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 Sam's death.

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Buzzkill, 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."

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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.'

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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."

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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."

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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 First Person":

"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."

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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 Person".

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. Thatís all.

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 in 1971.

"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.

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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 1984.

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.

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I came across some new movie stills from WALKER PAYNE (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!

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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.

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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."

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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 Kind' noises").

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!

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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 identity.

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 anyway. [Click]

 Opening Night
with Dallas Roberts