Earlier this evening I had just finished a yummy dinner of homemade soup with Japanese noodles, miso/lime broth, chicken, carrots, seaweed, and some hot red peppers I bought at the farmers market on Friday evening. I had a great workout this morning and then proceeded to knock the hell out of a to-do list full of tasks, and I even found time to finally unload some winter clothes from my truck at my storage space and sort through a bunch of cold weather clothes before taking a big load to the Salvation Army down the street. The sunset was lovely and the soup was tasty and filling — a nice ending to a productive good day. That’s when I saw a headline on my phone informing me that Sam Shepard had died.
Shepard, his plays, his prose, his films and his persona as an American artist all loom large in my pantheon of creative heroes. I actually admire and enjoy the work of lots of writers, actors and directors, but Shepard is way up on that mountain for me. Shepard is right up there with the Beat Generation which inspired him, and Patti Smith his one time lover and collaborator. Shepard is on that mountain next to other great anti-leading-man actors from the 1980s like Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts at their very best. Among the rocks you can see Shepard sharing a handful of mushroom buttons with Eugene O’Neill and rolling another smoke with Nina Simone whom Shepard saw performing while he was a busboy at the Village Gate when he first moved to New York City. He plays his beloved drums on an outcropping with Jimmy Dean and Brando — they both loved to play the drums and what if Shepard had had the chance to put them on his stage with his words in their mouths?
Motel Chronicles will always be one of my favorite books, and I’ll never forget the Lobster Man from “Cowboy Mouth,” and I’ll never forget Shepard as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff appearing out of the red flames and black smoke from his wrecked plane putting one foot in front of the other crossing the desert walking straight at the camera; not speaking or crying or screaming or yelling, just walking, right into his own legend.
Adios, Sam. Here’s the man himself looking back on his big screen breakthrough in Terence Mallick’s Days of Heaven…