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 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
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
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
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
"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 &
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. &
* * * * *
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
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
I also want to share this passage from one of Sam's letters, dated September 24,
* * * * *
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
* * * * *
Within two years, it was splitsville.
Max Frish & Sam Shepard
Last week Berlinale presented the premiere of Volker
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Since AGES OF THE MOON
premiered at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 2009, it has been staged a handful
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
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."
January - June 2014
January - June 2011
July - December 2010
January - June 2010
July - December 2009
January - June 2009
July - December 2008
January - June 2008
November 2005 - December 2006