March 5, 2017
 
Rare public appearance in April

San Francisco's Magic Theatre has announced that their 50th anniversary gala fundraiser  will be held at the Minnesota Street Project at 6 pm on Friday, April 7, 2017. Besides honoring its previous artistic directors, the evening will also honor three playwrights, which will include Sam Shepard

Sam began his ties with Magic beginning in 1975. His plays were written and premiered during his decade-long residency, including "Buried Child", "True West" and "Fool for Love".

Honorary Committee Member Ed Harris said, "Doing 'Fool for Love' with Sam and the great cast at the Magic was a time I will always cherish. The Magic's belief in the power of the playwright afforded Sam a great place to work out his magic time and time again. It's an honor to be coming there to honor my friend, who has and continues to be such an inspiration."

 
February 26, 2017
 
Shepard musings

In Patti Smith's Foreword to THE ONE INSIDE, she describes Sam's book as "a coalescing atlas, marked by the boot heels of one who has instinctively tramped, with open eyes, the stretches of its unearthly roads." What a writer! She notes that on a golden Kentucky afternoon, she reads the manuscript while Sam looks out the window. She writes, "Glancing up at him, it occurred to me that everything I ever knew of Sam, and he of me, was still inside us. I thought of a photograph of the two of us in New York City, walking past an automat on Twenty-third Street, some forty years ago. It was shot from behind, but it was us, without question, about to embark on separate paths that would surely cross again."

There have been two book reviews this past week in The NY Times. Oddly, they're both written by older and strongly feminist writers. Pulitzer Prize-winning Michiko Kakutani  describes the narrator -  "There is his estranged wife of almost 30 years with whom he had two children — the pair still amicably visit from time to time, reminiscing about their daughter and son, and 'how remarkable it was for two stubborn, crusty, old codgers like ourselves to have spawned such mild-mannered, calm kids.'" How autobiographical can you get! Ultimately, Ms. Kakutani spends too much time quoting the book and wraps up her review by saying it "may be a minor Shepard work, but it provides a sharp-edged distillation of the themes that have preoccupied him throughout his career." That's a given. Rather than "preoccupied", I would use "obsessed". The past is the past, it's over, done with, it's unchangeable, move on.

Times reviewer Molly Haskell also shares an overload of info on Sam's stories rather than expressing her opinions. This is a pet peeve of mine about book reviewers. I do strongly disagree with Ms. Haskell when she says, "one of the things that have made Shepard so attractive on the screen is our sense of his reluctance to be there." Absolutely untrue! What makes him attractive on screen and in real life is his charisma. He's this tall, rugged and handsome cowboy. Think Gary Cooper. Acting is in his blood and the camera loves him! You know most movie audiences aren't even aware of his plays. Yes, they know he's connected to the stage but they've never read any of his plays, can't even name one, and most likely have never seen one.

What Sam Shepard objects to is the phoniness and excess in the Hollywood industry with its shallow and dsyfunctional stars. Yet, he was willing to tie his life to one of those stars which only exacerbated his problem with the Movie World. My opinion is that his success as a playwright has been actually strengthened through his film career. It has definitely benefited him in many ways, which I'm sure he would be most reluctant to agree with. His fear that his ultimate fame would come from being a movie star rather than a playwright is justified. Female reviewers of his written works are certainly affected by his sexy screen appeal and often give skewed reviews.

Another Molly from the Santa Fe New Mexican attempted a book review but instead she seemed too focused on German author Heinrich von Kleist. Does it ever occur to some journalists that most of us don't have a Doctorate's degree? Does anyone know what "limn" means? In all these reviews, I have read way too much about Blackmail Girl. I have not personally come close to such a character but it is intriguing that I have played with the fantasy, yes, fantasy, that I could publish all my emails with a famous movie star over the past 20 years [smiling].

 
February 22, 2017
 
Paperback coming out in March

After three years, the paperback edition of TWO PROSPECTORS: THE LETTERS OF SAM SHEPARD AND JOHNNY DARK will become available on March 1, 2017. We have a new cover with Johnny's name less noticeable this time. With only a $10 difference, I would still go with the hardcover edition. Being one who pays attention to aesthetics in publishing, the first edition is one of my favorite Shepard books. The paper quality and weight are excellent and the way their letters are photographed in their original and different styles adds such immeasurable pleasure to any bibliophile.

I highly recommend this book of letters for those of you who want to know the real Sam Shepard, not the movie star, not the playwright, but the man. It's probably the closest you'll ever get to his autobiography because it's written in his own words. Here's an excerpt:

* * * * *

Last nite I'm sitting in the T.V. room - (me, Jessica & the kids) watching a program on the Lost Continent of Atlantis.... ...I'm more or less enjoying myself when out of the blue Shura says to me, "Why do you always snicker and laugh at everyone? Why are you so cynical?"

"Me? Snicker & laugh? Cynical? Me?"

"Yes, she says. Then Jessica says, "Yes, it's true. You laugh at everyone."

"I do?" I say.

"Yes, you do."

I don't change my posture. I suddenly "see" my posture: Arms cocked behind my head, legs stretched out & crossed in an attitude of total arrogance & disdain. I feel a terrible tension across my stomach as the reaction sets in & the recognition that this is indeed a true aspect of my character - cynical, arrogant & self-righteous.

I keep looking. I don't change anything. I don't speak. I just watch & I swallow whole the almost unbearable internal pain & humiliation of the moment. How could I be this way? How is it possible? After all these years; all this time & so-called effort? I'm just an arrogant self-righteous old prick watching T.V. & snickering.

* * * * *

Here's an update on Shura, Sam's stepdaughter who lived with him from the time she was a baby until she left for college in 1999. As most of you know, she is the daughter of Mikhail  Baryshnikov & Jessica Lange. I have never seen a photo of her with Sam except for those taken at the 2006 Tribute to Lange at  Lincoln Center.

Though he helped raise Shura all those years, there are simply no public pictures, no stories, no history of her life with Sam except through his letters to Johnny. Today she is a 35-year-old dance instructor, sometime stage actress, living in Rhode Island as a divorced mother with two daughters. In an interview a few months ago, Shura admitted to an unstable childhood and the cycle of "life without father" continues with her own children. Neither of Sam's two children are married. Here's a recent photo of Shura looking very much like her famous dad.

I also want to share this passage from one of Sam's letters, dated September 24, 2008:

* * * * *

I've decided it's not so great living so much of the time alone & I've told Jessica that I think we should find a way to spend more time together. I've also told her I'm not going to live in N.Y. city anymore & so the compromise for her seems to be some place upstate N.Y. - in order to be close to Shura's two little girls. I'll go along with that. When you know you have a destiny with someone, why put it off? We were meant to live together for the rest of our lives & that's now become more important than horses & farms & fishing & New Mexico & Kentucky & running up and down the American road like a chicken with his head cut off.

* * * * *

Within two years, it was splitsville.

 
Max Frish & Sam Shepard

Last week Berlinale presented the premiere of Volker  Schlöndorff's film, "Return to Montauk", inspired by the book "Montauk" by Max Frisch. After reading some of the passages from "The One Inside", I got to thinking about the Swiss novelist and his earlier work, "Homo Faber", which happened to also be directed by Schlöndorff and starred Sam. Some of the narration by Walter Faber captures similarities to our playwright.  Is this from "Homo Faber" or "The One Inside"?

"Her supposition that I was melancholy because I was alone put me out of humor. I’m used to travelling alone. I live, like every real man, in my work. On the contrary, that’s the way I like it and I think myself lucky to live alone, in my view this is the only possible condition for men, I enjoy waking up and not having to say a word. Where is the woman who can understand that?"

 
February 7, 2017
 
Publication day is here!

Sam Shepard's newest book  - THE ONE INSIDE - is now available. Its Knopf publisher calls it, "A ravishing tale of deep-dark cosmic humor, complex tragedy, and self-inflicted exile."

First, let's examine the photo on the cover.

It was taken by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide. The year was 1979; the place was the Sonoran Desert. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see that the woman is carrying a tape recorder, bartered in exchange for handicrafts.  She is one of the Seri nomads of Mexico and Iturbide chose to call her "Mujer Ángel" [Angel Woman] because "she looks as if she could fly off into the desert." Personally, she seems closer to an evil spirit.

For at least 28 years, Sam shared his life with a woman who is also a photographer, one who also took black and white photos of the indigenous people of Mexico. When he wrote "Great Dream of Heaven", he used one of Jessica's photos - Sam sitting on a wooden pier fishing with their young son Walker. Sweet. He also dedicated those stories to her. Now he appears to have abandoned familial connections in his old age.

The author photo above that's used for the book is not recent. It was actually taken almost ten years ago. The last photo of Sam was taken a year ago and many of us were stunned by his thin and fragile appearance. There have been no reports of illness but drinking has a way of aging you if you suffer from alcohol abuse.

Rocker Patti Smith was asked to write the book's foreword. In the whole scheme of life, Sam has actually spent very little time with her - a few months in 1971 before he scrapped that extramarital affair and headed off to London with wife Olan and son Jesse. Since he stopped co-habitating with Miss Lange, he and the Godmother of Punk have hooked up now and then for public readings or music events. She even dedicated her last book, "M Train" to our playwright. I haven't read it yet but I absolutely loved her "Just Kids". Her reflections on life are magically poetic. I could definitely connect. In the foreword she writes, "It’s him, sort of him, not him at all" for it contains "altered perspectives, lucid memory, and hallucinatory impressions." She describes the book as "a tapeworm slithering from the stomach, through the open mouth, down the bedsheets, straight into the bleak infinite." Umm...

Anyway, it appears that readers will definitely have a challenge with Sam's newest offering sorting out fact from fiction. He can't help from drawing on his own experiences hidden in all these psychedelic-style stories.

So, this latest literary fiction is available in three formats. For bibliophiles, there's the deckle-edge hardcover edition with 194 pages. The second format is the Kindle edition and, finally, the audiobook at 271 minutes. Yes, an audiobook! But take a deep breath before I tell you it's NOT narrated by Sam. For those of you who have listened to "Cruising Paradise", you know what an awesome experience that is to actually hear him act out his own creative and wacky tales. Sorry folks, but this time around, it's actor Bill Pullman. Not going to do it for me, for sure.

Excerpt:
They’ve murdered something far off. Fighting over it. Yes. Screaming. Doing their mad cackle as they tear into its softness. He’s awake — 5:05 a.m. Pitch black. Distant coyotes. Must’ve been. He’s awake, in any case. Staring at rafters. Adjusting to “place.” Awake, even after the full Xanax, in anticipation of small demons — horses with human heads. All small, as though life-size were too big to fathom. His dogs are on the muscle, howling from the kitchen in feral imitation. Vicious cold again. Blue snow biting at the windowsills: glowing in what’s left of the full moon. He throws the blanket back with a bullfighter’s flourish and swings both bony knees out into the raw air. He comes, almost immediately, to a straight-backed sitting position, both hands flat on his thighs. He tries to take in the ever-changing landscape of his body — where he resides? Which part? He peers down at his very thick, blue, thermal hiking socks, pilfered from some movie set. Piece of some costume — some character, long forgotten. They’ve come and gone, these characters, like brief, violent love affairs: trailers — honey wagons — morning burritos — craft service tents — phony limousines — hot towels — 4 a.m. calls. Forty-some years of it. Too big. Hard to believe. Too vast. How did I get in here? His aluminum trailer rocks and sways in the howling Chinooks. His young face staring back at him through a cheap 4 x 4 mirror, surrounded by bare light bulbs. Outside, they’re shooting film of grasshoppers, falling in great swirling cones from the belly of a rented helicopter. They actually are. In the background — winter wheat, as big around as your thumb, blows in rolling waves.

So, you ask if there's any book reviews. Yup, and they're fairly positive.

Booklist:
In the newest work of fiction by celebrated playwright, actor, and writer Sam Shepard, a writer and actor on in years looks back at his life, while negotiating an increasingly volatile relationship with a much younger woman.

The nameless narrator refers to his tormentor as the Blackmail Girl because she claims to have recorded and transcribed their phone conversations with the intention of publishing them. They clash in taunting and seductive encounters rife with lacerating dialogue that alternate with bruising scenes from his hardscrabble boyhood, when he became infatuated with voluptuous teen Felicity, who was having a scandalous affair with his father.

In a slowly cohering jigsaw puzzle of flashbacks and jump cuts, memories and dreams, Shepard’s piercingly observant and lonely narrator broods over the mysteries of sexual enthrallment, age’s assaults, and the abrupt demise of his 30-year marriage in finely etched vignettes capturing the poignant moods of wind, sky, the open road, birds, dogs, and coyotes; high drama in a Denny’s; absurdities on a film set; and hallucinatory visions of his dead father’s corpse shrunken to doll-size.

Kirkus Review:
An elegiac amble through blowing dust and greasy spoons, the soundtrack the whine of truck engines and the howl of coyotes.

If one word were to define Shepard, the chisel-faced actor and playwright of few words, since his more madcap days of the 1960s, it might be "laconic." So it is with this vignetted story, with its terse, portentous opening: "They’ve murdered something far off." "They" are the ever-present coyotes, who, of course, kill but do not murder, strictly speaking—but Shepard’s choice of words is deliberate and telling.

In this Southwestern landscape, where the sand cuts deep, driven by the scouring winds along with the "Styrofoam cups, dust, and jagged pieces of metal flying across the highway," Shepard’s actor narrator, wandering from coast to interior and back again, remembers things and moments: the '49 Mercury coupe that delivers his father’s mysteriously mummified corpse home, the latter-day bicycle cowboys of Santa Fe, "guzzling vitamin water from chartreuse plastic bottles."

Like a cordonazo storm about to break, the atmosphere is ominous, but only just: in Shepard’s prose there is always the threat of violence and all manner of mayhem, but then things quiet down, the hangover fades and the talk of suicide dwindles and the stoic protagonist returns to reading his Bruno Schulz at the diner counter.

At turns, Shepard’s story morphs from novel, with recurring characters and structured narrative, into prose poem, with lysergic flashes of brilliance and amphetamine stutters: "Mescal in silver bottles. Tacos. Parking lots. Radios. Benzedrine. Cherry Coke. Brigitte Bardot." It’s a story to read not for the inventiveness of its plot but for its just-right language and images: "Nothing but the constant sound of cattle bawling as though their mothers were eternally lost."

Cheerless but atmospheric and precisely observed, very much of a piece with Shepard’s other work.

Publishers Weekly:
In the longest work of fiction to date from the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright, an aged actor moves through his fragmented memories of his father, the young girl who loved him, and the vast American landscape that served as a backdrop to it all. Following a poignant foreword by Patti Smith, each successive chapter of the novel flits among times and forms: there are poetic reminiscences of the actor’s ex-wife, and terse all-dialogue conversations between him and the lover intending to blackmail him.

Coloring those dynamics are flashbacks to the actor’s complicated relationship with Felicity, his father’s underage girlfriend, who also comes to take the actor’s virginity. Mixed amongst these grounding story lines are vivid scenes of his father’s death, drug fantasies, and vague meditations on sex and death. The last section of the book concerns Felicity’s disappearance and apparent suicide, an event that deepens and bonds every moment that precedes it.

Though some of the writing feels like leftovers from discarded drafts of books and plays, much of the content remains striking and memorable, illustrative of what makes Shepard’s work so arresting on the screen and the page.

Washington Post:
Much of the book’s contemporary story has the substance of an extended, self-pitying sigh. In short, oblique chapters — sometimes only a small paragraph floating on a page — we divine that the narrator, an actor and writer with "a reputation for discarding women," is still reeling from the collapse of a long relationship. (There’s no mention of Jessica Lange, but it’s hard not to think of the actress who was Shepard’s partner for almost 30 years.) There’s an awful lot of wandering around the house, looking for the dogs, feeling bereft. He thinks about suicide, mulls his dreams, considers the smell of his urine... ...the best parts of "The One Inside" are those least hobbled by its fractured structure and mannered dialogue. When he stops letting vagueness masquerade as profundity, when he actually tells a story about a real man caught in the peculiar throes of a particular moment, he can still make the ordinary world feel suddenly desperate and strange.

The Culture Trip:
"The One Inside" is tryingly male in its indulgence of the macho unconscious...  ...a lesson in how our culture dresses things up as things they’re not, and while the edgy cover, the faux-poetry of Patti Smith’s foreword, and Shepard’s wannabe Beckettian prose will deem the book cool to many a brooding American bachelor, this "cool" is one that privileges self-pity and the evasion of catastrophic behavior over any attempt to do the hard work of self-reflection.

The Bowed Bookshelf:
Literature, language, and its portrayal in film or on stage, has been his work for forty years. He may be winding down, but this he can still do: write with clarity, dreams or memories or lies or wishes or denials. This may be a memoir, but who’s to say the memories of an old man aren’t half fiction?

I loved this work. Shepard always read a lot of books but famous writers like Mailer, Capote, or Nabokov confused him. Shepard knew what was important, and stashed language like memory, in red naugahyde suitcases, ready to be pulled out in wonderment years later, and used to describe this world of his, or ours. He may be an ordinary man (who knows?), but he has extraordinary skill. This is a special, wonderful, joyful, ugly, painful look at our past century, a western landscape, and a man in it.

 
On Stage

San Francisco's Magic Theatre begins its 50th season with a legacy revival of FOOL FOR LOVE, opening February 9th. This timeless masterpiece first premiered at this theater in 1983. Artistic Director Loretta Greco says, "Magic  is thrilled to be bringing 'Fool for Love' back home thirty-four years later, as the fifth event in our 'Sheparding America: March to Fifty series'". She adds, "Sam's been writing for five decades. There's no one who's done it for as long, in such varied forms, in such an astounding, brilliant and imperfect way." Greco previously directed "Buried Child" in 2013 and "A Lie of the Mind" in 2015. "Sam's work springs from the terrain from which he's from," Greco explained. "'Fool for Love' is a pressure cooker of desperate intimacy, the mythic fall of the American cowboy, and the marks a father leaves on his children. It's compact, muscular, and wickedly funny."

The play also opened at the Cellar Theater at The Playhouse San Antonio and continues through February 12, 2017. I much prefer this poster as it captures the raw relationships and bleakness of the story. The poster used by Magic is quite popular and is the one you'll see on the book. To me, it looks like Elvis sneaking a kiss from a fan. And after doing a little research today, it is, in fact, Elvis, copyright of Alfred Wertheimer. What does Elvis (in a jacket and tie) have to do with Eddie, a broken-down rodeo cowboy?


 

January 30 , 2017
 
You done good, Sam

In a recent interview, 93-year-old Chuck Yeager talked about "The Right Stuff", the 1983 film chronicling the early space race in which he's played by Sam. Often times famous people grumble about the screen version of their life but Yeager is positive. He shares, "It was interesting. I did a lot of flying in it, and Sam Shepard did a good job portraying me. Barbara Hershey looked exactly like [my wife] Glennis, too -- wonderful. Though it’s sort of 'Hollywood-ized,' the whole story is accurate. I did get burned badly in an F-104 crash. All in all, the movie is educational, and it’s very well made."

 
January 19 , 2017
 
Release dates

James Franco's IN DUBIOUS BATTLE is about to have a limited theatrical release on February 17, 2017. It has previously been screened at several film festivals - Venice, Deauville and Toronto in September, Mill Valley in October and Stockholm in November. It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on March 21, 2017.

This could well be Sam Shepard's last film.

 
On the horizon

Another book on Sam Shepard will be released on April 11, 2017. I've read so many that I'm not sure I'm up for another one unless it sticks to the latter part of his career and doesn't indulge itself in personal crap like so many other tell-all celebrity books. I just finished reading Grace Coddington's memoir "Grace". As creative director at Vogue, she had the opportunity to be terribly gossipy but she remained respectful of the many famous photographers and models she worked with and was mindful of editor Anna Wintour's reputation as well. Hats off to Grace!

This one is an unauthorized biography and no doubt our playwright will feel his privacy invaded. When asked back in 2011 about writing his own autobiography, he responded in his Shepard-ish way:

"I’m not interested in autobiography at all. No, never.  I mean, in a way, all the plays have been autobiographical, but not confessional like that. I’ve never read an autobiography where the protagonist isn’t the hero of his story. It’s ridiculous. I’m just not interested in it."

 
December 6, 2016
 
Now Playing...

Since AGES OF THE MOON premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2009, it has been staged a handful of times. It arrived a year later at Off Broadway's Atlantic Theater Company and then made appearances in West Virginia, Texas, Canada, and is presently being staged this month in Berkeley, CA, by Anton's Well Theatre Company. Not a lot happens in this play as two geezers fuss and drink while waiting for a total eclipse of the moon but there are deeper layers as good humor turns into hostility.  Director John Cooper of the Canadian production says, "It is a story of our stubborn resistance to the truth and the narratives we create to protect ourselves from the painful truth of our choices." It's classic Sam Shepard, who knows firsthand the painful truth of choices. Did he become his father?

What is little known is the fact that "Ages" was also staged at The Moscow New Drama Theatre in October 2010. Earlier that year Russian theater director Vyacheslav Dolgachev and Sam met up at a restaurant in NYC. After a couple hours of conversation, Sam proposed that his newest play be staged in Russia. At that time the play had not yet been published but he gave the director exclusive rights for its performance in Moscow. Dolgachev said, "'Ages of the Moon' fascinated me from the very first pages. I would say they are aged characters of Shepard's 'True West'. They sit on the terrace and talk about nothing particular, but then they have this electric charge between them."

The person who translated the play was journalist Sergey Gordeev (seen above), who also translated "The Curse of the Starving Class" for the Saratov Youth Theater for a Russian production the same year.

 
A Star is Born

Jasper Rees of The Arts Desk wrote an interesting article a couple days ago called "When Shepard was a Londoner." You may recall that Sam left the US in 1971 after an extramarital affair with punker Patti Smith and spent the next three years in London where several of his plays premiered. Rees writes:

"Nicholas Wright, then artistic director of the Theatre Upstairs, recalls 'a laconic, dry, very laid back, very masculine Gary Cooperish kind of style, certainly very direct, capable of being quite rude.' 'My impression,' says the actress Dinah Stabb, 'was that he was always keenly interested in events going on outside the room. Although he was part of the world of the Royal Court, he never seemed to be of it. It's no surprise that he went on to be a film star, because he seemed like a film star when you met him."

Hilton Als of The New Yorker once wrote, "Tall, slightly snaggletoothed, and eagle-eyed, Shepard always looked like America, or a movie version of America: one could easily imagine him playing Tom Joad or Abraham Lincoln. His Western drawl was an additional attraction. Joan Didion’s essay about the charisma of John Wayne could just as easily apply to Shepard."

"He had a sexual authority so strong that even a child could perceive it. And in a world we understood early to be characterized by venality and doubt and paralyzing ambiguities, he suggested another world, one which may or may not have existed ever but in any case existed no more: a place where a man could move free, could make his own code and live by it; a world in which, if a man did what he had to do, he could one day take the girl and go riding through the draw and find himself home free."

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