Friday, October 3, 2008

Flick Lives

The other day I got call from a KUTV viewer in Minneapolis.

John Gross, award-winning KSTP photojournalist and NFL Films cameraman, watched some web videos and, no doubt in a fit of severe boredom, read my web page bio. He noted that I blamed my career choice on the late humorist and broadcaster Jean Shepherd.

Had I been born a few years earlier, I might have followed Mark Twain's lecture tour.

Instead I listened to Jean Shepherd.

Thursdays my parents let me stay up late. Actually past 9 pm.

Just before broadcast, 9:15 I think, I turned the lights out, the radio on, and jumped into bed.

And then Jean Shepherd would talk.

Just talk.

For 45 minutes, on WOR, the NYC news/talk station that, at night, roamed the east coast, he would tell stories. Small dramas he made you think were from his childhood. Or from a New York street corner just last week.

No guest interviews, no musical performances (not counting the kazoo or jaw harp). Just Shepherd. Just one long monologue that meandered its way through multiple topics of conversation -- from Halloween costumes to Abby Hoffman's Eldorado -- and somehow, 45 minutes later, managed to find its destination and make its point.

And now I read that Shepherd worked without a net. There was no script or outline. Just a scrap of paper with a few notes. (Earlier in his broadcasting career he would extemporize for five hours.)

Some people may remember Jean Shepherd as the screenwriter of, "A Christmas Story," a movie that's become as much a part of the December TV landscape as "A Wonderful Life." (A fan who's been selling leg lamps online, just bought Ralphie's original Cleveland movie set house off Ebay and this November is opening it as a "Christmas Story" museum.)

When he died seven years ago, the Associated Press wrote that Shepherd likely inspired a big scene in "Network." He sometimes told listeners to crank up their radios and, along with him, scream things like, "Drop the tools, we've got you covered!"

But I remember Jean Shepherd as the guy who, when I was ten years old, entertained me with the tale of the camel that ate his sheepskin coat.

So Minnesotan John Gross called to tell me that Shepherd is off the air but on the web. On sites like Flick Lives.

So I bought myself a cheap MP3 player and began to rediscover to Jean Shepherd.

Maybe I'll listen to a few shows with the lights off.

Just for old time's sake.

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