I was on the sofa last night, playing poker and watching Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. The show was nearing its nightly end, the time it tends to be a little more off center. Keith turned to the camera and said, “Keep your knees loose.”
Holy s***! He was quoting a catch phrase from Jean Shepard.
Actually, I said the very same thing in public back in 1965. It was at the AT&T pavilion at the ’64-’65 New York World’s Fair. I was a participant in a picturephone demonstration. As a wise ass teen, “keep your knees loose” were my parting words. The AT&T employee running the show had no clue what I was talking about and looked mortified.
But Keith is on national TV.
When I was growing up, in the sixties, I listened to Jean Shepard every night from 10:15 to 11:00 PM on WOR. He was a monologist – he alone spoke for the entire 45 minutes. There is nothing on radio or TV like this today.
Shepard was willing to talk to his engineer or anyone who might be around (though they were never heard). Usually though, he just spoke directly to the audience, as if you were there in the studio with him.
He wasn’t political or particularly interested in most current events. His stories often went back to growing up in Hammond, Indiana and his friends, Flick and Schwartz. Sometimes he’d joke about his military career in a mess kit repair unit.
He was always irreverent. He always bit the hand that fed him. As a kid with a transistor radio under my pillow, he represented the adventure that awaited me. He was the cool part of being an adult.
I met Shep twice. Once was a personal appearance at a big and tall men’s clothing store on Long Island. I think I rode my bike, though it was quite far. I also saw him do his show at the Limelight in Greenwich Village¹.
Even today, these are unforgettable moments. He meant that much to me.
I sent Keith Olbermann a note, letting him know that there was at least one person who understood what was going on. Though he made this arcane reference, he wrote back claiming radio allegiance to Bob and Ray.
I know lots of people who thought they were funny, but their humor aways evaded me. I am a fan of Bob’s son, Chris Elliot.
The most interesting part of Keith’s reply was his pointing out some of Shepard’s old airchecks are now on the Internet.
Wow, they are. I haven’t listened to much of the collection yet, but they’re on the Podcast site… dozens of airchecks. What I have heard so far holds up, even though it’s nearly 40 years old.
There’s more for real Shepard fans. Keith said Flicklives.com might end up being my new favorite site. Maybe that’s overdoing it a little, but it will demand a few hours of perusal.
Before he died, Jean Shepard turned into a mean spirited man who tried desperately to disassociate himself from the radio work I loved so much. That was a real shame, because his effect on me and many of my contemporaries was profound.
¹ – I was taken to the Limelight by Bob Weiss, my friend from summer camp, and his parents. I have no idea what ever happened to Bob. If you run into him, please tell him Geoff says hi… and tell him to keep his knees loose.