Sunday, January 31, 2010

Readings: Sam Shepard


Among those contemporary artists whom I admire, Sam Shepard ranks high. Big-time playwright, big-time actor, participant in Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review (1975), the guy seems to have done it all. Shepard has recently published a new collection of short (some of it very short) fiction, Day Out of Days. I paid cash for it.

In the excerpt I’m providing here, the central character has been trapped in his car by a blizzard in the environs of “Indianapolis” while driving aimlessly around the mid-West in apparent quest of things that may have existed, once, in the past. Or something like that .

At any rate, as he begins to panic, trying to drive in a white-out, his mind goes through some old memory files, of which the following excerpt is one.

[NOTE: The drawings suit the mood of the piece, as it struck me.]

These are some of the things that go sailing through my head as I strain forward to keep the car between the lines: Leaving the desert on a clear day. Boarding the Greyhound. Getting off in Times Square. Huge poster of a pop group from England with Three Stooges haircuts. Blood bank with a sign in the window offering five dollars a pint. Black whores with red hair. Chet Baker standing in a doorway on Avenue C. Tompkins Square Park, with its giant dripping American elms. Cabbage and barley soup. Hearing Polish for the first time. Old World women in bandanas and overcoats. Cubans playing chess. Rumors of acid and TCP. Crowds gathered around a black limo, listening to a radio report of Kennedy’s killing. Jungles burning with napalm. Caskets covered in American flags. Mules hauling Martin Luther King’s coffin. Stanley Turrentine carrying his ax in a paper sack.

I was in Ann Arbor, just turned 21, during the year he’s remembering by the end of this passage. I relocated to New York City, and saw some of these things first-hand, two or three short years later.