were terrified of being one of the Day People. The thing about Shep is, his ideas are so current and so true that they seem commonplace now. But he was talking about this stuff 50 years ago, and in that dry, insightful, cynical way of his. When I'm old and doddering I will still retain an image of his little brother "whimpering under the day bed." I guess you had to be there, and I'm so glad I was.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 16, 2010 12:42:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 19, 2010 6:02:06 PM PDT
The Customer says, "Shepherd referred several times, especially in the early 60's, to having played baseball. From what I gathered, it was only minor league, but still a part of his life. I found no mention of this whatsoever in the book"

Actually, on page 169, I do say, "Shepherd frequently used sports metaphors--usually baseball--saying he played sports in his youth, had been a professional ballplayer, and had done play-by-play broadcasts for the Toledo Mudhens." The reviewer should be a bit more careful in his reading.

Posted on Feb 23, 2011 5:59:08 AM PST
microtv says:
So here we are, almost six years later. My original review was dated July 2005 and it is now late February 2011. I am going through another Shepherd phase, and as happens so often in life, forces conspire against me. In this case, it is the CD player in my car, failing after about 15 minutes because for some dumb reason it is overheating. My solution is to invest a whole $30 into early 21st Century technology by purchasing a Sansa Clip+ and listening to that. At some point, I may write a review about that product. But I digress.

A couple of days ago Shepherd's show from March 27, 1971 came up. On this night he devoted most of the show to reading a letter from a listener, from start to finish, including the listener's name and address. What really caught my attention was the listener was currently housed at Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson, Michigan. Wow! So there were TWO people in Jackson who were Shep fans- me and the guy in the slam. I have to give this guy credit- it took a real effort to pull WOR in most nights. Shepherd ended his show by suggesting everyone send the guy a card. I will never know how this campaign turned out, nor was I able to participate because of the tour I was taking in Southeast Asia at the time, at government expense. Bummer.

But it got me to thinking and I came back here, curious if I had mentioned being from Jackson in the review. Nope. Just mid-Michigan. No big deal. But then I started reading the other reviews and especially the review comments. This is some of the funniest stuff I have read in years! Shepherd himself could have devoted several shows dissecting Mr. Bergmann's protests.

Mr. Bergmann did take the time to respond to my observations regarding his book. It seems appropriate to submit rebuttal.

Quoting me, I wrote "Shepherd referred several times, especially in the early 60's, to having played baseball. From what I gathered, it was only minor league, but still a part of his life. I found no mention of this whatsoever in the book, fabricated history or not."

Mr. Bergmann's first criticism is "However I do discuss his enthusiasm for the game on pages 169 through 171. Plus I discuss his several stories about Yankee players hitting home runs in the direction of his father in response to his father's yelled comments."

May I suggest, sir, that enthusiasm for a particular sport does not automatically mean someone spent part of their life being employed in that sport? For example, I have an interest in Women's Volleyball. But I never have, or never expect to be an active participant. Likewise, I cannot see how referencing his father's yelled comments translates to being proof Shepherd played professional ball. Maybe you can supply the missing connection?

I will not address the fact that it took Mr. Bergmann two and a half years to cite his own reference refuting my allegation. That one speaks volumes all by itelf.

Mr. Bergmann tells us 'Actually, on page 169, I do say, "Shepherd frequently used sports metaphors--usually baseball--saying he played sports in his youth, had been a professional ballplayer, and had done play-by-play broadcasts for the Toledo Mudhens." ' Once again, I do not see the connections. I think it is safe to say many many kids played sports as a youth, but did not spend any time as a professional athlete. And regarding his being a play-by-play announcer, please read my original review. I am a broadcast engineer by profession. I have worked with many sports announcers, both local and from other areas whose stations hired me when their team came here to play. I can assure you that none of them ever played professionally. Calling a game does not equate to participating in the game.

Which brings us to Mr. Bergmann's own comment "had been a professional ballplayer" and my objection. You admit he did it. Okay, when and where did this happen? My review simply stated I had found no mention of it. Where is the information? I stand by what I said and suggest (borrowing a phrase) the author should be a bit more careful in his reading.

Might I suggest, sir, if you are uncomfortable with commentary regarding your work, you refrain from making your work available to public scrutiny?

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 24, 2011 5:11:59 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 24, 2011 7:20:39 AM PST
"had been a professional ballplayer." See my page 169, in the section titled "Sports and Stuff" for the quote.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 17, 2015 6:05:20 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 17, 2015 6:08:46 AM PDT
Herodotus12 says:
Jean Shepherd never played professional baseball; his brother did. Randy Shepherd attended spring training with the minor-league Rockford Rox (an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds) in 1948, but was released within two months.
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