Monday, July 31, 2017


Total shame. Sad for his family and friends and fans. Too soon.

You can look up Sam Shepard's achievements if you don't already know them, and learn that he had a great impact on the worlds of theater and film, and the broader culture in general. But I limit my posts about other people to their impact on me and my life, since that's what I can add to the discussion for whatever it's worth.

Sam Shepard loomed large in my life for a few years back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I knew who he was before then and our paths crossed a few times, but it wasn't until he started getting wider recognition, national and international recognition, for his plays and his acting, and then just for his star charisma (which often, but not always, simply means good looks) that he started impacting me.

Like a lot of folks I've known, when I hit my later thirties and forties I spent way too much time comparing myself to others in my generation who had similar talents and pursuits but seemed to get more of the rewards. I wrote poetry mostly and was mostly known for that, and was associated during those years, at least to many in the poetry world, with The St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. Sam wrote plays mostly and was associated, at least in his early years, with St. Mark's also, but their theater project.

We had both started out as musicians, or at least that's what I was told about him, and were both about the same height and slim and were husbands and shared other traits. And then we both started acting in films, and for second wives we both married Oscar-nominated film actors. But his success (and hers) was so much bigger and looked more like what I had wanted for myself (I was never interested in money, except to feed and house my kids and me, but back then I wanted that wider recognition for what I saw as my unique talents and life). 

My envy of Shepard got so bad, that friends who wanted to tease me would send magazine photos and stories about Sam's fame and success. And it would get a reaction from me. And then my friend Hubert Selby Jr., whose novels hadn't been made into movies yet, and had been forgotten by most people (he was working in an office in a clerical capacity to make the rent on his tiny pad) advised me to pray that Sam get everything he wanted and everything I wanted. I didn't get it, but other advice he'd given me had worked, so I tried it.

It took six months of intense praying morning and night to be rid of my envy. I didn't realize it was gone until I got another article about Sam in the mail from some old buddy and on opening it I wondered why he would send it to me. And then remembered, Oh I used to be so envious of him. By then I just wanted the best for him.

A few years later I took part in the weekly poetry reading I'd started and ran with my friend Eve Brandstein at the East-L. A. club, Helena's, with our usual line up of about ten or a dozen people reading for five minutes each. After it ended Helena came over to me and said, "Sam wants you to join him at his table." I asked, "Sam who?" And she said, "Shepard." So I did.

He told me I was the only real poet who read that evening, which I disagreed with but was flattered by, and how much he liked what I'd read, which we talked about some and then we shared some stories and laughs and hung out for the rest of the evening.

When I left, I thanked the universe that I got to be as open and kind as I knew how in my way to this man I used to envy, and that he turned out to be open and kind in his own way right back. It is a sweet memory and I know there is a world full of similar sweet memories of Sam Shepard. May he Rest In Plays and Poetry.
[I don't know when these photos of Shepard were taken or by whom, unfortunately, just found the on the Internet, but they represent what I see in my mind from that evening encounter.]

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