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Monday, December 22, 2008

Donald Fagen's Christmas story

From Slate: Donald Fagen talks about Jean Shepherd's old radio shows. I rarely watch A Christmas Story all the way through, but it's one of those movies I'll stop to watch at any point--which works out fine because some cable station shows it for 24 hours. In my head, I began reading the essay in Shepherd's voice when he narrated the film, a style which Fagen mimics wonderfully:
Toward the beginning of the show, Shepherd frequently read news clippings that listeners, his "spies," had sent in. These were mostly odd little fillers he called "straws in the wind," indicators of the prevailing mood. Once I mailed Shep an article from our local Central Jersey paper about a guy who, after being fired for some petty infraction, got loaded and tossed a Coke bottle through every store window in the local shopping mall. A couple of nights later, I'm listening to the show and Shep does his usual bit: "So, this kid sent me a piece ..." and ACTUALLY READ MY CLIP ON THE AIR! Wham: I had connected. My life as an independent consciousness had begun. I remember scurrying down to the "TV room" and announcing this amazing event to my parents. Having always considered both Shepherd and my uncle Dave to be half-cracked, they were greatly underwhelmed.

Then when things get bitter, I started to hear the source for the unreliable narrators from "Don't Take Me Alive" and "Kid Charlemagne":
To an adolescent back then, long before a therapeutic vernacular had entered the language, this was reassuring news. It's possible that Shep's greatest lesson to the gang wasn't just "things are not what they seem" but rather "things are not what they seem—including me."

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