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Sunday, December 24, 2006


Christmas Eve Morning in California, 2006

A Long Way from Jamshedpur, India * Radio Days - Bob Fass, Jean Shepherd

"I love my past, I love my present. I am not ashamed of what I have had, and I am not sad because I no longer have it."
-- Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

I grew up in Jamshedpur, known as the Steel Town. Tata Iron & Steel Company's plant was said to be the largest in Asia. Now there are steel plants galore of different sizes, and some are much larger. Things have changed. From all accounts, Jamshedpur is no longer the clean city, with good schools, playgrounds and hospital established by the owners of the steel plant. Good schools are still there but nowadays they are not run by Tisco, and they charge high fees. The town has become a victim of burgeoning population and sprawl.

There are days when the mind travels back to Jamshedpur. Regal Cinema, which used to screen British and American movies in the evening (the matinee and late night shows were for Bombay films -- now known as Bollywood films) and Fakira's famous chanachur stand outside the building. Tisco promoted sports and athletic events. We eagerly awaited Ranji Trophy cricket matches between visiting teams and Bihar which used to be the name of the home state. Later it became part of Jharkhand. Most of the players in the Bihar team were from Jamshedpur.

For some reason, rainy weather makes me think of Jamsedpur....not because it rained a lot when I lived there; in fact, we got much less rain than the big city, Kolkata, 160 miles east. But memories of other things kick in -- making boats out of sheets of newspaper and launching them from the verandah. Didn't take long for them to get soaked and crumple; playing football (soccer) in wet, muddy fields, the soda fountain on Main Road, Sanyal Bros bookstore where I spent many happy hours browsing English language books and magazines. Insignificant but the memories remain alive.

Hard to keep track of all the name changes in India. Among the notables: Bombay became Mumbai, Calcutta became Kolkata, and Madras is now known as Chennai. I remember laughing when I read that the city fathers of Kolkata renamed Harington Street as Ho Chi Minh Sarani. The U.S. Consulate was located there and that was at the height of the Vietnam war.

Remembering Wanda Hickey and Other Sweet Things

It was Richard Avedon's photograph of "Bob Fass and other WBAT staffers" that grabbed my attention as I was leafing through December 4th issue of The New Yorker. I never lived on the east coast and Bob Fass was not a familiar name. The New Yorker continues to be source of pleasure.....often pleasant surprises. Great article "Voice of the Cabal - Bob Fass and the slow fade of countercultural radio" by Marc Fisher. The article is not available on line but there is a mp3 audio clip of Marc Fisher talking about Bob Fass. It can be accessed at The New Yorker: online. Not only that, it mentions another radio personality -- Jean Shepherd.

Now, Shepherd I knew of. Not through radio but the TV series Jean Shepherd's America which ran on PBS. And I read his books. Who can forget the delightful Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories. We all have our nights of memories, if not golden certainly silvery.

Then I thought of the late Scott Beach. He did a stint as dj for the now defunct classical music station KKHI. For a while he manned the graveyard shift and the nights when I had problem sleeping I'd dial KKHI on FM tadio. The selection of music was always good and his deep voice soothing.
Joy and Good Health to all visitors: regulars, occasional, and the accidental

Thanks very much for your kind mention of the piece in The New Yorker. If you're interested in Jean Shepherd, please have a look at my site, www.marcfisher.com, where you'll find material on Shepherd as well as excerpts from my book, "Something in the Air," in which Shepherd is probably the most important figure. The book will be published in early January by Random House. Thanks for reading the Fass piece.
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