It’s exactly one year to the day that Sam Shepard passed away, struck down after a long-battle with motor-neurones disease at the age of seventy-three. Upon news of his passing I was moved to sadness and overcome with despair. That all changed after I happened across a beautiful piece written by my old friend Madelaine Lucas earlier this year. The article is a heart-felt tribute to her childhood idol, full of vivid details from Shepard's personal notebooks, a treasure-trove of memories and arcane facts that he journalled in his younger days.
Undertaking a road trip across America for her honeymoon last year, Lucas made a pit stop at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. As she tells it, the center is "one of the foremost research facilities dedicated to arts and letters in the United States… comprised of manuscripts, rare books and other literary curios, including Edgar Allen Poe’s writing desk and David Foster Wallace’s personal, annotated library."
Sam Shepard was a war-baby, born in Illinois but raised in the suburbs of Greater Los Angeles. He was a multi-hypenated talent; a renowned actor, writer, playwright and director in his own right. Films like 'Days of Heaven', 'The Right Stuff' & 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford' had a powerful effect on me growing up.
Lucas references Shepard’s book ‘Motel Chronicles’, a collection of poems and short stories that feel autobiographical in nature. Providing the initial seed of inspiration for the film 'Paris, Texas’, Shepard’s writing is full of mystery and wonder, evoking a portrait of a man looking back over (or rather astride) the walls of society. There is a palpable loneliness that runs through his stories of adolescence and manhood. You get the sense that while he was forever moving through the world around him, he was invisible to most and rarely felt seen or heard.
More often than not I found myself digesting a short story or two before having to set it down. His imagery would set my mind aflame and brought about daydreams that left me restless for the remainder of the day. I felt a kindred connection with his confessions. Shepard was a nomad (much like myself) and felt most comfortable on an open road, his destination unknown. All that mattered was having a sense of propulsion, a way to leave it all behind in the dust.