NEWS: November 2017
November 30, 2017
Colette Bancroft, writing for the Tampa Bay Times, reviews
Sam's latest book -
"A brief and impressionistic novella... Spare, but
not slight, surreal yet stoic, an intriguing and moving glimpse into what
falls away and what still matters at the end... Fame and celebrity make no
appearances in Spy. Instead, its dying narrator focuses on the
landscape and the natural world: the songs of birds, the color of flowers,
beloved dogs and horses. His memories are not of awards and parties, stages
and movie sets, but of the youths of his children, of his travels as a young
man, of living in a condemned building in New York with no money but the
world open before him."
And Alasdair Lees of UK's Independent writes,
"Clocking in just over 80 pages, Spy of the First
Person is clearly partly autobiographical, narrated by a man in his
later years being treated for a crippling illness. ...captivates in
its distillation of many of Shepardís enduring themes - the death of
Americaís frontier, identity and loneliness... Thereís foreboding amid the
wistfulness, but itís tempting to read this novella as Shepard looking at
America in a more elegiac light... Shepard illuminates loneliness
beautifully in this slight but rich and moving final work."
November 28, 2017
I've added another article in the "press"
section that was written as a tribute to Sam by David Rooney of The Hollywood
Reporter. Here's an excerpt:
"His single scene as the suicidal alcoholic poet in the otherwise patchy 2013
screen version of Tracy Lettsí great play, August: Osage County, was the
filmís one moment of lingering emotional impact ó far more arresting than all
the showy histrionics of Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts combined."
Speaking of Streep, there's an interesting article written by Michael Bloom on
the American Theatre web site called "Streep and Shepard: 2 Straight
Arrows Ascending". You can read it
at this link. Here's an excerpt:
"Although their paths never crossed, Shepard and Streep followed a common
trajectory from theatre fame to cinema stardom. As a highly trained stage
performer, Streep took to film acting with great ease. On the other hand, just
as with playwriting, Shepard learned on the job. In his early films, directors
cut as many of his lines as they could but couldnít resist his authentic Western
look and smoldering sexuality. Eventually film acting became a way for Shepard
to finance farms, livestock, horses, and polo racing. But no matter how many
acting gigs he took for the money, no matter how many books of prose produced,
Shepard continued to return to the theatre, a lover he never forsook."
November 25, 2017
An evening called "Remembering Sam Shepard" will be
held Tuesday, December 5, 2017 from 7 to 9 pm at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity
Church in Brooklyn. Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, and Tony Shanahan present an
evening of words and music to commemorate the publication of Sam's last book,
SPY OF THE FIRST PERSON. It is co-presented by PEN
America and Knopf, with Books are Magic. Tickets are $30 (includes a copy of
Sam's book). How admirable of Patti Smith to continue to pay homage to her
one-time lover and friend when another famous ex-lover has done jack squat since
* * * * *
an improvised drama, inspired by the plays of Sam Shepard, will be coming to
Chicago in January. Directed by Rachael Mason and staged at the Blackout
Cabaret, performances will be held on Sundays at 8 pm from January 7-28, 2018.
The description follows: "A family dinner to remember. Come see Rachael Masonís
Dramatic Improvisors at the dysfunctional family table as they take inspiration
from Sam Shepard plays like Buried Child, True West, and Curse
of the Starving Class."
* * * * *
Question of the Day: Did Johnny Dark and Sam ever
reconcile before his death? Is Johnny the only one who knows?
November 22, 2017
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has announced a screening of "Paris,
Texas" on Sunday, December 24, 2017 at 2:00 pm at the
Harry and Mildred Remis Auditorium. Its
star, Harry Dean Stanton, often claimed of all the movies he acted in, this was
his favorite. In the film summary, MFA writes:
Stanton liked to tell the story of how he landed the
role, which began with a drunken conversation with his friend Sam Shepard in
a bar in Santa Fe. "I was telling him I was sick of the roles I was
playing," Stanton recalled in a 1986 interview. "I told him I wanted to play
something of some beauty or sensitivity. I had no inkling he was considering
me for the lead in his movie." A few days later, Shepard called Stanton at
his LA home to offer him the part of Travis, 'a role that called for the
actor to remain largely silent Ö as a lost, broken soul trying to put his
life back together and reunite with his estranged family after having
vanished years earlier.'
* * * * *
Jeanne Moreau and Sam Shepard died in the same week,
the playwright at 73 on July 27, the actress at 89 on July 31. Their obituaries
were paired in the pages of the New York Times and Antonio Banderas posted their
photographs side by side with his message on the Los Angeles Times remembrance
blog: "thank you for enlightening us at 24 frames per second."
* * * * *
Letters from Shepard to Dark - November 28, 2009
"Just got finished bawling my eyes out after reading the
deaths of Lee and Grant you sent me. Thanks for that. Good thing I was on the
farm alone so no one could witness my wailings and carrying on to the trees, the
sky, the wind, etc. - a full out King Lear breakdown. Felt very good after.
Cleaned out. Maybe that's how it is. Felt very good after dying. No problem.
It's life that's a bitch."
"Thanksgiving passed with all the usual frenzied cooking,
then devouring of the bird & all the fancy side dishes, then the washing up; the
screaming kids, the tense terse conversations with relatives you don't know &
only see at Thanksgiving & Xmas."
* * * * *
Here's hoping your Thanksgiving will be a more joyous
occasion with both love and turkey passed around the table!
November 19, 2017
A couple years ago photographer Laura Wilson put together a
231-page coffee-table book of photos. It was called "That Day: Pictures in the
American West". Among her photographic essays was the one below, taken in
June 2012 at the Santa Fe Institute.
That same day Ms. Wilson was also a guest at his New Mexico
home, an adobe house, ten miles out of town. This next photo shows Sam in his
yard showing off a fancy new fly rod to his photographer, casting here and
there, demonstrating its capabilities. Such a Shepardesque photo session!
November 16, 2017
Poet M Sarki's review of "Spy of the
"The death of Sam Shepard creates a sudden void in the
landscape of contemporary literature. This talented writer, dramatist, horseman,
actor, and musician leaves as his final gift to those of us fortunate to have
known his body of work a thinly veiled memoir of the first rank. In prose
reminiscent at times of his good friend Patti Smith, Shepard eventually recounts
the last of his precious days on earth surrounded by his loving family and
friends. In one poignant sentence Shepard affirms that in a span of one year he
went from being a fiercely independent and private wanderer traveling in his
pickup truck to a man in a wheelchair who can barely raise his head and cannot
possibly wipe his own ass. There is nothing sentimental or self-serving in this
book. Shepardís honesty on the page remains as seething as his life. A testament
to one great artist, and for some, a very good friend."
* * * * *
Actress Analeigh Tipton, who co-starred with Sam in James
Franco's "In Dubious Battle", claims, "In 2015,
I went on a road trip with Sam Shepard. He gave me a dime to toss into the
Mississippi River as we drove across the bridge. It hit a support beam and
missed the water. I would introduce him to Cracker Barrel and he would tell me
about his horses. We ate bags and bags of Bugles as we passed through plains as
far as our eyes could see. Rest In Peace in the plains, Sam."
Umm... Interesting. I thought he enjoyed solo road trips.
November 13, 2017
Booklist has published a review of "Spy of the First
A gorgeously courageous and sagacious coda to Shepardís
innovative and soulful body of work.
A meshing of memoir and invention, it snares with
virtuoso precision both natureís constant vibrancy and the stop-action of
illness. Told in short takes pulsing with life and rueful wit, it portrays
one man spying on another from across the street, raising binoculars to
better watch his subject struggling to make the simplest motions and family
members appearing from within the house to offer help and company. As for
the nearly immobilized man, he is remembering his immigrant mother, a
troubling night in New York City, and visits to a famous Arizona clinic in
pursuit of a Ďmagic cure.í He also offers acid commentary on episodes in
American history, and revels in the resonance of words.
Gradually the spy and the man on the porch merge, and the
resilient yet reconciled narrator celebrates family love beneath a full moon
in the farewell beauty of twilight.
The book is also available as an Ebook and as an audiobook with reader
Michael Shannon. Here is the official author photo.
From the beginning of the book:
Seen from a distance. That is, seeing from across the road, itís hard to tell
how old he is because of the wraparound screen porch. Because of his wraparound
shades. Purple. Lone Ranger. Masked bandit. I donít know what heís protecting.
Heís actually inside an enclosed screen porch with bugs buzzing, birds chirping,
all kinds of summer things going on, on the outside ó butterflies, wasps, etc. ó
but itís very hard to tell from this distance exactly how old he is. The
baseball cap, the grimy jeans, the old vest. Heís sitting in a rocking chair, as
far as I can tell. A rocking chair the looks like it was lifted from a Cracker
Barrel. In fact, it still has the broken security chain around one leg. I think
from this distance itís red but it could be black, the rocker, some of these
colors originate from the Marines, some of them from the Army, some from the Air
Force, depends on the depth of oneís patriotism, and he just rocks all day.
November 12, 2017
Derry Now, November 11, 2017 (edited):
In the autumn of
2013, Sam Shepard spent five weeks in Derry getting to know the city and
attending rehearsals for the Field Day Theatre Company production of his new
play, "A Particle of Dread", which premiered
at the Playhouse in December.
Shepard already had a connection with Derry dating back to the early 70s, but
true to form, it was a strange one. The connection was revealed in an interview
in 1972 at his London home when he explained to a Time Out journalist the origin
of the large, black greyhound that lay dozing on the divan. "This here dawg,"
Sam drawled, "is a real champ. Comes from the north of Ireland. The Bogside."
The greyhound was called Keywall Spectre and Shepard took it racing at Hackney
Wick where it regularly came in first. The dog starting showing up in the new
experimental plays he was writing in London since his relocation from New York
"Geography of a Horse Dreamer" stages the
kidnapping by gangsters of Cody, a young man who has a gift for dreaming the
winners of horse races. Tied to a bed in a London hotel room, he loses his power
to dream of horses and begins to dream the winners of greyhound races instead.
The play opened at the Royal Court Theatre in February 1974. In the lead role of
Cody was a young Irish actor beginning to make a name for himself Ė Stephen Rea.
This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and artistic partnership that
would eventually bring Sam Shepard to Derry.
* * * * *
November 11, 2017
For over 40 years, colleges and universities throughout the
English-speaking world have had strong connections to Sam Shepard in their drama
departments. Several professors have written books or developed courses in the
study of his many plays. And, in return, many of these institutions have honored
our playwright. One such example is a university in my home state of
Massachusetts. The Brandeis Creative Arts Award recognizes excellence in the
arts and the lives and works of distinguished American artists. Recipients
include Georgia O'Keeffe, Tennessee Williams, Aaron Copland, William Carlos
Williams and yes, Sam Shepard, but only a select group were recognized twice.
Sam received a Brandeis Creative Arts Award Citation in 1976 and a medal in
When he was recognized in 1976, he was unable to be in New
York to receive the award in person, but he sent theater producer and director
Wynn Handman to accept it on his behalf and submitted an acceptance speech.
* * * * *
I came across some new movie stills from
(2006), a 1950s drama set in a small town starring Jason Patric. Sam plays this
shady, sharp-dressed hustler named Syrus and his performance got him some
positive reviews. However, after premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, it was
disappointing to see the film go straight to DVD. If you're a pet lover, you're
probably going to find this a tough watch because it's about dog fighting. If
you're up to it though, you can rent it at Amazon Video. Such a classic diner
scene below. Bet he'll order some apple pie & coffee.
November 8, 2017
David Yaffe's "Restless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell" was released last
month. The legendary singer-songwriter discusses her cocaine addiction
that began when she hooked up with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue in
1975. Of her affair with Sam during that tour, she says, "For me, on coke, I
found him very attractive."
(Laughing) Well, Joni, most of us found him very attractive
without the coke!
* * * * *
The first issue of American Theatre magazine came out
in April 1984 and it featured an American icon - Sam Shepard in cowboy hat and
flannel shirt, brow furrowed against the sun's glare, cigarette dangling. You
can read the interview here.
November 5, 2017
Today would have been Sam Shepard's 74th birthday. It's easy
to remember because it's just nine days before my own 74th celebration so I
definitely feel a strong kinship. With all my health issues, I never expected I
would outlive Sam but I suspected his oncoming death over the past year with the
absence of any appearances and, most importantly, the frightening images of him
in his last photo shoot.
I began this web site 12 years ago on his 62nd birthday in
hopes that it would become a place for all things Shepard and it has obviously
obtained that distinction. The Sam Shepard Web Site will continue to stay
online, even if I should pass on as well. Of course, news will continue to
diminish over the coming months but I consider it a worthwhile effort to
maintain this archive of his life and career. The photo below is the one I keep
here on my desk.
* * * * *
Here are a few excerpts from Bilge Ebiri of Village Voice
magazine in an excellent article called "Drifters, Romantics and Madmen", which
compares Sam's career to Dennis Hopper's. I was a major Hopper fan through the
years and have seen almost every one of his films. "Blue Velvet" is a favorite.
For the full Village Voice article,
follow this link.
"Itís probably pure coincidence that BAM is presenting a week
of Sam Shepard films right as the Metrograph screens five days of Dennis
HopperĖdirected titles... No two actors of their generation better expressed the
modern iteration of the lonesome cowboy ó that dying myth of the all-American
wanderer. Their careers regularly threatened to intersect, but the two almost
never worked together... They were, in some way, opposites ó separate sides of
the same coin... They might have come to represent two competing, bygone
visions of American manhood, but they also never lost their connection to the
now, and never stopped experimenting."
* * * * *
The first review of Sam's upcoming book - "Spy of the
First Person" by Kirkus Reviews:
A sharply observed, slender novel set in familiar Shepard
(The One Inside, 2017, etc.) territory: a dusty, windblown West of limitless
horizons and limited means of escape.
An image at the beginning of what is billed as the recently deceased
Shepardís final work of fictionóuntil the next one is found in a drawer,
presumablyóoffers arresting portent: robins are singing, chirping away, not
so much out of happiness with the world but, as the nameless narrator says,
ďI think mostly protecting nests" from all the "big bad birds" that are out
to get their little blue eggs. The world is full of big bad birds, and one
is the terror of a wasting neurological disease that provides the novelís
closing frame: two sons and an ailing father lagging behind the rest of
their family as they make their way up the street in a little desert ville.
"We made it and we hobbled up the stairs,Ē says the old man. ďOr I hobbled.
My sons didnít hobble, I hobbled."
Itís exactly of a piece with "True West" and other early
Shepard standards, and one can imagine Shepard himself playing the part of
that old man in an understated, stoical film. In between, itís all
impression, small snapshots of odd people and odd moments ("People are
unlocking their cars from a distance. Pushing buttons, zapping their cars,
making the doors buzz and sing, making little 'Close Encounters of the Third
Itís easy to lose track of where one voice ends and
another begins, where the young man leaves off and the old man picks up the
story: explaining the title, the young narrator likens himself to an
employee of a "cryptic detective agency," even as the old man, taking up the
narration in turn, wonders why heís being so closely watched when he can
barely move. In the end, this is a story less of action than of mood, and
that mood is overwhelmingly, achingly melancholic.
The story is modest, the poetry superb. A most worthy valediction.
November 2, 2017
Interview magazine (11/2/17) - excerpt of conversation
between two filmmakers - Francis Ford Coppola and Greta Gerwig.
Greta: I once went through a major Sam Shepard phase,
and I thought, "Iím completely in the wrong place, and Iím the wrong gender! And
Iím also not a heavy drinker! And I need to somehow become a wild man and go out
to the West and learn how to rope cattle!"
Coppola: I donít think Sam Shepard knew how to rope cattle. [yes, he did!]
Greta: Well, he seemed like he did! I think the problem with growing up and
idealizing self-destructive artists is that you only see the beauty they created
rather than all the pain that went along with it. But then I read Joan Didion,
and it was the first time Iíd read something by an artistóa great artistówho was
working in the same place I was from and writing about it, and it was the first
inkling I had that maybe I didnít need to be a different person in order to make
something that was worth anything.
I heartily recommend Greta Gerwig's film, "Frances Ha" for
originality and humor. And Joan Didion's book, "The Year of Magical Thinking."
What a writer!
* * * * *
Fall 2004 Stage Preview - New York Magazine
Sam Shepard, the Silent Type by Ada Calhoun
[telephone interview with Sam]
Youíre appearing in Caryl Churchillís "A Number". What
attracted you to her work?
Sam: Well, itís kind of hard to say. I encountered the play
in Australia, and I thought it was really fascinating, and I had no idea it
would have a world premiere in New York.
Do you feel a kinship between your work and hers?
Sam: Not really. Only in the sense that I feel sheís also
inspired by Beckett.
Can you talk about your character, Salter?
Sam: No, I canít. Well, obviously heís a complicated . . . I
canít do pocket reviews of this thing. This isnít going to work.
Um, do you think the play has something to say about cloning?
Sam: I canít describe the play. Itís too complex. To me, the
cloning aspect is uninteresting. Thatís not what itís about. It has to do with
Can you elaborate on that, what it says about identity?
Sam: I have a feeling this really isnít going to work. I
canít capsulize it. Iíd really rather not. I canít capsulize this. Thanks
Opening Night with Dallas Roberts